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‘Publications’

2018
Medium Is ‘Growth’ a Positive Force? Part One, April 5 (self-published)
Medium Don’t Spill the Beans, March 4 (self-published)
Stouffville Sun Tribune Letter, January 25 (True objectivity ‘virtually impossible’ for anyone including news organizations)

2017
Stouffville Sun Tribune Letter, November 20 (Stouffville should limit tax Increase to CPI)
Medium ‘Patriotism’ and Manipulation of it by the State, September 30 (self-published)
Stouffville Sun Tribune Letter, May 26 (Climate change one impact of continuing growth)
Olduvai III: Cataclysm, February 15

2016

Stouffville Sun Tribune Letter, December 1 (‘Coming soon’ sign raises questions about democracy)
Stouffville Sun Tribune Letter, October 7 (Trump’s rise more complex than editorial suggests)
Stouffville Sun Tribune Letter, September 1 (We don’t have a great track record of predicting future)
The Survivalist Blog Article, May 18 (Preserving and Creating Wealth)
Stouffville Sun Tribune Letter, April 15 (Are you paving over more farms, forests, council?)
Stouffville Sun Tribune Letter, February 12 (Tax increase ‘criminal’)

2015
Rissa–A Short Story August 3 (available in Olduvai III: Cataclysm)
Stouffville Sun Tribune Letter, June 12 (Time to consider ‘degrowth’)
Stouffville Sun-Tribune Letter, February 12 (Stay out of the beer business, town council)

2014
Stouffville Sun-Tribune Letter, October 16 (Growth creating a predicament)
Toronto Star Letter, September 22 (Re: The harmless professor who was spied on by the RCMP, Sept. 19)
Stouffville Sun-Tribune Letter, July 17 (Why spray weeds with chemical, town?)
Olduvai II: Exodus, July  7
Stouffville Sun-Tribune Letter, July 3 (Record number of declined provincial ballots solid start)
Toronto Star Letter, May 10 (More voices on provincial election)
Stouffville Sun-Tribune Letter, May 8 (Are we still country close to city?)
Two Ice Floes Article, March 24 (Hell in a Hand Basket and Why We’re Going There, Guaranteed (sort of))
London Free Press Letter, March 12 (Hypocritical response to Ukraine)
Stouffville Sun-Tribune Letter, Feburary 28 (Challenges issued to new town council)

2013
Peak Oil News and Message Boards, Article, November 24 (Peak Oil responds: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”)
Transition Voice Article, November 11 (Faith and trust in the system is collapsing)
Toronto Star Letter, November 6 (The many flaws of economists)
Stouffville SunTribune Letter, October 24 (Why assume Stouffville will keep growing?)
Alumni Gazette Olduvai New Releases From Western Alumni Fall
Toronto Star Letter, July (This is a recipe for economic disaster)
Stouffville Radio Interview May (Olduvai) (no longer on server)
Globe and Mail Letter, May (The west’s narrative)
Stouffville Sun-Tribune Guest Editorial, May 18 (Our dependence on growth has us in an awkward spot)
Stouffville Sun-Tribune Article, April (Author hopes to outsell Cusack movie character)
Olduvai, February

2012
Toronto Star Letter, December (Growth culture is problem)
Toronto Star Letter, October (Wages not unions’ main beef)
Toronto Star Letter, September (Return to a gold standard makes sense)
Toronto Star Letter, July (Start at the top to fix system)
Toronto Star Letter, June (Selective capitalism needs to end)
Toronto Star Letter, June (PM’s new military policy)
Resilience.org Article, April (Education in a post-carbon world)
Toronto Star Letter, April (U.S. serious about tax evasion)
Toronto Star Letter, January (This economic crisis is different)

2011
Toronto Star Letter, October (A series to explain Greek crisis)
Newmarket Era Guest Editorial, October (Three issues that should dominate elections)
Toronto Star Letter, August (U.S. economy under fire)
Newmarket Era Letter, August (Growth only good for development industry)
Toronto Star Letter, April (Egypt’s moment)
Toronto Star Letter, March (Our lifestyle is not sustainable) (not available online–see below)
Association for the Study of Peak Oil-ASPO Canada Article, March (What is the purpose of our education system?)

2010
Stouffville Sun-Tribune Letter, September (Trees axed for pipeline just planted)

2009
Toronto Star Letter, August (Debating the merits of system-wide testing)

2002
Markham Economist and Sun Letter, February 2 (Teachers deal with more reality than many other professions) (not available online–see below)

1999
National Post Letter, February 5 (Childish idea) (not available online–see below)

1997
Stouffville Sun Letter, September 10 (Politicians not telling whole truth) (not available online–see below)

1994
Markham Economist and Sun Letter, October (‘Standardized tests not panacea for system’) (not available online–see below)
Markham Economist and Sun Guest Editorial, September 28 (‘Knowledgeable people needed’) (not available online–see below)

1992
Markham Times Letter, March 6 (Racial Stereotyping) (not available online–see below)

1989
McMaster Courier Letter, June (Academic freedom re-examined)
The Silhouette Letter, March 16 (Research push very real) (not available online–see below)
Reconstructed Ceramic Pots: Relationships Between Whole Vessels and their Rim Sherds

Canadian Journal of Archaeology / Journal Canadien d’Archéologie
Vol. 13 (1989), pp. 219-222

1987
Notes on an Investigation of the Relation Between Iroquoian Whole Vessels and Their Rim Sherds. Arch Notes, September/October. 87-5, pp. 29-30.

1986
The Gazette Letter, November (Reader left skeptical, pessimistic) (not available online–see below)
The Gazette Letter, March (Sloppy profs defended, teaching ability relevant) (not available online–see below)

AWARDS

Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation, Harold Pinkerton District Newsletter Editor’s Award, ‘COM-PAC’, 1998
Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation-York Region, Outstanding Service, 1997


March 2011, Toronto Star

Our lifestyle if not sustainable

Re: Can we scale back our appetite for energy? Opinion March 20

Angelo Persichilli’s column asked a great question, but misses the real issues facing us in the very near future. The business model of perpetual growth to sustain our economy, combined with the imminent loss of fossil fuels and population growth all lead to one stark reality: we cannot continue to live the way we have been living.

It’s a simply case of mathematics and the declining resource base of a finite planet. At 1.3 percent population growth (Canada and Ontario), it only takes 54 years to double our population; where will we find the energy resources to support such a population (not to mention food), particularly when we know that oil and gas resources have passed their peak in production and are declining? And this example is just for Ontario.

Either we choose the means to reign in our lifestyle (i.e. stop population growth and find ways of supporting the current population using a decreasing resource base) or we can ignore all the signals and simple mathematics and wait for the consequences (e.g. disease, war, famine).

To think that it can’t happen here in a resource-blessed country is simply ignoring reality.

 

February 2, 2002 Markham Economist and Sun
Teachers deal with more reality than many other professions

Re: Teachers’ refusal to take tests is extremism gone too far; letter to the editor, Jan. 26

While there are many aspects of Frank Gray’s letter I could take issue with, the one I would like to challenge is his insinuation that educators do not live in the ‘real world’.

I’m not sure what Mr. Gray’s ‘real world’ consists of, but I would suggest that an educator’s world is far more reflective of the ‘real world’ than many other professions.

Is having to deal with the Children’s Aid Society when signs of abuse or neglect have been identified not ‘real’?

Is having to comfort children when a tragedy of some kind has befallen them or their family not ‘real’?

Is having to balance the political ideology of politicians and policy-makers–whose concern tends to be with the bottom line or powerful lobby groups–with the pedagogical research that shows many of the imposed reforms are actually detrimental to student learning not ‘real’?

Is having to meet the needs of 25 to 35 individuals on a regular basis, some whose only stable environment is a classroom, not ‘real’? I could go on ad infinitum, but my point is made. Educators deal with far more of the real world than can ever be realized in a board room or on Bay Street.

Mr. Gray needs to take a much closer look inside a school before suggesting educators do not live in the real world.

 

February 5, 1999 National Post
Childish idea

Re: School Discipline Ideas from Tories Called Election Talk, Feb. 3

Just where did Dave Johson and the Ontario Ministry of Education get the hair-brained idea that school uniforms will improve student behaviour and therefore student achievement? There is absolutely no evidence that such a move would create the change they suggest. There is, however, evidence that the behavioural problems I tend to face in my classroom are directly related to having 36 students in the same classroom–a size that shouldn’t occur given the government’s much touted class size legislation.

 

September 19, 1997 Stouffville Sun
Politicians not telling whole truth

J.A. Lee unfortunately mistakes an attempt to clarify issues and present facts as whining. (Not only teachers make sacrifices. Stouffville Sun, Sept. 3/97)

If he/she wishes to base his/her opinion upon misinformation, propaganda and stereotypes, that is his/her prerogative. However, I feel compelled to address such misleading statements and attempt to present the facts from a different perspective.

It is most disturbing to see politicians mislead the public. It is even worse when they make misinformed decisions based upon numbers on a sheet of paper.

The point of my letter, which J.A. Lee seems to have missed, is that numbers don’t lie but they certainly don’t tell the whole story.

We all need to be more critical of, instead of accepting as gospel truth, the numbers used by politicians in attempting to justify cuts to education–especially if we wish to decide if these cuts will help or harm students in the long run.

 

October 1994, Markham Economist and Sun
‘Standardized tests not panacea for system’

Upon reading the letter from Barry Kavanagh (Oct. 8), I felt it was important to clarify some misconceptions he made about my guest editorial. Besides the reference to The Mismeasure of Man (1981) I made, there are numerous academic articles that debate the validity and reliability of standardized testing.

For example, Goldman, Stein, and Guerry (1983) and Pearson (1984) both question the use of standardized tests and argue that the tests used to assess achievement in scholastic material do not control for variables which have significant impact upon test results; thus making their results meaningless.

Any statistical test which claims to be valid and reliable must control for variables which impact upon the results. I would ask Mr. Kavanagh how, in a democratic society, the education system could control the following: parental involvement and education; student health and nutrition; cultural differences; student diligence, ability to learn and work habits; language of origin; etc.. These will all affect a student’s performance on a standardized test. If Mr. Kavanagh is genuinely interested in this subject, I would direct him to do some research at any university library.

Second, I don’t know how Mr. Kavanagh arrived at the conclusion that there is no curriculum in the schools. The York Region Board of Education’s curriculum guidelines outlines the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are to be taught in each subject and grade. However, these documents are not structured to provide a daily plan. The teacher must use these guidelines to develop strategies and lesson plans to teach these requirements to the students.

The teacher uses the curriculum to plan daily lessons and goals for each student. Observation, written assignments, daily work, individual conferences, tests, and many other assessment techniques are then employed by the teacher to determine if individual students have achieved the essential skills taught.

Every student–and every class–is different. The teacher must take this into account when preparing to teach. Because of this, the same skills may not be taught at the same time–or in the same manner–during the school year in different boards, schools, or classes. Standardized tests do not take this into account. Should our tax dollars be spent on this testing? Aren’t there better ways to use these resources so that we can improve the system? Standardized tests are no panacea for the education system.

There are no magic bullets or simple solutions to improve the system. But if the government and boards of education continue to condone a decrease in education funding and an increase in class size, then it is likely that our system will not remain among the best in the world.

One does not become an expert in the education system simply because one has gone through the system. The upcoming trustee election is extremely important. We need knowledgable people making the decisions which are going to be affecting our children’s future.

Finally, I find it unfortunate the Mr. Kavanagh missed the main points in my editorial and subsequently made disparaging comments about the teaching profession in his letter. If he could offer some constructive criticism, I would welcome it.

 

March 28, 1994, Markham Economist and Sun
‘Knowledgeable people needed’

Upon seeing the list of candidate running for public school trustee positions (Economist and Sun, Sept. 21), I am deeply concerned that there are very few challenges to the incumbents. It would appear that many of them will be acclaimed without having to justify their positions. As an elementary teacher, I find this unfortunate since some of the current trustees have agendas which I consider to be detrimental to maintaining the quality of education.

A pertinent example arises from another Economist and Sun article (Sept. 21) which outlines Paul Bennett’s platform.

He states that “Now that we have restored system-wide testing the real challenge will be to hold schools accountable for acting on the results.” This statement underscores his misunderstanding of standardized tests.

If he were to do some critical research, he would realize that standardized, or norm-referenced, tests used in the manner that he advocates have little validity or reliability: they provide little information which could be used to improve the education system. Such tests were discarded years ago for this very reason.

Professional researchers have criticized such tests because they do not account for factors over which schools and teacher have no control (e.g. socioeconomic status; parental involvement and education; student diligence, ability to learn, and work habits; local curriculum; etc.). In addition, such tests do not account for the fact that: 1) each province sets different curriculum guidelines; 2) each board of education interprets these guidelines and sets different expectations and priorities; and 3) each teacher interprets the board’s guidelines and adapts them to his/her teaching style and knowledge.

When my Grade 6 class wrote the Canadian Achievement Test last year, it became obvious that the test was not evaluating what the students had learned in the classroom. For example, one of the questions displayed  the picture of a library reference card and then asked several questions about it. Most of my students had no idea wha the picture was and could not answer the questions. Does this mean my school was negligent in teaching research skills or the use of the library? No! I means our school and community libraries use a computerized system for locating information. The answer is even simpler as to why my students did not perform well on the fraction section of the math test. Since the test was given in the middle of the year, I had yet to teach the fraction unit. Under Bennett’s plan, my school would have to reorganize its priorities in oder to address the fact that the students scored relatively lower in the area of fractions and research skills. This blind acceptance of standardized test results is dangerous–and ridiculous.

How can we ensure that schools are teaching what they are supposed to be teaching? The answer lies in criterion-referenced tests: test which are provided at no additional cost to the system. These are tests which evaluate students based upon what they have been taught in the classroom. Such tests are designed by the person most suited to the task–the teacher. My students write many such tests and these have far more intrinsic value for evaluating what the students have learned than the norm-referenced tests that the York Region Board of Education is implementing.

I would suggest Bennett and other trustees read The Mismeasure of Man by Harvard professor Stephen Jay Gould. This is an excellent monograph which outlines the political misuse and inappropriateness of statistical tests such as those being used to assess the education system.

Boards of education rid themselves of such tests years ago when it became apparent that they were invalid; they do not measure what they hope to: the ability of students to demonstrate what they have learned in the classroom.

Yet trustees  in York Region have reinstated these tests at a great expense.

How can they rationalize this expenditure when standardized tests do not provide them with the information they are presumed to provide?

It is important that trustees be accountable for such actions. They should be answering why they bring in such tests when they are not reliable and will cause misguided changes. They should be asked why they continue to spend exorbitant amounts of money fighting pay equity when every other board in this province has settled the issue.

They should be questioned as to why they insist on increasing class size beyond what the Social Contract calls for, without investigating the effect this has on our children.

Trustees need to be accountable for their actions when such actions impact so significantly upon our children. But without any challenges from other candidates, trustees can take such action without having to justify them beyond traditional political rhetoric.

We need knowledgeable people to run for trustee positions and make the incumbents answer for their past actions.

 

March 6, 1992 Markham Times
Racial Stereotyping

Your February 28 article “French Lessons Labelled Racist” made an interesting point about our lack of awareness concerning racial stereotyping. As an elementary teacher in York Region, I can assure you that I am constantly on the lookout for material which presents a biased perspective.

Your article follows on the heels of a similar article int eh Feb. 27 edition of the Toronto Star. In the Star’s coverage of this issue, the Toronto Board of Education’s approach to similar problems in textbooks is discussed. I would have to disagree with their approach to this dilemma however.

Removing books from the libraries because their contain passages or interpretations which are unfavourable at this time is unwarranted censorship. This tactic also removes a beneficial teaching-learning opportunity.

A lesson on stereotyping can be integrated very naturally during exposure to such material. In fact, stereotyping and bias in historical interpretations are the major themes which I emphasize in my history courses. The students receive the following information at the beginning of the Canadian history courses I teach:

This year’s history will try to look at what history is, not just what happened in the past. For the most part, history will be perceived as an interpretation of historical “facts”. Consequently, we will look at the perspective from which events are being interpreted and the bias inherent in such interpretations.

This “interpretive” approach to history results in a better understanding of numerous issues. Many of the issues which arise have importance in today’s changing Canadian society. For example, we will deal with such phenomena as ethnocentrism, cultural relativism, intercultural relations, and cross-cultural understanding within the context of historical interactions between Native peoples and Europeans.

My students and I discuss historical events from various perspectives. While it is true that history tends to be from a “European” perspective, we attempt to understand all points of view. If, for example, Jesuit missionaries had prejudiced attitudes, then students need to discuss the basis and cultural context of such views. We cannot bury our heads in the sand by ignoring biased interpretations, otherwise students will miss the opportunity to identify and critically assess such perspectives.

We must use such interpretations to enlighten our students so as to be able to deal with similar problems which will affect them today and in the future. It is obvious that we must become more educated with respect to such controversies, students and teachers alike.

 

March 1989,The Silhouette
Research push very real

The Silhouette article ‘Tenure pressure creates poor teaching at Mac’ (March 9) was most interesting, but I believe the problem goes much deeper than stated. The problem is not a lack of funding, as the administration would like the students and public to believe: it is a result of a distorted philosophy about the purpose of an educational institution.

For the most part, university administrations and faculties are far more interested in research and propagating their own intellectual images than in educating students. This was made most evident to myself several years ago when I was an undergraduate attending another university in Ontario. I was an executive member of the students’ union within one of the departments and had the unique ‘privilege’ of attending departmental assemblies.

During the course of the year, one of the professors came up for tenure and immediately her publication record came to the surface as a reason to deny her tenure (for the fourth year in a row). I, however, had taken some of her classes and argued that she was an excellent teacher and deserved the tenure regardless of her publication record. I was working on the assumption that a university was an educational institution. I soon found out, however, that several members of the department were not interested in her teaching record. It was my first encounter with the ‘publish or perish syndrome’, and what an enlightening experience it was.

The only recourse the students had was to begin a letter-writing campaign and have them placed in her file which would be sent to the faculty Dean. We managed to get a relatively large number of letters together and the professor eventually got her tenure. I am not sure if the letters had anything to do with this, but I am sure they did not hurt her cause. But, I have always been baffled by the struggle she went through to achieve her tenure. She was consistently the highest rated professor in the department, she was always approachable, and extremely helpful; she could just not jump that last hoop to become part of the “old boys club”.

This convinced me that many academics are more more interested in research and publications than in teaching, and this philosophy is not just exhibited by those academics attempting to gain tenure. This is, I believe, due to the milieu within which academics must work. There are both social and political pressures to publish articles in prestigious journals. By doing this, universities hope to attract both big-name faculty and highly motivated graduate students. This, in turn, raised their “intellectual image” and increases their potential for more government grants and private industry contracts. Unfortunately, many excellent “teachers” are caught in this trap and have no choice but to conform.

So, when you hear administrators say that teaching is very important, take it with a huge boulder of salt: it just is not true. If this were the case, then perhaps the administration would require all academics to take mandatory courses in teaching. Not only would academics have to take such courses, but they would have to pass them! And I am sure there are a few thousand students who would love to be the ones to evaluate their performance.

 

November 1986, The Gazette
Reader left skeptical, pessimistic

It is with great candor (yet somehow tainted with pessimism) that I would like to put forward several thoughts for both students and staff to ponder. These ideas have been motivated in part by several articles and letters to the editor which have graced the pages of The Gazette over the last several years, and in part by the readings and avenues of thought imparted upon me by certain professors; but have mostly been due to thoughts passed on to me by my grandfather, Jack Flynn. These ideas probably apply to most universities in the western world, but most particularly to those I am acquainted with here in North America.

Back the days when our education institutions were ‘evolving’, it appeared that wisdom and knowledge were acquired because learning and service were ends in themselves. After several years of exposure to the student population here at Western I have become extremely suspicious of the reasons many people now pursue the ‘higher’ echelons of learning. The popular belief has been the achievement of an advanced education. The apparent reason, however, is to gain an economic advantage over one’s peers. To hold the ‘magic ticket’ is supposed to lead to a better (read better-paying) job; but as more students battle for the tickets, the end result can only be envisioned as a stalemate. I urge students to take a serious look at what kind of jobs are available in their particular field of study. As more people pursue a narrow range of knowledge, the positions available, after the education process is over, become severely limited. A very small percentage of people actually find jobs working in their particular field of knowledge.

It would appear that in our present chaotic world situation, remuneration has become the primary reason for entering an ‘educational’ institution. I suppose it all depends on what you want from life. If the purpose is (as so many businesses tell us) to acquire material things, to drive an expensive car, to eat in the best restaurants, or to live the lifestyle of a never-ending beer commercial, then we must concede that pursuing the professions that our educational institutions offer us is a reasonably successful adaptive mode. It would appear that even the universities are more interested in making money than educating the students. Why else would they have to worry about divestment in South Africa? (Perhaps an argument could be made that the governments should be providing more funds; but this is a whole new topic, somewhat divorced from the thoughts I currently wish to express)

Yet it would appear that a strong case could be make for believing that in the past money was a poor substitute for commitment. But I wonder if those days have not passed us by, leaving in their wake a myth about what education is all about. It seems to me to be extremely unfortunate that there is a highly opaque border surrounding my original idealistic views concerning the purpose of an education, and the reality that exists within our education system.

Universities do not appear intent on producing the prudent humans necessary to combat the world problems that exist. They only end up adding to them, by promulgating (perhaps unconsciously) to those ‘fortunate’ few who can afford it, a myth about what higher education ultimately represents. As I go on and get more exposure to this geo-political and economic ‘world-system’ we are creating, I cannot help but become both skeptical and pessimistic. In the words of singer-songwriter Matt Johnson, “I use to be indecisive; but now, I’m not so sure!”.

 

March 1986, The Gazette
Sloppy profs defended, teaching ability relevant

I am writing in response to what I feel is a totally irrelevant question posed by John Staikos in the Feb. 14 edition of The Gazette. First of all, I am curious as to the reason John is at Western; if it is to be exposed to the latest in Miami Vice fashions may I suggest that he save the cost of tuition and invest his time and energy into watching the show itself.

Personally, I find myself here in order to acquire what wisdom I can front he learned men and women that teach here. Whether that individual is wearing a five hundred dollar outfit or a pair of cheap track pants and an old, comfortable top is totally immaterial. I pity the individual who can only judge another person on materialistic and culturally-biased concepts such as fashion, and ultimately, looks. What comes to mind are the age-old adages ‘looks are only skin deep’ and ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’

John, please open your eyes to what the purpose of an educational institution is: it is not to expose students to the co-ordinating fashion of Professor Calvin Klein. It is, however, an institution in which to open your mind to knowledge and various concepts of that knowledge.