Sunday, February 24, 2013 | Categories: Episodes
Listener mail this week ran the full gamut, from reminiscences about long-ago knot-tying lessons, to the virtues of Finnish education, to the courage of a native whistle-blower.
Life's a lesson, especially when Sunday School convenes here on The
Sunday Edition. Last week, Michael's teacher was Caroline Murray from The Rigging Shoppe in Toronto. Her task ... to teach him how to tie a few nautical knots. Well, it turns out many listeners love their knots. Alan Donald of Vancouver writes:
"Your Sunday School lesson in knot-tying took me back more than 50
years to my experiences in the Seventy-Second Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. I learned how to fire and maintain a rifle and a pistol, how to wear a kilt and march behind a pipe band, and how to drink copious amounts of blended Scotch whiskey.
some point during the late '50s, someone in Ottawa decided that in case
of a nuclear war, tsunami or earthquake, the gallant Seaforths would storm in and, armed with ropes, ladders, bandages and stretchers, rescue victims stranded in the ruins of tall buildings. In the process, I mastered the clove hitch, the round turn and two half-hitches, the reef knot and the bowline. The intervening years have seen no incidents demanding these useful skills. But listening to your show, I discovered to my surprise that I could still tie all those knots, and several more.
My home now contains no firearms, but I do have a kilt; and my wife and I have been known to host dinners that feature single-malt Scotches. I just need to get a nice length of rope, and demonstrating my skills will be sure to make me a hit at the next party."
During Michael's lesson, Ms. Murray explained that the Bible of knot-tying, is The Ashley Book of Knots, first published in 1944. George Brasovan from Grimsby, Ontario, found my Sunday School knot-tying lesson a little frustrating. He writes:
"I was enjoying my Sunday morning listening to your program, sipping my
coffee and watching from my window the geese swimming in Lake Ontario. All was good. I was well rested, feeling serene and planning to be positive and pleasant for the rest of the day.
All of that came to a crushing halt during your knot-tying lesson on the radio. Really Mr. Enright? I tried to follow the instructions but failed miserably. Memories of being kicked out of kindergarden for being a quote "creative and independent thinker", rather than following instructions - came back to me with a vengeance. It is now mid-afternoon and my stomach is still tied in knots. Thanks a lot!!!!"
Ms. Murray referred to the cut end of a line as the "bitter end". Joe MacDonald of Toronto had this to add, by way of a 17th Century sea captain. Mr. Macdonald explains:
"The phrase "the bitter end"
goes all the way back to Seaman's Grammar, published by Captain John Smith in 1627. He wrote, and I quote "A Bitter is but the turne of a Cable about the Bits, and veare it out by little and little. And the Bitters end is that part of the Cable that doth stay within boord."
As you might have deduced, a bitt is a post on the deck of a ship for fastening cables and ropes. When a rope is played out to the bitter end it means there is no more rope to be used."
Ms. Murray also explained how knots were first used to determine a
vessel's speed. Dave Wall from East Chester, Nova Scotia had this to add:
"The knot is a unit of speed equal to one nautical mile per
hour. Until the mid-19th century, vessel speed at sea was measured using a chip log, consisting of a wooden panel that was weighted on one edge to float perpendicular to the water surface, and attached by line to a reel. The chip log was "cast" over the stern of the moving vessel
and the line allowed to pay out. Knots placed at a distance of 47 feet, 3 inches passed through a sailor's fingers, while another sailor used a 30 second sand-glass to time the operation. The knot count would be reported in the sailing master's dead reckoning and navigation. This method gives a value for the knot of 1.85 kilometres an hour. The
difference from the modern definition is less than 0.02 percent."
is widely considered to have one of the most, if not THE most, successful public education systems in the world. How the Finns have done it, is all the more remarkable. They keep kids well away from formal education until the age of 7, and once they are in the system, there's not much homework, and no standardized testing.
Instead, the emphasis is on the physical and emotional well-being of
children. Last week, Dr. Pasi Sahlberg, Finland's best-known education expert told Michael that the result of highly-trained teachers, equality of educational opportunity and taking the pressure off kids to perform academically has been ... academic excellence. Dr. Sahlberg's interview
elicited an enormous response. Phil Hultin of Winnipeg wrote us this email:
"(The point) that schools should focus on the
well-being of children before other goals, has been contentious in North America. Here, the idea of 'building self-esteem' in schools has divided parents, teachers and trustees along roughly left/right political lines. The problem seems to be that everyone views education as an 'either/or' situation: if you focus on self-esteem, you must not care about achievement, and vice versa. The thing is,
self-esteem or child well-being in education is not entirely an end in itself, but is also a means to enhance achievement.
What is important if we want both well-being and achievement is to realize that self-esteem is a product of accomplishment, and not simply something that can be poured over children like chocolate syrup on ice cream. Focus on well-being should not mean never challenging or pushing students, which unfortunately is how it often is viewed."
Tanya Solonyka of Toronto sent us this tale of children toiling in the salt mines of homework too young.
"Earlier this week my 3 1/2-year-old came home from
preschool with homework. After struggling and bribing him to finish it that evening I was left feeling unsettled by the whole situation. The following evening when my son was sad and too tired to finish his work I had to convince him that his teacher wouldn't be disappointed in him. This is far too much pressure for somebody who is 3!! From now on after dinner will be for playing! We will wait until kindergarten to do home work!"
Dianne Warren of Regina added these thoughts.
"In Saskatchewan, core curriculum (i.e., required subjects) includes
arts education from kindergarten to grade 9. And when you look at the current emphasis in Saskatchewan on economic innovation and development, one could argue that - since innovation is predicated on creativity - arts education in schools is more important than ever before The conversation about standardized testing has such a narrow focus on better test scores that the larger conversation about where ideas come from never happens."
Kathryn Humphrey of Toronto points out there already is an education model operating in Canada that's very similar to the one espoused by Dr. Sahlberg.
"The Finnish education system is
very much in line with the principles of Waldorf, also called Steiner, Education. Waldorf preschool programmes focus on indoor and outer play, stories, music, preparing and sharing food. Formal teaching of literacy and numeracy do not begin until children have passed their sixth birthdays. The curriculum is a balance of academics, arts, crafts, and movement. There is little if any testing until high school.
"The Waldorf School movement is worldwide including about 44 Preschool Centres and 26 Schools in Finland. As Dr. Sahlberg stated there are no private schools in Finland but there are fully funded alternatives to the state schools, Waldorf being one of them. In Finland the education of Waldorf teachers is also funded."
Our interview also struck a chord with a lot of Canadian educators. Jane Chansel of Ladner, BC, for one.
"As a retired
elementary school principal, I listened with joy to your interview with Dr. Pasi Sahlberg. The Finnish education system has fascinated Canadian educators for years, particularly the late entry age and it's focus on the emotional and social health of its children. I am wondering if bullying rates are lower in Finland? Do happier, less stressed students treat each other with more compassion and respect than our stressed
Lois Watson-Dwight of Toronto shared her concerns about standardized testing, in particular.
"Surely, it can't be a
surprise to those who have shaped our education policies that: 1.
although students are showing some improvement in literacy and numeracy on their test scores, it also shows that they do not enjoy reading and writing when there is so much pressure to be able to answer in a standard way and these activities are rarely done for pleasure. And 2. that students are expressing sadness, anxiety and depression when so
much weight is put on test scores and tests are done in a way that is so diametrically opposed to how we encourage students to work in the classroom normally.
The Toronto District School Board, and I
am sure other Boards of Education, pay lip service to children exploring and playing in the early years but then have their primary and junior teachers sit through a number of Critical Pathway meetings that are held in order to design activities that are aimed at students all being presented with the same activity and geared to them learning to respond in a given way for testing at Grade 3 and 6. As a result, the students aren't asked to do this just once but to do it four, five, six or
more times. How tedious is that exercise? Somehow as an educator you have to try and make it meaningful and enjoyable.
and the activities leading up to successful test results are the priority. It is definitely not about children learning to enjoy learning. Educators are not being encouraged to provide a safe and comfortable environment in which learning and risk-taking is nutured but rather to focus on specific skill sets.
recently-retired elementary teacher (who in fact chose to retire early due in large part to these concerns), I can tell you that it just ate at me when I had to ask students to do activities that I did not philosophically, fundamentally, to the core of my being, believe that
children should be asked to do, not just once but repeatedly."
Peguis First Nation, the largest in Manitoba, has a reputation for
misspending and mismanagement. Its leader was one of the highest-paid
chiefs in the country. On last week's program, we aired Karin Wells's
documentary, Phyllis and the Chief.
whistleblower and band member Phyllis Sutherland, who has joined forces
with the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation in backing the federal
government's new accountability legislation. Robert Clarke of Saint John, N.B. writes:
"Your articles over the past months have helped me come to the
conclusion that ultimately it is the First Nations leaders who must take charge of providing clean drinking water, housing and safe communities, and that there are a number of respected native leaders who are capable of delivering this; native leaders who we should be listening to, and
who deserve our full support. Thank you, well done."
Thomas Nixon, of Wymer, Alberta:
"I was very disappointed in Karin Wells' piece on First Nations government and the alleged misuse of federal taxpayers' money. The woman who was central to the piece totally discredits herself by taking support from a right-wing group that could not care less about First Nations' problems, and simply wants to turn all 'Indians' into nice, compliant, white Canadians."
Greg Morley of Victoria sent this:
"Since the Harper government thinks it is necessary to send in outside auditors to determine that there is accountability for what appears to be excessively spent funds by some First Nation Chiefs and Band Councils, perhaps the people of our First Nations could be asked to look at the books of our Senate. The expense accounts of several of our Senators exceeded the largest package of salary and benefits mentioned during your documentary on the fiscal accountability of some First Nations."
Leslie Mercer writes from Vancouver:
"Listening to the complaints of some First Nations people who are questioning the use of money by those in power made me wonder what the difference is between these complaints and my own, of the Canadian government and its officials? I see taxpayer dollars misused and abuse of power and a government that often muzzles its members and does little to address real problems. Will Karin Wells do a dedicated documentary about the same issues with the Canadian government too?"
Joy Patrick writes from Nanaimo, B.C.
"There is a political faction within the First Nations that states they are a nation separate from Canada. Yet they seem to still expect huge financial support from Canada. I strongly feel that if they get this support, they should realize that accountability of how they spend that money is included with that support. Listening to your program, it is obvious that many of their own members are wondering where all that money has gone, and that they have many ideas as to who is spending it and where it is being spent.
Enough is enough. The time of responsibility and accountability for this financial support is long overdue. The band councils and leaders definitely need to open their ledgers and records. As a Canadian taxpayer, I demand our governments address this issue for once and for all."
This last note came from a listener who asked that we withold his real name, as he is a federal civil servant. He writes:
"The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAIT) has been working to support democracy in countries around the world. It focuses on providing support to local initiatives across five pillars: civil society, independent media, elections, parliaments and political parties.
In listening to Phyllis and the Chief, I couldn't
help but think that these would equally apply in the context of reserves here in Canada. While I think that most Canadians would agree that greater transparency on reserves would be desirable, a "stick" approach of federally imposed financial audits may not be the best avenue to
long-term governance change.
I'd suggest that on-reserve
democracy and good governance must be built from within, by the Phyllises out there, as well as by those who may share some her of views, but are too afraid to go public with their concerns. It cannot be imposed from outside by the government. A functioning democracy includes conduits (media, civil society, and
organized political opposition) that allow a plurality of political views and opinions to be debated outside of campaign periods or on an election day.
If real change to the status quo is desirable,
I'd suggest that support for these hallmarks of a vibrant democracy - local independent media and civil society groups, in particular -- might be encouraged in order to help empower the Phyllises out there to better organize, voice their concerns, call for change, hold their leaders to account and, ultimately, give community residents a real, independent voice in the decisions that directly affect their daily lives on reserve."
Thanks to everyone for all your mail. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also post a message on our Facebook page, or on Twitter, @CBC Sunday.