Episode 10 of ‘Talking to Canadians’

I am very pleased to present Episode 10 of ‘Talking to Canadians’ which is my interview with Leslie Pidlubny. This episode is entitled: “I like people.”
Leslie is a person who wears many different hats. She is an employee of the London Public Library; she is involved in animal rescue; she is an entrepreneur; she is also a collector of artwork, a bricoleur and someone who specializes in the rehoming of family heirlooms.
Ryan O’Connor and I opted for the title “I like people” because this statement (which is Leslie’s) captures the enthusiasm, humanity and gusto with which my guest pursues her many personal and professional projects. She is someone who has a passion for life, for the intricacies and textures of our world and, above all, for the stories that people and objects carry with them.
I call Leslie a bricoleur because she has the refined eye of the turn-of-the-century rag picker who could find gems in the most unlikely or overlooked places. She sees the stories and vested emotions that are embedded in people and in the things they part with -both voluntarily and involuntarily. She is also someone who is loathe to see anyone, any animal or any thing as disposable.
It was a vivifying experience to sit down and talk with her. I hope you tune in to our conversation:
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Languages of Mastery

Languages of Mastery

In my years in the classroom I have heard many math teachers talk about facing math phobia in their students. It starts early and seems to grow worse as the years pass. By the time students reach high school -and often earlier- they are convinced that they cannot do math. A couple of years ago I was buying produce at the Western Fair Farmer’s Market and the vendor gave me incorrect change. I noted the error and she said: “Sorry, I’m a former liberal arts major.” I was struck by this since making change is a simple form of arithmetic, one of the basic building blocks of early math.

I certainly experienced math phobia when I was in school; I always preferred the liberal arts to the hard sciences even though I have abiding interests in biology, architecture, astronomy, geography and meteorology. But this is my point: math became disconnected from the subjects that interested me and the wonder I felt (and feel) at the world.

The reasons for my misperception that I “couldn’t do math” were twofold. First, math was harder for me than other subjects and I assumed that since it was harder, that was an indication that I possessed an intellectual weakness. (Where did this self-deprecation come from?) Second, I attended a high school where several of my math teachers essentially told me that I couldn’t do it. They were impatient with me when I didn’t catch on to a concept “quickly enough.” Needless to say, I became discouraged and when faced with math I frequently shut down.

I mention math because I think it is a source of fear for many adults. But then again, so is writing. How many adults have I known who have said that they never learned how to write or avoided doing so at all costs? In fact, I know many adults who are petrified by writing, especially because it is something that requires peer review and criticism. My father, who is a scientist, once told me that when he first started writing scientific papers it was a terrible struggle for him because throughout his years of medical school and undergraduate work in pre-Med, he seldom had to do any formal writing. It was stinging for him to receive drafts of his articles sent back to him dripping with red ink.

I often encounter students who are just beginning the process of learning how to write. They are young, energetic and imaginative. And yet, when I ask many of them to apply their imagination to writing they freeze up. When I say: “Write about anything! Let your imagination run wild!” They are frightened and don’t want to do it. I admit, it caught me by surprise that a group so young would already have fears about even creative writing.

Responding to this, I have made it my mission to do with writing what I wish had been done for me with math: to connect the act of writing to the wonder of the world around us. Math and writing are languages; they are the most sophisticated tools we have to explore and express our questions, understanding and insights about the world around us. Math and writing are brilliant discoveries, tremendous technologies of personal expression and cognitive power; they are the
essential ingredients of exploration and experimental application. Why shouldn’t every child come out of their formal schooling with a love, appreciation and even formal mastery of both?

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Lament for the Present

A conversation with a student about the book Lament for a Nation by George Grant led me to pen this piece:

Lament for the Present: How a 52 year old book about Canada can help explain Trump

In 1965 George Grant, a McMaster University philosophy professor, published a short book destined to make him a CBC television personality and a figure of controversy in Canadian academe. That book, Lament for a Nation: the defeat of Canadian nationalism, argued that Canadian nationalism was dead, Canada’s sovereign existence was finished, and that modern life made political conservatism impossible. In a lyrical style marked by flights of outrage and sorrow, Lament proved a surprise bestseller and won Grant admirers and enemies alike.

It is unlikely that you will hear the name George Grant mentioned in a Conservative Party leadership debate or see him praised in print as an intellectual godfather of Canadian conservatism. The reason is simple: Grant was a political heretic: in Lament he argued that to be a true Canadian conservative the time had come to embrace socialism. Grant was able to espouse such apostasy because he was a moral critic of capitalism and believed socialism to be a conservative force capable of restraining private greed in the name of morality and public good. The preservation of communities and the guarding of traditional values required a reigning in of capitalism, so Grant accepted that a powerful State was necessary to impose economic planning and restrictive trade to curb the encroachment of American corporate and consumer capitalism. Just like today, these were not mainstream political positions in 1965, except perhaps within certain corners of the NDP.

In 2017, in this so called “age of Trump,” heterodoxy is all the rage in politics. Voters have demonstrated an appetite for unconventional -even renegade- politicians who do not tow the party line. In Lament for a Nation, Grant’s hero was one such pol: the controversial prairie populist Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, a man who hailed from small town Saskatchewan, was reviled by the Press, alienated his own party’s leadership, and who prided himself on possessing a deep bond with the people of small town and rural Canada. He preferred the hustings and campaigning to policy-making and excelled at verbal spats. During his prime ministerial tenure, Diefenbaker remained an isolated figure in Ottawa who neither cultivated friendships nor socialized with diplomats, civil servants or dignitaries. This “Rogue Tory” and “Renegade in Power,” as he was called, even precipitated a diplomatic crisis with Washington when he balked at meeting Canada’s defence obligations under NORAD and NATO by allowing nuclear warheads installed atop Canada’s Bomarc missiles. George Grant admired this apparent willingness to “stand up to Washington,” and embraced Diefenbaker’s quixotic campaign to pull Canada away from American influence by renegotiating a powerful and independent British Commonwealth (not even Britain supported it).

But what is most relevant about Lament for a Nation is not Grant’s admiration for an odd duck prime minister, but his passionate disdain for Canada’s liberal elite. He accuses Canadian liberals in government, business, finance and the press of betraying Canadian sovereignty by pursuing closer financial, diplomatic, and military ties with the United States and by embracing an emerging global diplomatic and financial order led by Washington. Grant not only hated globalism, he believed that liberalism was the philosophy of global governance. If liberals succeeded in building this international order, it was only a matter of time before “the universal and homogeneous state” would take hold and destroy Canada and conservatism.

2017 is a time of existential fear among many voters in the United States, Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Observers of contemporary politics have been treated to dire warnings about what globalism and global immigration will do to the culture and values of the West. These warnings have been laced with xenophobia, bombast, and racism. But beneath the rhetoric is an older fear of the influence of the cosmopolitan and foreign not limited to a populist fringe. George Grant, scion of one of Canada’s old imperialist families, expressed fear of the foreign better than most when he tied the fate of a morally traditional Canada to an emerging international cosmopolitan order that threatened the ability of smaller states to make laws and govern themselves according to their values. The time has come for Grant’s little book to be taken down from the shelf and read again. Grant’s readers may find that in this time of crisis, he has more insightful and trenchant things to say about globalism and illiberalism than the headline and prime time grabbing antics of politicians. Surprisingly, they may find that Canada has something to teach us all about contemporary American and European politics.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Episode 8 of ‘Talking to Canadians’

Proud to present Episode 8 of ‘Talking to Canadians,’ featuring my lengthy and highly engaging conversation with Emma Blue. We are entitling this episode “The Continuing Conversation: The Need for Dialogue.”

The title of this episode is drawn from the many insights and observations made by Emma about how social change and institutional responsiveness require that dialogue take place not just between persons, but also between persons and institutions. Emma is deeply involved in helping young adults and marginalized youth engage with social institutions. One of her passions is finding ways to bring the experiences and stories of youth into the public eye and she does this through work with the London Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) and in London’s non-profit sector. She does this, I should add, while enrolled as a full-time student in Media Theory and Production, a joint programme between Western University and Fanshawe College.
In addition to her many talents, Emma is also an accomplished spoken word poet.

I hope that you can tune in: https://ryanoconnor.ca/talkingtocanadians/2017/6/25/talking-to-canadians-episode-8

A new site

I have created a new site that is meant as a destination for poets and writers who have political poetry (primarily) that they want to share. That new site, Poetry of the Resistance, is here: https://poetryoftheresistance.wordpress.com

When I say “political” poetry I do not mean the poems have to be narrowly partisan or doctrinaire. Politics is lived experience and consciousness; it is your body and the bodies of others. Politics is your sense of justice, duty, outrage; it is your principles and it is also your disdain. It can be joy and it can be pain.

If you want to take a chance with me on this new journey, I welcome your contributions. You can email me here: demoiindependentlearning@gmail.com

“Democracy in the classroom”

This is a piece I wrote about how we negotiate democracy in the classroom at the Infinity School where I work. I enjoy this practice as it fits in with the teaching I do independently as part of DEMOI:

Democracy in the classroom

Democracy is difficult. It requires a great deal of patience and comfort with disagreement. Citizens who take democracy seriously have to be prepared to have their ideas rejected by their neighbours, friends and peers. They also have to be prepared to accept the vote of the majority even if they strongly disagree with it.

At Infinity School, we practice democracy. This is done as part of each of day with a specific time each Thursday morning set aside for the democratic process to be honed. On those mornings we spend half an hour doing something called “Town Council.”

From 8:45 to 9:15am the Eagles and I have a meeting that follows an Agenda, which they have set. I open our council by asking the Eagles what they feel are the most pressing issues facing our community. By a vote, they place their chosen items on the Agenda and then we address them in the order of priority the Eagles selected. We follow the “Process Map” system used by our model school, Acton Academy.

My role as Guide is not to choose the items or to come up with solutions: the Eagles do that. When an issue is raised it is then “on the table” where it is discussed and debated.

When the discussion/debate has come to a conclusion (they vote on this, too), the Eagles are asked to come up with solutions. They write their ideas down and post them on the blackboard. I then list their solutions and see what proposals are the most popular.

After we have narrowed down our options we hold another vote until a solution is chosen. During the “narrowing down” process there is further debate and discussion.

If this sounds complex and involved, it absolutely is. And funny enough, the Eagles love it. They enjoy voting, debating, discussing and, above all, they love setting the Agenda. As their Guide, it can be both maddening and delightful to watch a debate become contentious or inspired.

But as I watch the Eagles in action I am reminded of all of those texts, articles and tomes about democracy I read over the years as I studied history and political science. Our Town Council is democracy in action: this is community dynamics at work; this is political science.

At Infinity and across the Acton Academy system, the Heads of School and the Guides are asking for something that today seems extraordinary from their Eagles. We are asking for their commitment to experimenting with a democratic system in the classroom.

We are asking them to take the lead in designing their education and establishing the ground rules and policies, which govern their community. This is an intensive preparation for adulthood, citizenship and the working world. This is also an attempt to bring back a frequently missing component of education: self-reliance, personal responsibility and active citizenship.

Anyone who is familiar with democracy and democratic systems knows that sometimes the process of proposing ideas and arriving at solutions is messy, confusing and (dare I say it?) chaotic. But this process is the basis of a free society; it is a requirement of a community-wide commitment to personal liberty, individual creativity and the principle that each mind, heart, voice and individual matters.

We believe that our Infinity community cannot truly be a community without the participation of every member. We also know that for young people to grow up and be successful in a competitive and often contentious world, they need to be prepared to participate by proposing ideas, attempting solutions and accepting that disappointment and failure are part of life in the “adult world.”

As a Guide, one of the most important life lessons I am learning from my Eagles is that this process of participating, of problem solving, is an ongoing process that one never masters. If you and your child believe that life is a call to creativity and that the best communities (and societies) are those which reward creativity, I think your child has a home here at Infinity.

You can visit the website here: http://infinityschool.ca/education-concepts/democracy-classroom-infinity-school/