Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Politics of Student Part-Time Work - Part One

Having taught high school for 30 years, one of the issues of interest that I carried over into retirement is whether or not students should work part-time. While students have always worked for any number of reasons, ranging from saving for post-secondary education to purchasing things their parents either wouldn't or couldn't buy for them, over the years it was my perception that the number of hours young people were devoting to their jobs rose significantly. A recent article in the Globe and Mail addressed the problem, and some interesting and startling conclusions were reached.

Jorgen Hansen, an associate professor of economics at Montreal’s Concordia University, used data from Statistics Canada’s Youth in Transition Survey, a survey that follows cohorts of students over a number of years. His conclusion: working part-time hurts grades. The more you work part-time, the greater the harm to grades.

According to Wendy Patton, a dean of the faculty of education at Queensland University at Brisbane, Australia, the upper limit should be 12 hours per week. Other studies showed a deterioration in academic performance commensurate with the number of hours worked.

From my own personal experience, it was not unusual to have some students, usually seniors, working almost the equivalent of full-time jobs, and, of course, their grades, homework completion rates, and assignments all suffered. Plaintively, they would tell me they had to work to save for university; my usual response was that if they continued to put in those kinds of hours, they likely wouldn't be going to university anyway, as they wouldn't have the marks. Such harsh observations generally, of course, fell on deaf ears.

And this is where we come to the political aspect of the equation. For a number of reasons that I will outline in my next post, I strongly believe that government has a role to play in regulating how many hours high school students can work.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

An Article on Critical Thinking

Allan Levine, a history professor from Manitoba, has written an excellent article on critical thinking in today's Globe. An excerpt from the article offers a clear and concise explanation of the concept, and what its goals are:

“Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way,” explains Linda Elder, an educational psychologist and president of the Foundation for Critical Thinking. “People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably and empathically. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason.”

Illustrating its importance by examining the current controversy surrounding the building of a mosque a few blocks from the twin towers' terrorist attack, Levine demonstrates that those lofty goals are well-worth striving for throughout our lives, even if complete attainment eludes us.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Criticizing the Harper Government Can be Harmful to Career Prospects

I was going to write a post exploring the casualty list of those whose criticisms of specific Harper Government policies have resulted in dismissals, demotions, or resignations, but the Globe and Mail has already done it this morning in its online Political Notebook.

The latest victim is RCMP Marty Cheliak, whose vigorous support of the long gun registry has earned him much praise and recognition amongst police forces across the country but apparently incurred the ire of Harper, who dearly wants to eliminate it, no doubt another sop to his hardcore constituency. While the Government denies any role in the matter, citing it as an RCMP decision, his removal as head of the Canadian Firearms Program, nine months after his appointment, does not pass the smell test and appears to be part of the growing pattern of intolerance of criticism that Mr. Harper is known for.

The official reason for Cheliak's removal? He is not bilingual. Funny, that didn't seem to be an issue until now.

Message received loud and clear, Mr. Harper.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ontario To Allow Mixed Martial Arts

My son just sent me a link to a story that says the Ontario McGuinty Government has changed its mind and will allow MMA fighting beginning next year. According to Consumer Services Minister Sophia Aggelonitis, regulating MMA is the best way to keep the fighters safe.

Hmm... not to mention the revenue the government will accrue from it and the online gambling it is about to get into as well.

Oh well, bloodsports and gambling may be two effective ways to assuage people should they grow vexed over their increasingly high utility and gasoline bills thanks to the HST, despite the fact that the latter will be applied to these latest questionable and diversionary McGuinty policy decisions.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How Do We Assess Information?

The other day I had an interesting and spirited discussion with a colleague at the food bank where I volunteer. Initially the conversation revolved around the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the possible loss of the team with City Council's decision to proceed with the West Harbour as the site of the new stadium over the objections of team owner Bob Young.

The discussion then progressed to how we evaluate the information we receive. My position, using two illustrations, was and is as follows: Because whatever personal expertise we may possess is usually very limited in scope, it becomes incumbent upon us to be very much influenced by experts in any given field.

Take, for example, the Conservative Government's decision to abandon the mandatory long census form. To be quite honest, the topic of the census, until the controversy erupted, was of no interest to me. The subject of statistics is like a foreign language to me, and seemingly of no pertinence to my life. However, after the almost universal condemnation of the Harper decision by a wealth of experts, critical thinking demands that I accept as true that it is a very bad decision that should be reversed.

We then went on to talk about, and disagree upon, climate change. Her position was that she wants to decide the truth for herself, through research on the Internet. That may well be a sound approach if she has enough time and the ability to evaluate the sources of her information, something that is very hard for a lay person to do on issues with a high degree of technical information.

Nonetheless, I have already accepted the truth of climate change, not just because of the worldwide evidence of something happening at an unprecedented rate of change, but also because, again, the overwhelming majority of experts in the field say that it is essentially indisputable. I italicized the word experts because a favorite ploy of climate change deniers is to have people whose credentials lie elsewhere to call into question the analyses of the real experts, thus sowing doubt amongst the lay people.

In fact, that is the tack regularly employed by Globe and Mail writer Neil Reynolds who, in his last column on climate change, cited the opinion of some environmental economists to support his thesis, and in a previous piece used the 'expertise' of a Nobel Prize-wining physicist.

Bringing these issues into sharp relief is writer Antony black, who had a column in today's Hamilton Spectator. I urge those of you interested in critical thinking to take a few moments to read it, as the evidence he presents to undermine the climate change deniers is quite interesting. I urge those of you interested in critical thinking to take a few moments to read it, as the evidence he presents to undermine the climate change deniers is quite interesting.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Morally and Financially Bankrupt Provincial Government

Some days, it is almost more than I can do to muster even a modicum of faith in our political system. Confronted as we are on an almost daily basis with evidence of corruption, betrayal of the public trust, and reminders that we, the voters, count only at election time, it is difficult to affix any credibility to the utterances of our 'representatives'. Currently, my ire is particularly directed at the Ontario Provincial Liberals, led by Dalton McGuinty.

My acute disaffection with the Premier began in late June, during the G20 summit. It was only after the summit was over that the Premier revealed that the so-called five-meter fence law allowing police to demand that people show their identities and the contents of their knapsacks did not actually exist. This, despite the fact that Bill Blair, the Toronto Police Chief, was trumpeting its importance since the day before the Summit actually began, and Dalton McGuinty was enthusiastically agreeing with him in the press that such extraordinary measures were necessary to provide an adequate level of security for the delegates.

After it was all over, McGuinty simply said that they “could have done a better job in communication” and facilely dismissed the idea of a public inquiry, despite the fact that he had obviously colluded with the police to deprive citizens of their Charter Rights guaranteeing freedom of movement and association.

My disaffection with him has deepened given the events that transpired over the weekend regarding the site for the Pan Am stadium in Hamilton, which I have already written about.

And now comes the announcement that the Provincial Government is going to move into the lucrative field of on-line gambling, whereby they hope to realize a minimum of $400 million dollars annually, choosing to ignore, despite whatever public-relations gestures that will be forthcoming, the gambling addiction of many Ontarians and willfully exploiting that weakness to enrich government coffers.

So now, in a province that is almost financially bankrupt, we have seen, in at least three different ways, its declaration of moral bankruptcy.

One can only hope that voters will take notice and remember during the next election campaign.

Munir Sheikh''s Suggestion

Munir Sheikh, the former head of Statistics Canada whose integrity demanded that he resign rather than be a party to the dismantling of meaningful data through the elimination of the mandatory long census form, has an article on the op-ed page of today's Globe and Mail.

The article's well-reasoned nature guarantees that it will be ignored by the Harper Government.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Difference between the Conservative and Liberal Mind

About three years ago, a scientific study was undertaken to examine some of the differences between the conservative and the liberal mind. One of the conclusions emerging from the study was that liberal people tend to be able to handle ambiguity and nuance better than conservative people, processing new information that might challenge some of their beliefs, incorporating that information and even altering their thinking on a subject as a result. Conservative minds, on the other hand, tend to adhere to beliefs and convictions despite evidence that call them into question.

I can't help but wonder if that might be at play in many of Conservative Government's policy decisions. For example, despite the fact that the abolition of the mandatory long form census is opposed by almost everyone, Stockwell Day insists he has only heard three complaints about it.

Many people insist that the Government's intractability stems from an ideologically-driven agenda, but I think it is legitimate to wonder whether an inability to incorporate new and contrary information might also be at work here.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Is There a Federal Prison in Your Future?

Contemplating any petty crime or vandalism in the near future? I would strongly suggest that you abandon such anti-social considerations, especially given the Globe and Mail's amplification of Treasure Board President Stockwell Day's comments during yesterday's puzzling press conference.

You may recall his assertion that statistics showing significant declines in crime rates are misleading, given the number of crimes that go unreported. While it is a little hard for me to get my head around the concept of statistics for unreported transgressions, (almost as difficult as understanding the justification for spending $9 billion for new prisons to contain this phantom explosion of crime), in today's paper Day explains that voluntary surveys establish these crimes as fact. There seem to be only two problems with his explanation: the last survey of this nature was done in 2004, and in comparing it to the previous one done in 1999, there was no increase of unreported violent crime, only a small rise in unreported vandalism and petty theft.

With the upcoming multi-billion dollar expenditure for new federal prisons, the Conservatives are sending a very clear and powerful message: steal your neighbour's hedgeclippers or take a spray can to a wall, and you'll feel the full weight of the law.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A New Blog

Because most of what I have been posting of late has been political in nature, I have started a new blog entitled Politics and Its Discontents. While I will cross-post for the time being, it is my intention to reserve this blog for educational matters only.

I hope you will check out my new site.

The Need for Critical Thinking

While Prime Minister Harper has kept a decidedly low profile this summer, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day did surface long enough for a press conference in Ottawa today to talk about 'how well' the government's Economic Action Plan is working for Canadians. Unfortunately for him, reporters had other things on their mind, including questions about the elimination of the mandatory long census form and his assertion that crime statistics are misleading, that there are many crimes that Candians are not reporting. For a change, it sounds like journalists were thinking critically and asking the hard questions that challenge the blithe claims that politicians are only too happy to make

You can read the full story here.