September 28, 2005

Random Noise presents: Random Noise from the not so distant past.

My original intention was to write several different items. However, the topics are old news. For me they represent topics/ideas that I should have written about when they first popped into my jumbled mind. In the real media world they would probably be considered ancient. But alas, I thought I should at least throw them out there for (mainly my own) amusement. The Unfortunate Side of the New NHL As I impatiently wait for the return of the NHL, excited by the rule changes and the new look, I can't help feel some sadness with a particular outcome. While the league sports a new salary-cap, which was implemented in the wrong way no matter how overdue, the after affect is that teams have to become younger, or at least cheaper. In the process the league has unintentionally (I assume) the retirement of some of the league's greatest players who were still making impacts. Among the list of players to prematurely retire are Vincent Damphousse, Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and Mark Messier. These are players that were still having an impact on the game. While they were not tearing up the ice like they once were, they at least were still out-performing some younger, cheaper players that have plagued the league since Bettman brought in the massive expansion. What is most unfortunate is that these players didn't get to end their careers on their own terms. The respect these players earned through their accomplishments, accolades and leadership should have afforded them the right to go out with a bang, but with the lockout and the new economic system, these players, especially the couple that are certainly hockey legends, are just gone from the scene. This is truly disappointing and unfortunate. Crowded ERs: How about a dual system? The crazy idea that popped into my head was that we should create an idiot-proof system that essentially dictates who can and cannot go to the ER. to do this you have to set up a dual-system. On one hand, hospitals would keep their ERs for critical patients. People who are have heart attacks, strokes, missing limbs, small rodents climbing through their digestive track, etc. would have access to ERs at hospitals. These are the people ERs were built for and it would be returned to them. On the other hand, non-critical patients would have to go to the '2nd-class' ER. These would be based in close proximity to hospitals and would cater to those who have minor injuries. Those that have small cuts needing stitches, minor breaks, gas, cough due to cold, etc. would attend this facility and be seen by their own understaffed team of specialists. The best way to figure out which facility they need to attend would be decided by a quick phone call to Tele-Health Ontario. This would give it the traffic it needs to make it justifiable to keep it running The idiot-proof part comes in the form of kicker. While this next part may betray my leftist sensibilities, it could be useful as well. If a non-critical patient were to check themselves into the real ER and wait for days to be seen, but is eventually seen, then they would get a fee... no, a fine. It would have to be an amount great enough to make people think twice before going to the critical ER with a non-critical injury, but not so high that people have to sell their limbs in the event that they do. Whatever money is collected would then either be put right back into the budget of the hospital where the patient checked themselves into or it would just generally fund the dual system. Reconsidering Separate Schools (x2) After some reflection about my post concerning the separate black school in Toronto it occurred to me that another solution that should be considered is an alternative stream within current secondary schools as opposed to separate schools. This is not an original idea. My former high school had special Aboriginal-based programming. While this was not a stream that students had to specifically sign-up for to achieve their diplomas, it was programming outside of the norm and was setup with a specific goal. What the Toronto District School Board could do is develop a stream based on the current curriculum with a few changes for those students wishing to take part. Teachers could get specializations, something they essentially have to do now, in areas such as black-based social studies and humanities, so that they could effectively deliver such education to those students that need and want it. Students could then opt into this stream and would have to meet special requirements to graduate. The goal would be to stem the disenfranchisement of black youth in the school system without 'segregating' them. In addition to this I would also set up the same system for religious education in the public system. There is no need to have a separate Catholic system within public education. It is not only a waste of resources and public money but also discriminatory. Why should the government fund through public dollars a system that is closed off to the majority of students in the system and does not allow for non-Catholics teachers to work in. I realize that the Catholic boards are not supposed to disallow non-Catholics to attend or work within their system. But let's be honest, they do just that. And how can we continue to justify allowing a publically funded Catholic system but turn down proposals for other religious groups? What the Catholic system amounts to is a publically funded private system. It would be more effective and less discriminatory if the system was shut down and given streams within the mainstream system. one final partisan shot before I go... Tom DeLay is finally facing the full circle of karma. He has been indicted for conspiracy to launder money, or something to that effect. The comment he gave when questioned about the charges, "This act is the product of a co-ordinated, premeditated campaign of political retribution, the all-too-predictable result... led by a partisan fanatic." It's funny that the statement he chose to give bascially describes his own political career and the indictable incident he was (supposedly) involved in.

September 22, 2005

The Kids Are Alright

When I first realized I was going to be a short-term occasional – fancy term for ‘supply’ – teacher when I began this school year I had mixed reactions.  On the one hand I was looking forward to the variety of experiences I would get, allowing me to find my niche in education.  I would be able to find my ideal grade level or subject, make contacts at different schools, etc.  On the other hand I was dreading having to play prison guard.  

I still remember being in the grades that I am qualified to teach and how my follow classmates and me treated our supply teachers.  There are some nasty stories that I recall.  One was about a teacher who left before lunch because we just absolutely refused to do anything she asked.  Another teacher talked about switching professions after he left our class.  Countless others cried at some point during their days with us.  I even lost count of the number of times our principals had to come barging into our classroom to regain control.  We were terrible with supply teachers and I know we aren’t alone.  I’ve heard some pretty bad stories from friends who went to other elementary schools.

When I accepted my role as a substitute, I believed it was fate making me go through the punches.  I was going to have to make up for all the hell I collaborated in and caused teachers in my past.  I was going to have to earn my future.  When that first phone call came at six o’clock in the morning – already a bad omen – I was hesitant to take it, but I understood what had to happen, had to happen.  I walked into the classroom with my head up and a smile on my face trying to mask my fear and battle shield.  The kids walked into the classroom, sat down and there he was the one I knew that was going to be trouble.  He was in the front row and he had that mischievous grin that I recognized on so many of my own fellow students.  And immediately after I had located the one, he raised his hand,

“Are you filling in for our teacher?”
“I am.”
“Okay. I’ve never had a guy teacher before.  This is cool!”

There was no smart-ass remark, no joke, nothing.  I went on with the attendance and the first period lesson.  There were no problems whatsoever.  Then the recess bell rang.  (Oh, how I missed recess in university.)  A couple of girls came up to me as I left,

“Mr. Selmes?”
“What can I do for you?”
“We’re glad you’re here today.  You’re really nice.”
“Uh, thanks” I sputtered like a dork in an almost question like tone.

In no way am I trying to brag about my ability as a teacher.  But this has been my experience with each job so far.  I’ve been with two different grade four classes, one grade six and one grade seven and the students thus far have been great.  They are respectful, polite, cooperative, etc.  If the media has taught me anything it’s that kids today are even worse than when I was their age.  They should be trying to tie me up in the corner and being torture me until I pee my pants – with obvious exaggeration.  However, I think my point is made.  These students should not be so welcoming, especially to a supply teacher but there they are happy to have had me in their classrooms.  It definitely makes me feel defensive when I hear someone say “kids these days…” which happened on the bus last night.  It was that statement that made think of writing this post rather than one of the other two political pieces I had planned.  Maybe I’m jumping the gun but somehow I don’t believe I am.  I now look forward to each call I get (which usually come the night before the job instead of that morning).  I think the kids these days are alright…

September 18, 2005

To 'separate' or not to 'separate'? (black school proposal)

Last week the equity boss for the Toronto District School Board proposed a black only high school pilot-project in hopes of ending the increasing number of dropouts and increase student performance.  Within a couple days, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty shot down the idea claiming there was no evidence that it would improve the state of education or learning for black students.  Since then there has been some discussion on the issue.  Some people point to the success of Native schools and the alternative school in Toronto for gay and lesbian students as arguments that the project could work.  Others point to the USA where there have been mixed results but where even the positive results aren’t overly convincing.  While I am not sure I am convinced that having a black-only school would succeed, I do not see the harm in testing it out.  

As a certified teacher myself, my goals are simple; do what I can to help my students succeed and provide an environment to encourage positive growth.  If it is believed that, an all-black school in Toronto can help these students, then make the attempt.  Even if the project fails, at least we can say that we are trying instead of letting the status quo remain.  And even if it does fail, then find what was positive and what wasn’t and develop a new plan from that information.  It is obvious that the status quo isn’t good enough because there is a sense of disenfranchisement amongst black youth and the results from this are anything but positive.  

I realize that it will take a lot more than just this project to correct the problem.  A major factor in this issue probably also comes from social conditions.  And this issue is a lot bigger and wouldn’t necessarily change due to a project in the education system.  However, if the project was to takeoff and generally succeed there is likely going to be an affect on the social conditions.  Those students that are successful will be better equipped to escape the poverty cycle (if they are in it) or be a positive influence in their communities, providing leadership.  These prospects alone may be worth the effort to run the project.

I also understand that some people are concerned that this idea reeks of segregation.  But I wonder if it is really segregation if the student body that shows up has volunteered to attend to this school?  Students are not being forced to attend this school and the project wouldn’t exclude non-black teachers and administrators from working there.  The environment would be positive and would be about opportunity.  None of these aspects speaks of segregation and the concern, I believe, is unwarranted.  The only real concern may be that if the project falters then onlookers may begin to make race-based judgments in both educational and social terms.  However, this would only serve to expose those onlookers that are ignorant more than pass true judgment on the attending students and staff.  Therefore, while I cannot say that I fully believe it will succeed, I do believe it is worth the try.  Even if, at the very least, it demonstrates that we – Government of Ontario, Ministry of Education, Toronto District School Board, etc. – are making a serious attempt at fixing a major social and educational problem within Toronto.

September 15, 2005

On the new Mulroney book...

I think Warren Kinsella has said it best - and should probably be left at that – when it comes to Peter C. Newman’s upcoming book about former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1994-1993):

     “This isn’t a book.  This is a tombstone on his political career.”
~ Warren Kinsella

Not much else can be said after that.

September 13, 2005

Reforming the U.N.

This past weekend The Star had a collection of essays from prominent Canadians and others about the future of the U.N. Of note were Louis Arbour, Archbishop Desmond Tutu (from South Africa), John Ralston Saul, and Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire. While each contributor had a different point of view on the subject, there was a common theme: optimism. I found it extremely encouraging that there was so much positive outlook from such influential and inspiring people. When it comes from a man such as Romeo Dallaire, it is especially so. If anyone has the right to be pessimistic about the U.N., it is definitely Dallaire. Yet, here he is openly expressing his optimism. If that isn’t reason enough to believe in the institution then I’m not sure what would be. There were two articles in particular caught my eye, one being Dallaire’s and the other from J.R. Saul. While Saul’s is a bit less forgiving than Dallaire’s, eventually both agree that certain reforms need to be made and that the role of the U.S. needs to change. It either needs to be limited (R.D.) or eliminated (J.R.S.). I tend to sit in the middle somewhere. For the U.N. to be most effective the veto power has to be taken away, especially from the U.S. A more balanced spread of power has to be given to all involved countries. It doesn’t make sense that the majority of power lies in the hands of five countries that represent a minority of people. The U.S. and others need to be placed at the same level as every other country that is also a member but has always been marginalized, both politically through intergovernmental agencies and economically through strong arm trade agreements and institutions, by, but not limited to, the U.S. However, if this position is not agreeable to a nation like the U.S. then I would be prepared to see them walk. Whereas Saul believes the U.N. should just cut them out, I’m not so harsh in opinion. However, I do think he is right that the U.N. can function without them and possibly be more effective by being less political in a sense. While the U.N. may have less funds and less access to resources, if the U.S. were not involved, it would remove a major political roadblock. It is possible that mobilization when needed would also become more frequent, especially when the next Congo/Holocaust/Rwanda happens, the type of events it was essentially designed to prevent from happening in the first place. In addition, the smaller and marginalized countries may also be more willing to participate because the fear of retribution may not be so great. However, these are also possible if the U.S. is relegated to a more balanced position as well. And with their participation the funds and resources are almost guaranteed to a degree but they are no longer in the leadership role they are no longer suited for or deserve. This may allow for a better leader or better view to emerge from the woodwork. Whatever the future holds for the U.N. may be seen in the next few days as they are getting set to do a review of their structure and policies in hopes of developing a reform plan. Even Paul Martin, our ‘esteemed’ Prime Minister, will be in attendance. Let us all hope he read the The Star this past weekend and stands up for the right ideas. Links to each authors essay: * Our own flaws are its downfall: self-interest, greed, hatred – Bob Rae * When states fail to protect their own, the United Nations must act – Dr. Lloyd Axworthy * A reminder of our common humanity – Dr. Margaret MacMillan * Evolving a world where might is not right – Archbishop Desmond Tutu * Is the U.N. over? – Olivia Ward * At risk of whimpering into oblivion – John Ralston Saul * Members must push the U.N. from talk to action – Louise Arbour * Canada has critical role to play in reforms - Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire

September 10, 2005

New Orleans is Sinking...

In the world of news, New Orleans is beginning to reach its end.  In other words, its 15 minutes of fame is almost up.  By this, I am not trying to imply that the media are just going to up and move on to the next story, but that talk about the flood itself is ending.  It is now time to begin focusing on what’s left behind, or what I believe should be the new focus: what the flood has exposed.

It’s obvious that what is left behind is tragedy, violence, death and toxic rubble.  What has been exposed is that all of these things, maybe minus the toxicity, were present in New Orleans all along.  Hurricane Katrina was essentially the hand that turned over the rock to expose the worst of American negligence.  What has been exposed is what’s left when people are left behind, forgotten and buried by ineffective policies.  

From people I know that have actually been to New Orleans, the raping, looting and shootings were nothing new, but business as usual in this city.  Hostels and hotels have signs posted warning people not to leave the building after 10pm and never to leave alone.  At the bus station, there are people trying to sell drugs of the hardest varieties instead of flowers or chocolate bars.  On a regular basis, you can pass numerous people carrying guns, knives and other weapons openly.  I had one friend that asked a security guard at the bus station about leaving the station in the afternoon to kill time before his bus left.  The answer he got was a laugh followed by an indication that it was better if he just stayed at the station.  It is pretty bad when hotels are posting warnings and security guards advise against any wandering in their own city.

This is why I think the media should focus on what has been exposed.  There are problems in this city, there are people living in 3rd World-like conditions and they are suffering.  To add to the problem these people have easy access to guns, drugs, etc.  It should come as no surprise that the problems that occurred immediately after did so.  It also exposes the problem that America is struggling to take care of its own people.  One could even come to that conclusion after the abysmal attempt by FEMA to assist the people.  But beyond this it is clear there is a serious issue of poverty and care in America as it is likely this is not isolated to New Orleans – it may just be that much worse there.  This is what the media needs to cover because it is only with awareness and pressure on the government can the necessary changes be made.  And it is obvious that changes need to be made.  The world economic powerhouse should not have these types of problems within their own country; there is no reason and no excuse for it.  It is obvious someone isn’t doing there job and it is time for a change.

This should also serve as a wake up call for other Western nations as well, especially those in the G8.  These problems may also be occurring within your own borders, it’s time for all of us to open our eyes.

Return of the Prodigal son...

or as my fiance and family see it: The return of the smart-ass, tangent-slinging jerk!! Either way, I'm glad to be home from my stint at Tim Horton Onondaga Farms. It was a summer of eye-opening realism in many ways and a fresh foray into the world of education and child development. Now it's time that I get on with finding another job aside of being a supply teacher. It also means I am back to blogging! (so I can continue to be the only one who reads my entries) On with the show..!

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)