Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Posts from — June 2007

First Nations take to YouTube

Interesting to see First Nations activists taking to YouTube to bring attention to their very just cause in conjunction with the June 29 National Day of Action in Canada which will see people across Canada protesting the continued shameful treatment of First Nations people.

This set of three videos on YouTube, which seem aimed more to an American audience than to Canadians, is well worth watching. Please pass it along to others.

Long Train of Abuses (part 1)

Long Train of Abuses (part 2)

Long Train of Abuses (part 3)

Interestingly, I see YouTube links from the Assembly of First Nations website, too.

Here’s the AFN’s public service announcement about The National Day of Action. It’s a powerful thirty-second ad.

I really like what Phil Fontaine has done and admire his use of the media, including the AFN website, to get the message across that it’s long past time for Canada to work together with the First Nations to change things. I hope this use of YouTube helps to mobilize the younger generation of Canadians to demand that their government take action. Check out the What Can I Do page from the AFN site to see what you can do to help and, while you’re at it, sign the Make Poverty History petition.

Here’s a clip on YouTube of Phil Fontaine talking about the National Day of Action. This should be mandatory viewing for all Canadians.

June 27, 2007   No Comments

Richard Harrison

A nice post on rob mclennan’s fab blog reprinting a piece by Richard Harrison about the late Canadian poet Riley Tench, who Richard mentioned to me in a Northwest Passages interview with him a few years back. Rob’s blog is fascinating reading, and I’m always amazed at how much he’s able to write on a regular basis. Happy to see, too, that he’ll be Writer-in-Residence later this year at the University of Alberta, in my own home and native land. He’s even started a blog on Alberta writing and has published a pretty impressive piece on the topic that I think might well become required reading for a grad seminar on prairie writing that I’ve got in the works .

June 25, 2007   No Comments

The Edmonton Model, and how it might apply to Burlington

[I’ve had this blog post waiting in unfinished draft mode for some time, as I’m hesitant to appear like I’m saying something like “Oh, if only they did things here like they do back in Canada.” It’s hard not to be aware constantly of the differences between the place you are and the place you are from, and I have many days where I’m thankful for all the great things that Vermont has to offer that I never would have experienced back in Edmonton. So, this argument goes both ways most of the time. In the case of the public school system in Edmonton, and Canada’s health care system, though, I hope that people here take a serious look at these examples of how we might be able to do things differently here in Vermont.]

It’s funny sometimes how you don’t value something fully until you don’t have it anymore. With all the debates about school funding here in South Burlington and the school system’s inability to fund any second language learning at the primary school level, I seem to wind up talking about the Edmonton School system on a fairly regular basis. I didn’t quite realize until I left Alberta (and as a parent of kids just entering the school system I sometimes lament what might have been had we not left) just how remarkable is the Edmonton Public School Board.

All you need to do is do a Google search on “Edmonton model” +schools and you will find articles from all over North America about school districts looking to Edmonton as model of how they might reform their school systems.

This 2006 article from MacLean’s magazine explains a few of the key differences with the Edmonton system:

Principals in the Alberta capital receive unheard-of autonomy and budgetary control, as well as the right to draw students from anywhere in the district. Once system-wide expenses for things like transportation and debt service are removed, Edmonton’s central board controls just eight per cent of revenue. The rest – 92 per cent – is spent by principals, based on priorities set by staff at each school. “You don’t have to be getting anybody’s permission down here to do stuff, you know what your level of authority is, and that’s quite a load off your back,” said McBeath, during one of his final days at the Centre for Education, the board’s electric-blue headquarters building. “In the old days – and in Canada, in most districts – the principals have to be on their knees begging somebody for something.” In exchange, principals have the responsibility to deliver the goods, as both managers and instructional leaders. That means doing what it takes to attract students, to keep them, and to graduate them at higher levels of academic achievement.

[. . . ] In Edmonton, for all its reputation as Alberta’s bastion of anti-corporate liberalism, there isn’t much taxpayer debate. The experiment in site-based budgeting and decision-making has evolved to the point where parents expect nothing less than the right to comparison shop. Even with Edmonton’s brutal winters, almost half of all students attend schools outside their neighbourhood catchment. That compares with about 20 per cent in a national survey published this November by the Kelowna, B.C.-based Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education. That survey found that 89 per cent of parents and 77 per cent of teachers want the right to select schools – a demand, it seems, most Canadian boards aren’t meeting.

In Edmonton, families pick from a stunning array of products: schools specializing in arts, sports, sciences, advanced academics, Aboriginal culture. There are traditional schools, an all-girls school, bilingual schools from Arabic to Hebrew to Ukrainian. There are Christian schools, including three that gave up private status to join the public system. Edmonton Public has more than 81,000 students and sees itself in competition with private institutions, as well as the smaller but highly innovative Catholic board. It wants every last student, and their blessed provincial grants. Such rapaciousness has critics accusing the board of a hidden privatization agenda. “Not in Edmonton,” McBeath insists. “We absorb private schools here.”

Here are few more links to stories about the innovative “Edmonton Model,” including coverage from US states ranging from Delaware and Massachusetts to California and Hawaii.

In today’s Burlington Free Press, there is a story about ongoing discussions of creating several “magnet schools” within the Burlington School System. Those both in favour and against this possibility, might want to take a closer look at the effectiveness Edmonton model in creating a system in which “public schools can provide a choice to every parent.”

June 25, 2007   5 Comments

Espresso book machine

EspressoBookMachine.jpg 3872×2592 pixels

It’s not often that you hear the New York Public Library, The University of Alberta Bookstore, and The Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont mentioned in the same breath. What they all have in common, though, is that they’re all purchasers of the first few Espresso Book Machines to roll off the assembly line. Personally, I can’t wait to try this thing out, and I think I’ll be making a pilgrimage to the Northshire Bookstore as soon as they have it in place (the U of A bookstore would normally be the top of my list but I won’t be getting back home to Edmonton anytime soon).

June 24, 2007   1 Comment

“The Power of Literature,” by Andrew O’Hagan

One of the great things about the Internet, and podcasting in particular is the opportunity to listen to some of the great, great radio being produced around the world. Every time I hear a program from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, I wonder why I haven’t spent more time on their site. Their program “The Book Show” is one of the best radio shows about literature that you’ll ever hear. If you’ve got some time today, check out this inspiring talk by Scottish writer Andrew O’Hagan on “The Power of Literature” from the June 17th episode of the Book Show.

You can also read the transcript of his speech here.

This is just a taste:

Literature is not Lifestyle – it is Life. It is the news that stays news. For his demonstration of man’s intricate lust for power and war, Homer’s Iliad is the news that stays news. For his wild jokes at the expense of man’s seriousness, Rabelais is the news that stays news. For his insight into vanity, history and the state, Shakespeare is the news that stays news. For her intuition about the threat of industry and science, Mary’s Shelley’s Frankenstein is the news that stays news. For his knowledge of character and his love of the human heart, James Boswell’s great biography is the news that stays news. For the scope of evolution and the nature of our genes, Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species is the news that stays news. For his sense that each man is more than one person, Robert Louis Stevenson is the news that stays news. For his feeling that illusion is a sad and romantic and persistent force in our lives, F. Scott Fitzgerald is the news that stays news. For the struggle of man in the face of the unknowable pressure of totalitarianism, the novels of Franz Kafka are the news that stays news. For her beautiful and expensive evocation of the fragility of the human mind and its imaginings, the writings of Virginia Woolf are the news that stays news. For their sense of modern man in the face of the absurd, Samuel Beckett and Albert Camus are the news that stays news. For their bids for sexual freedom, Oscar Wilde and Tennessee Williams and Janet Frame are the news that stays news. For their love of argument and their vivid passion for the soul, Saul Bellow and Joseph Brodsky and Gunter Grass and David Malouf and Seamus Heaney are the news that stays news. The hundreds of writers here in Sydney this week are busy each with the news that stays news. In their company we have what we need, for they help us to live our lives. That is what literature does – it not only makes experience survive, but it makes life itself surviveable and most beautiful.

I believe it is a failure of the imagination that allows famine or terror to reign in the world. A man who throws half the contents of his fridge into the trash on a Monday morning fails to imagine, next time he visits the supermarket, that whole villages in Eritrea have children gasping for a droplet of milk. The politician or the general who orders a solider to release cruise missiles from 5000 feet does not imagine the innocent men playing cards in the teashop below. He does not imagine their loss or the grief of their loved ones. The terrorist at the controls of a plane cannot imagine the dreams of the secretary on the 102nd floor, planning her wedding and making a bid for life. Failures of the imagination are behind the conduct of our woes – and so we as we gather here to salute literature and the imagination we also come to denounce those failures of the imagination that harm and betray and destroy life.

June 20, 2007   No Comments


More good coverage of Moore’s upcoming film from The Huffington Post. I’ll be in Canada when the film launches and may even try to see it there.

I get asked on a fairly regular basis if our family is planning on staying in the US for the long term (note to anyone from UVM: I have no plans to go anywhere else right now). One of the main things that makes us think from time to time about going back to Canada is the healthcare system here in the US. Thanks to our coverage from my job, we have had great treatment so far from some fantastic doctors. But what will happen to our kids when they grow up and have to cover their own healthcare? What happens if any of us get really sick? And then the really big question: how long can one continue to support indirectly a system that only covers a portion of the population and still be able to look at oneself in the mirror? That, frankly, is the question that I find the hardest to deal with these days.

I’m really hoping that SICKO helps people realize just how much better things could be here if everyone in the US were covered by a single-payer system. That would truly be an American Revolution.

The publicity for SiCKO says the movie sticks to Michael Moore’s “tried-and-true one-man approach” and “promises to be every bit as indicting as Moore’s previous films.”

This is actually somewhat misleading. The approach is a little different. There’s humor, but there aren’t many gimmicks in SiCKO. There’s no effort by Moore to confront industry executives. Moore himself has a much smaller role than in previous films.

It is also a bit deceptive — as an understatement — to say SiCKO is as indicting as Moore’s previous films. No matter how big a fan you may have been of Moore’s earlier movies, you’ll find that SiCKO cuts deeper and is more powerful and profound. SiCKO is, by far, his best movie.

This is, simply, a masterful work. It is deeply respectful of and compassionate towards the victims. It seethes with outrage, but its fury is conveyed by all of the horrifying stories it presents. The narrative is, by and large, understated. It overflows with raw emotion, but manages to explain clearly the systemic imperatives that lead the richest nation in the history of the world to fail so miserably at delivering health care to all.

Could things be different in the United States?


June 20, 2007   No Comments

Blogging at UVM gets some more media attention

Virtually academic:

Students in Paul Martin’s course on Colonial and Postcolonial World Literature at the University of Vermont start discussing Canadian authors in class and then continue their conversations online, thanks to the class blog.

“You’ve now had some time to sit with ‘Kiss of the Fur Queen,'” Martin writes to his students in a blog entry dated Feb. 26. “What are your reactions to the novel? What surprised or struck you most about Highway’s novel? Have your thoughts about the book changed as we’ve spent more time discussing it in class?”

In their 26 responses, his students elaborated on the classroom discussion and further explored the book’s themes.

“It really does encourage students to reflect on what they are reading and to write something about it often,” Martin said. “Often we don’t know what we think about what we’ve read until we write about it. They learn something about the book from the exercise.”

Lots of discussion in this Rutland Herald article (May 13, 2007) by Susan Youngwood about how colleges and universities in Vermont are using blogs.

June 14, 2007   No Comments

Uhhhhhh…. this hits a little too close to home

(I found this at Steven Krause’s blog and he found it here)

June 8, 2007   No Comments

Congrats to the Ducks

 Images Upload 2007 06 Selanne Lifts Cup 325X235

From just one of the many, many stories I’ve read today about last night’s compelling victory by the Anaheim Ducks:

No, this was as collective an effort as collective efforts get. This was somebody different making the difference every step of the way. This was the Ducks doing it for themselves, and for the California fans who fell head over heels for them this year.

They may not wind up ranking alongside the dynasties in Montreal, Long Island or Edmonton, but no championship squad will provide a better example of why hockey is the ultimate team sport.

And that’s the best compliment any hockey roster can receive.

I wish it had been a tighter series this year, but the Ducks outplayed the Senators nearly from start to finish. There were so many great stories about this team that makes it hard for anyone to be all that disappointed to see them win. From Teemu Selanne and J.S. Giguere to the play of many players who will never be hall-of-famers or household names, it was hard not to be touched by the sight of these players passing the Cup around and hearing them talk about all the people who helped get them there.

Although the Ducks aren’t in Canada, there are a huge number of Canadians on that team and so I think we can still enjoy the thought of the Cup visiting many Canadian hometowns this summer. NIce to see the Cup in the hands of a Western Conference team again, too. The Ducks really earned this one and deserve every accolade they get.

June 7, 2007   No Comments

UVM Canadian Studies program featured in upcoming documentary

Earlier this year, a crew from Vermont Public Television came to film my English 182 class. Afterwards, they spoke with me and one of our Canadian Studies majors, Laura Pedro. They were filming a segment for part of a larger documentary on the connections today between Vermont and the province of Quebec.

The documentary is set to air on June 14 at 7:30 PM on VPT.

Here’s the press release from VPT:


For release 6/6/07

Contact: Ann Curran at (802) 655-8059,

or Jeff Vande Griek at (802) 655-8062,

Vermont-Quebec Relations on June 14 VPT Program

Vermont Public Television looks at life on both sides of the border

between Vermont and Quebec in “Good Fences, Good Neighbors,” a new

documentary followed by a live discussion Thursday, June 14, at 7:30 p.m.

Stories and interviews about everyday life, trade and tourism highlight

the documentary, and the challenges in all these areas since Sept. 11,

2001 are a common theme. Even viewers familiar with the issues may find

some of the information surprising.

(continue reading for more details)

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June 6, 2007   No Comments