Is this the ‘Future’ of education?

finger_paintO.K. . . . so I came across an interesting online article the other day that might be part of the solution to the Ontario ministry of education’s underfunding of educational technology in Ontario’s schools.

The recent ministry announcement of deductions in GSNs (Grants for Student Needs) as related to computer technology – is already spawning some innovative responses to a growing problem.

Future Shop is donating $100,000.00 to the Toronto District School Board so it can create two computer labs. Future Shop officials hope the labs will go into schools in high-risk neighborhoods that are within seven kilometres of one of their stores. They view the donation as a way to give back to the communities they serve.

Oh ya, as part of the deal Future Shop requires that the computer labs be painted shades of gray with red trim, their corporate colors and that they be located within seven kms of one of their stores. No flashy logos though.

In 2006 I wrote an op-ed piece in my local newspaper, Step up to the cyber-learning plate, about how some of the Ontario government’s 1993 Royal Commission on learning’s goals stated in the chapter entitled Learning, teaching and information technology have, for the most part, not been realized.

Though the 1993 commission members saw the ‘writing on wall’ concerning under-funding of technology in education – the partnerships advocated by the commission between the corporate and education sectors, at least at the elementary and secondary school levels, have not materialized.

Though there are pockets of technological innovation occurring in some schools, most classrooms in Ontario still reflect a nineteenth-century model of education where the teacher contains controls and dispenses information which students then consume and regurgitate back up again in the form of paper and pencil tests.

TDSB trustee James Pasternak voiced support for the deal with Future Shop, “corporate Canada has a responsibility to participate in public education.”

Another trustee, Michael Coteau, cautioned that allowing a company to “brand a room (with corporate colors) where children are going to learn is a dangerous thing..”

O.K. – but walk into any school in Ontario and you will likely find dozens of ‘brands’ to which our children are already exposed on a daily basis. Whether it’s the junk or nutritional food in the school cafeteria, the branded insurance forms that children take home their first day of school for their parents to sign or the lunches sponsored by the local pizzeria – corporate bidders are already in the faces of our kids.

To meet the growing needs of or engage the average 21st century media saturated learner requires not only current technological hardware (computers, LCD projectors, interactive white boards etc.) and software, but a well-crafted plan to train teachers on the effective use of technology in curriculum delivery.

All that is missing are the funds and political will to make our schools the rich learning environments they should be for our children. Sometimes it really is amazing what a fresh coat of paint can do.

Photo Credit: Crazyunclejoe


The dream will never die

wmd_buttonIt’s been almost 14 years since a wonderful, creative 19 year-old former student of mine, Michael Longo, was torn from his family and friends by an indiscriminate killer – meningitis.

The profound pain and overwhelming sense of loss resulting from this tragedy has subsided somewhat with the passage of time, but the enormous void of Michael’s unrealized dreams remains. The founding of the Meningitis Research Foundation of Canada in 1998 by Michael’s mother, Kathryn Blain, just 3 years after her only son’s death, has been a treasure, blessing and labor of love for all involved.

In 2004 the MRFC, spearheaded by Blain, successfully lobbied the Ontario government to include meningococcal and pneumococcal meningitis vaccines on the province’s routine immunization schedule.

Blain was quick to acknowledge the McGuinty government for this landmark decision, “Ontario has shown real leadership and taken a very important step by deciding that no more children should suffer when there are safe and effective vaccines to protect them. We’re hopeful that the remaining provinces will now follow.”

Today the MRFC is part of the global Confederation of Meningitis Organizations and invites all Canadians and citizens around the world to ‘join hands around the world’ on World Meningitis Day on April 25, 2009.

The MRFC also invites individuals to add themselves to their ‘Join hands on World Meningitis Day interactive map‘ to show solidarity against this dreaded disease.

As one of the founding directors of the MRFC – I consider myself the luckiest person in the world to work with such wonderful people (Kathryn, Ron, Karen, Ben and Elissa) on such a noble cause.

No doubt Michael Longo’s spirit is with us now, embracing and encouraging us as we join hands around the world to help ensure that the dreams of our children and grandchildren will be fully realized for generations to come.

Photo Credit: CoMO

Morph or Die: Clark Kent on life support

newsA variation of Queen’s 70’s classic rock anthem song title, Another One Bites the ‘Saw’ Dust, could be a fitting subtitle for what is currently going down with traditional newspaper organizations across the globe.

AbitibiBowater’s recent application for bankruptcy protection is but a symptom of an overall world-wide decline in demand for paper products (e.g. newsprint) that is shaking the foundations of the global pulp & paper industry.

Not surprisingly, newspapers around the world are going down faster than ‘keggers’ at a frat party. 24/7 access to online news and information and Web2.0 technologies that allow anyone with an internet connection to be their own publisher has, for some time, been eating away at traditional print-based newspaper organizations.

Not so for the Huffington Post. This dazzling web-based infotainment site oozes multi-media galore, eye candy for a public whose attention span more and more resembles a tse-tse fly hooked on crack cocaine. Don’t be fooled though – the HP contains as much steak as it does sizzle.

They draw you in like a Vegas-style hooker with their flashy photos and tabloid-style blog post headlines (Talented ugly person baffles world) but then deliver some insightful commentary on topics from colorful bloggers like Jane Fonda and Naomi Klein.

The HP can accommodate the hyperactive surfer looking for a news fix from the ‘Quick News’ option-link associated with each story. This feature gives the ‘reader-on-the-go’ a two-paragraph summary of an article or there is the full version option for those who have time to spare or are the more cerebral among us.

Though thousands of pulp & paper and newspaper jobs hang in the balance, perhaps the world-wide drop in demand for paper products may not be all gloom and doom. It may even slow the pace of global warming, give trees a fighting chance to live a natural life span and innovative entrepreneurs an opportunity to take the traditional print-based news and entertainment players off of life support and have them humming to the bitter-sweet strains of Queen’s The Show Must Go On.

Photo Credit: Mr. Peebles

God is Red

heartPope Benedict XVI will meet with Canadian aboriginal leaders at the Vatican later this month to finally express regret for the abuse suffered at Canadian Indian residential schools.

Here the Catholic Church has a wonderful opportunity to not only express regret for past transgressions, though this is a critical step toward the healing process, but to also put into practice the ideals expressed in its wonderful 1991 document Dialogue and Proclamation by the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue:

“While keeping their identity intact, Christians must be prepared to learn and to receive from and through others the positive values of their traditions. Through dialogue they may be moved to give up ingrained prejudices, to revise preconceived ideas, and even sometimes to allow the understanding of their faith to be purified.” (49)

Assembly of Nations chief Phil Fontaine hopes that the Church’s olive branch will also help build the relationship between the Catholic Church and First Nations people.

Authentic inculturation takes root and flourishes when a spirit of openness, humility and friendship prevails between divergent cultures. Native North American tribal culture and spirituality has much to offer opposing Christian cultures that, at various times throughout history, have attempted to crush and convert their native counterparts.

Only when cultures engage in a spirit of honest dialogue and are truly willing to learn, listen and share the best of what each has to offer the other, will hope for a mutually beneficial inculturation ensue. To do less would defer the dream of a peaceful, environmentally sustainable world and unjustly burden future generations to come.

Photo Credit: WolfSoul’s Photostream

The greatest love story of all

jesus1Ask most people who still go to see the latest films or rent or purchase new DVD releases what their favorite movie is and invariably, they will tell you the one they have just seen ranks up there among the best.

No surprise in an A.D.D.-ridden culture that tends to worship and reward the flashy pop ‘flavor-of-the-week’ sensation.

Three recent performances of the ‘passion’ at my parish reminded me that the greatest story ever written or told involves, not the latest celebrity-‘train-wreck in rehab’ or over-hyped new film release, but the humble carpenter’s son from Nazareth.

From my unique vantage point as a choir member at my parish – I was able to witness first-hand how a story, told countless times for over two-thousand years and to which we already know the ending – still causes tears to rise in the heart, gather to the eyes and overflow.

The powerful story of the complete self-sacrifice and profound suffering of the one deemed by first-century Roman authorities to be a trouble-maker and threat to their political power base, transcends time.

Its moving chapters are inscribed in the hearts and souls of the lonely, the poor, sick and alienated among us. Their salvation lies in the unfathomable pain borne by the one who was brutally tortured and executed beside two common thieves.

It is a story that culminates in the transformation of the lives of those who have lost all hope, but who are forever changed by the one whose love has conquered death and whose timeless story still brings us to tears.

Photo Credit: Katch

Rick was pure magic

I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn recently that a dear friend and colleague of mine, Rick Gardner, had passed away suddenly at the age of 62 on March 28th.

I first met Rick back in the early 1990’s when we both took the Honours Specialist English AQ course and commuted together one summer from KW to Toronto.

As fellow teachers, Rick and I often shared stories of our experiences in the classroom both as teachers and students. I can still hear his rich, deep voice echoing behind me  in his trademark WC Fields-sounding delivery “Gardner Holdings will get that” when I tried to pay for my coffee during one of our class breaks.

That was Rick to the core, generous, warm-hearted, a true gentleman of gentlemen. I will always treasure memories of his wonderful stories. A master story-teller, Rick had a razor sharp wit and terrific sense of humor.

I had the pleasure of Rick’s company during several rounds of golf together over the years. On each occasion he always entertained us with his vast repertoire of jokes. We candidly shared our thoughts on numerous topics, though especially those closest to us – family and education.

Rick – aka  ‘Candy the magic clown’ performed at my son Jonathan’s 8th birthday party in front of my family and Jonathan’s friends. He was a true magician who wove his magic for young and old alike. His family can take solace from the knowledge that he shared his deep, abiding Christian faith, generous spirit, warm heart, sense of humor and wisdom with hundreds of young people over his impressive teaching career and the numerous summer youth camps at which he facilitated.

All of them are richer human beings because they knew him. Unfortunately, I lost touch with Rick when he moved to New Zealand in 2002 – an exciting new chapter in his storied life that was just beginning to unfold. I believe the last time I saw him was when we met for a drink at a local establishment just before he left.

I confessed at the time that I was a little jealous that it was him leaving rather than me. He quickly assured me that the opportunity for me to make such a move with my family would one day come. Since then I’ve often wondered how he was doing in NZ and was one day hoping to take up his offer to visit him.

It’s somewhat ironic that on the day he died, March 28th, one of my Faith & Culture course classmates was doing a presentation on the Camboni missionaries in NZ. Several times during the presentation I felt Rick’s spirit and imagined him standing at the head of our class giving us a history lesson on the area in which I believe he settled, Wharangei. Perhaps he was saying goodbye.

Rick was a loving husband to Ruth, father of two wonderful daughters and a grandfather of four special grandchildren.

Knowing that his family and friends are heart-broken and will miss him dearly – I’m convinced that Rick is looking down on us right now and thinking of a way to weave his magic one more time, to reassure us that he is in a very ‘magical place’, to pull a rabbit from his hat, dazzle us with another amazing card trick and tell us one more joke to help us smile through our tears and to laugh a five year-old’s laugh . . . one more time.

Photo Credit: Grace Welch (nee Gardner)