Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Posts from — April 2006

Support YOUR troops with dissent

People I know are sometimes surprised to see a “Support Our Troops” magnet on the back of our van. We’ve modified it with a Y to read “Support YOUR troops,” as this is not my family’s country, nor our war. And yet, we’re paying for it every paycheque when money comes off for federal taxes. There are many tragedies at the heart of the Iraq war, and one of them is the hundreds of thousands of troops who’ve been sent there to fight a war that should have never been fought in the first place. A war based on lies, greed, corruption, and a flagrant disregard for the lives and well-being of the troops.

I can’t help feeling that just by being here in the US, that we’re doing something to contribute to the war. The only way to live with that is also to do something to speak out against it, which I do whenever I can. I’m sure some people misread our magnet as a sign of our support for the war itself. It’s anything but that. It’s simply my way of saying that we are thinking of those men and women there who shouldn’t be there. It’s not that they are not doing good things. In the end, getting rid of Saddam should turn out to be a good thing. But at what cost? This is an end that will never justify the means.

Bring them home.

Here’s an excerpt from a great speech John Kerry made a few days ago. Powerful stuff. You can’t help but shake your head and think about heading back across the border when you look at who the American people didn’t chose (Gore, Kerry etc.) and think of who they did…

So now, as in 1971, we are engaged in another fight to live the truth and make our own government accountable. As in 1971, this is another moment when American patriotism demands more dissent and less complacency in the face of bland assurances from those in power.

We must insist now that patriotism does not belong to those who defend a President’s position–it belongs to those who defend their country. Patriotism is not love of power; it is love of country. And sometimes loving your country demands you must tell the truth to power. This is one of those times.

Lives are on the line. Lives have been lost to bad decisions – not decisions that could have gone either way, but decisions that constitute basic negligence and incompetence. And lives continue to be lost because of stubbornness and pride.

We support the troops–the brave men and women who have always protected us and do so today–in part by honoring their service, and in part by making sure they have everything they need both in battle and after they have borne the burden of battle.

But I believe now as strongly and proudly as I did thirty-five years ago that the most important way to support the troops is to tell the truth, and to ensure we do not ask young Americans to die in a cause that falls short of the ideals of this country.

When we protested the war in Vietnam some would weigh in against us saying: “My country right or wrong.” Our response was simple: “Yes, my country right or wrong. When right, keep it right and when wrong, make it right.” And that’s what we must do again today.

James Boyce: John Kerry Gets His Voice Back.

April 23, 2006   No Comments

Rome sacked by… North Americans?

From this weekend’s Globe and Mail:

Mr. Berlusconi’s anger and scrutiny is now focused tightly on these votes, especially in the riding that represents North and Central America, in which Canadian votes proved decisive.

In Canada, 15,425 Italian-Canadians, or 44 per cent of those who cast ballots, voted for Mr. Prodi’s coalition. In the United States, Mr. Berlusconi’s coalition attracted a slightly larger number — 15,148, or 34 per cent. But the Canadian votes for Mr. Prodi, along with a smaller number from Mexico, were enough to give him a victory here.

So the new Italian senate constituency of “North and Central America” will be represented by a leftist — specifically, by Guerino Turano, the head of a Chicago-based baking company. Among the dozen foreign deputies elected to Italy’s lower house was a Canadian, Gino Bucchino, a nutritionist and radio personality from Toronto.

Italians yesterday were just beginning to realize that their fate had been determined by people who have mostly entered their country only as tourists.

What a crazy idea! But how cool would it be to be a Canadian deputy in Rome? Hmmm… Can you imagine if Canada were to do this how many Vermonters would be helping to decide Canada’s political future? Now, Vermonters I’d trust. The folks from New Hampshire (New Hampshirites? New Hampshirians? New Hamsters?), on the other hand, now that’s another story.

(Just kidding, of course. Some of my best students are from New Hampshire….)

April 17, 2006   No Comments

Ignatieff for PM

Okay, so there’s not even an election looming in Canada, and the Liberal leadership race is far from decided. That said, I’m growing more and more convinced that Michael Ignatieff’s the guy for the job.

Here’s an excerpt from Alan Fotheringham’s column today, in which he predicts, or at least hopes, that Ignatieff will be Canada’s next Prime Minister.

He writes beautifully. In a 1984 book, The Needs of Strangers; he opens this way. “I live in a market street in north London. Every Tuesday morning there is a barrow outside my door and a cluster of old age pensioners rummage through the torn curtains, buttonless shirts, stained vests, torn jackets, frayed trousers and faded dresses that the barrow man has to offer. They make a cheerful chatter outside my door, beating down the barrow’s prices, scrabbling for bargains like crows pecking among the stubble. They are not destitute, just respectably poor.”

Another chapter deals with King Lear and love. Another about Augustine, Bosch, Erasmus, Pascal. Another, The Market and The Republic, with Smith and Rousseau.

[. . .] Why should not Canada, the best of all countries, have not as leader an international figure who can demonstrate the best we have?

Dan Gardner’s column from Monday’s Ottawa Citizen suggests that “Ignatieff’s great strength is his great weakness”:

Referring to Ignatieff’s recent article “If Torture Works…,” Gardner says that the article proves the following:

First, and most obviously, this is a man of formidable intelligence and learning.

Second, this is a man who not only does not avoid tough issues, he is drawn to them.

Third, he revels in complexity without getting lost in detail.

Fourth, he is intellectually honest. He examines contrary arguments with as much care as those that support his views. He respects those who disagree and he values debate as the path to truth.

And last, he has a sound sense of the tragic. He understands that life sometimes forces us to make tough choices and the best we can do is choose — as the title of his recent book put it — the lesser evil.

The problem, though, and Gardner’s unfortunately correct about this, “is that the very writings that demonstrate Mr. Ignatieff’s admirable qualities provide a near-inexhaustible supply of statements that can be wrenched out of context and flung like mud. He hates Ukrainians! He supports torture! He loves George Bush!”

“This,” Gardner writes “is just the nonsense Mr. Ignatieff encountered before entering the leadership race. Imagine what will happen when the hired guns on the other campaigns get to work.”

Although I think Gardner’s probably right, I can’t help but wish that some day in the not-too-distant future we’ll see George Bush meeting up with Ignatieff rather than Harper. Now that would be a conversation I’d love to listen in on….

April 14, 2006   No Comments


April 14, 2006   Comments Off on Phew!

It’s the end of the world as we know it. And I feel fine.

David Warlick’s blog always gives me a lot to think about, but with his notion of “flat classrooms” I think he’s moved to a new level. This is a great post that should give us all a lot to think about.

What about an education system that is challenged to prepare children for their future — and it’s not their father’s future. So what about a flat classroom? Traditional education has been an environment of hills. The teacher could rely on gravity to support the flow of curriculum down to the learners. But as much as we might like to pretend, we (teachers) are no longer on top of the hill. The hill is practically gone.

[. . .] In many cases, students communicate more, construct original content more, and more often collaborate virtually with other people, than do their teachers. Those teachers who pretend to stand on higher ground, appear, to many of their students, to be standing on quicksand.

I wax hyperbole, but the point is that our times require a different kind of classroom, one that can no longer rely on gravity. We must invent a perpetual learning engine.

It’s such an appropriate metaphor. I, for one, wish my classroom was flatter. When you do hit a flat patch from time to time, it’s completely liberating for all concerned. Or maybe it’s just that I miss the prairies! It’s only there that you can truly see the horizon and get some perspective as to where you really stand. The problem with the hills and mountains, from a prairie perspective, is that they obscure the view. I think David Warlick would agree.

April 10, 2006   No Comments

Why can’t you pay attention anymore?

This interview with Dr. Edward Hallowell hits home on a number of levels, first because I’m the king of multitasking for better and, more often, for worse. Second, because it’s an issue we deal with in the classroom all the time.

Students today — and this could simply be my misperceptions of some sort of pre-Internet golden age, when I went to school (haven’t we all heard that one before?) — seem to have a harder time getting big chunks of reading done for our classes, or wrapping their minds around some of the big theoretical concepts we discuss in our core “Critical Approaches to Literature” course here at UVM. Did I complain as much about having to read large novels or difficult works of literary theory? Probably… but I think that our attention spans (mine too) have changed significantly over the last 10 years.

April 8, 2006   No Comments

Advising for Fall 2006

It’s that time of year again! Registration begins for Seniors on April 11. I’m available to meet with any of you who need help with your plans for next year. If you’re going to be a Senior next year, you should definitely think about coming to see me before registering so that we can make sure you’ll be set to graduate in Spring ’07.

Those of you who are heading into your sophomore year are required by the College of Arts and Sciences to meet with your advisor. If you’ve already declared a major, you will need to meet with your advisor from that department or program. Once you have met with an advisor he or she will remove the registration hold from your account.

English majors and minors can find the list of Fall 2006 courses from the Department of English online at the department’s website. On that same page, you will also find the list of courses that fill the A, B, C, D, and senior seminar requirements. It’s also worth checking the Fall course listings from Continuing Education, which should be out very soon.

A few quick links that you will need when planning your courses. Please do your best to pick your courses before coming to see me and also to review the requirements checklist to see which requirements you’ve met this year and which ones you still need to fill.

Registration schedule for Fall 2006.

Click here for the complete list of Arts and Sciences Distribution Requirements

Here’s a link to the course listings from the Registrar’s website

Fall enrollment listings (updated hourly)

Here are the available time slots I have in the coming days. Please e-mail me right away and book an appointment. I’ll fill in the taken spots on this form as I hear from you on a first-come, first-served basis.

N.B. If you’ve seen me before, please try to bring with you any past advising checklists I’ve done for you. That will save us a considerable amount of time when trying to figure out which courses or how many credits you still need to take.

Thursday, April 6



9:00: Caitlin Collins

9:30: Julie Bilodeau




11:30: Charlie Whistler

12:00: John Landry


13:00: Will Bowen

13:30: Mike Ceragno

Monday, April 10

13:00: Zack Infante

13:30: Molly Kienzler

14:00: Lauren Foley

14:30: Erica Wolf

15:00: Rudy Kiburis



Tuesday, April 11

14:45: Jesse Rentz

15:00: Melissa Meyer

15:30 – 16:30: Will Webb

16:30 – Mike Ceragno

Thursday, April 13

15:00: Chris Worden, my fellow Canuck

15:15: Taylor Apostol

15:30: Mike MacDonald

Friday, April 14



April 3, 2006   No Comments

“Our home and native blogs” at continues to be the best site online for stories on Canadian culture. Last week’s feature on academic satires was really good, and today they’ve got a great feature on Canada’s best arts and entertainment blogs. Sure, I have some quibbles with their choices, but on the whole it’s a great list.

April 3, 2006   No Comments

Homer’s Odyssey


Coming in July 2007 to a theatre near you…

You didn’t really think I was talking about THAT Homer, did you?

April 3, 2006   No Comments

Go Ignatieff! Go, Ralph!

First, Michael Ignatieff, rookie MP and one of the (undeclared) front-runners for Liberal leadership, gives a great speech in Ottawa. I had a few doubts about Ignatieff, but this speech (in print, anyhow) blew me away. Great to see someone with a VISION, for a change. I’m not sure he has all the answers, but he’s closer to them than we’ve seen in a long, long time. Go Ignatieff!

A few highlights from his speech:

Critics say I’ve been out of the country a long time. They seem to miss the years spent teaching at UBC, at the Banff Center for the Fine Arts, the documentary series I made for the CBC, the television shows I hosted for TV Ontario, the Massey Lectures I gave on CBC radio, the books and articles I’ve devoted to Canadian problems. I don’t feel I’ve been away at all.

But yes, I’ve also been a war reporter, human rights teacher, journalist and I’ve seen a lot of the world.

Sometimes you only see your country clearly from far away.

I saw it clearly in eastern Croatia in 1992. I had just crossed a UN check point and had been taken prisoner by a half a dozen armed men high on alcohol and ethnic nationalism. A young UN peacekeeper arrived, as I was being bundled away. He cocked his M-16 and said: ‘We’ll do this my way.’ And they did.

That young soldier was from Moncton, New Brunswick.

I saw my country clearly watching a policewoman escort frightened families to and fro across a mined no-man’s land in another part of Yugoslavia. When I asked her why she was doing dangerous work in a foreign country she said, with a smile: ‘It beats writing traffic tickets in Saskatoon.’

I saw my country clearly in the young Canadians who took my classes at Harvard. I saw how eager they were to test themselves against the best the world has to offer.

So this is my Canada and these are my Canadians. We are serious people.

I’ve tried to be a serious person. Being serious means sticking to your convictions. I went to Iraq in 1992 and saw what Saddam Hussein had done to the Kurds and the Shia. I decided then and there that I’d stand with them whatever happened. I’ve stuck with them ever since. Whatever mistakes the Americans have made, one day Iraqis will create a decent society. When that day comes, Canadians should be there to help because their struggle is ours too.

I’ve always believed that Canada should fight for a world in which force is never used except in a just cause.

Many of us have also been waiting to have a leader who will say this:

I’m in politics to speak up for a Canada that takes risks, that stands up for what’s right. A Canada that leads.

We are a serious people.

For a long time, however, we haven’t taken ourselves seriously enough.

We need to ask more of ourselves.

For the first time in history ,we now have a real claim to being able to solve problems that have dogged human life for millennia: hunger, disease and environmental destruction. We have the science. We have the money. What we lack is focus and determination.

Forty years ago, a Canadian Prime Minister set the standard for international citizenship at 0.7 percent of GDP in overseas aid to developing nations. Forty years later, we still have not met Mike Pearson’s targets.

The time for excuses is over. We need to fulfill our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals before 2015. We need to meet this target, but we need to do more. We need to focus development aid to those who can really use it. Let’s stop spending money supporting regimes that abuse their people. Let’s find development partners who govern in the interests of their people. Let’s remember that Canadians are the people of “peace, order and good government.” The single thing the developing world needs most is good government. We should be the country that leads the world in governance, in helping governments in the developing world to govern more justly.


Second, it’s been so entertaining of late to watch the infighting and incompetence of Alberta’s Progressive Conservative party. They seem to be self-destructing on a daily basis, burdened by, of all things, the challenge of having the latest in a long series of massive surpluses to spend. I feel kind of sorry for Ralph sometimes, but he should have called it a day well over a year ago. You just had to see this coming. Go Ralph go! No, really! Go Ralph! Go!

April 1, 2006   No Comments