Archive for December 2011

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: EDITORIAL ON THE IMPORTANCE OF READING JUST RAISES THE NEED FOR SERIOUS REFORM IN PUBLIC EDUCATION – NOTE ON DRIVEL BOOKS

JOHN CHUCKMAN

POSTED RESPONSE TO AN EDITORIAL IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

“Reading is like oxygen…”

Not really, and by making that exaggerated claim the Globe places itself on the side of all the phony politicians and teachers and school administrators who day in and day out make false and even ridiculous claims about reading and literacy.

The Globe editorial writer would perhaps be surprised at the number of parents who do, or even cannot, read. After all, it wasn’t just yesterday we began graduating people who are functionally illiterate.

And preaching to such parents is both foolish and effectively just another way of shirking the responsibilities of our teachers and schools to do the job parents do not.

Even more surprising would be the number of elementary school teachers who do not read, and haven’t the least interest in it.

We have too many teachers – and this is especially important in the primary grades – who report to work each day with much the same attitude as the proverbial post office worker: I want my pay, my days off, and my pension, and “I’m outta here.”

Such people should never have been hired for so important a job, yet I guarantee we have platoons of them today in our schools.

Typically at times when in the past we experience teacher shortages, any warm body that walks through the day was hired. Trouble is, once hired, they remain in place for a lifetime of inadequate and unsupervised (we have absolutely no systematic check on teachers’ work ability and habits today) lethargy.

And all up the line we have teachers who wanted to get out of the classroom as principals, superintendents, directors, and “professors” at teachers’ colleges. There’s no escaping their influence.

It would be an interesting assignment for a Globe reporter to interview a number of school officials and teachers on their reading. I think the results would be eye-opening. Does anyone really believe that the ex-football player heading up Toronto schools is a serious reader?

And it’s the same for the politicians setting the poor rules. Ontario’s “literacy” test is a bad joke. I say that having first-hand experience with Asian students attending Ontario schools. It is a foolishly conceived test, set and marked by teachers. Those who “fail” it just take a bird course the next term to be deemed as having passed.

Now with politicians handing out the raises and benefits, what do you think is the motivation of those marking this test every year?

If we want to see help in reading for all students – as in any other subject you care to name, as well as the use of computers – we will demand of our rather handsomely rewarded teachers that they do the job for which they were hired.

We will put some of the best teachers in the early grades. It was Roger Ascham, Elizabeth the Great’s tutor, who argued for the ablest teachers at an early age. We frequently do the opposite, I’m afraid.

We will test the kids with a genuinely objective, machine-readable test periodically, one not set by teachers and ex-teachers seeking extra income.

So, please, dear Globe, do not spout meaningless figures of speech unless you are prepared to support the fundamental changes required. Nothing’s easier and more useless than mouthing platitudes while the big ugly machine chugs on. Reform is what we need.
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“There are certainly a lot of drivel books out there.”

Yes, indeed.

And the education establishment has brought some of the worst of it into the schools.

I refer to the dull books stuffed into “literacy closets,” bought from publishers trying to make a quick buck on parents’ concerns and the education establishment’s mouthings about literacy.

At the same time that considerable resources have been wasted on these over-priced and uninteresting books, we have let libraries in schools decline into a shameful state.

A school library should have the best of children’s literature on the shelves and a friendly person in charge to introduce them to the books and teach them about using our great public libraries.

On the whole, we simply do not do this.

So-called “teacher-librarians” – a recent historical creation which is neither fish nor fowl – preside over the pathetically supplied and poorly maintained libraries on a part-time basis, and many of them show no interest in library content or children’s reading skills and interests, nor are they themselves lovers of books often.

They are there to fill in the holes in the principle’s schedule for teachers briefly away for some temporary reason – a ghastly anti-educational concept altogether.

We need lovers of books in the libraries, people dedicated to promoting the use and value of libraries. Library technicians, selected for their skills with books and children, would provide a superior human resource.

Just go see the lovely people working at many branches of our public libraries. No one comes away feeling they are there to fill holes.

Young children need a loving and informed introduction to books, especially the large numbers of them with no hope of receiving that at home.

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JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: BELINDA STRONACH REVIVES A TIRED OLD MATTER FROM THE REPUBLICANS OF 20 YEARS AGO – TERM LIMITS AND WHY THEY ARE WRONG

 

 

 

 

 

JOHN CHUCKMAN

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY BELINDA STRONACH IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

Sorry, Belinda, but this is just a mild rehash of notions that the nasty wing of the Republican Party mouthed a couple of decades ago.

We had ambitious politicians blubbering about everything from term limits to instituting a part-time government in Washington.

The skills and experience gained by thoughtful politicians in their careers are not contemptible stuff and, in a number of ways, serve the public well.

The problems facing national governments in today’s world – and I don’t mean just the current economic setback but all the immensity of globalization and world-scale problems like global warming and war – are complex and demanding, not the stuff for dabblers and part-timers.

Indeed, the idea that people would move regularly from industry into government and back again can be a formula for even greater influence of special interests in government.
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I’ve always defended Belinda against the stupidities of people like Peter MacKay.

But that does not mean that I accept her as in any way innovative or creative or even effective.

She was a sort-of CEO under daddy’s watchful eye, and she was a largely unsuccessful politician, leaving no lasting mark beyond a scandal.

So she is hardly qualified to offer advice in these matters.

And the advice she does offer is Newt Gingrich a la 1992.

Not impressive.

Again the formula of out of industry into government and back into industry is one for even more inappropriate influence by special interests.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: CBC SPENDS A LARGE SUM ON 75TH ANNIVERSARY PUBLICITY – SUCCEEDING ONLY IN REMINDING US WHAT WE’VE LOST

JOHN CHUCKMAN

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

I wouldn’t have minded the expense had there been something genuinely to celebrate.

Instead such occasions only remind one of how far CBC has fallen.

And in doing this, current senior management has made a terrible strategic mistake, having partially or fully alienated its traditional listeners and supporters.

No one can doubt that the dark bulk we call prime minister is going after CBC eventually.

Why would the man who does things like end the Wheat Board without farmers’ approval or destroy the gun registry (against general public support) or end public support of election costs hesitate?

The man has a tyrant’s mindset, and he is quietly dedicated to turning Canada into a pathetic imitation of the United States by virtue of a 39.6% mandate – which is to say, by virtue of no mandate at all, but a purely technical victory in our flawed election system.

CBC’s current senior management has managed to destroy a good deal of what was valued by listeners while not really succeeding in gaining a hoped-for huge new audience.

How else could it be, stuffing dull mediocrities like Jian Ghomeshi, Evan Solomon, or George Stroumboulopoulos down our throats? Or playing the low end of popular music in a desperate effort to gain young listeners? Or its repeated wading up to its armpits in favoritism and nepotism, while mouthing stuff about prejudice of various kinds? Nepotism is prejudice of the most blatant kind.

CBC has no hope of being a hugely popular network, unless, that is, it just becomes like other networks, in which case, there is no case for keeping it.

It should be a showcase for Canada’s best in ideas, conversation, music, the arts, and comedy, and that necessarily means an appeal that is quite different than all the commercial networks. Not everyone wants to listen to the best, just like not everyone likes the opera or the ballet, but it should be there for anyone who is interested.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: OBAMA PROMISES TO EXERT AMERICA’S POWER IN THE PACIFIC – A DIRECT THREAT TO CHINA – SOME PERSPECTIVE ON THIS IDIOCY

 

 

 

 

JOHN CHUCKMAN

POSTED RESPONSES TO A COLUMN BY PAUL KORING IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

America’s establishment is working hard to repeat the scenario of WWII in the Pacific.

Japan was never going to attack the U.S. but after a long period of harassment, trade restrictions, and threats, Japan decided it had no choice.

This is going to become the most dangerous and fearful effort facing Canada’s current younger generation’s time.

And it is completely unnecessary, just as was America’s holocaust in Vietnam where about 3 million people were slaughtered to maintain America’s presence in Asia.

Obama is just as much a creature of America’s military-industrial complex as George Bush or Ronald Reagan.
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“Our US friends should understand that military outreach costs money, and today the US has little of it.”

Yes, but you forget that the United States, having the privilege of the world’s reserve currency, is in a unique position financially.

It has abused, and will continue to abuse, the nations around the world holding its currency.

It will continue inflating gradually or it may at some point devalue.

In either case, America will leave dollar holders around the world “holding the bag,” no different in any respect than a conscienceless fraudster like Bernard Madoff.

So not only does it promote war and violence, it cheats everyone to pay for its stupidity.

That is precisely how the immensely costly and pointless war in Vietnam was paid for.

I am only sorry that most people do not have a grasp of this reality which allows America to behave as an unlimited fool in world affairs.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: HARPER MIGHT HAVE BEEN EXPECTED TO RELAX THE BULLYING WITH A MAJORITY – REFLECTIONS ON TYRANNICAL MINDS AND DEMOCRATIC WEAKNESS OF CANADA’S PARLIAMENT

 

 

 

JOHN CHUCKMAN

POSTED RESPONSES TO A COLUMN BY JEFFREY SIMPSON IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

Yes, you might well have thought that.

But recall Richard Nixon’s behavior for his second election.

As anyone knew then, he pretty well (sadly) had being re-elected a certainty.

His opponent was one of the most honorable men ever to run for the presidency, but being honorable in America is little more than a sign of weakness to many: it is, after all, a country organized and administered on principles of Social Darwinism.

So despite the near-certainty of a win, Richard Nixon had a gang of thugs doing break-ins, smear-jobs, and was seeking secret contributions by the sack-full. The White House was staffed up with unpleasant men ready to do anything for their leader.

He ended, of course, by ending his own presidency.

The general frame of mind of Richard Nixon at that time is a close parallel to Harper’s today.

There are the clearest elements of paranoia, immense anger, relish for frat-boy dirty tricks, and a tendency towards monomania – all the stuff we saw with Richard Nixon and stuff we’ve seen again with the likes of a Newt Gingrich or Tom Delay.

Harper is a genuinely sick puppy.

Sometimes it happens that people who were known as narrow ideologues do rise to the office to which they are elected or appointed (in the case of judges), but not this kind of unbalanced personality.

I’m afraid so long as Harper holds his office we will continue to see Canadian political traditions of decency and ethical behavior eroded.
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“Autocracy verging on dictatorship….. Don’t agree? Just wait and watch!”

Indeed.

But the fault is also in a political system where a man of Harper’s unpleasant character, once given a technical majority 39.6% of the vote, can pretty well do anything, if he is so inclined.

We have not suffered from this serious flaw in our political structure before only because we have not been so unfortunate to have a man of Harper’s almost demonic personality in office.

Canada suffers from a democratic deficit as serious as that of many other countries one does not normally associate with the goodwill Canada has enjoyed internationally for decades.

Harper of course also realizes that his opposition is divided hopelessly, and he will take the fullest advantage of that fact.

Tyrannical-oriented personalities always have used the principle of “divide and conquer” in their governing. Hitler ran the Third Reich by creating a whole series of competing fiefdoms whose chiefs endlessly squabbled, having recourse only to Hitler himself, floating as it were above the ugly turmoil.

It is an effective method, at least for a time, if your concern is not with the people of a country but with your personal rule.

I’m certainly not suggesting any relationship between Harper and Hitler – only the parallel of the way a power-driven dark personality operates to hold power.

Well, the Liberal Party handed Harper this situation on a platter. Twice they turned down a very intelligent and effective politician, Bob Rae, on the basis that there were bad memories in Ontario of aspects of his premiership but also on the basis of a genuinely stupid effort by some back-room boys to parachute Michael Ignatieff into the leadership, a man of almost unparalleled political ineptitude.

Now they’ve given Bob Rae the job (temporarily), but it is a hopeless way to give someone a big job: the party is in pathetic shape, Rae looks without genuine support, and he is just that much older.

Jack Layton’s magnificent triumph in Quebec was in large part because the Liberals had Ignatieff hopelessly droning and sputtering. Quebec always admires genuinely eloquent men: just look at the record of leaders in the PQ or the BQ, some of the greatest firebrand speakers of our time.

So Harper’s current position is almost more an accident than a personal achievement, but here is a man whose dark animal cunning will seize every advantage he can from the luck of the draw.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: ON CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS’ DEATH

 

 

 

 

JOHN CHUCKMAN

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

A brave man indeed, and a devilishly clever one.

I much regretted his views on Iraq, but I admire still his ability to criticize with a sharp tongue the many absurdities of the human condition.

JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: OLEAGINOUS AND DISHONEST MINISTER JASON KENNEY FORBIDS THE NIQAB AT CITIZENSHIP CEREMONIES – A WORD ON CANADA’S NOT-QUITE SECULAR NATURE

 

 

 

JOHN CHUCKMAN

POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN IN TORONTO’S GLOBE AND MAIL

A READER WRITES:

“We are a secular Nation, church and state must always be separate. Ban the veil. A citizenship ceremony is a State function…”

That’s actually quite inaccurate.

The writer thinks he lives in the United States apparently.

This province spends countless millions each year on Catholic education, an unthinkable arrangement in the United States.

Until quite recently, the Lord’s Prayer was a regular part of public schools and many formal gatherings.

Being a secular humanist, I do not favor such practices, but I also recognize the past political compromises they represent in a country which does not have founding documents so uncompromising as America’s.

I ask whether Sikhs must remove their turbans and other symbols for this ceremony?

And Jews their yarmulke, or in the case of ultra-orthodox, their huge hats and beards which effectively cover faces and even lips?

Are nuns required not to wear habits if they belong to an order still using one?

Are Protestants required to remove the cross on a chain often worn around their necks? Helena Guergis used to march around with a rather large one. I don’t recall any objections.

The writer simply does not know what he is talking about.

But then neither does the minister, Jason Kenney.

The proudest garb any of us can wear is tolerance, but it seems to be in short supply these days.