April 29, 2008

Primary Paradox

A vast amount of energy that goes into what we call the Negro problem is produced by the white man's profound desire not to be judged by those who are not white, not to be seen as he is, and at the same time a vast amount of the white anguish is rooted in the white man's equally profound need to be seen as he is, to be released from the tyranny of his mirror. -James Baldwin

The civil rights movement has been advocating for decades that the colour of a person's skin should not be the mitigating factor in judging their character or moral worth. They have argued that race or creed has no place in making distinctions between the value of one person over another; that all persons are equal and that skin colour should be seen at most as a secondary characteristic.

And yet this is not the construct of the language or paradigm of the Presidential primaries. Rather, we are presented with narrow binary understandings, not only political ( Democrat/Republican) but also racial ( Black/White), and gender (Man/Woman). The great paradox is that Barack Obama is constantly typecast as the potential "First Black President", that by definition limits the framework of what he is in fact trying to accomplish with his politic. In other words, Barack cannot overcome his "Blackness", the ultimate aim of the civil rights movement, in a paradigm that first and foremost identifies him as a Black Man.

We ought to be evaluating Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton ("The First Female President") on their policies and action plans, but instead we have been subject to endless schoolyard jabs that only serve to fuel deeper cynicism and malcontent in the electorate. Participation will be very key to the eventual outcome of the November election, and both candidates may be seeding a crop they will regret if they maintain their current rhetoric and do not try to redefine the debate.

Of course, in a nation still very much wresting with race the presentation of Mr Obama's perceived "differences" (name, colour, religion, lack of lapel pin, etc.) are a sadly effective way to deflate his candidacy amongst some. Meanwhile, I am still trying to figure out how and why Mrs Clinton became the beloved champion of the working class. A classic product of the East Coast (Wellesley College, Yale Law School), she is a millionaire who many fear is really a Closet Conservative.

Enter the lightning rod Reverend Wright speaking the truth about race relations in America. Many nod in approval and understanding, others shift uncomfortably in their seats, looking at their feet. In the gap between lies hope and reconciliation but no one is paying any attention because the angry sound bites and images are far more compelling and, hey, didn't that Hannah Montana girl pose nude?

April 28, 2008

Kingston #4 Best Place to Live in Canada

MoneySense magazine has just released its 2008 ranking of the Best Places to Live in Canada, and Kingston is ranked #4 out of 154 cities! That's a great finish for the Limestone City out of a huge list of competitors. My beloved Mark was actually interviewed about moving to Kingston from Toronto by CanWest! You can read the article here.
The top-5 are Ottawa, Victoria, Fredericton, Kingston, and Levis. In case you're wondering about Canada's major cities, here's how they fared: Vancouver (10), Calgary (35), Toronto (51), Montreal (82).

April 24, 2008

What an ironic pickle the Democrats are in: while it appears that Obama has rightfully earned the party's nomination it seems that Hilary would perform better in a national campaign against McCain. The so-called superdelegates have a tough decision to make on whether to uphold essential democratic principles (and thus not disenfranchise the electorate) or look to the near future and gamble on the tea leaves.

April 20, 2008

I realized that I haven't written in a while, so I thought I would make a quick update to say that we are planning a couple of fun getaways over the next two months. The first is a much-needed trip to New York City, planned as a congratulations for Mark for completing his B.Ed. program. We're renting a 2-bedroom apartment in the Upper East Side with another couple. Should be a blast. Definitely look for my report on our adventures in the Big Apple.
June will find us at Cape Cod, in the super gay-friendly resort town of Provincetown. We may even take a little side trip to Martha's Vineyard, just so Mark can see the places were his all-time favourite movie, "Jaws", was filmed. Otherwise, we plan continue our tradition of fun day- trips to the wonderful little towns of Merrickville, Bloomfield, and Westport that sprinkle the region around Kingston.

April 11, 2008

Inconvenient Apologies

CNN is reporting that in the last 3 days American Airlines has been forced to cancel nearly 2,500 flights because their planes failed to meet federal air-worthiness standards. Today alone, they cancelled 595 more flights, about 25% of their schedule.

This is a substantial, nay, catastrophic failure of duty, not to mention a disruption of service on a titanic level. So I just had to visit AA's website to see what kind of soothing PR spin they had waiting. Imagine my surprise that I found only an orange link in the same font as the rest of the page. No splashy special text box, no extra section, nothing to let you know that they were taking any extra effort to make it seem like they care. At least the link is at the top of the page, but check out their language: "Aircraft inspections affect some AA travel".

Some travel??! Well, I guess 25% of your flights is "some" but assuming there were only 100 people per booked flight that would mean disrupting just shy of 60,000 customers in 1 day. "Some travel" indeed.

Here's in part what their advisory states: "We are very sorry for inconveniencing you with the cancellation of a portion of American Airlines' flights which started on April 8. Additional inspections of our MD-80 fleet are being conducted to ensure precise and complete compliance with the FAA's directive related to wiring in the aircraft's wheel wells...Please be assured that safety of our customers is, and always will be, American's first priority."

Hmmm...may I so boldly suggest that if safety was truly AA's "first priority" they would have already had "precise and complete compliance" with the FAA and not be in this situation! And let's have a frank conversation about the misuse of "inconvenience". Having your dentist appointment cancelled or delayed is an inconvenience. Waiting in a long line at the bank is an inconvenience. Being one of tens of thousands of stranded customers at an airport away from home is not an inconvenience--it is a harrowing and very stressful experience. I should know: I've been "inconvenienced" by the airlines in so many memorable ways.

April 7, 2008

I attended the 8th annual Graduate Studies in Education Symposium last week at the Queen's Faculty of Education. I figured since I will be starting my M.Ed. program in July, I should participate in something that will warm up my brain and get my hamster thinking and pondering like a university student again.
As I sat waiting for the keynote speaker to begin I pored over the symposium booklet to sort out how I wanted my afternoon to proceed. There were 26 different sessions to choose from, which I thought was pretty impressive. After a good 15 minutes or so I finally narrowed it down to three sessions that caught my interest.
Enter the keynote, Dr. Eva Krugly-Smolska (Queen's) who talked about what we need to think about as we consider education in the global community. She opened with some good questions about how we ought to consider "community" in post-modernity and the paradox that difference is not typically an accepted part of a community, given that commonality is an inherent keystone of community. She threw out the idea that maybe we should strive for a global society as opposed to a global community. This wandered into us imagining communities where we balance the tension between cultural homogeneity and cultural heterogeneity. Hmmm...
My next session was a duel-lecture, beginning with "Satan or Socrates: The perils of excessive pride in pedagogy" by Ph.D. student Theodore Christa (Queen's) and followed by "Patterns of Discourse for Improving Pedalogical Knowledge" by Ph.D. student Chew Lee Teo (OISE). I loved the first session, as he talked about how hubris is responsible for our downfall and that acknowledgement of one's ignorance is the beginning of wisdom. He used Milton's Paradise Lost as his narrative tool to argue that we ought to strive to be humble and reflexive pedagogues. Alas, the second session was mostly graphs and charts, as Ms. Teo talked about coding language of actual teachers she has in a test lab to assess how they build knowledge in the classroom. Ugh!
The next session was a beacon for me, as it is highly relevant to my interests in looking at the definition of quality in higher education. Ph.D. student Meggan Madden (OISE) offered "The OECD's Proposed International Learning Outcomes Assessment for Higher Education". She argued that there has been a major shift in the the view of quality from outcomes to output, something we have seen since the Harris government's focus on "accountability" and the imposition of quantifiable measurements on universities. I totally enjoyed this session and it actually read like my own proposed focus of studies document, although my focus is much more specific. She talked about the impact of rankings, and role the U.S. federal government is trying to play to have a centrally-controlled definition of quality. We had a great chat after, and I was buoyed that what I plan to study and research is not only relevant but needed.
The last session I attended was called "Challenging Contemporary Conceptions of Education and Excellence" by M.Ed. student Heather O'Reilly (Queen's). This was a passionate argument for using the arts to advance social justice in education. I was attracted to her desire to link education to one's democratic citizenship, and the role the arts can and should play in helping one develop critical thinking and critical reflection. Very inspiring!!

April 4, 2008

40 Years, Such Bitter Tears

Early evening, April 4
shot rings out in the Memphis sky.
Free at last
they took your life-
They never took your pride.
-U2, "Pride"

April 3, 2008

It would appear to me that we are due for a considerable technological backlash. The advent of personal devices has proceeded at such an alarmingly accelerated pace that has exceeded our capacity to fully interpret their real meaning and implication. If we start, however, to turn on the billion-dollar marketing machine and come to realize that there are very real consequences for a family of five to each trot out of the house with a cellphone and iPod, then we might harvest a resistance to our programmed consumerism. I am not certain when it was exactly that we stopped being citizens and became consumers, but I would suggest it likely began in the 1950s, thanks to the post-war boom and the gentle sounds of domesticity oozing so seductively from the darnfangled new thing called "Television".

Indeed, for the first time we could see what a good family was supposed to look like and--most importantly--what a good family should own. As much as the cognoscenti love to derride television, daytime programming had a profound effect on social conditioning, and it helped establish the norms of a nuclear and productive family that we are still struggling to redefine. And closely linked to that norm creation was the emergence of advertising as an indelible influencer of personal worth and value. The much-maligned soap opera owes its very existence to a desire to market household products to women. I would argue that Oprah owes her ascendancy to the decades of captive housewives nurtured through early daytime programming. That Oprah might seek to empower and educate her audience is certainly subversive in its intent, even when she undermines herself with rewards of excessive consumerism.

So, the revolution may well be strapped to your belt. When commentators speak about Facebook, for example, they miss the point. The Facebook software is not the story. The fact that millions of people have adopted the software in the hopes of connecting with other people is the story, and is what we ought to concentrate our attention on. In the desire to sound bite this contemporary phenomenon so many folks conflate Facebook with the relationships on its pages. Facebook is merely a tool, not the conversation. I have no loyalty to Facebook. If it disappeared tomorrow I would move on and not think twice. I adopted Facebook simply because it was the more dynamic and visually interesting option among the early competition. If Facebook asked me to subscribe (like Classmates.com) I would not pay. The other point that should be made is that, given all the options, Facebook is actually the least effective way in which to communicate with one's friends. And yet, it has millions of users despite its inherent limitations and security issues.

If the typical consumer-citizen can be likened to the poor truck in the photo above, it is not surprising to read in the style sections of our newspapers that the dinner party is making a serious comeback. This clamour for visceral contact and communication makes a great deal of sense, although I supect the key agents of this revival are over-35. Meanwhile, the savvy IM one another, all the while checking out a YouTube video they posted earlier, looking up to spot the top 5 countdown on MuchMusic, while they conference on their cell phones, which beep to show them a trailer for the sure fire blockbuster of the year. Is it any wonder that in the midst of all this cacophany, we sometimes need to reach out and actually touch someone?