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A Puff of Absurdity: Fixing French Immersion

The Agenda with Steve Paikin had a segment on French Immersion in the schools this week. The panel raised some interesting points but neglected a few issues.

A Bit of a Summary (skip down for more interesting bits)

The guests were Caroline Alfonso, an education reporter for the Globe & Mail (with a young child in immersion), Stuart Miller, the director of education (in Halton), John Lorinc, a journalist with older kids who went through immersion, and Mary Cruden the President of the Canadian Parents for French. Despite the fact that the show is titled, “The Problems with French Immersion,” the journalist seemed the only critic of the current program with some concerns that led to one of his kids changing streams.  Stuart raised some issues with the cost to run the program born of the fact that some schools are left with only four or five kids in the English stream, and with the unequal access to the program. It’s costly to run a class with such small numbers. But elsewhere he praised the educational benefits of a second language.

Enrollment in immersion programs is increasing across Canada, and Paikin asked the panel why so many parents want their kids in immersion. Caroline and Mary suggested parents want to have an extra tool in their tool basket, a leg up on the competition to give the kids an edge. Paikin offered that it might have something to do with being a proud Canadian, as was Trudeau-the-elder’s dream almost fifty years ago, but nobody bit at that one. From this panel’s perspective, parents put their kids in immersion to get them ahead of the curve. The fact that many students don’t make it to the end, didn’t seem to phase the guests. They believe that early intervention is key to greater success in the long run.

According to Stuart, immersion students don’t do significantly better or worse in the long run, however an article in Macleans disagrees (but without links or references to see the studies):

Working memory, used in activities like math, is improved, especially among those aged five to seven. Even reading scores in English are significantly higher for French immersion students than non-immersion students, according to a 2004 study, which noted the higher socio-economic background of French immersion students alone could not account for the stark difference…. [However,] turns out native English speakers living outside Canada’s sole francophone province are rather poor at keeping up their French skills as they get older. In 1996, 15 per cent of 15- to 19-year-old anglophones outside Quebec could conduct a conversation in both of Canada’s official languages. Fast forward 15 years and the bilingualism rate for 30- to 35-year-olds in 2011 was eight per cent.

If the results are accurate and statistically significant, then I still wonder if the immersion program itself is having the most significant effect on those results. Higher income might not be the primary variable, but students with parents who, regardless their income, advocate for them more, who push them more and who, therefore, might want them in immersion, will likely have kids who are higher achievers even if immersion weren’t available. I’d like to see a study compare parents with immersion in the area and parents without, not parents of immersion and non-immersion kids in one school. Ask many questions about their attitude towards schooling, their own education, and their income, and then, compare results against the success of their kids on a general, comprehensive test to see if parental attitude towards education affects kids more than the immersion program.

Because the panel raised one important issue about the way the program is actually running…

Teacher Shortages

It’s hard to get good teachers who are also bilingual. Stuart explained that, “Qualified and quality may be two different things,” and cited stats that 80% of principals struggle to find quality French teachers who can speak the language fluently AND are proficient in the subject matter. If they’re not francophone, prospective teachers have to keep up their French in university courses, but then take their teachable subject courses on top of that, all the science or math or history credits required to teach those subjects. It places an extra burden on the shoulders of teachers training to be immersion teachers who teach core subjects in a second language.

John spoke of a problem with many unqualified educators in the French stream; teachers have to teach multiple subject matters they’re not qualified for, or else they’re not strong enough in French to speak all day and they end up switching to English during most classes. Immersion students can miss out on some better classes with teachers stronger in the field in the English stream.

The shortage of good teachers is also a factor when students begin to struggle. There was much disagreement over whether or not it’s a problem or a benefit not to have parents with a command of French, but John is clear that it creates an extra barrier for children with homework that can’t be supported by parents at home. It creates an inequity if some parents can afford a tutor. Others thought that, if a student is struggling with the work, it should be the teacher that supports them at school. But, in my experience, that’s just not the reality of some situations. Some teachers would add supports in English to ensure the students didn’t get behind, but others were adamant that it would harm the integrity of the immersion program. I was lucky enough to tap into a group of parents who had copies of an English math workbook so I could help my daughter to understand the math concepts at home. But it was all very clandestine; we were sneak-learning the subject content. Learning shouldn’t feel so weirdly criminal. But without that, it can be really unclear whether the student is having a problem with subject matter (math) or with the language of instruction. How do we know which part needs remedial help?

Mary explained that what is the parent’s responsibility is to ensure that kids get authentic experiences in French in the community. I wouldn’t know where to find that in my own area, but the Ministry developed Frenchstreet.ca to connect parents to French experiences, something I didn’t know about until I saw the show. Unfortunately, most of the experiences are in bigger cities, adding to the divide between families of means and those without. I played tapes of French songs in my house from the time my kids were born, but I’ve never encountered a French experience in my community. That’s a different kettle of fish.

Inequality and Self-Segregation

Is immersion elitist? Some suggested that the program isn’t elitist, it’s just that some parents act like it is. According to Mary the Ministry FSL framework includes students with special needs. The Ministry says they will get support they need. She insists that it’s a myth that some children are more suited to FI than other, and that’s not supported by research. If teachers identify the learning issues, they find students will have it whether they’re in immersion or not.  She says we can’t allow quiet conversations about the student who isn’t suited to the program rather than actually supporting the struggling learning. FSL classrooms should reflect the demographic of all kids in that board. But Stuart added that this is all related to teacher shortage. Immersion should have the same supports, but they don’t have Spec Ed teachers who speak French. All support is delivered in English.

To me, that the intention is to offer it to everyone is irrelevant when it’s only offered to a few. That it’s a scarce resource makes it desirable. The fact that some people have an easier time getting in than others, creates an inequity at the intake. The fact that some people have an easier time helping their children because of their own French background or their ability to afford a tutor and trips to Ottawa, creates inequity throughout. Any parent can cut an apple into sections to talk about fractions with their kids if they’re struggling with the concept, but not every parent can help with the French instruction when their child hits a wall.

There’s also an underlying sense, as Mary suggested, that students should be a “good fit” for the program, that it’s really NOT for everyone, and some students are just not suited to it. How can it possibly be said to be offered equally if it’s overtly stated that there’s a type of student that should be admitted. And, as some suggested, there’s not a significant effort to help struggling students. Students who have difficulties with French are coaxed to drop down to the English stream.

And this is the part that starts to feels pretty slimy. Immersion can be a way to get kids away from “undesirable influences” that might include students with behavioural issues, new Canadians, and students less inclined towards school. That’s an unspoken piece of all this. Some parents might be streaming not for the mental benefits, but for the peer group. They don’t want any weird kids in the class next to their darlings. Parents are more overt about this in some circles, and we all need to be reminded of the dangers of this line of reasoning. I would much rather my kid talk to all sorts of different types of people in a classroom than have aspiration for Harvard. That’s what makes for a healthy society. Too many are forgetting that. It’s like Chomsky was on about a while back – we’ve shifted from a mindset of solidarity to competition, and it’s absolutely essential that we make the effort to shift back!

Stuart adds that there’s a perception that the French stream is more rigorous but he denies that to be the case. There’s a concern with the kids who are behind. There has to be better supports for students struggling in French without taking them out of French. Caroline suggested that the idea that the English stream is seen as a place for kids with behavioural needs is a mentality of parents and of teachers who encourage French as if the English program is inferior, which needs to change. John thought that kids should get into the program randomly to reduce the elitism of the program, but I don’t see that as a viable solution. It would just cause different problems.

What They Didn’t Say

They didn’t talk about the overall results of immersion for Canada as a country:

When our cultural norms change, it can take a while for education to match it. When we were finally required to introduce people of a variety of ethnicities and genders in our history courses (surprisingly recently), that sent me scrambling for new resources because I had been teaching what I had been taught in university: all about dead, white men. It will be a few years and a lot of work for teachers to overcome our own narrow education of old.

But we’ve had immersion in our grade schools for many decades now. It’s surprising to me that it seems we haven’t actually produced a significantly more bilingual country, at least not significant enough to adequately teach the next generation. I would have liked to hear them address why immersion students aren’t still fluent after university, and why there aren’t more of them in education? If our goal is a bilingual country, and the middle-aged early adopters have forgotten all their French, we’re obviously not going about it the right way.

They also didn’t discuss one facet of the student experience that is my greatest concern:

Full disclosure: I teach in a high school that offers immersion, and I live an area that offers immersion at the local primary school, but I actually tried to have my first little one go to a different school. I discovered that parents can apply to have their child go to an immersion school far from home, but they can’t apply to go to a non-immersion school. What I saw happening at the local school and in my neighbourhood was the development of a strikingly divisive student body, and I didn’t want my kids to have any part of that.

Because of the attitudes of some teachers and parents who see the French program as superior, the students are living that artificial hierarchy. From what I’ve seen, they begin to treat one another differently as early as grade 1. It’s the English Muffins vs the French Fries. Some students who struggle in the French, and don’t get adequate supports, are loath to shift “down” to the English because of the stigma involved. That there’s a palpable stigma that comes with being unilingual in a school that offers immersion is a serious problem. Schools should be about opening doors for kids, of breaking barriers and fostering a sense of equality, not arrogantly suggesting that one type of kid is better than the rest.  That attitude has no place in our school systems. But there it is. We’ve fought so hard to divorce ourselves from any notion of class divisions in our land of the free, yet we’ve created that very experience for our six-year-olds.

I mentioned on Facebook recently that a surprising number of my academic students didn’t hand in their first assignment in my class this term. A former student commented to the effect that it’s probably just the English stream students. The implication is that French Immersion students always get their work done on time and English kids are slackers. This prejudice doesn’t go away after they leave school, even as they lose their French. They still see a division between them and us that we fostered in grade school.

Schools could help to override this by joining the classes together in each grade for co-operative games and dividing them differently for some classes, like phys ed. There has to be regular integration of the two streams from the first day on. We all promote integration in every other way, except this one. Schools must create an atmosphere of inclusion, and immersion schools have to work harder at this one.

Schools have become competitive in other ways with parents suggesting their child wants to take a subject they have no interest in just to get them into a specific school.  This further divides student bodies and divides communities. I want kids walking to the school down the street together instead of half of them being bussed across town for a special program that’s rarely all that special. Some teachers promote their school, not just as another great school in the region, but the ultimate learning environment, without acknowledging the problems with this type of abject loyalty. I love my school to bits, but we have to keep an eye on the broader arena to ensure excellent education across the region, and country, and world. Solidarity is key.

Can it Be Fixed?

If we agree that learning a second language is good for kids’s brains, and if our goal is to have a bilingual country, then everyone should learn French in school from JK on. When kids struggle with learning math, we don’t stream them in such a way that they don’t have to take it again until grade 4. They get lots of extra help to meet the standards required by the curriculum by the end of the year.  It’s a serious problem to acknowledge that something is really good for kids’ brains, but allow parents to opt out. It’s an even more serious problem that some parents want their kids in the program but there are not enough available spots. Imagine if your kids couldn’t learn math for a couple years because there’s just not enough places for them. If we agree it’s really good for kids, then we have to make it happen for all our kids.

And it has to start at junior kindergarten to take advantage of the younger sponge-like ability to learn a new language. According to recent studies, the optimal time to learn a second language is in the first two years of life, and the decline in the ability to learn one can start as early as age five. Grade one is way too late. We need more immersion in the early grades and in daycares where they’re talking more and writing less (and no dictée quite yet, please), and then we can work on maintenance throughout the rest of the grades. The early years will help with the natural acquisition of verb tenses and pronunciation, and the later years can focus on developing better writing ability.

But I advocate for this instead of half day immersion in the later grades. If I were queen of the province, and I knew we couldn’t provide enough French teachers to accommodate all students from grades 1 to 12 (because we didn’t actually create a significant bilingual population…yet), then I’d move the available teachers to JK and SK classrooms for half days at all schools, and I’d offer incentives for daycares to have at least one French ECE on board, and for summer camps to have at least half the counsellors speaking French. I’d have rather my children played tag and learned how to canoe in French than have learned long division and how to memorize lists of words.

If the important thing is ensuring the best education for everyone, and we don’t have the expertise to do it fully, then we have to offer a partial program to everyone rather than a full program for a select few. But from this panel discussion, and from discussions with students and parents, I don’t get the impression that the best education system for all our kids is what’s most important to people. What really matters is that some people get a little more than others. As they said right from the start, they want a leg up, an extra edge. That’s a bigger problem of promoting the individual at the expense of the community, and it has to be ameliorated.

With full immersion in younger grades and only one class a term in later grades, students would still be able work towards a certificate, not through taking the right number of hours of French each year, but by having their fluency tested at the end. That would give them the incentive to maintain their French speaking and writing ability throughout high school at after school programs or just with conversations with peers – who would all have taken French since they were three or four.  It wouldn’t be an extra, a burden, if it were learned well at a young age when all children are primed for language acquisition.

This would reduce problems with teachers who are less proficient in other subject areas in higher grades. And it would reduce the competition for an extra goodie for the select or lucky few. And, over another generation or two, we might undo the unsavoury class-divisions we’ve unwittingly established.

. . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: Fixing French Immersion

A Puff of Absurdity: Solidarity Over Competition

As always, I loosely summarize/transcribe the important bits below. THE PROBLEMS: This is an astonishing moment in history. The human species has been around for about 200,000 years. Up until this point, people have made decisions about their … . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: Solidarity Over Competition

A Puff of Absurdity: Solidarity Over Competition

As always, I loosely summarize/transcribe the important bits below.


THE PROBLEMS:

This is an astonishing moment in history. The human species has been around for about 200,000 years. Up until this point, people have made decisions about their lives, their immediate futures, but we’ve now reached the point that we have to make a decision about whether or not the species is going to survive in anything like its current form of organization of social systems.

We’re facing two fundamental questions: Nuclear war, which we know that if there were one, everything would be destroyed, and climate change. If we don’t make decisive steps right now, there will be irreversible catastrophic consequences. We’ve already inadvertently made the decision for a huge number of species. Anthropogenic climate warming is on the order of an extinction. We are playing the role of the asteroid this time.

In the primaries, nuclear war hasn’t been mentioned, not the issue of a rising crisis nor our miraculous escape for the past 70 years. Climate change is only mentioned in a fit of denial by almost all Republicans. The recently signed Paris agreement isn’t a treaty because the republican congress wouldn’t accept it. So the Paris agreement had to be a voluntary agreement. There are more focused cases to look at. Scientists at ExxonMobile made it clear that use of fossil fuels will have catastrophic effects, but then they just concealed it. The short term desire for immediate profit-making overwhelms concerns for whether your grandchildren will have a chance for a decent existence.

We’re capable of rationality, but it’s not always a driving force in our existence. There are huge efforts made to undermine rationality. Every time you turn on the TV, you’re being bombarded with massive efforts to undermine your rationality. That’s what advertising is. Markets are based on informed consumers making rational choices, but advertising creates uninformed consumers making irrational choices. A huge amount of effort and money goes towards creating illusions of famous sports heroes driving a car in order to turn normal people into consumers. A lot of deceit and distortion are efforts to prevent people from being informed. It’s an effort to make the citizenry uninformed. The US describe Iran as the greatest threat to world peace, so we think we need controls to make sure they don’t do anything. But around the world, the country seen as the greatest threat to world peace is the U.S. But American citizens are largely unaware of this.

SOLUTIONS:

It is possible to deal with climate change within the current state capitalist system by carrying out measures like a carbon tax, which would at least internalize costs imposed by the use of carbon and impose a greater burden of people who use fossil fuels. It would be a major step forward.

There’s a conflict in the democratic party between environmental and labour constituencies: labour wants support for gas lines, but environmentalists are against it. This is why the working class is drifting to the republicans, because the environmentalists in the democratic party are opposed to the XL pipeline. But there’s a solution that’s not discussed. This country needs massive construction work on decaying infrastructure that needs enormous amounts of labour, but it’s not even raised. All we can talk about is building pipelines. This is a sign of a social and political system that is so sick that it cannot face obvious issues and deal with them sensibly. There is plenty of demand for labour. We need labour to weatherize homes which works for environmentalists and labour both. Instead of investing in automobiles, we can use that sector to make high-speed rail. We should hand the industry over to the workforce. These issues literally aren’t part of the discussion, but they should be a critical part.

NECESSARY VALUES OF A SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY:

We live in plutocracy right now. A democracy means every functioning institution would be under popular democratic control. Industrial installations should be run by their workforce. Look at John Dewey – he points out that unless this is done, politics will be just the shadow cast on society by big business, which is pretty accurate. It’s usually called libertarian socialism, but it’s basically democracy.

We need solidarity. Go back to David Hume and Adam Smith, and other pre-capitalists. They took it for granted that solidarity, sympathy, mutualism are core driving forces of human nature. Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ has been interpreted diametrically opposite to how he used it. He was thinking in terms of an agricultural economy: if a landowner accumulates all the land and everyone has to be his servant, it won’t matter because the landowner, by virtue of his sympathy to others, will ensure his property is divided equally like by an invisible hand. This shows the driving concept that underlies classical liberalism. This all ended with capitalism: Get what you can for yourself and kick everyone else in the face. And now it’s claimed that that’s human nature. It’s highly deceitful. That’s what’s causing us to race over the precipice environmentally. This is a distorting ideology imposed on us that undermines normal human emotions and interactions. It’s highly deceitful.

ExxonMobile is pursuing what Adam Smith denounce as the vile maxim of the masters of mankind: All for ourselves and nothing for anyone else.  Sometimes that’s made explicit like from the economist James Buchanan who said the ideal situation for any person is to be the owner of everything and have everyone else be his slave. But can you imagine the non-pathological person who could even dream of that idea? From the point of view of the right-wing, that’s ideal. It’s Ayn Rand, basically.

There’s plenty of grounds for hope. Even with almost no public support, half the American population is in favour of the carbon tax. In every county in the US, polls indicate, people are in favour of more regulation of emissions. This is latent attitudes, and the hope is that they can become a powerful force to influence or replace the leadership. It can be done. There are alternatives. It’s the way to put a brake on this race to disaster.  We should simply continue to keep in mind the slogan that Antonio Gramsci made famous: We can have pessimistic of the intellect, but we should have optimism of the will, and if there’s grounds for it, then we should grasp the opportunities that do exist and make sure they become implemented and operated.

On that note, Chris Hedges suggested we need an “American Spring” in his latest video, and it might start at the rally in Philadelphia on July 25th.

. . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: Solidarity Over Competition

A Puff of Absurdity: On bell hooks

I came across a bell hooks essay about writing with passion, as a “space of transgression,” which I like very much. And then PEL (The Partially Examined Life – a panel of four guys who talk about different philosophy texts each week, with special g… . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On bell hooks

A Puff of Absurdity: On bell hooks

I came across a bell hooks essay about writing with passion, as a “space of transgression,” which I like very much. And then PEL (The Partially Examined Life – a panel of four guys who talk about different philosophy texts each week, with special guest Myisha Cherry) had a couple podcasts about her views on racism and sexism, which fit well with some thoughts I’ve been dwelling on in my Indigenous Studies class. But the shaky bridge to get my students actually reading her, might just be her piece on Beyoncé in which she says, right out loud,

“I think it’s fantasy that we can recoup the violating image and use it. I used to get so tired of people quoting Audre Lorde, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, but that was exactly what she meant, that you are not going to destroy this imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy by creating your own version of it. Even if it serves you to make lots and lots of money. [Her body stands for] desire fulfilled, that is, wealth, fame, celebrity, all the things that so many people in our culture are lusting for. . . . all of those things that are at the heart of imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. . . . I say to my students: Decolonize. But there’s also that price for decolonization. You’re not gonna have the wealth. . . . part of what has to happen for us to be free is that we have to create our own standards of how to live.”

They might not agree, but they might listen just enough to be able to defend their idol. (Listen to the whole discussion here – that bit starts about 30 minutes in.)

There’s a cost to liberation, so it’s a struggle to get people to actively let go of that path completely. We keep one foot in it, trying to get the best of both worlds, but it doesn’t work.  People just “flip the hate channel to the voyeur channel, but nothing is really changing.”

We are more messed up than we realize. Our problems are deeper. We don’t see our own racism and sexism. Images and representation in media are vital to changing how we see ourselves. The PEL podcasts talked about the study on children who, whether black or white, thought a black doll was ugly and wouldn’t play with it. That conversation reminded me of the movie Smoke Signals when characters struggled to figure out what it looks like to be Indigenous, to be who they are, and how not to disparage their own people.

Other things I heard in the PEL podcast (partially quoted or paraphrased but filtered through my own thoughts on the topics as they relate to my class):

On Taking Care of Oppressors:

It’s a strategy of some groups to point out that we’re all victimized by the structure of oppression. White males are also harmed. To a point, it can be a way to get the dominant class involved in the struggle or at least convince them to stop opposing it. John Ralston Saul does this somewhat in his books about Indigenous Canadians. He’s got a we’re all in this together stance that does affect me on a different level. It’s no longer an Indigenous issue; it’s a Canadian issue. And I’m not just the bad guy as someone who comes from a long line of colonists.  I’m a fellow Canadian also affected by the discrimination taking place on our collective land.

But bell hooks is wary of this. It’s not right to change out of self interest. According to hooks, this deflects the problem in a way that we end up pitying the oppressor for their unfortunate plight.  But their situation is nowhere near as horrible as anyone who’s lived through slavery or residential schools. It can be a problem if concern over the dominant class makes us forget how horribly the oppressed are treated. It’s a problem if it makes us ignore the profoundly victimized when we have to concern ourselves with the mildly victimized as well. The oppressor is also a victim, but people are victimized in different ways, and some also benefit. Those who have something to gain from the process have little incentive to overthrow it regardless the guilt and shame they might suffer. Louis gets it…


On the Decolonization Process:

hooks explains that recovering after the colonialist experience isn’t just a matter of going back to what was. It’s too late for that. It’s not a surgical removal of an event. That’s not possible. After any trauma, we can’t go back to the way things were. We have to accept and then get beyond that part that is in us now, part of us.  That’s true of the oppressed and the oppressor.

This is a difficult point for me to get my head around – not that it is, but how to sit with it. After my class watched Smoke Signals, we talked about the betwixt and between stage of many indigenous who have lost the skills of a traditional life, but reject further assimilation to modern life as well. It’s curious to me what gets rejected and what’s kept. They can no longer sustain themselves from the land, getting their own food and building their own homes, but can’t afford the outrageous prices for food or lumber either. As an outsider, I see the solution to their plight in tools of the dominant class: formal education, indoor plumbing, stocked grocery stores. But if we reject assimilation models, then what makes these acceptable? Or are ties to tradition purely symbols and rituals at this point?

Or is it in their philosophy, which, from scant readings to this point, I can best understand through my prior knowledge of Taoism. It’s a difficult philosophy to maintain surrounded by a consumerist culture, which helps clarify the important of staying put in more isolated communities. But then the costs of food and lumber, not to mention the many social services we take for granted in the city, will never be on par for such tiny communities. When many bands have fewer than 500 people and remote locations, to what extent can we offer functioning hospitals and universities? It’s a conundrum.

hooks says decolonization may take place at the individual level at first, but to be fully decolonized, the entire system must be overthrown. It requires a revolutionary action, not just an internal psychological stance. We can’t just self-emancipate without emancipation of all others. For this to happen collectively, we need narratives of individuals who have ‘self-actualized’. [In the PEL panel, they waver between terms like ‘self-actualize’ and ‘authenticity’ but admit that none of those terms are actually used by bell.] We need narratives for people to see how it’s done: role models, opportunities.

When you’re oppressed, you start to see yourself as the other. Many philosophers were mentioned throughout this discussion, but de Beauvoir never came up even though she wrote about this concept extensively. The whole role of domination (patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism…) is refusal. Their mode of action was one group oppressing another for their own advantage while convincing the others it’s for their own good. According to hooks, to be radical and revolutionary, we have to counter competition with love.

In order for any of us to be radical, we need a support group, people who will love us no matter how radical we get. We need role models of survival, and we need to accept a great diversity of true expressions. We should avoid the trope of the struggling black woman rising up by accepting that some didn’t have it that hard, AND that the expression of a different path doesn’t negate the experiences of those who struggled because it suggests we can only bond if we all tell the same story of victimization. Any group naturally tries to develop norms as a means of solidifying the group, of anchoring their identity, but those norms can then get imposed on others in the group until real experiences are shut down. We must be careful of this because it’s no longer a support group at this point. She’s critical of the way political ends force a dismissal of different kinds of experiences within a group – it dulls the edges of activism. We can only facilitate healing if we’re strong enough to acknowledge and listen to different voices, to let others be what they are, and to listen with respect.

We still need some common narrative about the oppression, a counter-narrative to the dominant myths perpetrated, but we also need room to become individual people. Choice is a luxury of the empowered. To be able to become fully ‘actualized,’ we each need the opportunity to explore, to have the world opened up to us. If we’re not working collectively to overthrown colonization paradigms, then we’re not creating the space necessary for people to evolve.

There’s a problem with the colonized and oppressed mistaking their own dominator acts as a radical departure from domination. Some people working to break free from the model end up copying it because we’re all so immersed in it, but not everything we do is a free and authentic act. We need spiritual leaders (assuming we can figure out who they are) who are ahead of us on the path to help distinguish whether or not our acts are informed by colonization. For instance, genital mutilation is an act of oppression even if women choose to have it done. It clarifies the extent to which we’re internalized oppressor norms anytime we willingly act like a slave or servant. We can only decipher what’s authentic through sustained engagement with ourselves. It’s complicated.

On Intersectionality:

Her books came out before the term existed, but she talks about the problem with talking about racism and sexism as different. Focusing on one can exclude attention to the other. We won’t be fully covered if we have two movements; we need to be liberated from both to make concrete political changes.

We need to be aware of and informed by the intersection of multiple identities that affect how we’re treated. We need to recognize different types of oppression in the work we do. For instance, Black Lives Matter was started by two lesbian women, but the focus ended up on police brutality of black men. Women were erased in those narratives even though they are also oppressed by the police. Cherry spoke about the a man speaking at a rally. He was the brother of a woman who had been killed by police, and he was encouraged to just talk about Trayvon Martin, not his own sister. It was as if discussing black women would distract from the movement.

In class we discussed the many protests taken on by indigenous peoples over land rights and environmental destruction. My students noticed parallels with the Black Lives Matter movement, except they hadn’t previously heard of the many indigenous protests currently happening in their own country. We need to open spaces for indigenous discrimination to be part of the intersectionality we’ve just begun to honour.

The thing we’re all pushing for should allow for multiple narratives, but we live in a soundbite world. Chomsky has been on about this for decades. We can’t give the whole story when we’re only allowed to speak in simple, easily accepted terms within a consistent narrative. We have work to do to stop ourselves from perpetuating a dominator ideology, and to continue to look at our assumptions about people based on sex, race, sexuality, ability…  It’s not just an act of cognition but a political challenge, a call to action.

I’m still not sure what the path looks like yet, but just that we have to start heading in that direction.

. . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On bell hooks

Writings of J. Todd Ring: “The News” – Jefferson, Chomsky, propaganda, and alternatives

As I keep saying, stop watching, reading or listening to “the news.” It is misinformation, disinformation, propaganda, distortion, lies and illusions, mass distraction and mass manipulation – psychological warfare, to put it in the te… . . . → Read More: Writings of J. Todd Ring: “The News” – Jefferson, Chomsky, propaganda, and alternatives

Writings of J. Todd Ring: ISIS and Terrorism – A Reality Check

“The responsibility of intellectuals is to speak the truth and expose lies.” – Noam Chomsky “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell According to a February 2015 Gallup poll, Americans consider the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — abbreviated as ISIS or ISIL — and . . . → Read More: Writings of J. Todd Ring: ISIS and Terrorism – A Reality Check

Writings of J. Todd Ring: A few thoughts on empathy in human beings, and other living creatures

Empathy is natural in human beings, as Jeremy Rifkin has pointed out – and with strong backing by recent scientific findings. Some human beings have more and some less; and some are sociopaths – roughly 1% (and usually, the ones who gravitate to positions of wealth and power, unsurprisingly) – who have a near total . . . → Read More: Writings of J. Todd Ring: A few thoughts on empathy in human beings, and other living creatures

A Puff of Absurdity: On Words and Virtue

Scott Long wrote an excellent article separating the act of supporting free speech from the act of supporting the words and images created by Charlie Hebdo.  But I disagree with this one bit:

“Words don’t kill…”

As I said in a comment there, too many young people have lost lives as a direct . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Words and Virtue

A Puff of Absurdity: On Chomsky’s Driving Forces in US Foreign Policy

On Chomsky’s “Driving Forces in US Foreign Policy.” This talk is from last summer, but it just caught up to me now.  I’ve summarized bits of the 2-hour long talk and discussion.  It’s all Chomsky’s words, but the paragraphs are differently ordered under headings below:

On Global Warming and Nuclear Weapons 

The security . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Chomsky’s Driving Forces in US Foreign Policy

A Puff of Absurdity: Chomsky’s Forward to Albert’s Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism

In full:   (The book is here.)

“Throughout much of the world there is growing resistance to the severe harm that has resulted from the neoliberal policies of the past generation. Latin America has progressed farthest in overthrowing this harsh regime, in recent years largely freeing itself from the grip of Western imperial domination . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: Chomsky’s Forward to Albert’s Realizing Hope: Life Beyond Capitalism

A Puff of Absurdity: Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century

I feel like I don’t have to read this one with all the press it’s getting. Maybe next summer.  This is the gist I’ve gotten so far:

 Michael Rozworski wrote a piece about it recently. In brief: the basic thesis of the book is that capitalism has a tendency towards the concentration of wealth . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century

A Puff of Absurdity: On Ethos – a 2011 Documentary

“Our ethos is all that we currently hold to be true. It is what we act upon. It governs our manners, our business and our politics.” –  Howard Zinn

Directed by Pete McGrain, and hosted by Woody Harrelson, this 68 minute film explores how we got here and what to do about it as . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Ethos – a 2011 Documentary

Writings of J. Todd Ring: On hummingbirds and genocide

I was going to write a short thought on seeing an amazing little creature in my garden just now – a humming bird no bigger than a bumblebee, which made me almost shudder with joy at the sight. But then I read more on the genocide being waged against the people of Gaza by . . . → Read More: Writings of J. Todd Ring: On hummingbirds and genocide

A Puff of Absurdity: On John Stuart Mill, Free Speech, and Climate Change

I got caught up in a few arguments about climate change recently that just reinforced to me, that there’s still such a strong bashlash against the entire idea that we’re unlikely to move forward quickly enough to be effective.

Paper is trees!

My school board is fundraising for the Philippines, and I’m totally on . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On John Stuart Mill, Free Speech, and Climate Change

Writings of J. Todd Ring: NAFTA, “Free Trade” and the TPP: Fast-Track To Full Corporate Rule

“Twenty years ago, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed into law. At the time, advocates painted a rosy picture of booming U.S. exports creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and economic development in Mexico, which would bring the struggling country in line with its wealthier northern neighbors. Two decades later, those . . . → Read More: Writings of J. Todd Ring: NAFTA, “Free Trade” and the TPP: Fast-Track To Full Corporate Rule

Writings of J. Todd Ring: US government shutdown, and other fairy tales and political theatre

I’m not sure what to make of the hoopla going on in the US right now. I’m inclined to think it’s all just political theatre, as Gerald Celente calls it, designed to distract the people from the real issues – the central one being, who controls the government and the nation? Wall Street, the big . . . → Read More: Writings of J. Todd Ring: US government shutdown, and other fairy tales and political theatre

Writings of J. Todd Ring: The deeper reasons for the “war on drugs”

There is a deeper reason for the war on drugs, which is the central reason for the policy, even outweighing profits from private prisons and seizure of property by law enforcement officers, both of which no doubt are also significant and strong motivations for keeping the “war on drugs” going. Nearly thirty years ago, Chomsky . . . → Read More: Writings of J. Todd Ring: The deeper reasons for the “war on drugs”

Writings of J. Todd Ring: Reflections on tumblr, facebook and social media

Going from specifics to depth and breadth, and from particularities to universals, here are some thoughts for your consideration, for anyone who may be interested. I’ve come to love the social networking / blogging community / window onto the web which is called tumblr. That being said, tumblr is largely what you make of it. . . . → Read More: Writings of J. Todd Ring: Reflections on tumblr, facebook and social media

A Puff of Absurdity: On Hedges’ Empire of Illusion

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”  – James Baldwin 

Thus begins Chris Hedges‘ Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, a . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Hedges’ Empire of Illusion

A Puff of Absurdity: On Chomsky

I think everyone should read Chomsky. He’s brilliant, yet far less dense and inaccessible as some people think. He’s a different person than you or me – well, than me for sure. He has a wealth of knowledge and an astute analysis of events pretty much from the beginning of time to now all . . . → Read More: A Puff of Absurdity: On Chomsky

The Disaffected Lib: Chomsky on Plutonomy and America’s Growing Precariat

Noam Chomsky chronicles the ascent of America’s Plutonomy, the ultra rich and the economic and political power they have sucked out of the American state, and their dependence on a rapidly growing American Precariat, the great unwashed now stripped of their last vestiges of either economic or political power.   The article has been making the . . . → Read More: The Disaffected Lib: Chomsky on Plutonomy and America’s Growing Precariat

Drive-by Planet: Palestinian hunger strike a victory for non-violent protest

  The Israeli practice of holding Palestinian prisoners in so-called “administrative detention” is a violation of international law. Prisoners are brought before military judges who determine the length of detention. This can be as much as six months and can be repeated indefinitely.

Administrative detention was a central issue driving the 28-day mass hunger strike . . . → Read More: Drive-by Planet: Palestinian hunger strike a victory for non-violent protest