by Michael G. Redfearn
Recently, while seeking refuge from the pandemic fog that descended upon the world over a year ago, I immersed myself in one of my favorite post-apocalyptic films, Planet of the Apes. Since its release in 1968, this Hollywood classic has both haunted and fascinated me.
But this time, the epic twist ending, where U.S. astronaut Taylor, (played by Charlton Heston), falls to his knees, cursing and pounding the wet sand, beneath the ruins of the Statue of Liberty, was starkly different. Taylor’s primal rage, directed toward the folly of his self-destructive fellow human beings, immortalized in the line, “You maniacs! You blew it up!”, jolted me, instantly, back to the future.
Fast forward to the 2020-21 school year. Many bleary-eyed, exhausted, stressed-out parents now wake to the daunting task of working from home, while trying to balance and meet the needs of their own children, who attend virtual school. Add to this mix, the reality that many of these same parents are, themselves, teachers and support staff, who have dozens of other children to educate and care for, and you have ideal conditions for burnout.
This is not what we signed up for. No one wanted the COVID-19 pandemic. Not parents, students, teachers, administrators, support staff, no one. Yet today we are all in the jaws of an insidious disease that, in less than a year, has consumed over 3 million precious lives, and fundamentally flattened economic, social, political, and educational landscapes across our global village.
Although the pandemic has increased the overall harm to the mental health of students, despite the negative outcomes, it has also served as an important event for some young people by fostering their emotional development during their transition to adulthood.
Yet, since the quantum shift by school districts in March of 2020, from traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ to remote learning, social media has been abuzz with teacher-on-teacher angst, where squabbles over which method of learning is more effective, litter the Twitterverse.
It is fair to say many stakeholders in the education space do not yet fully understand many of the terms and learning modalities bandied about this past year, for example: eLearning, online learning, blended learning, hybrid learning, synchronous learning, Asynchronous learning, and emergency remote learning. A significant challenge ahead for all school districts will be to help clarify these terms for everyone involved in educating our youth.
From A-synchronous to synchronous, remote to in-person, the traditional boundaries and notions of ‘the classroom’ and ‘learning’, from Chatham-Kent to Kenora and beyond, like Taylor’s shattered world, have been blown to bits.
Frankly, I am astonished and disheartened by the widening rift between educators who claim, with certitude, that one modality of learning is superior to another. My Twitter feed is awash with such bogus battles and false dichotomies, over the efficacy of online versus face-to-face learning. The polarization is divisive, unproductive and needs to stop.
This is not to say there is no hope. Indeed, the pandemic has, unequivocally, driven home the reality that 21st century learning is anything but static and that we are far more effective and resourceful when working together.
In-person learning works for some students, online and blending instruction for others. For years, many teachers and students have accessed and benefited from engaging online learning platforms, where rich student assessments and performance tasks are commonplace. We all need to be open and receptive to a broad array of perspectives, learning modalities, educational tools and voices, if we truly want students to succeed.
Many teachers, who, prior to the pandemic, never imagined themselves delivering curriculum virtually, are now doing so by necessity. Undoubtedly, there have been mighty challenges along the road, such as unreliable or non-existent Internet connections, lack of government consultation and planning with school district administrators, teacher association leadership, and frontline educators, insufficient hardware for students and lack of online curriculum delivery training for teachers, to name a few.
Clearly, though, we are not the first generation in history to suffer through a calamitous plague, nor likely the last. During the Polio epidemic that raged in the summer of 1937, schools were closed to protect children. The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star published lessons for high school students and teachers were available by telephone if students needed help. The Chicago school system used the relatively novel medium of radio to teach lessons to children during the same outbreak.
We can also gain inspiration from today’s veteran teachers and support staff who point out that they have never worked as hard and as many hours as they have in the past year. Many of these same educators also reveal they have never seen their colleagues join together so enthusiastically over digital networks, to share resources and ideas as they are now.
The incredible resilience and exuberance shown by many students, parents, administrators, teachers, and support staff serve as beacons of hope. Ultimately, it is these unsung acts of optimism, patience, quiet desperation and courage, that will help carry and sustain our youth, until the last wave of the COVID-19 pandemic washes over us and finally recedes.
The English novelist George Orwell once observed that in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. If this is accurate, then the Internet and the tsunami of so-called ‘fake news stories’ now jamming our online news feeds and flooding the collective social media landscape, makes all of us potential revolutionaries.
The recent world-wide condemnation and outcry over president Donald Trump’s immigration, health care and environmental policies, indicates that many people are finally waking up and fighting back with their own forms of ‘culture jamming’.
Massive astonishing and spontaneous public rallies in cities across the globe, not seen since the anti-nuclear movement of the early 1980’s, are signs that those citizens who sat on the sidelines during past and recent political elections, are not willing to accept alternative facts.
Other forms of dissent involve the propaganda war, where the cyber-weapons of choice are stinging satirical memes and endless streams of phony and real news stories, all intended to persuade and convince by flooding an opponent’s news feeds.
Creators of ‘fake news’ stories have been implicated in manufacturing everything from Obama citizenship conspiracies theories, to linking Republican senator Ted Cruz’s father to the JFK assassination and tilting the result of the recent American election in Trump’s favor. In today’s ‘give me entertainment or give me death culture’, where puny attention spans and instant gratification are king – it’s not necessarily the detection of fake or fabricated news that is the issue.
In today’s ‘give me entertainment or give me death culture’, where puny attention spans and instant gratification are king – it’s not necessarily the detection of fake or fabricated news that is the issue.
With so many compelling and alluring forces vying for their daily attention: work, family, the Internet, binge-watching and dizzying array of the latest smart phones and associated apps – most people do not have the time or the inclination to fact check every pseudo-story that litters their social media news feeds or jams their inbox. Enter the newest technical audio-video manipulation advancements that will soon obliterate any existing line between what is considered fake and real.
In a paper published last year by professors at Stanford University and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg – researchers discovered that technologists could record video of someone talking and then change their facial expressions in real time. The technology demonstrated how the facial expressions from a news clip of Russian president Vladimir Putin could be altered in real time in difficult-to-detect ways.
Other initiatives like the ‘Digital Emily Project’, a study where researchers used digital characters in place of real people, further blurs the line between fantasy and reality, making truth detection that much more elusive. Seamless digital technologies now employed by Hollywood and video-gaming industry artists, make the detection of real actors from digital avatars virtually impossible.
Advancements in audio technology have also made truth detection an increasingly daunting task. At a developer conference this past November, Adobe touted its new product nicknamed ‘Photoshop for audio’. The product allows a user to transfer around 10 to 20 minutes of their voice into the application, then allows them to type words expressed in that exact voice. The result does not sound computer-generated in the least, but uncannily real.
Imagine how real video and audio interviews of political leaders could be seamlessly twisted to further nefarious ends. For instance, audio of a comment could be generated and inserted before or following an interview (heard over a hot microphone) of a world leader making threatening comments toward another country.
Of course, all this assumes that some people still actually care whether the stories in their newsfeeds are real or fake. Increasingly, consumers of social media seem more concerned that the rivers of content cascading through their media streams support their worldview, as opposed whether any of it is true.
Historically, autocrats rely on the indifference of the masses to maintain their grip on power. Give the masses ‘bread and circuses’ and they will be happy. Given the choice between the awesome power and responsibility of the freedom to choose what’s in the interest of the common good versus ‘bread and circuses’ – I would suspect those in power hope the people continue to choose the latter.
Ironically, it may just be the Orwellian policies of the Trump administration that stir the consciences and souls of the multitudes that tip the balance in making democracy in America great again. The alternative is a darker world, where, theoretically, two plus two could equal five.
Vanityfair.com – http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/01/fake-news-technology
1984. George Orwell.
Photo Credit: Michael Redfearn
Dance like nobody’s is watching; love like you’ve never been hurt.
Sing like nobody’s listening; live like it’s heaven on earth. ~ Mark Twain
On July 9, 2016 my wife Barb and I embarked with 11 other travelers on a two week odyssey across Italy and Greece. The trip / cruise was organized by Barb’s friend Bridget to celebrate her husband Don’s 60th birthday in truly grand style with Don’s family (Don’s sister Marianne and her husband Scott) and friends (Ray, Lori, B.J., Gina, Bob, Bonnie, Jeff, Mike and Barb).
This blog post is my attempt to chronicle some of the highlights and provide some context around our amazing trip, not just for us, but for our family and friends, those who followed our activities via Instagram and Facebook and those who may not be on those social networks.
It is not intended to be a complete record of what transpired over the 14 days – the 13 of us agreed early on in our adventure that “what happens on the cruise ship stays on the cruise ship”. So this travel journal, though containing photos of our travel companions / friends, is told from my perspective and, for the most part, captures mainly those activities and events involving Barb and I.
We arrived in Rome from Toronto at around 12 noon. Our gallery / museum tickets were for 5 pm so we had plenty of time to check out our amazing 4 star hotel (Artemide) and have drinks on the rooftop before heading to the Borghese Gallery, or so we thought.
Fittingly, the first adventure of our two week Mediterranean holiday began in the ‘eternal city’ of Rome. Having recently visited Rome with my sister and brother-in-law for 9 days in May of 2015 – there were still a few sights we wanted to cross off our bucket list. One of these attractions is the Borghese Gallery & Museum that houses, among other precious artifacts, the amazing works of renaissance master sculptor/architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
After drinks we (B.J., Ray, Lori, Barb and I) headed down to the front desk for directions to Borghese Villa/Park, then were on our way. We walked to the park in about 45 minutes or so then asked someone for directions to the Museum & Gallery. Now you would think that residents of Rome, people working in the park and especially the Carabinieri (Rome police) would know exactly where the gallery was located. But never underestimate the power of the locals and the meandering streets and piazzas of Rome to confuse.
It was mid-afternoon, an uncomfortable 34 degrees Celsius and we were speed walking with Ray & BJ setting the pace. But after numerous inquiries and walkabouts to find the gallery – we seemed to be going in circles. I was feeling somewhat parched by this time, fell behind the group to buy a couple of bottles of cold water from a park vendor for Barb and I and guzzled one of the bottles in about 60 seconds before catching up to the rest.
Mercifully, after an hour or so of speed walking and a dizzying number of attempts, we finally found our treasure. Though once there we queued up for at least another 30 minutes before actually getting into the gallery with our coupon and acquiring tickets.
The wild goose chase, the midsummer Roman heat wave and gallery wait were worth it! We sauntered through the air-conditioned gallery rooms and were mesmerized by the stunning collection of priceless sculptures and paintings housed in the museum / gallery.
After a very long exhausting day of travel, walking in the midday heat, gallery viewing, sumptuous dinner and drinks atop hotel Artemide – we eventually made our way to our rooms and collapsed into our cozy beds for the night.
The new day began early with a hearty breakfast at 7 am in preparation for what was for some of us – the most meaningful part of our two week journey, the Scavi tour at the Vatican. The Scavi (excavations) tour is a private guided underground tour to one of the most sacred sites in Christendom, the most likely (99 %) resting place (tomb) of St. Peter, the founder of the Roman Catholic Church. This tour is so exclusive that visitors need to request a reservation a year or so in advance of their trip.
This time all 13 of us headed out on foot together on our pilgrimage towards the Vatican for our 9 am tour. After setting out together and encountering a few delays (toilet break, wrong turns, foot traffic, photo ops etc.) our group took longer than expected to reach our destination. In fact, many of us ended up jogging the last few blocks to the Scavi tour entrance to ensure that we would not lose out on our reservation/tour.
Fortunately, the tour guide was also a few minutes late which allowed us a few moments to collect ourselves, towel off, cool down and pass through security screening. The struggle to make the tour on time was more than worth the effort. Our guide took us to a room that housed a miniature replica (‘trophy’) of St. Peter’s tomb and she gave us an overview of the history of Rome around the time of St. Peter’s martyrdom. We were then guided through a narrow damp underground passageway directly under St. Peter’s basilica where no photos were allowed.
We eventually made our way through the underground passageways soaking up the rich history surrounding the family tombs and artifacts contained therein. Finally, we were taken to St. Peter’s tomb (trophy) or at least to a large hole in an adjacent ancient wall to gaze upon the ossuary (container) holding the remains of St. Peter, dear friend of Jesus and ‘rock’ upon which the holy Roman Catholic Church was founded.
Our tour guide briefly commented on the religious and spiritual significance of this most holy site and then led us together in praying the ‘Our Father’. It was a spiritual and deeply satisfying experience, filled with stillness, silence, peace and reverence.
Before exiting the tour we were guided into a small chapel located directly beneath the Bernini canopy and high altar in St. Peter’s basilica. In fact, by looking up we could see part of Bernini’s magnificent sculpted bronze canopy through the holes in the floor grate directly above us.
Upon leaving St. Peter’s Barb and I hooked up with Bob and Gina and headed to the piazza Campo dei Fiori. We stopped off for a couple of photos in front of the charming apartment Barb and I shared with my sister and her husband during our visit in May 2015.
That evening, Ray and I posed with our new waiter friends Tomaso and Vittorio after our group of 13 enjoyed an amazing dinner at Cotto Ristorante.
The next morning Barb and I headed to Castle St. Angelo museum near the Vatican, another destination on our bucket list. We spend a couple of hours viewing the many religious, artistic and cultural treasures housed in this former tomb of the Roman emperor Hadrian and papal fortress.
Following our visit to Castle St. Angelo the plan was to slowly make our way toward Villa Borghese and to stop off at the newly restored Trevi fountain along the way. The hope was to pick up some wine, cheese, fruit and bread to have a leisurely picnic in the famous park. But the extreme 36 degree Celsius heat soon disrupted our best laid plans and had both of us somewhat dehydrated and teetering on heat exhaustion.
On our way to the Trevi we ducked into a modest ristorante to use the toilet and what else of course, but order another beer. Unfortunately, a side effect from drinking so much water to keep hydrated and the odd beer – is having to drink more water and visit the WC every half hour or so.
Even though it was lunch time, the brutal heat robbed us of any appetite for food. I know, hard to believe in a city so famous for fresh pizza, pasta and gelato at almost every turn! Don’t feel sorry for us though! We ate enough delicious pizza, pasta and brain-freezing gelato during our May 2015 visit to last a few lifetimes.
From the Trevi we continued our pilgrimage to Villa Borghese in search of some respite (natural shade) from the crushing heat.
After 3 eventful days exploring Rome it was time to say arrivederci and continue on our journey to Athens.
After one full and memorable day and night in Athens – we were soon on our way to one of the ‘top 100 places to visit before you die’ – the legendary Greek island of Santorini.
Not ones to rest on our laurels and knowing we only had 2 and 1/2 days in Santorini – we rented a car with Bob & Gina and headed to ancient Thira along with Bonnie, Jeff, Ray, Lori and B.J.
Gina was our awesome driver as she deftly navigated us up the long winding road with steep drop offs and hairpin turns. This drive was profanity-free. Well done Gina!
On day 2 we woke up to this heavenly view, feeling as though we were living with the Greek gods on Mount Olympus. That’s right, that’s a cruise ship poking out of the mist. In a few hours the brilliant morning sun slowly burned the mist off the deep blue Aegean sea.
One of the highlights of the entire trip was the Greek dinner and dance night at the Volcano View Hotel. The incredibly delicious Greek food buffet and live dinner music and Greek dancers set the stage for a magical atmosphere and an unforgettable evening of carefree dancing.
At one point during the plate smashing my good friend Ray asked me to imagine how truly wonderful and peaceful the world would be if everyone (all cultures) got along with one another as wonderfully as the participants in a Greek dance. I couldn’t agree more. OPA!
Our final evening in Santorini was topped off with a magnificent sunset dinner cruise.
We bid farewell to Santorini enroute to catch an early morning flight to Athens to meet up with our cruise ship, the Celebrity Equinox.
So thankful for Bridget who was all over it and who connected with our Celebrity rep in Santorini who then arranged tickets for all 13 of us for a hi-speed ferry trip from Santorini to Athens. Thankful for Barb and Bonnie who stood in line for hours (stepping around dozens of people sleeping on the floor – whose flights were cancelled much earlier than ours.) to ensure we could have access to all our travel options and get written confirmation of the flight cancellation for insurance purposes.
So many other travelers were not as fortunate. 300 or so Cruise guests from Istanbul scrambled until the wee hours of the morning to get to Athens in time for departure to Mykonos. Because of the political turmoil there – some likely didn’t make it.
Celebrity’s decision to change our original cruise departure port from Istanbul to Athens – following the bombing at the Istanbul airport a couple of weeks earlier – in hindsight – now looks brilliant!
Love this guy, just chillin in the shade.
So here we were, living large like kings and queens on the luxurious Celebrity Equinox cruise ship and these refugees had just risked their lives in dilapidated overcrowded rubber dinghies on open seas, for a chance at a better life in a foreign country, if they make it!
The stark irony, the Italian frigate ride was their ‘dream cruise’! They had just won the lottery! Despite, for the most part, having nothing but the clothes on their backs, they were ecstatic at another opportunity at a better life.
The next stop was the port of Fiumicino for our transfer to the airport for our flight home.
Things crossed of our bucket list:
First Cruise (Celebrity Equinox)
St. Peter’s tomb (Scavi Tour)
Castle St. Angelo
Borghese Gallery / Villa
Santorini (Greek Night & Sunset boat/dinner cruise)
Amalfi Coast (Sorrentto, Amalfi)
Malta (Valletta, Mdina, Marsaxlokk)
You think Jack Bauer is the biggest badass around? Think again, because you obviously haven’t seen the Kiefer Sutherland Band.
Throw in a mix of some gritty country-rock music, a solid supporting cast of talented bandmates (Austin Vallejo and Michael Gurley on guitar, Joseph De La O on bass, Jess Calcaterra on drums) and an intimate concert venue and you have all the ingredients for a memorable night on the town.
I don’t think Sutherland would have it any other way. At least that appeared to be the case judging by the reaction of 700 plus patrons last night as they thoroughly savoured and soaked up every drop of Sutherland’s Not Enough Whiskey tour performance at Maxwell’s in Waterloo.
In his self-depricating manner, Sutherland introduced the band by stating that they had things a little “ass backwards” and admitted upfront that “a band usually puts out an album first and then does the tour.” So he graciously thanked everyone (multiple times) for their leap-of-faith in coming out to see the band without first hearing its 13 songs.
To be clear, Sutherland is not going to challenge any of the current reigning music stars in the vocal category. Though it’s evident his low, raspy ‘whiskey-soaked’ voice still gets it done. And what he lacks in vocal range, he more than makes up for with his frenetic leaping around the stage while playing his Gibson acoustic and Fender electric guitars with a gusto that even his doppleganger (Jack Bauer) would envy.
And the man writes his own songs (along with collaborator Jude Cole). From My Best Friend (A thoughtful reflection on how one has to ‘be their own best friend’ before expecting love / friendship from another) to the semi-autobiographical Down In A Hole (How people’s choices sometimes land them in trouble). Sutherland observed that, though never landing up in prison, he had seen the inside of a jail a few times.
At one point in the evening Sutherland shared a poignant story and song (Gonna Die) about a young American Iraq war veteran whom he stumbled upon in a confrontation with bouncers outside of a Los Angeles bar. The veteran was scared and explained to him that the hospital staff mistakenly gave him the wrong prescription medication.
Eventually, Sutherland was able to convince the bouncers to leave the young man alone and then took him back to the Veteran’s hospital where they admitted to the mix-up. The experience haunted Sutherland for weeks afterwards and inspired him to write Gonna Die.
Jack Bauer was the main reason the majority of the crowd showed up last night, but it was clearly the ‘real Bauer’ (Kiefer Sutherland) and his bandmates who, undoubtedly, left them begging for more.
P.S. – Opening for the Kiefer Sutherland Band was a brilliantly talented singer/songwriter by the name of Jessica Mitchell. Her voice was pure magic! Check her out at –
Photo Credit: Michael G. Redfearn
Thankfully, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have been reprimanded during my career in education. But during the late-1990’s – at about the time the provincial Conservatives were deep into slashing and burning education and health care budgets – I decided enough was enough.
It was the Harris Tories’ threat to kill the stand alone grade 11 media studies course that made it personal and put me over the edge. The death of this course would have meant the end of a golden opportunity for many of my academically challenged students to graduate. You see, that course, for many, represented a chance to earn a ‘5th English credit’ that students needed to graduate with their Ontario Secondary School Graduation Diploma.
Not only that, the media course contained content (movies, music videos, magazine/tv advertisements etc.) in which most were deeply engaged and immersed on a daily basis. Students who wouldn’t dare dream of raising their hand in Algebra or History class – felt at ease and in complete control when analysing a music video or Superbowl TV spot in media class.
Through such a course – they were able to ‘pull back the curtain’ on pop culture and get a valuable glimpse into how and why various media are able to effectively use marketing and cinematic techniques to construct meaning, manipulate and control an audience.
So upon learning that the government was intent upon gutting the media literacy credit – without consulting teachers or students – I got mad, then I got inspired. What if my students and I actually staged a media event (silent protest) to make others aware of this threat?
I sprang the idea on my students the next day and took a vote to see if they were interested in my plan. All were in favor (by show of hands) of: inviting the local media to our class, wearing black clothing and duct tape across their mouths (both optional – to symbolize that they were silently mourning the fact they had not been consulted in the decision to axe their course). Most of the class time would be spent writing and editing letters to their local MPPs expressing their thoughts at the government’s decision.
Of course, once the media arrived and the school’s administration discovered what was happening in Redfearn’s media class – guess who was summoned to the office and, not surprisingly, ‘raked over the coals’?
As I sat sheepishly in front of the admin team of three and endured their rebukes and indignation – I empathized with them. They were completely blind-sided by my actions. Yet, had I tipped them off before hand – I risked having the protest squashed before it began. Their biggest concerns – that they were not consulted and that the ‘image of the school’ would be adversely affected. Seeing students’ mouths bound with duct tape had, I think, something to do with it.
Fortunately, the media coverage was minimal. A segment ran on the local TV station at noon and later that evening (see YouTube video below) and an article with photo did run in the local section of The Record but the admin’s fear that pandemonium would be loosed upon the world was unfounded.
Instead, my students actually witnessed the media in action and THEY were part of the process: they took part in media interviews with local reporters, wrote to their elected representatives about how they felt about the government’s decision and watched, critiqued, filmed and edited TV and print coverage of their event.
In retrospect, I truly believe it was one of the most powerful learning experiences I and my students had ever been a part of. By taking part in the silent protest, ironically, my students actually found their ‘voice’. And isn’t that what real learning is all about?
P.S. There was such a ground swell (provincially) from people outraged over the potential loss of the media studies stand alone course – that the Conservative government of the day backed down from its original decision to cut it.