Saturday, May 22, 2010

Access Denied

Apparently some teacher somewhere made a statement about girls playing on boys' teams, and it sparked controversy and outrage. So now our board has issued an edict that says, in part, "Comments by employees to any media, or in any public manner or forum, should not make direct reference to the student involved, including commenting on her athletic abilities, characteristics, motives or her family." They want direct permission from parents to say or show anything about any student each time something comes up. Those general forms we get signed at the beginning of the year about taking photos of students don't hold water anymore....

So now I think I have to delete much of this blog, specifically all the photos and videos that include students like the Before It's Too Late video letter to Harper. And I imagine I have to delete the You Tube videos that show students commenting on their environmental views. Do I also have to delete the You Tube videos of my daughter and her friends doing a drama presentation since they they are students at my school? Does this mean I can't share videos or photos of my kids and their friends on-line in any way because they go to the school where I teach?? I tend to save thing on-line so I don't have to worry about fire burning down the photo albums or my hard-drive crashing. This determination removes this right from any parents who are teachers with their own children attending their school or friends with students at their school.

As far as I can understand, all this is fair game if it's added by one of my kids or students and not me. The kids are free to post videos and photos of themselves with their friends; only sharing by teachers is limited.

I tend to hate blanket statements in general because they're often too stringent in some circumstances yet allow for abuses in other arenas. This is no exception. It's reasonable to prevent teachers from slamming students publicly, but we're now prevented from celebrating students in a public format as well. And teachers who are truly corrupted will continue to post under the cover of anonymity.

It's ironic that this is all happening at the same time as Facebook is being allowed in the schools. YouTube, with all its educational shorts, is still not permitted, but we can make Facebook groups for our clubs and teams and classes, even though we're still discouraged from e-mailing students directly.

I'm in the middle of creating a video on what KCI has done as an EcoSchool this year. It'll be shown at the EcoFest in June for select teacher and students, but it can't be shown here - unless, of course, one of my students adds it.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Students Gone Wild

I've been dwelling for days on the article in the Record last weekend about students taking liberties on Albert Street.  Students are exposing themselves, urinating publicly, vomiting on the sidewalk, wandering on people's property, and simulating masturbation in front of shocked neighbours all in broad daylight.  When I first left home, my mom told me to never do anything I wouldn't want published on the front page of the paper.  Today, she'd update that to a Facebook warning.  But some of these guys posed for a photo..... 

We had a student house in our neighbourhood until recently.  One of the ladies that lived there left the house one day with some friends, got about three houses away, and squatted to pee on the boulevard in front of a family with kids sitting on the porch maybe ten feet away.

I was a student once, 25 years ago, and came away from it with many good stories.  University is a time for people to develop into leaders, but part of that might include periods of devolving into animals.   It's their first time away from home, and they need to feel wild and unconstrained.  It's a ritually liminal period in their shift from child to adult.  It's a time to push at boundaries.  But we're in big trouble if society doesn't push back strongly and consistently to restrain the acts of excess.   We need the energy and vibrancy of students in our city, but students need some help reigning it in.    
Back in the day, we had boundaries.  And in retrospect, it was the cops that set them firmly for us.

One letter to the editor on this issue is from a police officer who points a finger at Waterloo city council for not implementing stronger bylaws that can put a stop to this kind of behaviour.  The neighbours also claim the city is responsible for for the problem because they allowed too many lodging houses on one street in the first place.  I second Peter Foy's plea for tougher bylaws in the city.

As a student in the early 80s, I shared a house with a bunch of guys not too dissimilar from the type currently living on Albert Street. The difference is that anytime we had a party, the cops would show up at 11:00 to issue a $200 fine. At $3.35/hour, that was a week and a half's pay.  Worse than that, if we didn't shut things down, they'd be back thirty minutes later with another fine to add to the first one. Typically, at the second visit, they'd just stay until the house was empty constantly threatening more fines if we took too long.

We still had parties, but only three or four a year. We couldn't afford to have more than that. The rest of the time we kept it quiet, sent the rowdies packing early on, and stayed indoors.

Perhaps a $600 fine issued every thirty minutes, and arrests made for every single act of public indecency and public urination would help curb the partying.  Granted the bylaws need more teeth, and we'll likely need a few more officers on the force for an initial crack-down. I think it's worth it for the reputation, not just of the neighbourhood or the universities, but of my city.

This is one of those situations where I'm reminded of the famous lines by Martin Niemoller that sometimes starts, "First they came for the Jews...".  It's not enough for one small group of neighbours to take on city hall; they need backing from all of us.  If you have thoughts on the issue, take five minutes to phone or e-mail Brenda Halloran

But beyond the potential solutions, one line of reasoning from the students in the article really bothered me:  "It's not like we do it every single night....We throw a party here and there, but who doesn't?"  These students believe they have a right to behave like this. 

If I was a neighbour, I might go vigilante and arm myself with a digital camera and a facebook site: "Students who don't really want a good job."  Some will wear it as a badge of honour and spend their lives explaining the late fees policy on movie rentals  Other will recognize the importance of reputation, not just as a potential employee, but as a representative of their school, their city, and their family.

If I was part of the university admin, I'd might even go one step further than the fines and arrests to try to amend the policy of both universities to say that any students involved in parties that get a noise complaint charge will be temporarily suspended from studies and have to spend that time in a grade 10 civics class to learn the concept of rights and responsibilities.

I had a few students in my own class complain that some professors won't let students on facebook during class.  Their argument was similar to the students involved in the parties:  If they're paying to be there, they should be allowed to do whatever they want.  They added that they learn better if they're multi-tasking, despite opposing claims by current research on the topic. Really they just haven't developed the ability to sustain their attention, to cope with moments of boredom, or at least to listen politely if not attentively.  And we're back to that marshmallow test.

I think we have a responsibility as educators to ensure that, by their late teens, everyone grasps that they can't do anything that markedly affects the happiness of others.  They can't yell in the streets whenever the mood strikes because it bothers other people who have the right to peace and quiet.  And they can't surf the net during class because it might be distracting for others - not to mention rude to the professor.  And they can't pee on my boulevard because I don't want to see that.

And they can't clear-cut rainforests in Brazil to grow soy beans for McDonalds beef because it destroys habitat and the world's best carbon-absorbers, or drain the water from the aquifers in India to make Coke because it leaves entire villages without clean drinking water, or fail to check equipment sufficiently to prevent a devastating oil leak because... what a mess. 

It's all the same behaviour that says, "My desires matter more than your rights."  And it's wrong.

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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Green Bin Awareness

My letter to the editor was published in yesterday's paper following a report that some are thinking about banning organics from landfill in the region.  It's hard to put everything in 200 words - for me anyway as some regular readers might have noticed my long- winded nature - but I think I could have been clearer yet.

I think it most important to make everyone aware that what goes in the green bin ends up sold as fertilizer, largely to be sprayed on crops.  People who complain that we can't line the bins with plastic bags completely miss this point.  Even the city encourages us to include microwave popcorn bags and Tim Hortons cups in the mix, but I don't want to be eating the plastic and teflon in those.  Dog crap is bad enough!  They heat the sludge to extreme temperatures to kill off bacteria, but there a reason spinach was on the watch list for e-coli.  E-coli hangs out in sludge, and it's not always entirely destroyed by processing.  But there's no way to get the phthalates, PBAs, and perfluorinated compounds out of the final product.  If no animal in their right mind would want to eat it, don't put it in the bin!!

So far we don't have control over that, so wash your produce well, as always, and, even better, get to know the practices of the farmers that feed you. 

And I really wonder how the city will regulate what goes in the landfill.  People still put cardboard in there even though there's been a bylaw against it for years.

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Earthfest 2010 - The Performers

During the evening I took a few minutes of footage from each performer.  I cut it down to the best bits in two 10-minuted chunks (because nothing on YouTube can be longer than 10 minutes).  Next year, we'll film the whole thing and I'll make one 10 minute video of a bit of everything, and then upload every band separately.  I'll need another person on camera for that.  Some people got ripped off for film time because I got really busy during a few sets.  I thought I'd be fine without a tripod, but I should have taken five minutes to get one because the camera's pretty shaky and jerky in parts.  I tried to get every band member but wasn't always successful because the "mosh pit" was full of people or because it just didn't happen. And I got mesmerized watching some of the more energetic bits of some bands, then only caught the calmer bits on film.

Nevertheless, for a flavour of each band and a teaser for next year's Earthfest, here's Earthfest 2010:

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