Curb the impulse to distort history for partisan purposes

History is not about judging the past or the people who lived it. It is about understanding how past events made us who we are today

Curb the impulse to distort history for partisan purposesEach morning, I peer out the window of my apartment at St. Paul’s Basilica, the centre of the Irish immigrant community that arrived in Toronto’s Corktown neighbourhood in the mid-1800s. Last year, I taught a course in writing about history. I used the basilica as a test case. If I were to write a history…

Looking back to gain perspective on higher education

Time to abandon the factory-model, cheap-labour practices of colleges; time to push back against thoughtcrime; and to celebrate Precilla Veigas

Looking back to gain perspective on higher educationThe new year asks us to look back before we can move forward. For post-secondary educators in Ontario, two problems of the last year deserve careful reflection as we enter 2018. The disastrous college strike sits at the top of the list. In October, part-time instructors at Ontario’s 24 public colleges went on strike to…

Artificial intelligence opens the door to a resurgence in the humanities

The good news about AI’s ascent is that the humanity might be shocked back into universities

Artificial intelligence opens the door to a resurgence in the humanitiesI wouldn’t want to be a prophet. Prophesy’s a tough profession. If not attacked, beaten or burned, the prophet’s ignored, shunned and hated. All for having something important to say. So don’t treat what I have to say about how universities will respond to artificial intelligence, or AI, as prophesy. At issue is how AI…

Free speech is central to intellectual life, even at university

A report for Yale back in 1975 was clear about how to deal with people who interfere with free speech: suspend them or expel them

Free speech is central to intellectual life, even at universityExpression on university campuses is not as free and as open as it should and must be. Over the past year, universities have cancelled controversial talks before they’ve begun, mobs have shouted down provocative speakers after they’ve started, and students have faced disciplinary actions for speaking rudely or stupidly. Culture police have examined artworks for…

When an academic debate goes off the rails

Sharing nonconformist ideas shouldn't be cause for censure, but at Wilfrid Laurier University, that seems to be the case

When an academic debate goes off the railsA new episode of The Twilight Zone is playing at Wilfrid Laurier University. It features a young woman charged with spreading sedition. It’s a cliffhanger. Will our heroine genuflect and apologize or will her inquisitors execute her? This little summary of the drama at Laurier isn’t a stretch. The longer version, for those who missed…

Down with textbooks, the pre-digested meal of the academic world

To read a textbook is to receive a second- or third-rate experience, and third- and fourth-hand knowledge

Down with textbooks, the pre-digested meal of the academic worldI’m reminded of that old game Telephone we played in grade school. The teacher whispered in the ear of the child beside her and that child passed the message to the next person. By the time the message came back to the teacher, it had been hopelessly, hilariously mangled, either by passing clumsily through so…

The fallacy of modern post-secondary education

In the pay-for-play model, students accrue crippling debts to pay for an education. They want what they pay for – even if they didn't earn it

The fallacy of modern post-secondary educationLast week, a teacher friend forwarded me a letter one of his students had sent asking him to re-mark an assignment she had failed. Her reasoning was clear: She needed the grade. His reasoning for giving her the failing grade was equally clear: She didn’t follow the instructions and she didn’t understand the material. Plus,…

Remembering teachers: the bad and the good

Bad teachers leave a mark. But good teachers can cut through the bad and leave a life-long impression

Remembering teachers: the bad and the goodIn my job, I read student work nearly every day. It’s one of the pleasures of the job. Please don’t read sarcasm into that last line. Reading a new writer’s work is a pleasure. As a reader, I get to see what’s on the mind of students. As a teacher, I get to comment on…

The endless pursuit of happiness

Happiness is found in a life of obligations satisfied and services rendered, of gifts accepted and love reciprocated

The endless pursuit of happinessIn my blue moments, I often wonder how to be happy and what it means to be happy. As a child, I was happy with my mother. She’d call me to her room in the days before kindergarten and I’d brush her hair. I was happy to make her happy and to sit with her.…

Back to school a return to life, with purpose

Education is a series of commitments: to trying our best, pushing our intellect, understanding our culture, creating new objects of knowledge and art

Back to school a return to life, with purposeLike other educators, I ring in the new year on Sept. 1. Life resumes with the first week of school. New students arrive to campus to begin their lives as adults; returning students pick up where they left off; teachers – the ones who live to teach – return to life. The school year ahead…