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The Holocaust Study Tour: One Year Later

Last July I, along with teachers, educators, researchers and professionals from across the country, embarked on a Holocaust Study Tour that took us to Austria and Poland. I can without a doubt say that the experience was literally a life changing and it has helped me grow as an educator.

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Myself, along with my fellow teachers, educators, guides and professionals from the Holocaust Study Tour.

At the beginning of July, we left Toronto and set out for Vienna, where we began our journey by visiting local sites and museums, not just significant to the Holocaust but to Jewish history. This was one of the great themes of the tour and of what I brought home with me — when we teach Holocaust and Jewish education we should not simply focus on the death and loss but on the culture, for the Jewish people of Europe had a long and rich culture before the events of World War II and the Holocaust. This is something I have tried to remember, while it is very important to teach about the Holocaust, it must be remembered, and therefore taught, that Jewish people are not defined by the horrible loss of life that occurred. Leading from this I have it is also important to communicate that along with the Jewish people, the Nazis sought to eliminate Jewish culture, tradition and history. Through the destruction of culturally significant works and items, the Nazis believed they could erase the Jewish people. During our tour, and in many articles and stories I have read, it was repeatedly stated that despite this attempt to remove Jewish culture and traditions, people persevered and remembered. After the war ended, items and works were recovered and the Jewish people, of not just Europe but the world, remembered and built upon their rich history. This cultural heritage and perseverance is an important message that I feel is forgotten in Holocaust education at times and because of this tour, I am striving to include in my teaching.

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A 19th Century Jewish Synagogue in Vienna, Austria

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The Nameless Library memorial in Vienna, Austria

Accompanying us on the tour was a great and interesting man named Bill Glied, who is also a Holocaust survivor. When I applied to take part in the tour, I had no idea that Bill was to be part of the tour, but I can say now, having taken part in the tour, that he is literally one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. This is not simply because of what he went through, which was one of the most moving and incredible stories of strength and survival I could imagine, but also because of the life he has lived. Bill is not only strong but he also has a wonderful spirit that I truly cannot describe in words. Many people could live a life of anger, hate and resentment after going through an experience such as the one Bill did, but he did not, instead he has a successful life that has clearly been marked with his caring and fun spirit. In addition, he has spent much of his time on telling not only his story but also the story of Holocaust. He is a champion of Holocaust education and has helped teachers like me become better educators, so future generations will know and understand what occurred during the Holocaust, and the lives of those both lost and survived. Bill’s story, which is one I have shared with students, is both incredibly moving and inspiring but I will not share it here. Instead for those reading this that have never heard of Bill Glied, I ask you to take a little time to read about him. Bill still comes and speaks to schools and students directly, for those in Ontario, further helping the next generation of learners understand the events Holocaust but also the emotion, strength, perseverance and lives of those involved. As an educator and as a person I am truly lucky to have met Bill Glied and honored to have taken part in this tour with him!

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Myself and Bill Glied

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Bill Glied speaking to everyone from the Holocaust Study tour in Warsaw, Poland

During the Holocaust Study Tour, we visited a number of sites that were deeply significant to the Holocaust itself, including Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Mauthausen, and Castle Hartheim, among others. While it is not the purpose of this post to discuss everything I saw on the tour, but instead what I carry with me as an educator from the tour, I must spend some time discussing the actual sites. For those of you who know me on a personal level, you know that I am a serious person who rarely shows much for emotion. Given this, while I knew that the places I was to visit would be intense and moving, I was certain I would not become “emotional”. Having said this, I was moved beyond words and even to tears by sites. It is one thing to think of the loss of life that occurred during the Holocaust in terms of numbers, even in the staggering terms involved, but it is an entirely another to actually connect with those lives taken, through the places that they were taken in and the items those people left behind. Putting names, stories and everyday items in connection with the numbers and statistics placed an entirely different view on the Holocaust and while this may sound odd, it made it more real. I am choosing to talk about this hear because this has altered how I am going teach about the Holocaust. While teaching that 6 million Jewish people had their lives taken from them during the Holocaust is important, I also believe that this number is so large that it is difficult for students (and even adults) to conceptualize. Therefore, it is also important for me to teach about the people, both who they were and what they left behind. One piece that I have come to rely on, and I will address in the final section of this post, is the images I took on the trip. Additionally, I also feel that it is important to discuss the strength, resistance and survival of Jewish people, including stories such as Bill Glied or the resistance at Treblinka to help go deeper than the loss. The Holocaust is far more than text or numbers from a history book, which was my own personal educational experience with the Holocaust in high school, and as such, I want to draw upon my experiences and understandings from the Holocaust Study Tour to help my students truly understand this.

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Memorial at the Treblinka Extermination Camp

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A portion of the shoes that are piled up at Auschwitz-Birkenau

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Castle Hartheim in Austria

As I mentioned, and you have seen included throughout this post, I took a significant number of pictures on the Holocaust Study Tour last year. I have used these images to teach about the Holocaust, not just in Social Studies but also in other courses such as Photography and Information Processing, which you would not normally think of when considering Holocaust education. The images have become a great entry point for discussion and I have found that both students and adults alike want to know much more after seeing a couple images. Additionally, as I noted, the images allow the stories to become more real. When you see the shoes at Auschwitz-Birkenau or the memorial at Majdanek, the events become more tangible than me simply discussing them. Moreover, I can add in my personal experience at the sites to help the students achieve a greater level of understanding. This is a great-unintended use of the images I captured during the tour. I initially set out to take the pictures because I comprehend things more deeply through reflection and the images were intended to capture the tour through my eyes, to aid in my own reflection. While this was indeed something I have used the images for, I have been able to help others, including students, connect with the places I visited through the images — making the education about the Holocaust all the more tangible!

 

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 The rail tracks leading into Auschwitz-Birkenau

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Memorial at Majdanek concentration camp

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Remnants of the wall from the Warsaw Ghetto

While in this post I have spent little time discussing what I actually saw on the tour, I am more than willing to add to this post to discuss a specific site or experience if anyone is interested. Instead, I want to reiterate that thanks to Holocaust Study Tour and the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Center I was allowed to take part and gain the knowledge and perspective on the Holocaust that I now possess. When I stated that this tour was life changing, I meant it, and I now have a deeper understanding of not just the Holocaust but of Jewish people, culture and history as a result, which I truly believe has made me into a better teacher. The guides, Carson Phillips, Andreas Schnitzer, Catherine Gitzel and Sharon Kangisser Cohen were absolutely amazing and their knowledge of the locations we visited, the events that occurred and the history, both Jewish and non-Jewish, were second to none and I am grateful to have been able to experience the tour with them. While a teacher can visit many of these sites on their own, it is with our guides that we reached the levels of understanding and appreciation of the events and sites that we did. I would, in a heartbeat, take part in another similar tour any time, if these individuals where in anyway involved as I have truly benefited from their great knowledge! For those of you that have stuck with me and read the whole post, I thank you for allowing me to publicly reflect on what I have learned and gained from the Holocaust Study Tour last year. Again, if you have any specifics you would like to know more about, just comment and I will be more than happy to add to this! Thank you!

HST OYL 13 Sharon Kangisser Cohen talking to us in Tykocin, Poland

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Look Up: There is a World beyond the Phone

It has been awhile since my last post and I have been busy with job hunting and preparing for teaching in the fall. None-the-less, I have been working on the topic for this post for some time now, and as you can guess from the title, it is about the use of phones, and digital devices, in the modern world. However, before I get going, a bit of a disclaimer. For those of you that know me, or even those who have read my past posts, you know that I am a heavy user of mobile technology and I think not only is it an active part of our everyday lives, but also an important one. I think that the modern smart phone is an amazing tool that can help us do our jobs better, learn new & exciting things, connect with others, find information with ease, and of course entertain. It is with this in mind that I begin this post.

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Last month, while sitting at a performance at the Ukrainian Pavilion, during Mosaic, [Mosaic is a local celebration of culture, food and entertainment] I noticed three people playing on Facebook. While not out of the ordinary to see people using Facebook on their smart phone, it was a bit out of place to see the bright screens on during a performance. The three individuals, seated at the end of the table continued, off and on, to look at Facebook and rarely looked up to see the performers. Apparently, whatever was being posted on Facebook about other peoples’ lives and experiences was more interesting than actually living and experiencing something themselves. This is of course not the only time during the 3 days of Mosaic that I noticed people more interested in the virtual world than the physical one, but certainly the most glaring one, due to the ultra bright screens in the very dark room! After leaving that pavilion, I asked my girlfriend, “Why do we, as a society, prefer the digital world over real human interaction in increasing order?” The question, while left unanswered, reflects the notion that we have traded our standard interactions in for likes, comments, retweets, shares and posts. With this particular incident in mind, over the next several days, I found myself paying closer attention to how those around me interacted with each other, the environment and their digital device.

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Photo Credit: Unknown

The following week, while standing in line to get a coffee at Tim Hortons, I noticed a table of 6 construction workers (I knew they were construction workers based on the logo on their vests). While I stood in line for roughly 7 minutes, I watched as all 6 men sit in absolute silence, drinking their coffees and playing on their phones. I can count on one hand the number of times I noticed these men look up from their phones and since the line went directly past their table I was able to tell that in that time none of them spoke! Again, this is certainly not the first time I have noticed people ignoring those around them, instead focusing on the digital world, but with this topic already on my mind I was keenly aware of what these men were doing. I am not saying that these men are somehow wrong for using their phones, or playing a game (which the one I could see clearly was doing). I am suggesting that this is a sign of how far too often we forget that the physical world has interesting and exciting things to offer us, and the digital world, after all, was designed to support that physical world.

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The final encounter I wish to mention, which has become my motivation to finish this post and get back to blogging, occurred just today. I decided I needed a coffee after getting home this afternoon, but also decided I needed a walk, so I walked down to Tim Hortons and purchased a coffee. On my way home, I walked through a park near my home and stopped by the lake for a short while. While I was standing there I noticed two children, roughly aged 2 & 4 playing near the water. This at first caught my attention, as there was no adult with them, however after looking around I noticed a woman sitting on the grass. The kids played and the woman sat on the grass, eyes glued to her phone. I could not tell from where I was standing what she was looking at but it certainly must have been very important, because if it isn’t I am not sure how she could justify completely ignoring two small children near the water. I sat down on a bench for a little while and watched the water, the kids and this woman, and exactly as one would expect the smallest of the children decided to go into the water, falling over immediately after doing so. I hopped up, and shouted at the woman as I ran over to the kids. While they were not my children I certainly didn’t want to see the child hurt because he feel into the water! As it turns out he banged his nose on a rock and was bleeding, but his brother pulled him out of the water before I or the woman were there. The woman scolded the children for playing near the water and informed them that they are going home while she held a tissue to the boy’s nose. While it was probably not my place to say anything, I couldn’t help myself and I said “Maybe if you had been watching the kids instead of playing on your phone you would have noticed they were playing by the water!” She told me that it is none of my business, and she is right, it really isn’t, but she is very lucky that all that happened is a bloody nose and nothing more serious. As I left, I said to her, “I am not trying to attack you for this but I hope you see that something really bad could have happened. I am really glad that he is okay and that it is only a small scrape! Have a good day.” Her tone softened and she thanked me for watching and apologized to the kids. This is an extreme example, but it highlights the greater point that I want to make with this all. When we look down, at our phones, we miss what is happening around us. The smart phone is great but we need to look up and watch the performances, interact with our coworkers and watch over our children.

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Photo Credit: NPR, NPR Facebook

Every year I take a technology vacation, which in the past I have typically done in February but was unable to this year due to the fact that I taking ECMP 355. During this time, I put away the cell phone, the laptop, the tablet, the internet, etc. I only use my beloved technology for work, during work hours, during this time. This year I have decided to take my technology vacation for two weeks in July, since I was not able to in February, and I will write a post about it after. I mention this because I feel that everyone should try to take a vacation from his/her technology. It gives you a wonderful perspective on the world that often gets lost in the average, tech-filled day. You will not have a cell phone to use as a crutch when in social situations; instead, you will be forced to look up and at those around you, engaging in dialogue or awkwardly sitting in silence with nothing to “play” on. I have found that many people immediately look at the phone when interacting in social situations, when they do not know what to say or feel they having nothing to contribute, as a sort of default social interaction avoidance tool. Others have become so used to looking down at the screen that they feel the need to, even when there is something or someone around them that could/should be interacting with. I challenge all those who read this to leave the technology at home, and if you are not comfortable with 2 weeks, as I do, try 1 week or even a day to start. The point is to help yourself remember that there things, interesting and important things, going on around you every day. Our social networks are designed to help us connect, not disconnect, which is sometimes forgotten when we log on instead of interacting. Go out, have fun, interact with others and build some stories that are worthy of being shared on your network instead of simply reading about others stories while you are out! Again, to close, I want to say that I think the smart phone is an important tool in life and education, and our social networks are a great way to share and take part in each other’s lives; however, my point is that all of these great benefits are meant to enhance the physical world not override it. So look up from your phone and notice those around you, maybe it just might be me standing in line next to you!

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Personal Finance: The Need

Last week the Saskatchewan Business Teachers’ Association (SBTA) had our annual conference and case competition in Saskatoon. One of the major themes at the conference, and in business education in general at this time, is that of financial literacy. We discussed the need for a personal finance course for all high school students, and while many schools have begun offering Personal Finance 30, many more have not. Since the conference, I have been thinking about the people I know personally and their own financial situations, as well as, why I think this course should not only be offered at every school, but also ultimately required.

Without naming anyone specifically, I have many friends and acquaintances that have a substantial amount of credit card debt, or have had this debt burden in the past. Personally, I am not without debt as I am working to pay off the loans and debt acquired during my university time. When thinking the overwhelming number of people I know that have large debts, I wonder what the root cause is; why is debt so prevalent?  What causes individuals to accumulate debt, when they know that cannot pay it? After pondering these questions, I have come up with several deep problems that I think relate to amount of credit card debt that people are carrying and I think that these problems can be address through education.

#1 Easy Come, Easy Go

Credit does, for the most part, come fairly easy when you are young. A student credit card, with a relatively low limit, can be obtained without any real credit history, and credit card companies are more than eager to increase those limits as time goes on, if you are paying you bills, even if you are not coming close the limit. This ease of credit may begin to disassociate the individual from what the credit card really is; the spending of future income that you have not yet earned. I am not advocating making credit cards more difficult to acquire however. I think that getting a credit card when you are young, and using it wisely can help youth not only build but understand credit, in a society where credit has become vastly important. Instead, what youth need is an understanding that the credit extended to them is not the same as cash, and they have to work to pay that off. Furthermore, this credit has a cost and by using it, they are spending more money for the same item than had they paid cash/debit. Credit is an important and useful thing, but it must be respected and used wisely. This is something that must be taught to our students in school, in a deep and meaningful way through a personal finance course.

Credit card background

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#2 Doing the Minimum

Related directly to point and the ease of getting credit, many individuals will carry a balance regularly on their cards and many of these people will only make the minimum payment. I recently spoke with a student that thought that this was great because he would be still paying all the bills and therefore was responsible. The minimum payment does not take into account the fact that you will have to pay interest. If you have maxed out a student credit card, which would typically go no higher than 1,000$ and elected to pay only minimum payments, which could be set at 3% of the balance and the interest is 19.99%, which is a current rate, then the 1,000$ would take 50 months to pay off! In addition, the interest would be 471.41$ over the period making that 1,000$ actually cost you $1,471.41! Even if you paid a higher rate for the minimum payment, such as 5% it would still take over 2 years to pay off the debt and cost an additional 266.46$. Students and adults alike often do not conceptualize the real cost of debt and often place the interest charge into the realm of the abstract, not fully considering the cost of only making the minimum payment. Our students need to learn not only that debt is paying for something with money you have not earned but also it is paying MORE for something with money that you have not earned, and the amount of that increases the longer they take to pay it. Again, this is something that every student should learn, not just in terms of numbers, but also in terms of how this can affect your overall life, and can be taught in a personal finance course.

Tighten Your Belt - Austerity

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#3 The Small becomes the Large

Many individuals that I have spoken state that they started out with good intentions when it comes to credit card debt, having been told to watch it carefully by their parents at some point. However, despite this warning they have still ended up owing the credit card companies large amounts of money. The number one problem people I spoke to pointed to was the fact that they began only putting small items on the card with the intention of paying it all of later. It might be as simple as fuel costs, new clothes or a night out and it was rarely a large lump sum purchase. These small purchases were made with the intention of paying them off in the coming month or two, when they had more available cash. Unfortunately, the next month came and when the payment was made to credit card (often for less than the full amount) there was not enough cash left to pay for the currents months fuel, entertainment, clothing etc. so it was again charged to the card. This is the better circumstance, some individuals not only keep growing the debt, they were lucky to pay the minimum each month, causing the amount of debt that was being carried to balloon over time. Not only is an understanding of credit lacking with these individuals, but an understanding of budgeting. If you do not, have enough money to pay for something today and your monthly income is not going up then you will not have enough money to pay for it next month unless you readjust the budget and lower another expense. Budgeting is a critical and often forgotten element of personal finance. This is of absolute importance and I strongly feel that every high school student should know how to manage a budget by the time they graduate; not simply understand what a budget is, but how they can use the budget to plan for expenses and save/invest in their future.

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#4 Not All Debt is Created Equal

This seems like common sense, not every source of credit is going to have the same cost, interest rate, or the same fees associated with it. However, I have met many people that view a store credit card and standard credit card as the same thing. Store credit cards often offer a period of no or low interest, while making minimum payments. However once the grace period is over the interest rate kicks in, often covering the full amount of the charge if the entirety is not paid off. The interest rate of in store credit cards is typically far higher than standard or bank offered credit cards, sometimes going as high as 28% or 30%! The interest charges on these types of debt rack up faster and have a bigger punch than the “lower” rate cards (while still not low). In those that I spoke to who have used this method of purchasing items in store and have carried a balance in the interest bearing  period, they also have debt on other cards and are in many cases making just above the minimum payments. The difference between a bank issued and store issued credit card is not known to many people and even those who do know the difference often disregard it thinking that they will pay off the balance in the grace period. Students should again understand the differences and the risk associated with the high interest rates attached to these cards before they leave high school.

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#5 The “Limit” is not you LIMIT

This one is the biggest factor, in my opinion, of debt loads being carried by young and middle aged people today. If a credit card company is willing to extend you 5,000$ in credit, this does not mean that you need to use this full amount. The most common recommendation is having a maximum of 30% of all your available credit used, regardless of the source. This number might be significantly lower, depending on your own financial situation. If you have 100$ a month you can set aside for purchases (or paying your credit card) but need to make a purchase now (for whatever reason) then in order to pay that total balance in a year, the maximum you can spend is 1,050$ based on the same 19.99% interest. Even if you have an available credit of 10,000$ you should not move up to 3,000$ (the 30%) because you do not have enough disposable income to pay off the debt in a reasonable period of time. If you did this, and your portion of income you had to pay off the debt did not change then it would take you 3.5 years to pay off the debt! A lot can happen in 3.5 years and other unplanned expenses may arise, leaving you no flexibility to address them without going deeper into debt. Therefore, even though many financial institutions state that the max debt load should be 30% or lower of all your available credit, it is often far lower. The fact that credit is extended does not mean that credit must be used, and it is often a small portion of this credit that can be safely used. A staggering number of adults do not truly grasp this and unfortunately, many youth are acquiring this lack of or misinformation from their parents, further showing the need for in school education of credit, saving and budgeting!

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I have only briefly touched on 5 points today in this post, and as I type these, thoughts are still bouncing around my head on more reasons why we need better and more prevalent personal finance courses in high schools. With this in mind, I will come back to this topic again and add to this list, but I would like to ask those that are reading this, why do you think personal debt is so high for so many today and why do you think personal finance should be taken in high school? Thank you!

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Race and Dolls: An Article Sparks a Conversation on White Privilege

Early this week I noticed an article on CBC.ca about a mother who is making custom made “Barbie” dolls for her daughter that reflect her daughters own image better. Queen Cee Robinson from Hamilton,  Ontario, set out to create dolls that not only had a different sick tone than the average Barbie but also brought elements such as hair and clothing into the design. Queen Cee Robinson is African-Canadian, as is her daughter, and she found that all the images that her daughter was exposed to, in terms of toys, were of the dominant white culture. She also found that even if she could find a doll with “black” skin tone, the hair and clothes were not much different than the standard “white” dolls. After finishing the article, which I think you should read as well, I made the comment that I should try and get one of these for my niece for her birthday. While she has many toys, and plenty of dolls already, this might make a nice addition to the lot.

Queen Cee Robinson and 3 of her homemade "Barbies" (Taken from the CBC Article)

Queen Cee Robinson and 3 of her homemade “Barbies” (Taken from the CBC Article)

While at work, this week, I mentioned the article and my thoughts about getting a doll for my niece. It was the reaction of my one co-workers to this story that is the basis for this post, and hopefully an outlet were I can seek the opinion of others. Upon me describing the story and expressing how wonderful I thought it is that someone is making these dolls, even if Mattel isn’t, my co-worker, who was not part of the initial conversation, jumped in and asked “Why are you so excited? They are just dolls.” I explained that while yes they are dolls, they are also a representation of an image, an image of what is “normal”. Furthermore, if you do not see a doll that reflects your image then you may feel that your image is abnormal. I do not believe that young girls should be exclusively playing with dolls, and I also think that many of these dolls give an unrealistic body shape to young girls; however, I am excited because there are young African-Canadian, Asian-Canadian and Muslim-Canadian girls that can see an image similar to there own because of this woman’s work (albeit only on a small scale at this point). My co-worker deeply disagreed that the image of a doll can have an effect on the image and development of a young girl (or boy). I added that it is not just the dolls but the fact that most things are created with the dominate “white” image in mind; it is part of white privilege that we can look in magazines, televisions shows, advertisements, toys (even dolls), political leaders, etc. and see something that more or less reflects our own image. I asked, when looking at Canadian television, movies, advertisements, products or even our leaders (be it business or political) how many non-white faces do you see? “Enough” was the reply, there are non-whites in all of those roles, but there are fewer because they make a small portion of the population. I added that even though this is not true, I could debunk that statement by simply pointing to Canada’s First Nations, as they are underrepresented in all realms of media! I didn’t really receive a response to this statement, but the conversation had prompted my co-worker to pull up the CBC article and make another observation.

Race in the current Barbie image.

Race in the current Barbie image.

Photo Credit: Charles (dollstuff.net) via Compfight cc

In the article it references how Mattel had a line of dolls at one time called “So In Style“, which, while not available in Canada, were being discontinued in the US because of low sales. Adding that no business has an obligation to sell something for a “social good” and not turn a profit. The inference was that if these dolls were important then they should been purchased and because the market did not demand them they simply ceased to become an offering. This does make a lot of sense, a business should only produce what the consumers what to purchase; however, we do not know, from the article, how this line was marketed, to whom it was marketed and for how long the line ran (we would need further investigating for this). While no company is required to support a failing line, I also question the benchmark that they may have been measuring it against, in terms of success. If this line, targeted at African-Americans, was measured at the standard Barbie line, targeted at White-Americans, then the measure of success while always be skewed. Not only are there more White-Americans than there are African-Americans, the line was not established and developed, like the standard Barbie line, guaranteeing it will not measure up to its targets. I added that while I have no evidence of how Mattel measured their line or what internal strategies were taken, the point is not that a line failed in the US, but that it is not a standard image (regardless of manufacturer) on either side of the border. Not every “white” doll that hits store shelves is successful either and it cannot be assumed that the dolls were not purchased because people do not have an interest in non-white dolls. I also pointed out that the dolls did not include elements such as hair or dress that vary be ethnicity, culture and race, and primary differentiated on skin tone, unlike Queen Cee Robinson’s dolls. I made specific reference to the dolls that came with a hijab, which is an article of clothing many young Canadian women are wearing today, but by no means see it reflected in their toys. My co-worker, while very disagreeable on this subject, had remained calm until this point. My co-worker felt that the inclusion of the hijab on the dolls is “horrible” because it is a symbol of the oppression of women around the world. I could clearly see that I was angering my co-worker and I knew I needed to finish my break shortly, but I none-the-less felt I needed to address this point to some degree.

Another common image of a doll that is seen on store shelves.

Another common image of a doll that is seen on store shelves.

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I stated that if you think that wearing a hijab is a sign of weakness or subordination of women then you are “mistaken”. I had no intention of beginning a large discussion about the use of the hijab in Canadian society but I added that the hijab is a symbol of modesty. Modesty and head coverings have been the part of numerous religions and cultures around the world, and I pointed to the fact that my co-workers own grandmother wears a scarf over her head when in public. There is, without a doubt, oppression of women around the globe, but to link the hijab to that is a very narrow view. While getting ready to leave the staff room, I closed with one point a fellow teacher told me about her own choice to wear a hijab; that wearing a hijab is like wearing your beliefs on your head, she is proud to be Muslim and sees the hijab a piece of tradition and culture that she willingly partakes in as part of her faith.

Hijab & Car

A woman wearing a Hijab next to a sports car.

Photo Credit: Ed Callow [ torquespeak ] via Compfight cc

My co-worker and I ended the conversation shortly there after, but it left me thinking not only about the dolls and how I want to purchase one for my niece, but also how this will translate into a classroom. While we won’t be playing with too many dolls in a high school business classroom, there will be, without a doubt, images that are projected and portrayed that do display a notion of “normal” however intentional or unintentional. If there are videos, texts, resources, advertisements, speakers, etc. that I chose to bring into my classroom, I need to be aware that these come with an image as well. Regardless of the racial makeup of the classroom, I think it will be deeply beneficial to bring in resources of all races and ethnicities. It may be even more critical to point out that there non-whites that are successful in business, because this is not the common image projected. Inviting Aboriginal entrepreneurs in to speak about their ventures, will benefit all students both from a business standpoint and from a diversity standpoint. This thought certainly is not new but after my conversation with my coworker, I wonder how difficult it might be to illustrate different races in the classroom, given that the students will already come with years of previous racial baggage. I truly believe that regardless of what subject area you teach (this should not be limited to the Social Studies classroom), every teacher should work towards a building a better understanding of diversity and work to combat the notion of white privilege (by at least creating some level of awareness). Having said this I do expect that there will be some degree of resistance from some students. My best thought on this is that I need to approach these topics with ease and not overwhelm the students, while working with my fellow teachers to ensure that the students receive the same information across all subjects on this topic. While my co-worker was very  resistant to any notion of ethnic or racial diversity in the dolls, the level of resistance in the conversation my also been due to the fact that I immediately jumped into my points on race and white privilege; there was no build up, which may have caused my co-worker to put up a “wall” against my comments. Knowing this I feel that it is deeply important to not try and cover these topics in leaps, but instead in small steps.

This images illustrates how many of the business resources are portrayed, with the white male in focus.

This images illustrates how many of the business resources are portrayed, with the white male in focus.

Photo Credit: The_Warfield via Compfight cc

I am now asking you, any one that happens to be reading this, first what you think about the dolls (would you ever purchase one for your own child?) and second how would you approach the topics of race, ethnic diversity and white privilege in your classroom? Thank you.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2014 in ECMP 355

 

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Summary of Personal Learning for ECMP 355

Below is a video that I created for ECMP 355 that showcases my top 5 takeaways from the course, and how I have grown as an educator during this semester. I am not going to summarize the video here, instead I invite you to watch it and let me what you think. I also ask you, how do you view technology and education? What is important when you consider technology in the classroom? Thank you!

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2014 in ECMP 355

 

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Remixing is the Sincerest Form of Flattery: Tech Task #10

For the final Tech Task for ECMP 355, our class was asked to watch RIP: A Remix Manifesto and Everything is a Remix. Both of these documentaries deal with the topics copyright, remixing and what should and should not be used. Personally, I am torn on the notion of copyright, on one hand with my business hat on, I feel that a creator should be able to profit from his/her creation as much as possible and have it used as he/she sees fit. On the other hand, with my educators’ hat on, I think that knowledge and creation are powerful things, and sharing that creation helps others build and create something new. In this post, I will examine copyright and remixing, and look at how I think it should fit into the educational environment. If you would like to watch the videos, both of which are very interesting, please check out this links above!

In terms of my own classroom, I want all students to be able to create. Remixes and mash-ups are, in my view, creations. They take existing content and make something new out of it. The remixers have challenged themselves to make something, they may not always be good, but they are indeed creating. After all, isn’t that what the copyright laws began for in the first place, to encourage creation!

Copyright 01

Photo Credit: opensourceway via Compfight cc

As pointed out in the videos, copyright was at one time limited to 14 years and it was only recently that it has been extended to its length of life plus 75 years. The notion was give the creator time to recover the costs of the creation and make some money, before the item entered to public domain. This encouraged invention by knowing you would have time to recover your costs, but it also encourage creation by building upon what came before. “Everything is a Remix,” is indeed the perfect title, because no matter what you cite an example; its existence is owed to what came before, because its creator was influenced by previous creations. It is said, that if you are smart enough to create something, you should be able to profit from it, which was the initial goal of copyright and a principal of capitalism and business. However, as shown in the case of “Happy Birthday” in the “RIP: A Remix Manifesto” the creators are long dead and can no longer profit from their invention. Instead, Warner/Chappell will collect any royalties from the singing of this song, which technically cannot be publicly sung without seeking their approval! The purpose of copyright, encouraging creation and protecting the creator so they can recover the cost of creation has long since been lost. It has become a tool of the major labels and corporations, not artists and creators. Therefore, do I support, copyright, you bet I do, but I support the old form that protected the inventor/creator so they could make something without a knock-off being immediately made at a cheaper price. The ability for copyright ownership to be transferred is muddy water in itself, if the goal is to protect the creations. I favor the notion of creation and entrepreneurship, but the current system seems to defy those principles.

Happy Birthday

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via Compfight cc

In terms of my own experience, I admit that I have downloaded a song or two over the years. Sometimes of artists that I would not have considered purchasing the album for, but come to thoroughly enjoy after. My point with this statement is that not all direct copying is bad, even though it may seem so at first. By downloading music, I was introduced to new artists and sounds, of which I went on to purchase albums. Napster, as mentioned in the video, was really the start of this for me. Napster provided a way to get all the songs I wanted, without having to buy the songs I did not want. Furthermore, as I said, I came to like some artists so much that I ended up purchasing their albums because I had downloaded the songs. One example that comes to mind is Tomi Swick, I remember downloading his album, Stalled Out in the Doorway, and enjoying it so thoroughly that I went out and bought the CD. I technically did not need to buy the CD; after all, I had the whole album. I purchased it because the music was good, and because I downloaded the songs, I knew this! Since Napster fell, many other music sharing services have come and gone over the years, some through legal means and some not. There are numerous stores where you can purchase music online today, of which I use some. Some have the music restricted by DRM (Digital Rights Management) and some do not. Some are high quality and some are not. On this subject, and a bit of a side-note, Neil Young recently released a new music player/store where music can be purchased in very high quality with no DRM. However, for me the best scenario possible is when the artist connects direct with the consumer, no label, no digital store, no DRM, etc. The consumer can buy from the artist; support the one who indeed created the content. A great example is Radiohead with their 2007 album, In Rainbows. They released the album to the public, no label, and let the consumer decide what to pay. Imagine if all artists could simply load their content online, without a label and have the consumer access it, deciding what to pay and what not to pay. A great platform would be YouTube, the site of countless remixes and mashes ups. This brings us back to the question, what should students do when it comes to copyright.

Copyleft

Photo Credit: eflon via Compfight cc

Without a doubt, I look at the content that exists on YouTube, the remixes and mash-ups, and see creation. I want my students to embrace this creative spirit. Having said this I will need to explain how copyright law works, for good or for bad, before this territory is entered. This is not because I think educational institutions should be held to copyright laws on sampling, but because the students will need an understanding on the legal framework, they may wish to create under outside of the classroom. If a student is making a video in Communication Media that blends several songs, or several videos, creatively together to make something that is not simply two or more videos in one, but something new, then I, as the teacher, will be impressed with their creative ability and encourage this learning. If my students are creating promotional materials for an entrepreneurship venture, they may want to sample content from other existing creations. In this I will need to make sure they understand, that while in the context of the classroom, remixing can be seen as creation, in the larger world it is not necessarily so. If an actual business were to create promotional videos using content that was copyrighted, even if it is remixed into something entirely new, they would be held legally responsible for using that content. Since I want my entrepreneurship classroom to be a reflection of the real business world, I would not allow this type of remixing. Having said this, I would introduce them to the idea of the creative commons.

 Copy Exact

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

Creative Commons and Compfight are two sites that allow users to share and reuse materials and images. The images and materials found through the Creative Commons are legal to use, but may have certain conditions. For example, it may be perfectly fine to reuse the work that is found through the creative commons, provided that attribution is given to the author. Some work may or may not allow for altering or remixing of the original content. All the images that appear in this post, for example, have been found through the Creative Commons and Compfight. The idea of reusable, sharable materials should be introduced to the students, encouraging them to access to the Creative Commons for class purposes (in all classes). When the entrepreneurship students are creating their promotional material and use images from the creative commons, as long as they follow all the attributions, they are not breaking copyright law. It would also be beneficial to encourage the students to give back to the creative commons with works they make. The materials they upload can be attributed back to them, and then shared and adapted to meet the needs of the next user. Creativity will grow through this process, of using, remixing, sharing and reusing. This, to me is the fundamental key when it comes to education and copyright. Yes, we need to teach our students about copyright laws that exist so they have an understanding of the larger legal and social framework they operate under, but we must also teach them the value of sharing and creating. In this sense, we will need to walk to the line between copyright and copyright infringement in our role as educators, with the knowledge that student learning is the ultimate goal!

Creative Commons

Photo Credit: IvanWalsh.com via Compfight cc

I am curious what others think about this contentious issue. Should materials that are created be free for others, for remixing and recreation? Is the copyright law too long and too much in favor of big business, or should it be strengthened to protect the “intellectual property.” If you created something and someone remixed it or used it without paying for it how would you feel? Personally, I won’t be recording any songs, however anything I create, I feel should be open to recreation, provided there is attribution; after all, they might just make it better! Thank you for reading!

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2014 in ECMP 355, Tech Task

 

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Boy’s Don’t Wear Purple: The Enculturation of Boys in the School Setting

I recently completed an assignment on the socialization and enculturation of boys in the school setting for one of my education classes. The topic for this assignment began with a conversation I had with my 3 and half year old niece and the phrase, “Boys don’t wear purple.”

Boy's Don't Wear Purple

My niece was visiting for the afternoon and upon noticing the t-shirt I was wearing, she wanted to know why I was wearing someone else’s shirt, possibly her Aunties or her Moms. The t-shirt was a purple Las Vegas shirt that I purchased when I was there several years ago, so I informed that the shirt is mine, not her Aunties and not her Moms. She thought I was being rather silly and told me that it cannot be mine because, “Boys don’t wear purple.” I told her that boys do indeed wear purple, after all, I am a boy and I am wearing purple! She laughed and told me that I am only wearing purple because I am a “silly Uncle Todd” and “only girls wear purple.” This comment surprised me coming from her so I decided to press her further and asked her how she knew this. She thought for a moment and told me that, “Everyone knows that boys don’t wear purple.” Not ready to give up, I decided to take it one step further and asked her what her, what would happen if I came to her little sister’s birthday party wearing all pink. She started laughing and said, “Everyone will think you are a girl!” Even though she thought I was very funny with my comments, I was no longer able to maintain her attention and she ran off to play with something more interesting than her Uncle; however, she left me wondering, how do children form their views about gender?

Bob

Bob the Builder shows the image of man working with his hands and tools, taken from Amazon.ca

Through my research for the project, I found that while parents, peers, schools/teachers and the media help form children’s notions about gender, it was the peer groups that were the most significant. A peer is on the same level as you both physically and developmentally, as compared to adults, which makes the peer group more relatable. Furthermore, the peers form the social interaction that takes place on a daily basis, be it at school, during play or on their home time. The peer groups takes what they see in media, from their parents, from their teachers and other peers and recycles it, creating a set of norms for the group to operate under. This is the basis that boys are enculturated under, and the starting point of my project.

I am not going to share my entire project here; however, there are several points I wanted to share and ask for anyone reading this to share their opinion back. There are 3 points from my project I want to address here, please feel free to comment on any of them!

Busy BoysBusy Girls

Images taken from Walmart.ca, where it is encouraged to search for boys and girls toys separately. Busy boys play with tools and busy girls play with baby cradles.

It is more Okay for a Girl to be a “Tomboy” than a Boy to be a “Sissy”

In an article titled “The Influence of Peers on Children’s Socialization to Gender Roles,” author Susan Witt explains how other students, the school culture and even society at large is more accepting of a girl taking on male gender stereotypes, than a boy taking on female gender stereotypes. If a girl wants to play rough, take part in sport and work with tools, she might be refered to as a Tomboy and thought to be a strong girl. It may even be seen that she is challenging gender stereotypes by doing things that are typically male. If a girl does things that are typically male stereotyped then she may even by complimented and praised for breaking the gender mold. This is not the case for boys. A boy who wants to play gently, play with dolls, or spend time in play kitchens, may be thought of as a weak boy, or even worse as not a boy at all. Other boys will see that the one boy as playing with, and taking part in, things that girls do. This will cause them to pick on him and refer to him as a girl, or names far worse. This boy may be categorzied as a Sissy, who is more girl than boy. He may show too much emotion and will not fit in with the strength and athletic driven playground. Even outside of the playground this message will be reinfroced, when parents, media and teachers that tell the boy to stop whinning if he is showing too much emotion, or to be a man (a point I will address later) and stop acting like a girl. What happens is that boys are told that it is not okay to be a girl or act like a girl. Boys with this mentailty are thinking that masuculity is better than femminity, strength is better than reflection, and boys better than girls. Both the boy who does not conform to this image and girls are hurt by this notion, but I think that even the boys who do confrom to the strong male gender stereotypes are hurt as they are limited in the notion of what they can and cannot be.

He-Man

He-Man is a hypermasculine image that is projected to young boys, image taken from Amazon.ca.

Under-achievement is Treated Differently for Boys and Girls

Boys see strong academics as a non-masculine trait and counter the athletic-cool-tough image of what it means to be a man that has been constructed on the playground. The overachiever is ostracized from the peer group of boys; therefore, leading boys to create an achievement ceiling for themselves. If they achieve too high then they may be less of a man, so some will come to hold back. Furthermore, the ones who do achieve are typically not as strong or athletically gifted; these boys may be picked on or targeted by the dominate boys. In doing this the dominate boys will prove their strength and toughness and gain status in the peer group, while the picked on boys will be shown as weak and less manly, and lose status in the group. Furthermore, this will further discourage other boys in the peer group from overachieving.

In an article by authors Jones & Myhill titled, “Seeing things differently: teachers’ constructions of underachievement,” they discuss how teachers see the underachievement in boys and girls. The boys are seen as underachieveing not because they cannot do the work but because they do not try hard enough. This is because teachers recognize what is going on in the peer group and that many boys are simply not giving their full effort, so they don’t look too smart. On the flip side, they have come to see girls underachievement as a lack of ability. The girls are academincally inclined and therefore will do as good as they can. If they are not doing well in their school work, then it must be because they cannot do it; this narrow image, taken by some teachers, either consciously or unconsciously, descriminates against both groups. Boys may simply not understand the material, want to achieve, and need better supports to get there. If the teacher credits their underachiveement with lack of effort then these supports may not be given. Additionally, girls may simply not be trying and be more than able to complete the work. This mentality assumes that these girls lack the ability, when indeed they may be more than able.

Boys, who conform to the standard male stereotypes, may view academics as non-masculine; therefore, as teachers we do need to create an enviroment where achievement is rewarded as both a good thing for boys and girls, in and out of the classroom. We must also remember that not every boy falls into these stereotypes and provide supports to the students who are lacking in achienvment, regardless of whether we think they are not trying or not.

Old Spice

Old Spice ad, taken from a Facebook banner ad, which positions the notion that men need to disassociate themselves with being femmine.

Be a Man, the Image of Masculinity

Former NFL defensive tackle, Joe Ehrmann, conducted a Tedx Talk in 2013 about how boys are socialized to be men. He begins with the phrase “Be a Man,” stating that it is loaded with the expectations of what a man is supposed to be. He states that boys are taught to “separate their heart from their head” at an earlier age. Meaning that boys do not show emotion and think through situations, they do not feel their situations. He also talks about the 3 lies of myths of masculinity. The first being the notion of success on the ball field, which relates to success in athletics, strength, toughness, etc. The second is prowess in the bedroom and association with masculinity and sexual conquest. This notion can result in the exploitation of girls or the thought that girls are there for the benefit of boys. Finally, the third myth he identifies is that masculinity is defined by the size of billfold, which is the economic success, position and possessions achieved. Joe Ehrmann states that these lies are the source of most gender related problems today. Knowing this, we as teachers will need to be aware of the enculturation process that is occurring within our schools and work to counter it. Having said this, teachers are not the only player in the enculturation process, or even close to the main one, but they can play a role. If all teachers, coaches and staff within the school deliver the same message – masculinity is not defined by athletics, strength, toughness, sexual success and economics but instead that emotion and self-awareness play a role, leaving room for academics, non-physical activity, self-reflection and peer bonding. The media, parents, and society can support the mainstream image of masculinity that is built by boys on the playground. As a teacher, we may not be able to overcome all the other voices, at least not immediately, but that does not mean we should not try. If all teachers deliver the same message, over time the boys may come to understand a larger more well-rounded definition of masculinity; a definition that will be healthier and better for their overall well-being. This message may take many years to resonate, but if it is not delivered at all it has no chance; therefore, teachers and coaches must try!

Thicke

Image of Robin Thicke in his music video for Blurred Lines, creating an image of how men interacte with women, taken from YouTube.com.

This is just a snippet of my project on the enculturation of boys, but I would like to hear others thoughts on this topic, which is why I posted it here. Please let me know what you think about the enculturation of boys, your own experiences of the notion of what it means to “Be a Man” or how teachers can help counter the larger image created in society of masculinity. Thank you!

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in ECMP 355

 

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