The Importance of Teachers

Summer vacation has started in most parts of North America for millions of teachers and students. Usually this is a time of immense joy. The pay off for a long hard year of academic pursuit; however, this break feels noticeably (and understandably) different. Due to the impact of COVID-19, the connection between teachers and students has been greatly affected with much of the learning taking place online. With everything taking place through chat groups, video conferencing, online calendars and a myriad of other digital tools- the very face of education change. In a very brief period of time. We went from going to places of education (schools), to transforming our living spaces into schools. Now, I am not the person to measure or assess the level of success that this had; however, I can tell you that this had mixed results. I believe it has much to do with the relationship between the teacher and the student.

Looking ready to tear up the afternoon Monday Math Meeting on Zoom. Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com

I should begin by stating my bias and why I have immense respect for teachers. I started my career as an elementary teacher before becoming a counselor and am still an employee of a school district. I work alongside teachers, students and families every day. I see the importance that a positive connection can have on an individual. (I also see the consequences of what a negative connection can have with a young learner). Connections are best established and maintained in person not online. That is not to say that you can not do this successfully online, it is just much more difficult and requires a lot more work and time. Something that we don’t have readily available in our ever increasingly busy lives. I have seen amazing examples of thriving online classrooms with lively conversations among teachers and pupils. I have also seen teachers provide tutorials for students who are struggling with specific concepts or one-on-one support for students who request it. The potential is there but there is still something missing.

Humans are hard wired for connections. Read any book on evolutionary biology or behavior. We got to where we are today by cooperation and competition. We did not enter the 21st century through isolation; however, there is growing concern that this is the direction we are heading. I am not against technology (I am using a blog to communicate this) but I do have concerns. I have previously written about the importance of positive adults in the lives of children and I believe that schools are wonderful places for this. I admit I am an optimist as schools can also be places that inhibit individuality and happiness. Buildings full of people but no personality, where “weaker” kids become easy targets for bullies. However, this has much to do with school culture and community that impacts the overall environment. Having a healthy school ethos or philosophy that encourages individuality as well as social-togetherness will develop happy and healthier minds (more on this on another time). The point is that environment, that is the setting and the place, plays a huge role not just in the learning of young minds but also in their well-being. Being stuck at home all day and trying to remember you have a math lesson at 10 is not easy for adolescent minds [1]. They need someone to be there to help them navigate the routine and the daily structure. This is what teachers do.

The focus on 21st century education isn’t on the “what to think” (or the acquirement of information) but rather on “how to think” (strategies that will help us decode, determine, argue, and acquire our own information based on the vast amount of information available). This is why we need teachers. It isn’t so much about memorizing information or facts anymore because anyone can do a google search. The focus is rather on developing the strategies and tools to think critically and openly as well as to express information constructively. It doesn’t take much researching to find that conversations on internet forums are often lacking in their ability for democratic discourse in many participants. We need teachers to help us develop the skill-set to navigate the world ahead. A world of information overload.

There is also a second major avenue that teachers help and that is in the well-being of the individual. What other profession can have such a profound social-emotional impact (either negatively or positively) on an individual? Almost everyone can recount either an uplifting story and/or a Dickensian archetype (the evil Grade [insert number here] teacher) of an educator at some point in their lives. I wonder/worry about those who can’t recall a memorable teacher. My success, not just in terms of career path but also in perspective, I owe in large part to a teacher who was there for me when I was a troubled teenager. Teachers make a difference especially the ones who develop a connection with their students. Humans are hard wired for connection but to establish connection you need presence.[2] It is much easier to do this when you have everyone in the room rather than individually seeking them out (I hear it also makes attendance a lot easier). Research also shows that the more involved a student feels, the more successful they become.[3] It is a lot easier to feel involved in something when you are already there and have someone to help you be accountable than sitting at home on a computer.

In conclusion, teachers make a difference in the lives of children and adolescents. It is difficult to argue otherwise. Contemporary education is not perfect. [4] And while there is much room for growth, it does provide an environment for many individuals to thrive, if used appropriately. I believe that school is not a place to do menial work, it is a place to develop the hearts and minds of the future. Yes, I know I am an optimist. I said that already.

R.G.

Please feel free to comment on this thread with additional insights. This was a very brief article and I know there is a lot more to this subject. My aim is not to do it harm but to hopefully do it some small semblance of justice. Thank you for reading.


[1]Individuals benefit greatly from routine. The establishment of routines is associated to executive functioning which occurs predominately in the prefrontal-cortex of the brain. This part of the brain is not yet fully develop in children and adolescents until their early twenties. Thereby making self-directed accountability very difficult for many young minds. For more information see Behave by Robert Sapolsky.

[2] Think Wilson in the Tom Hanks classic Castaway. He had to give an inanimate object sentience so that he kept his sanity. Therefore, we are hardwired for connection.

[3] There is much research available on this. I gathered this information from John Shindler’s Transformative Classrooms: Positive Strategies to Engage All Learners (2010).

[4] It is important to note that I am talking about Western 21st century education here. A system that like many others has historical and cultural associations and implications, often negative ones. Look no further than the impact of Residential Schooling on First Peoples (Inuit, First Nations and M├ętis) in Canada to see how education has caused cultural, often labeled genocidal, harm.


The Philosophy Behind I’m Probably Wrong About Everything

In today’s post: I decided to write a brief explanation on the title of my project: I Am Probably Wrong About Everything. Since developing this idea in early 2020, I have found myself becoming more and more interested in the pursuits of asking questions I never asked and expanding my understanding. Questioning everything rather than just accepting my reality. The big question I wonder is what do I really know?

When I tell people the name of my blog/podcast/whatever this is, I often get a good chuckle. Perhaps that was the original intent. To develop something that made humour from its own self-deprecation. Admission to the fact that, well, I probably have no idea what I am talking about but I want to talk about it. And the more I think about it, the more I begin to believe that there is a lot more to this title than I give credit. I see the world through a lens. My lens. You do too. Only it is your lens. Our lenses are based in part through experience and relationship. You learn what you learn through practice and whoever is around you. This develops the building blocks or foundation of your understanding. Then come the abstracts. Things like events happening in other parts of the world, seemingly worlds away and of no immediate proximity to your world. As you learn through reading, watching, imagining and other means, this information is filtered through your lens of your understanding and thus shapes your perspective.

What makes this problematic is that I have so often found myself gravitating towards those who agree with me. Those who think like me. Perhaps even those who look like me. And when we choose to identify and associate ourselves with people like ourselves, we run the risk of developing a myopic view of the world. Of only seeing and understanding the world through our lens thereby becoming completely out of touch with the rest of the world. For example (and perhaps not the best one), we hear of celebrities being jerks to their rabid fans and think: What’s their problem? They are rich and famous? They shouldn’t treat people like that! Especially not their fans. But we have no idea what it feels like to be a celebrity and just how annoying it is to not be able to go anywhere without being recognized. Have you ever wanted to buy one item at a grocery store after a long and exhausting day (maybe, say, ice cream?) hoping to get in and out as quickly as possible only to be obstructed by one your annoying cousins or any acquaintance for that matter? Yea, well, I imagine that is what a celebrity goes through. Only it is every day, every where and all of the time. Makes me very glad I never got into movies.

My point is, is that we really don’t know what goes on in the minds of others. We have a hard enough time as it is keeping track of our own. At least I do (I won’t speak for you). Therefore, by definition of us not being able to think and speak for others then we have no idea what goes on for other cultures, races, religions, nations, genders, sexualities, etc. Especially ones that are not our own. So when we see things happening around the world on the news and think: Gee that must be how “they” do it down there. We should probably give that a second thought and ask ourselves: who is they? Do I know a they? Shouldn’t I be asking they instead of thinking that this is what they does all day? But I know two theys and they have different answers!?! My point exactly.

Therefore, the purpose of this project is to seek to understand as much as I can and always be open to differences of opinion. The truth being that I haven’t always been open to different opinions. This is especially true around politics. I see myself as I fairly liberal minded person but what does the other side have to say? Do I have to commit myself to one side of some strange tribalist political feud? Or can I be more open? What is it that this person is saying? What are other people saying? My point is that once we stop being open, we close the ability to change our minds and thus get ourselves closer to the truth. Whatever the truth is. And a lot of what we are currently living under is a collection of assumptions and historical consequences that are worth reexamining. Which is why I want to admit that I am probably wrong about everything but that I want to learn. So maybe you too can help me.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to subscribe or comment on my posts. Have a wonderful day.

R.G.

Anti-Racism vs Multiculturalism

To say that the current protesting in the United States and the Black Lives Matter movement is trending right now would be an absolute understatement. This humanitarian pursuit (also known as Civil Rights Movement) is not new, nor is it reserved for the United States. Blacks and browns have experienced systemic racism all over the world and my country of Canada is not exempt. In speaking with various peoples of various backgrounds (including people of colour or POC), they express concerns about this movement losing steam and popularity only to reignite several years later after another case of police brutality against a minority. By my understanding, this is the second wave of mass protest of the BLM movement. The burning question is: how can we create lasting change?

The conversation around racial equality is an incredibly complex and sensitive one. For good reason, the inequality that groups such as BLM speak of have been around for a very long time. This history of racial injustice sometimes only receives a few paragraphs in educational textbooks. Why? I imagine this is because no one wants to focus on the crimes committed by first world nations. It is not easy to admit to the state sponsored genocide of American First Peoples. Nor is it easy to discuss how millions of African peoples were kidnapped as slaves and brought to various colonies around the world (Britain, Caribbean, America, Latin America, etc.) with extreme violence and oppression.* By admitting to guilt and therefore responsibility for these crimes and their contemporary consequences, there would need to be reparation. Admitting guilt would admit that there is a problem and a problem requires a solution. A solution that the state must come up with. What state wants to do that? Which is why we, as individuals, can no longer look away from what is going on. Not just in the United States, but around the world. We must demand change if we want to see change. Therefore, this can’t be just a fad. Something we post once on our various social media handles and sit back and relax believing that we did our part. It has to be a constant and it needs to be consistent.

I want to identify that I would fall under the category of white privileged and therefore, am unfit to answer this question. This is largely due to the fact that I can’t answer what the solution is, I can only speculate. I also know that by not saying anything at all is to be borderline complicit in the further continuation of systemic inequity and racism against blacks. So, I will write about this, full knowing that I am not the person to solve this problem but that I want to be part of the solution. I believe that the biggest contribution that I can provide is to continue to educate myself on racial inequity both historical and present as well as share my learnings with others- especially my children. I want to learn and hear more stories so I can bring them to light. I don’t want to be part of the fad, I want to be part of the change.

As mentioned, I believe that education is one method of changing the narrative and the systems of prejudice in various countries. In a book I have recently begun reading about the experiences of Blacks in Britain, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, she mentions a bit on a black sociology professor trying to put together a ” race-based” educational program for the police in the 1980s. The reason for which, was that Britain at the time was experiencing an influx in racial tension and “rioting”. The professor first wants to see what the general understanding on British Blacks is and sends out an open survey to police officers. Depending on his findings, he will be able to see whether or not the program should be anti-racist or multicultural in approach. The results of his survey provide ample evidence of racist beliefs held throughout the sample. It is important to note that the responses yielded similar themes associated to Blacks ranging from decreasing property value to increasing crime. This information encouraged the sociologist to pursue an anti-racist approach, rather than a multicultural approach to his program. However, this decision for an anti-racist program was turned down by the police department and the educational program was closed altogether as a result. This was a big a-ha moment to me, that there is a difference between multiculturalism and anti-racism.

But what is the difference between these two?

First let me briefly touch on my cultural lens. I am a heterosexual white male. Does this matter? Yes. I realize I am what is perhaps the poster child of what so many movements are going against. Typically speaking, when you think of racists who run the country and the agenda, who comes to mind? Straight white men who are rich and powerful. The only thing I am lacking is the mass influence and wealth. But maybe that does make me a good candidate to speak up. Maybe I can influence the other straight white men to have a different opinion? Or at least give their long held beliefs a second thought. Hence the whole purpose behind my blog and podcast, that we are probably wrong about everything. So why not try and get it right? Why not give it a second look? Why not hear someone else who has a different opinion or perspective than the ones we constantly surround ourselves with? Well, generally speaking, people don’t like doing this because it makes them feel uncomfortable. No one likes to be wrong. Which is problematic because at some point we are all wrong and until we challenge what we believe we could never be right. Phew, that was an aside but I believe it to be important… my point is, I have no clue what it is like to be a minority in a western nation, so how can I answer the question of what a different group than my own (read minority) needs? I can’t. All I can do is ask questions, shut up and listen. Which is very very hard for us (yes, I am talking about “us” white people) because we have been talking for so very long. It is time to listen to other voices.

This is where the difference between multiculturalism and anti-racism comes in. Multiculturalism is an interesting concept. It suggests that you have a country or place that is accepting of all different cultures and peoples. Everyone is included but not necessarily everyone gets along, or has to. However, there is a bit of a hidden piece to this. Where are all these cultures gathering? Usually in a place where they are the minority and there is a dominant culture. Usually, countries that are multicultural are also democratic, which means that decisions are made based on votes. Every individual gets a vote. So if you have a dominant culture and a bunch of different minority groups, it is likely that the majority will be making the decisions. If you are able to get the dominant culture or majority to think a certain way, then it its likely that they will be swayed to vote or direct their countries decisions in a certain way. Democracy isn’t perfect; however, it certainly beats the alternative of living in a fascist or communist country. At this moment in history, utopians don’t exist. Therefore, democracy is our safest choice. But, as one can easily deduce from this explanation, democratic countries and the voting power of the people can easily be exploited. I won’t name drop any current political leaders or explicitly list any of their tactics but by using emotive power of fear, you can be sure to convince anyone to think a certain way. Especially the uneducated. Therefore, multiculturalism, or the inclusion of different peoples and different groups is not enough to create a flourish democratic and egalitarian nation.

You need something more. You need to be honest. You need to be open. This is all a part of anti-racism. Which is the act of understanding the prejudicial views of others and then trying to educate them to thinking alternatively. It’s trying to figure out the x,y,z of why this individual or group dislikes this other group and then exploring the absurdity of these claims. You can do this by shaming people to think a certain way. But this can have mixed, often polarizing results. For example, calling someone who says they don’t care about BLM a racist is likely to make them oppositional rather than supportive. So this is definitely a tactic to avoid. Instead, I think it is good to listen to the views of the individual and go from there. In returning to our example of the person who doesn’t care about BLM, ask them why? Perhaps they have good reasons that have never been validated. Maybe they have been told their opinions don’t matter. We don’t know until we ask the questions. You may notice that people have some very searing opinions on the matter. As a white person, I know I have heard some things that I highly doubt would be shared with a person of colour. All the more reason for me to listen first and then ask questions. I won’t win anyone over by calling them a racist asshole. Maybe they say that this group is more prone to end up in prisons. Okay, but why is that? Start by talking about the legacy of how there came to be a disproportionate number of blacks in American prisons. You win people over by making them think. Maybe not immediately but eventually.

This is why anti-racist education is a strong medium for combating prejudice in our society and why the British sociologist wanted to go this direction rather than the multicultural approach. However, it is uncomfortable to openly discuss our own bias and prejudice. However, it is there. Anyone who says “I don’t see colour” is guilty of naivety. Anyone who says “all lives matter” is clearly missing the point. We are talking about Black lives. So you better start to see colour and understand that it has been misrepresented in historically and contemporary. We all have much to learn and we are all part of this conversation. The only way we are going to make change in our democratic society is by having the courage to be a part of this conversation. In conclusion, I am talking to white people: we have no idea what it is like to be a visible minority in Euro-western centric country because we are the majority. That might make you feel uneasy and if so good, it’s the truth. So we need to have these conversations but we need to do a lot more listening than speaking. White people have been doing most of the speaking for a long damn time (again, understatement), so it’s time to be quiet and listen. Trust me on this, you are going to want to be a part of the change.

Thank you for reading,

R.G.

*That is not to say that these two examples are the only cases of oppression committed by colonizers, in fact, the list is rather exhaustive; however, the focus is on the impacts of systemic racism against blacks.

I like to think of my articles as an open dialogue. If you have questions, concerns, comments or if you think I am completely out to lunch- please do not hesitate to write in the comments below. Your thoughts will help me and they could help others see a different point.