Teaching is a constant uphill climb

The best teachers know what they want students to become. They form students into free people

Teaching is a constant uphill climbTwice in the last couple of months, I had occasion to tell an old joke about teaching. The first time came at a teachers’ book club. The second when a man saw me reading school assignments on the train and struck up a conversation about teaching. The joke goes like this: the first time you…

Bad news makes headlines, good acts make humanity

For all the advances in the last century, a legacy of wars, gulags and holocausts remind us that things were never good

Bad news makes headlines, good acts make humanityThe news is usually bad. And right now, things look dire. So I don’t blame my friends and colleagues who have stopped reading the morning newspaper. Shutting the drapes on the storm raging can return a sense of normalcy to the breakfast table. As somebody who can’t stop reading the news, I can say that…

The pure university we apparently need

Author Warren Treadgold wants conservatives to be in charge. But that doesn't balance the scales, it merely flips them

The pure university we apparently needAre universities hotbeds of radical left-wing activism? The question has possessed conservative writers for decades. But only in the last few years have centrists and left-leaning scholars taken the question seriously. Recent studies of U.S. colleges and universities indicate that in most disciplines, conservative-minded professors are rare. Just nine per cent of American professors define…

The gutter-low standards of academic journals

They don’t fact check. They don’t edit for clarity. They care nothing about meaning. And a trio of writers have exposed them

The gutter-low standards of academic journalsTo have somebody say you “write well in an academic context” is like being called the handsome one in an ugly contest. Academic writing has a bad reputation – a reputation it usually earns. Academic prose is dense, dry, formulaic, habitually bloated and often pretentious. By straining to look intelligent, the worst of it just…

What’s to keep universities from turning into stoner schools?

How marijuana use is reflected in attendance, participation, dropout and failure rates could make a persuasive story

What’s to keep universities from turning into stoner schools?With the exception of those people who smoke marijuana for medical purposes, I haven’t met many people who were improved by smoking up. In my experience with marijuana – and I admit my experience is limited to the second-hand variety – the stereotype of the bored and boring toker rings true. I’m among the few…

We can’t put a price on free speech

Universities should defend unpopular speech, not politicians who use funding as leverage

We can’t put a price on free speechLike a soundtrack on endless repeat, universities have come around again to the one about free speech. It’s an old song. The chorus goes something like, “Universities must support freedom of expression.” It’s not the catchiest tune but like the national anthem, it’s a song to sing with heart. One person who sings loudly and…

Classroom surveillance and sex ed in Ontario

Is this the kind of workplace we want to create for teachers, where any remark might be taken as either perverse or oppressive?

Classroom surveillance and sex ed in OntarioIn Ontario, sex education remains one of those writhing cans of worms that nobody wanted opened and nobody can close. The centre of the squirming mess is a debate over whether sex ed – and by extension, sexual morality – is a private or public concern. Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives won the last Ontario election,…

France’s phone hang-up is a conversation starter

Smartphones have undermined everyday social interactions by eroding our ability and desire to talk to one another

France’s phone hang-up is a conversation starterFrench legislators recently passed a law banning children between three and 15 from using smartphones in class. The government of President Emmanuel Macron said the move will help combat an epidemic of screen addiction among France’s children. At first glance, it looks as if the legislation will help to curb screen addiction. Even if it…

The trashy state of Ontario schools will only get worse

If schools look like internment campus, we shouldn’t be surprised if students try to escape

The trashy state of Ontario schools will only get worseOntario politics is never as interesting as when a Ford plows through the legislature and smashes everything. Since taking office as Ontario’s premier a month ago, Doug Ford has dumped a controversial sex ed curriculum, cut cap and trade, and promised to cull the number of councillors in Toronto’s city council. These decisions brought foam…

Why writing still matters

The combination of writing and speaking is thought itself. Only when we find the language can we grasp the idea

Why writing still mattersOf the educational policy battles currently raging, the usefulness of the SAT essay likely ranks near the bottom of most people’s minds. I know, you’re thinking: How could I not know this battle was raging? How have I not heard the artillery fire? You haven’t heard because it’s summer. And, truth be told, because the…

Carving out space for free and risky creative thought

Principled principals like the late Bob McNutt ensure that students get the education they need and deserve

Carving out space for free and risky creative thoughtDespite his hectic schedule – and the razzing we gave him nearly every week – he always returned my calls. He was Bob McNutt, principal of Erindale College, now the University of Toronto Mississauga, and I was a student journalist with the campus newspaper. McNutt’s earnestness in returning our calls, even on weekends, and providing…

Do you know who is watching your kids?

The academic world should allow students to speak freely, make mistakes, rebel and change their minds

Do you know who is watching your kids?The Chinese educational system takes a brute force approach to teaching: memorize everything. Teachers and parents smash information into the brains of students. The result is usually astonishing. The Chinese educational system excels at teaching discipline, and students from China are, to generalize, dedicated and earnest about their education, and smart, smart, smart. Through hours…

Chasing higher salaries, not higher things in life

Liberalizing the university curriculum offers something new but usually at the cost of wisdom

Chasing higher salaries, not higher things in lifeIs education liberal or conservative? I’m not talking about party politics. I mean something much more fundamental: Is the work of teachers inherently geared towards replicating scholastic and cultural traditions, or does school exist to prepare students for – and even usher in – social and cultural change? Does school make history or just teach…

Can only Indigenous scholars teach Indigenous history?

Schools must be allowed to hire scholars on the basis of academic merit, regardless of race, gender or class

Can only Indigenous scholars teach Indigenous history?A liberal education should deal in ideas that are true and universal. And such an education should, by definition, prepare students to recognize falsehoods and ideas that divide, like the notion that only people of certain races can accomplish certain feats. This defining feature of the liberal arts came to the fore again last week,…

Remembering memorization, the cornerstone of learning

Students must develop mastery over technique before they can experiment, if the experiment is to have any shape or meaning

Remembering memorization, the cornerstone of learningThe smartest man I’ve ever met had a mind like a high-definition camera. Everything he viewed played on his mind with crystal clarity. He memorized the baseball statistics in the morning paper. A guilty pleasure, he said. He also had a library of poetry memorized. When he lectured, he pulled references, allusions and lines from…
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