Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Classroom Management Nightmares in Abu Dhabi, T-Squared back to square 1

I originally posted this rather long lament in a UAE teachers group, figure there's a lot of non UAE teachers out there that may have had similar experiences(Hey Korea peeps!) or even non teachers with some wise experience (Hey rest of the world!) ......................................................................................................................................... Today was tough. In nine years of teaching I've never had students get to me like this. I've always been able to keep my composure with perhaps one or two instances in my very first few months in a classroom, and even then it was only momentary really. Tonight I can't sleep. What has worked for you all with classroom management? Two of my classes seem challenging but manageable. The third I feel is going to test my limits as a human being. On some level I know they are likely just testing me and trying to push my buttons because I'm the new guy. Other teachers have been helpful and supportive and told me not to take it personally. I'm trying really hard but I need to be honest, it's not easy. I'm no stranger to living in another culture and rolling with the punches, so I don't think it's as easy to explain as culture shock, though maybe that's a bit of it. I am ashamed to admit it but I've probably raised my voice more times in the last week than in my entire teaching career, perhaps even my life. My philosophy has always been that once I lose my composure I've already failed. The first week was so promising, with only a handful of the keen students showing up. I felt like I was really building relationships with the students and was so excited. Tonight I was brought to tears at 1 am. That's after coming home, reflecting, talking a bit with the teacher I am carpooling with, taking a swim and jacuzzi and making a conscious effort to look at all this positively and open minded. I've tried being strict, I've tried talking with my HOF and another Arabic speaking teacher a few days ago. Some students were sent home for a few days and during that time I tried changing my strategy, giving a short video at the beginning of class with the agreement of students that I would keep the videos at the beginning if they would promise to try to focus for the rest of class. It was actually working well, but some of the students who had been sent home for a few days came back and the whole dynamic went right back to Apocalypse Now. I've been trying to use a quick on the spot behaviour tracking chart of sorts, with green and red marks on the attendance sheet, though it's become apparent the students see it more as a work completion chart. The strange thing is, with many of the students who are acting out I do have some moments where I think they are really nice kids. And I have this feeling and sense that it's like another teacher said to me; really they just want me to like them and care about them. And I'm trying desperately, using everything I know and have learned over my career as a teacher. I just can't get why they are making it so hard, and even more, I can't get at all why I'm allowing myself to let it get to me. I've heard it said reflection is the key to improving as a teacher, so you could say I'm reflecting to stay alive here. I think tomorrow or maybe for a few days at least I may have to just focus 100% on building classroom community. I'm struggling to learn names as well, though I've got a few down. I think I need pictures. I'm contemplating bringing in my IPAD and using Class Dojo or something similar where I can put all their pics into a program and study, but I am genuinely worried about the safety of my IPAD. The Classroom door has already been broken, someone wrote on the projector screen when I wasn't in class. One of the students who I find very distracting, even though he is often somewhat friendly, (but in a way I can't quite tell if it's genuine or if he is playing head games 'pretending' to be trying to be helpful. He'll often say he's trying to help me, but the thing is he's a very big kid, with a huge booming voice, and pretty much simply refuses to stop talking, ever, when I'm trying to talk to the class) got angry and flipped out because I called him out for hitting another student in the chest with a backhand. It was right in front of me, and I could swear I saw him hit the other guy, who also seems to be one of the kids who constantly distracts and disrupts the class. He claimed he didn't hit him, just grabbed his head scarf or something. They both went off together and left the class without permission. I think they went to the principal because he said 'Mujeer' before he left. He also threw the already broken door handle, which we have to keep on a desk by the door, quite violently to the floor before he left. I think maybe he thinks I've singled him out, but he just always seems to be talking very loudly and interrupting me constantly. I feel like I can't win either way, if I keep trying to address the disruptions it's like I'm singling him out. If I let it slide it's almost impossible to keep the class on task. I somewhat suspect he may be intentionally playing me, knowing full well exactly how much he is pulling focus and taking control away from me, but I'm not 100% sure yet. There is always the possibility he genuinely feels like I've singled him out, or that he just has really poor impulse control. And honestly, it is not just him, not by a long shot. I'd say, on the bad days (and there have been some relatively good ones with this class), about 75-85, maybe even 90% of the students, are off task, talking loudly, refusing to stay in their desks. I do think, based on the few days that a few students had been suspended, that there are a few students that seem to kind of instigate a general low grade TV prison riot type herd mentality that just makes the whole class unmanageable. I'm sure a lot of it is just my feelings are raw right now, and maybe I'll laugh at it all someday, but I feel like some of the students really want to intentionally push me over the edge to see if I'll have a nervous breakdown. I'm not ready to quit, but somethings gotta give or change. There are some really nice students who seem to be 'on my side' (though I absolutely hate to have to frame it in that way) and want to help. I've talked to one of them a few times and he's kind of giving me a bit of honest information about whether or not he thinks certain students are deliberately trying to disrupt the class. I actually took him into the hall at one point to talk to him and sent him to try to get the VP or Principal. I even asked him, honestly, do you think that's a bad idea or good idea, because for some reason I trust his judgement. He's a good student, and I'm sure he knows a lot more than me about what's really going on with the class. He said "Both, good and bad perhaps, but there's no choice". I'm worried that this will all blow back in my face. As I said before, I know I shouldn't let it get to me. I've always in the past been able to keep a balance of being a bit strict but fair,when needed, while always maintaining a smile, and a clear message that I'm not angry with them with being casual and easygoing when appropriate, and always professional. I feel that's being blown out of the water with this class. I think what gets to me is that I've seen those few moments when they are being mostly respectful, so know they are capable of it and know the difference. A few days ago, the first time a class 'broke me' to a degree, for lack of a better phrase, I called up my HOF, who is Egyptian, and speaks Arabic, to come to the class to speak to them. They were completely silent and respectful for him, and I didn't sense it was out of fear either. He wasn't being overly stern or angry with them. He even translated a bunch for me. Afterwards, a bunch of the students apologized, but again, it was the students who were not causing problems, who were polite and helpful, who apologized. Actually, now that I think of it, that was another class, and they started off good, a bit rambunctious, but not too unreasonably, until that one day. I think I need someone (or several) from the Arabic staff, maybe the guidance counsellor, or VP, that I can call if the HOF is teaching a class himself and can't come, who can come and help from time to time, until I can establish some boundaries that the students won't cross. I am worried they'll think I'm not qualified enough, or just don't have what it takes, or that perhaps I'll discipline a student from an 'important' family or something and things will go bad for me. The other part of me thinks if I'm just honest and try to be professional, that they will understand and help me out. I've had some things work partially, and think it's a puzzle that needs solving, with the right balance of strictness, and friendliness, at the right times, with the building of relationships somehow. Anyway, I apologize for being so long winded and somewhat ranty at times, but really, really needed to do something, because crying myself to sleep is not a viable routine to get into, and although I've been teaching for almost nine years now, most of it internationally, I've never come up against classroom dynamics like this. It reminds me of that movie with Matthew Perry where he's teaching in an inner city school in Hell's Kitchen or something, like that, Coach Carter, or Dangerous Minds, you feel me? Any other new ADEC teachers feeling overwhelmed by the classroom dynamics here? Any vets care to chime in with constructive criticism, a wise or even just I partial take on it all? Some of my coworkers have said things like I'm doing well, and that it's a different ball game over here, and that the first few months are the hardest. I'm pretty sure I'm gaining some of that "If it doesn't kill ya, it makes ya stronger" experience, and that if I come out the other side with a solution that I'll be that much better of a teacher for it. Perhaps even a ninja! My inner ninja, bum, bum, bum, my inner ninja . . . For anybody else who is in a similar place or has been, or will be, I leave you all with an inspirational tune, cause lord knows we teachers need it sometime, . . . 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Do You Believe in Magic: A Nice book, another Facebook Post Cut&Pasted

I'm reading an interesting book "Do You Believe in Magic?: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine" by Paul A. Offit, M.D. 

Among other things, the book discusses the increase in cancer rates associated with increased vitamin use, the fact that there is a dubious distinction between natural and unnatural that supplement makers use to manipulate buyers. It's going to be somewhat of a long post, with a bunch of snippets from the book that really popped out at me. The reason this book is hitting so close to home for me is partly because I've had family members die of Cancer, and others that are living with it, and also because I've in my days used quite a lot of vitamins and supplements, and promoted their use to family and friends I'm sure. In other words, it could affect my own health or the health of those people I love. So getting back to the theme, the dubious distinction between "natural" which lulls us all into thinking that anything called "natural" must be obviously safe and "synthetic" which scares us into lazily thinking it's obviously unsafe. Things like Arsenic, spider venom, and certain poisonous mushrooms are 'naturally' found in nature. That doesn't automatically make them safe or good for us. The distinction between "natural" and "unnatural" or "synthetic" is something that has often fooled us into trusting or not trusting something, and I'm just as guilty of it as anyone. After all, many pharmaceuticals are made from plants, and some naturally growing 'natural' plants are poison and toxic. That's why we don't just eat any berry or mushroom we see growing in the wild if we don't know it, and recognize it as a safe one. It also discusses how there are extremely large corporations, making tons of money, and spending tons of money on disinformation campaigns, actively framing the debate as an issue of freedom to buy what you want, basically fooling the public into 'wanting' to 'not' know what is in what they are buying, due to a fear that if there is any regulation, the big bad government will take away their rights. It's similar to the way fear after 911 was used to push through an erosion of privacy rights when people were scared enough to do whatever they were told was necessary to protect them. I'm going to quote some of the book now. ....................................................................................................................
"Dr. Sidney Wolfe, representing Ralph Nader's consumer advocacy group, Public Citizen, said, "This is a drug industry. The difference between large doses of vitamins and over-the-counter [drugs] is non-existent. Exploiting of genuine concerns people have for their health [by promoting] vitamin pill-popping solutions is no better than . . . fraud." Marsha Cohen, an attorney with Consumers Union, made a plea for common sense. Setting eight cantaloupes in front of her, she said, "We can safely rely upon the limited capacity of the human stomach to protect persons from overindulgence in any particular vitamin-or mineral-rich food. For example, you would have to eat eight cantaloupes to take in barely 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C. But just these two little pills, easy to swallow, contain the same amount. . . . And 1,000 milligrams, it should be recalled, is on the low end of Dr. Pauling's recommended 250 to 10,000 milligrams daily." - pp. 76-77 

(This is my own words again) (Sidenote: By the way, there's a whole section earlier on Dr. Pauling, how he genuinely made many really important scientific/medical discoveries, but then eventually got taken in by the whole vitamin craze, and more or less abandoned his rigorous scientific training when it came to vitamins. It just goes to show, than any one of us, or any really intelligent person, can sometimes be fooled. The problem, as the earlier part of the book describes, is that when a really famous or respected person gets taken in, drinks the Kool-aid, so to speak, they often take many others with them, because so many people trust them. I'm not gonna quote a bunch of that stuff, you'll have to buy the book or borrow and read it later if you want to delve into that. But basically, he was a really famous and respect scientist, nobel winner, who sort of had a fall from grace, as far as the Scientific/Medical community is concerned. Unfortunately, because of his fame, and legitimate earlier achievement, he pretty much singlehandedly shaped a lot of what we all now take for granted about vitamins. It was a hell of an interesting read, but I can't quote the entire damn book, even if it seems that way in this day and age of Twitter, which I don't use, and other Social Media, like Facebook, which I do use.)

Anyway, back on track, and slightly less tangential (yeah, right, as if anything that comes out of my brain or mouth could even not be a really long extended tangent; if I were a super hero, I would be Tangent Man!), in other words, there are healthy aspects to vitamins, but too much of anything can be unhealthy. Getting vitamins and minerals by eating foods that contain them helps to make sure we don't get too much, but popping vitamin pills allows us to really easily eat way more vitamins than is really good for us. The vitamin and supplement companies love it, all the way to the bank. They, it would appear, have fooled us into thinking that we need much larger amounts of vitamins than we can get by simply eating foods with vitamins in them. In actual fact, since there are NO regulations that anything marketed as a vitamin or dietary supplement have to be tested for safety, or tested to prove that they actually do what they say they will do. I'm sure some of them 'might' be helpful. Some of them might do nothing for us, but be harmless. Others might actually be contributing to Cancer. Without regulation and testing, just like any food or drug, we the public have absolutely no way to know if a supplement is safe or not. Here's an interesting snippet of a debate between David Kessler, who was representing the FDA, trying to protect the public from false claims, and make supplement makers test and label what they put out, to avoid snake oil salesmen from simply putting anything out and making untested claims about what it does and/or it's safety. Now I'm gonna put the quoted passage, that contains part of a debate, plus Dr. Offit's commentary. I'll use a line of dots to separate what were my words, from the entire quoted piece from the book, and also another section of broken dashes to separate the exchange between Kessler and Hatch since formatting is limited here in facebook. There's also a quote at the beginning and end of the entire piece I've quoted followed by a page number in case anyone's actually interested in finding it in the book for some odd reason. .........................................................................................................................

(The quote from the book starts now.) "The exchange centered on the FDA's recent seizure of primrose oil due to bogus claims. Hatch: What safety hazard was the FDA addressing that warranted such intensive use of agency resources and personnel?
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - -
(Still from the book, but it's a transcript of a debate) Kessler: Senator, I can read you the claims made for oil of evening primrose. The list starts with cancer. Hatch: Remember, the issue is safety I am talking about." Kessler: My real concern is the types of diseases for which oil of evening primrose is promoted. Hatch: But my question is: What proof do you have that this substance is unsafe? Kessler: This is being promoted for a lot of different diseases, anywhere from hypertension to atopic dermatitis. Hatch: Safety, Doctor, safety! This is the question! Is an American citizen more likely to die from an adverse reaction to a drug approved by the FDA or a dietary supplement? Kessler: Senator, I am amazed. What do you think are 'in' pharmaceuticals? Half our pharmaceuticals come from plants. There are chemicals in pharmaceuticals and those chemicals are found naturally.

 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - --
(Still from the book, just the end of the debate transcript) Kessler was making an argument that had been made for centuries. The source of a chemical doesn't matter; only the chemical matters. And whether it is synthesized by a pharmaceutical company or found in nature, the chemical is the same. And it should be regulated in the same way. Otherwise consumers will think they're getting a guarantee of safety when they're not. In the end, industry money trumped common sense. On May 11, 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act became law. The act defined a supplement as 'a product intended to supplement the diet that bears or contains one or more of the following ingredients: a vitamin, a mineral, an herb or other botanical, or an amino acid.' "Breathtaking in its dimensions," wrote Dan Hurley, "[the act] would end forever the simple legal dichotomy between 'food' and 'drug' to create a third, hermaphroditic category that was both yet neither: the dietary supplement. And beyond the usual suspects-vitamins, minerals, herbs, and amino acids-the law would permit manufactures to define a product as a 'dietary supplement' merely by saying so, no matter how artificially derived. Put lamb's brain in a drug or food, and be prepared to spend millions of dollars and a few years on studies showing that it is safe and effective; put it in a supplement and you're good to go, no evidence necessary." The New York Times called it the "Snake Oil Protection Act." - pp. 85-87 

(My own words again) And another tiny snippet comparing a drug that was regulated and being watched by the FDA, Vioxx and Vitamins, which under the laws, the FDA is not allowed to really watch, or test. 

(back to quoting the book) "So which is more dangerous: Vioxx or vitamins? Indeed, both have dangers. The better question is, why does everybody know that Vioxx can cause heart disease and nobody knows that megavitamins can cause cancer? The answer is that we have chosen not to know." - pp. 88-89 

(back to my own final words) I feel like I've been gullible with the whole vitamin thing. It's easy after all to be fooled. Places like health food stores that sell these things seem so grass roots and innocent. And in a lot of ways the people running them probably are. I think we all have maybe been taken in a bit. All I know, is from now on, my strategy will be to simply eat lots of healthy food. Lots of veggies, lots of fruits, and other good foods. Although I can be a pig, there is a limit to how much I can eat, plus food, unlike vitamins and supplements, it would seem, do have to be regulated and tested for safety. I'm sure that doesn't mean that there is never something that doesn't get tested enough, or that a few palms might not get greased in some occasions to look the other way, but at least there is some attempt to regulate and make sure food isn't stored in places where rats can poop on it and things like that. Plus I can't eat 8 canteloupes in one sitting. I do know I can eat more Pizza in a sitting that is really healthy for me. That's down to self control, and I am making inroads in trying to be more conscious of what I eat. Not perfect, but trying to go in a better direction. And possible hypocrite alert. I have been eating Protein shakes after I exercise. I think I will perhaps delve further into that product to see if I can find any scientific (trying to avoid the pseudoscience that can sometimes be hard to spot for a non professional like myself) studies on that particular product. Who knows maybe that will be covered later on in Offit's book as I'm not done yet. Cheers, to anyone who actually made it through this entire post and didn't just skip it, as I often do if I think something smells of conspiracy theory. I'll just leave it by saying that the book is a very interesting read. The experience kind of reminds me a bit of the feeling I got when I first read Carl Sagan's book about credulity and lack of skepticism in the modern world "The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark". I'll might as well post links to both books for any of you interested in reading either of them.

Hell this post is so long, I may copy it and post it in my blog, which has lain dormant for at least a year probably. (That was from the Facebook post. The blog is dormant no more!)

I don't think it's the first time I've plugged this Sagan book, probably won't be the last! 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

First Day, Big Day, B.Ed off and running

First day was a big day. Really didn't sleep more than 1 or 2 hours last night. Kind of got sucked into getting stuff organised and whatnot. Not the best habit, but I don't pull the all nighters all that often these days. First two classes, 8:30 am - 12:20 pm very interesting, profs seem very accommodating, approachable and whatnot. Signed up for one of my bigger presentations in the first spot. There were some others I was really interested in, but they got taken. Another one already had one guy but he didn't show, so I was a little dubious about having a partner that didn't show, so ended up going with the first slot, the topic being "Designing Instruction" and have a partner I will have to work with. I'm not sure which person she was, but I think I met everyone in the class so I guess I'll find out as we have a meeting in the library tomorrow. I know her name is Hailey. We have to present on September 13th.

I also have another partner work, some homework, but it's very small, but it's due for Thursday's class. We will meet tomorrow at 3:30 in the Education Library. We have to skim a document and answer some questions about it.

From my Curriculum and Instruction in English, it was a fairly casual over view of some issues and things we would cover, so I didn't take many notes. We did a "person search" ice breaker activity which was interesting. Everyone had a sheet with questions that they had to use to find and meet other people. I was pretty much the most in demand guy and people were lined up to get my signature next to questions, because I had biked to school, I didn't own a phone, and had taught in another country, all of which were people they were supposed to find. It was very active time, everyone mingling and talking. It was a good way to meet people, and everyone seems to know my name now.

In both classes I took notes on the ipad using my new keyboard. I think it will work out well. Then it was errand time after those two classes were done. Went to get my student loan documents signed by the financial awards office, to the bookstore to pick up some books I needed, to the bank to get a void cheque that I needed for the student  loan stuff, then to the post office to finish that student loan process. It's sent off, so hopefully I'll get the money soon. After that I went down to the multicultural office to inquire about some stuff regarding Eunju's landing, and free English class. She has two appointments, one with is just about landing, they suggested she come in the day after she arrive. It should just be an hour, but they'll help her with any documents she needs and stuff like that. That's on Monday. Then she can rest, and explore for a week, and then an English level test early the next week. I'm going to go with her the first day, introduce her and show her where it is and all. After that I rushed back to campus for my evening 5:00-9:00 class. Interesting class, it was long, but talking about social sciences, philosophy, and things was really something I enjoyed. I was really happy to find out that some high schools now teach philosophy elective courses. That's really awesome!

Eunju tried to skype me in the middle of the class. I had to turn it off and go offline as fast as I could. I'm going to have to try to remember to log out before classes in the future. Of course it won't be much of a problem, because my lovely wife will be here on the weekend! Today was the 4th, our anniversary day for me in Canada. It was yesterday for Eunju. It was a bit sad to not be together, but I figure I'm working on making a brighter future for us so we can have many many happy anniversaries in the future.

Finally, near the end of the evening class it started raining, thunder and lightning. Biked home in the rain. Took a shower. Had a few egg rolls, figure I deserve the treat, though I only ate two. Even with the rain, I was pretty happy with the day, although this is going to move very fast and be very busy so I'm going to have to stay on top of it all!

So a few of the themes that stuck with me from today's classes. Being a teacher means you have a public image to uphold, you are never really not a teacher in the society at large, so it's important to be aware of how you carry yourself, even when not at work. Regarding legal issues (Ed. Law) the advice was if you have some possible legal run in, don't try to explain yourself, or justify things, shut up, and get legal advice before responding with too much information. There was so much more, and a whoe ton of discussion in the evening Social Sciences class, but those are just a few I can remember. There will be no exam in this course ;). We talked about qualities of good vs bad teachers in brainstorming groups. I have some homework, to familiarise myself with a document on the Professional Advisory on Sexual Abuse.

In my evening class I was one of three Trevors in the class. Wow, three of us. There were also two Sara's, and a few other pairs of people with the same names. All those Trevors in the same class. Could it be that I've reached a milestone, or magic stop in the Trevor Quest. All things considered, I'm excited about this next leg in the journey.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Female teachers in Trouble?

Wow, of the 27 teachers profiled profiled in a photo gallery after this story 25 of them are females. (So including this main story I guess it's 6 our of 28, and if you are wondering why I said 27 when there are 33 pictures, a few of the teachers have multiple pics.) What is going on with women teachers?

I did notice some differences. The two men in these stories tended to be going after very young students at the elementary school age, while except for some exceptions, most of the female teachers tended to be in the middle school and high school age groups. Is it that with the stereotype or traditional idea of the male as the one to worry about that the females don't expect to get caught? Are the males better able to not get caught? Is some of the puzzle that teen age boys are more likely to initiate that kind of contact, and that a certain percentage of the female teachers were not smart, professional, ethical, or sane enough to have a clear line of boundaries?

Is the teaching profession somehow attracting female teachers who are not emotionally stable? Is it reflective of female victims of sexual abuse themselves who are attracted to younger boys that would not have the same threatening power over them as adult males would? Is it about feeling in control, or the need to feel in control due to past victimisation? Do the teachers somehow rationalise the behaviour as not being criminal because, at least in high school student cases, the victims proximity to the age of consent? How many of them showed true remorse? How many of them thought it was alright and justified or rationalised it?  It would seem to me in general, outside of education, the statistics of sexual abuse, rape, and other sex crimes seem to be much higher among males. Is this simply not true? I still think it's true that it happens much more often with males as the offender. If that's true, what is it about the teaching profession that, (if this site is an accurate reflection of the real stats, which admittedly it may not be, I haven't actually done any research) would flip this upside down? Does it have to do with the nature of the job, the close relationships a teacher forges with students.

Is it simply a matter that there are many more female teachers than male teachers out there? I think I had about equal male to female teacher ratios in my junior and high school days, but perhaps I'm remembering wrong, and being as I graduated in '91 perhaps things have changed a lot. I also wonder that almost every case, I think every case here, involves American schools. Did the reporter only focus on American schools? I wonder what the stats might be for my own country, Canada? Is it a case that these stories of female offender teachers is just 'better' more sensational news? I wonder if anybody here actually knows any real stats on this? As a final note, this isn't meant to be a judgement on women teachers, and I haven't seen any actual research, I'm just wondering out loud with my reaction of going through the photo slideshow and seeing all women except the two guys, who as I did note, seem to be the ones that diddled really young children, though there were a few of the females who did go pretty low, like 11 and around that area. I admit these are just a lot of questions, and I don't have any good answers, but I am truly curious. Any comments, insights, stats, or reflections out there?

I'll leave you with an on topic but old video from Van Halen to accompany your ruminations.

Monday, August 6, 2012

T-Bay, Veggie inspired diets, Zappa, missing Eunju

Been eating mostly vegetarian, actually pretty close to vegan since arriving Thunder Bay, though I bought some Feta yesterday. I poop a lot now, so googled that, most said it was normal body adjusting, but also was a link to the documentary "Forks Over Knives"that my cousin Sean Fergus Reiligh told me about, which also spurred him to switch to Vegan.

  I'm downloading it now and will watch. However I've also found a critique of the documentary based on some of the scientific claims, which actually does agree with some of the stuff in the documentary, and generally thinks the idea of focusing on diet and preventative over surgery when possible is a good idea, but goes into a very extremely in depth play by play review of the documentary, I've read maybe 30 minutes, and I'm only a tiny ways in, so it's almost more the size of a thesis, and contains lots of links to wartime diet and stuff. Anyway, I'm looking forward to watching the documentary, and reading the rest of the science review which you can find here and generally trying to eat healthier than I was. Eunju said she thought my stomach looked a bit thinner, and no doubt eating all these veggies rather than a Whopper a week has got to be better for me just on eliminating processed stuff.

Oh and Harvey's Veggie Burger is good, I'm craving, bought some veggie "chicken" but I opened it and it's smelly, so I balked at eating it without being able to cook it.

In this temporary dorm I have no way of cooking anything, that combined with wanting to watch my budget is another factor in why the died shift, though I was planning on going veggie or my phrase veggie "inspired" diet anyway. I will try it if I can fry it because I've eaten their mexican veggie ground round and love it, as well as their veggie meatballs in the past which I'm not sure if they still produce. Here's there website and some pics I've had some other veggie "meat" products in the past that were simply awful and not even close to the tastes I love, such as meatballs and hamburger meat. I honestly love that taste, but want to eat healthier, so I'm glad there is a middle way for me.

I can say it's a lot easier to find this stuff in Canada than in Korea, as vegetarianism and the likes are almost non existent phenomena there, other than buddhist monks, tho a lot of their meals have smaller portions of meat, till you get to the Korean galbi (BBQ meat joints) which are all meat. Anyway, I'm not for or against, just interested in educating myself, and the skeptic in me always wants to make sure I view many different sources of information, not doing so is basically like getting all your news from one source, I've heard Zappa would watch hundreds of different news programs from different sources, political viewpoints, and countries, and I do tend to agree it gives a better all around view. I'm not sure where I heard that, I googled for images and couldn't find a pic of him with several tv's simultaneously, maybe I read an interview or am mis-remembering stuff. For good measure I'll add a quote from Zappa about watching news.

“I like to watch the news, because I don't like people very much and when you watch the news ... if you ever had an idea that people were really terrible, you could watch the news and know that you're right.

 Frank Zappa

I should probably devote an entire blog to Zappa someday, for now a tiny mention is all, but a little Zappa is better than no Zappa, right.

So guess I should give my shout out links to skepticism blogs too, so here's one of my favorites from Brian Dunning Actually I have spent much more time with his podcast than his blog, as I used to listen to or sometimes read the transcripts of his podcast on my commute to work

So, I didn't go too far into it, but yeah, I'm living in a new place. Moved back to Canada. First flew to Vancouver and visited some friends which was great. Had some of my last real hamburgers, for awhile at least. Had my Wendy's fix I'd been craving. Then I flew back home to PEI in time for my cousin Tara's wedding. It was nice I could get back in time. Unfortunately I missed my other cousin Garth's wedding as I'd already booked my Van flight, and it happened too soon for that. I did get them a small gift though, and seen them before they left. After a week and a half of more in PEI I decided to come her to Thunder Bay earlier as I heard there was a scarcity of available apartments for students. Since I've been here, I've bought a bike, seen deer while biking, didn't see bears yet, which I mention because I saw a notice about Bear sightings near campus and what to do in the event of seeing them, and mostly spent a whole lot of time on the internet searching for apartments, and making phone calls. I've only seen a few places so far. I went to one place yesterday. It's a bit farther away than I want to be but I really think I'd get along well with the landlord. His wife passed somewhat recently, and he's converting the basement into an apartment. He still plays hockey twice a week, and has this old, old, old milk truck from when he used to deliver that's been converted into a little camper. I don't think he uses it that much as he also has a full sized RV in the yard. The little camper does have a bit of a hippy vibe, but he's doing the conversion himself, so that's more of a kind of guy who can build things like my dad and uncles, and the hockey means he's sporty, so in a way I think he's kind of like me. I don't really fit into any one category, I like some hippy dippy stuff, but also like exercising and often wear sports type Reebok T-shirts cause I really like the dry fit stuff, more comfortable. I like to read, love reading science type stuff, and a fantasy novel reading dude, but don't mind wearing a suit or thinking about business minded stuff. Anyway, off topic. I also looked as some rooms but decided I'm gonna be willing to pay more and get my own apartment. I really miss Eunju, and if I get a room and have to share stuff with other people it's going to be a lot harder to have a place where she can come and stay when she gets her permanent residency. It's really hard on her being alone, the fact we are still waiting for her visa, and then seeing me being happy to be back in Canada. It plays upon her fears at times. Other times she is more happy and positive. Needles to say, I love her very much and miss her heaps, even though I don't show it as much as she does or in the same way.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon an Italian Festival while trying to track down a landlord which owns an Italian Food store and other businesses. A guy in the street told me they would probably be there. I enjoyed the vibe of the festival, but it was a bit lonely being there alone and not knowing anybody. I was really thinking on how lucky I always was to have my wife with me to do things together when we were together. There was a big inflatable thing for people to have competitions where they knock each other off podiums in the middle of the ring that I guess must have been based on American Gladiators Joust game.

Still the fact that I am married and will see her in the future for me is better than being completely single, but I know it's harder for her.

I did have some good conversations with people I met there. One older woman was standing next to me and there was a guy on stage that sounded pretty much exactly like Sinatra singing Sinatra. I commented about how much he really sounded the part, and we had a nice conversation. Then I finally met one of the landlords and spoke briefly. She remembered my voice and details I'd told her about Eunju being in Korea and me about to go to school at Lakehead, so that's pretty good. Then I met another woman who had a table with her husbands 'caretto' that he carved himself. It took him seven years do carve it, and the detail was amazing. It was really beautiful. By the way a caretto is basically a traditional Italian carriage for horses. Her husband immigrated to Canada years ago from Sicily, I think. We talked for about an hour. I mentioned how the caretto (his was not full size, but had pictures of full sized ones from Sicily) gave me a similar feeling as the colorfully colored Jeepneys I saw in the Phillipines. My iphone died, so I couldn't take a picture, but she has my email and is supposed to send me a picture. The festival is still going today, so I might go take one myself. For now I'll post some pics of caretto and jeepney I found online. I found elaborate caretto and also some plain ones.

It made me wonder about similarities in Italian and Spanish cultures, since Philippines used to be a Spanish colony I think, and if there is any link. It also made me venture to guess that our English word "car" may derive from the spanish word "caretto". At any rate, I love the detail, color and life in both. In addition to learning about the caretto, it turns out that Heather, the woman at the caretto table is good friends with the owners of the Italian grocery that own the business and promised to put in a good word for me.

Wow this is pretty long, I originally started with a post on facebook just about the veggie / knives over forks / my own recent diet changes and then copied over to here and went much more into other things. I feel good that I've got a good meaty (pun intended) blog entry up; it had been quite a while since my last post.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My email to a famous blogger I respect

Dear "Mystery blogger - I'll post the identity if I am given permission later, as well as a reply should I get one and the permission to go with it",

Fair warning up front, this is pretty long, so I apologize in advance, as I assume you are a very busy person.

I've been reading your articles and blogs for awhile and I like your perspective and ideas. I am curious about your thoughts about being a teacher and being vocal as an atheist. I have been teaching ESL in Korea for nine years, and although I don't really try to hide my (lack of) belief, I am pretty careful and vague during class, especially since I'm being paid to teach a language, not atheism. However, I sometimes catch myself thinking, why should I have to worry about this. In an ideal world atheism should be a perfectly reasonable topic for discussion. Now in September I will return to Canada to do a Bachelor of Education and am considering starting a student secular group at my university but am not sure whether I want to take the leap to being a conscious activist of sorts, or just focus more on my studies and other interests such as music and sports. I was inspired by your article "about states that it's hard to be an atheist in - again, I'll post this link later, if I have permission" to ask your opinions and reflections on this matter. 

Here is a bit of background. Before I applied to do a Bachelor of Education I had begun a distance program to complete my Masters of Adult Education at St. FX University ( ) in Nova Scotia, Canada. There was a three week on campus orientation of sorts, and although I really enjoyed most of it, and found the professors in general to be really great and wonderful, and foreward thinking in many respects, with some professors I came up with some resistance (to differing degrees) from some of the professors to having atheism as a central topic. I wasn't outright completely forbidden from studying this from all professors. One professor, who wasn't my advisor was particularly aggressive towards my interest in atheism and verbally gave it to me to the point of my being in tears. I don't cry often or easily these days, but it got to me. The woman who was my advisor was less harsh, but still gave me a somewhat curt warning to "show respect" when I started questioning some aspects of religion in what I thought was not in a hateful but academic way. It surprised me to hear this in an academic institution. It surprised me  in particular with the professor who had me in tears. She seemed to be very unorthodox, she was a feminist, used art and poetry as mediums for lectures and academic exploration, so I was really caught off guard when she laid in to me. I have always thought that there are similarities (not that they are the same, but they share some common goals and problems) between the atheist movement and other movements that seek out equality. I think of other movements as role models. One of the other students was black and her area of interest for her thesis (or ideas, we were only beginning and fleshing out some possible ideas) was exploring how she as an educator could acknowledge "Finding her voice as a Black Educator, not submitting to self censorship, while not attacking other voices, or making them feel unduly threatened or guilty for merely being white" That's hugely paraphrased and maybe a little off, my memory is fuzzy, but what I remember turning the little lightbulb on in my brain was the idea of self censorship vs. openly identifying as an atheist. And I realize the similarities break down, but that was what got me interested in a possible area of study. Do atheists self censor, are they afraid to openly identify. I had made it a point during the three weeks to vocally identify, not in an overly threatening way, sort of as an experiment, but more so because I was genuinely interested in other students ideas and input on my ideas, as well as my instructors. I started thinking about some similarities and differences between the situations different groups find themselves in, such as atheist, sexual orientation, skin color they happened to be born with. I noticed a slight difference in situations between me as a 'white foreigner' living in Korea and some of my Western born or raised, but of Korean heritage foreigners when interacting with the locals. I thought about how I sometimes get stared at on the subway, or how occasionally taxis won't stop for me. Then I thought about my Kyopo (Korean word for Korean's raised in another country) friends, and how they didn't get starred at, how they could blend in and not be noticed, until they started speaking English or acting in ways that were more in line with Western culture. And I thought wow, that's sort of a similar situation, or similar dynamics as an atheist, or someone with a non-straight sexual orientation finds themselves in. They have a choice to say, hey here I am and I am such and such, where as a person with a visual disability, or different color of skin doesn't have the choice to either "come out" or not. Anyway, I'm kind of getting on a tangent, to get back on topic. One of the areas of study within Adult Education was "Social Movement Learning" and how education often happens in a non formal way, but happens all the same. So I figured that I could study "Atheism as a Social Movement" as I thought it indeed was one. My advisor pretty much flat out said something along the lines of "I don't think Atheism qualifies as a Social Movement" and when I tried to change direction on my ideas of thesis I still felt like I was facing more resistance to my area of interest than a lot of the other students. I was told there is no research on atheism in Adult Education literature, so I'd have nothing to study. That didn't completely make sense to me. I mean there is feminist and queer theory in Adult Education, research from a "Black perspective" for lack of a better term, and I thought. Somebody must have been the first at some point in Adult Ed history to introduce these sub fields and bring research that was not strictly "Adult Ed" into that discipline. So I was confused. As I read books on Philosophy in Adult Education, I saw many things that I mentioned religion as a possible area of conflict within education, stuff from John Dewey and could see some possible ideas in Freire's Pedagody of the Oppressed. My advisor had edited and compiled an Encyclopedia of Adult Education, and was very intelligent. Why didn't she see this as a possible area of study. I was confused. To be fair, she didn't totally forbid me from using atheist sources or working it into my research, but told me that out of a Reading list I was making that needed I think 50 titles that to include more than three sources that touched on what I was really interested in would be 'getting me off track'. I felt like I was being steered away from researching what I was truly interested in. I suppose I could have fought it more, and maybe even convinced her that I had a valid topic to research, as she was a reasonable person, but in the end, I just sort of gave up and didn't want to feel like I was fighting something that I felt should have been obvious, at least not with my advisors. I could have asked for a different advisor. I could have done a lot of things. Well it doesn't really matter because all that's too late, and perhaps it was not just the time for that to be dealt with in Adult Ed or perhaps I was not meant to be the person. That doesn't mean I've completely given up. It would also be unfair to blame it all on the professors or department or field of Adult Ed. There were many other factors that played as important a role. Although it's true I kind of wanted to get out of ESL and I was being steered towards doing research more in ESL since that's where I was working, and had altered my tentative thesis ideas to be more along exploring the ethics and questions involved in whether or not to disclose 'strong' ideas or beliefs as a teacher in the ESL classroom, I still felt I was getting off track in terms of what I was really interested in. But as I hinted to, there were other factors. Once I left the on campus orientation with discussions with other students and faculty I found I missed that and felt that I didn't really want to do a distance learning degree, at least not if I felt I was compromising what I really wanted to study. Also it was said that this independent research degree could be completed in 2-5 years. I was thinking 5, but was informed that the majority of students took closer to 4, and I wasn't sure I wanted to study for that long, unless I had a real solid passion for what I was studying. I also was planning on returning to Canada soon, and would find it hard to do research on ESL in Korea (my advisor suggested doing a self study of sorts) and that doing a Masters degree in the direction I was going wasn't really in my heart. 

In the end I decided to do a B.Ed back home. Of course I'd love to study something more strictly secular like the Pitzer program you mentioned somewhere, but other practical factors also were on my mind. My wife is Korean, and often immigrants find it difficult to find work right away in new countries and I figured studying towards a Masters or PH.D would put a lot of stress on us, trying to move and start a life in Canada with me being a poor un-earning student for a long period of time. I figured doing a one year add on to my BA would be more practical and get me in the work force and I could still be involved in secular groups or activism outside of work. Something the professor that made me cry had said to me has kind of stuck in my mind. This is paraphrasing but "All I hear from you is atheism this, atheism that, you are obsessed, I'm interested in it myself but it in NOT adult education, there has been no research, and you will have no career options if you pursue this obsession, what are you going to be, a professional atheist?" Afterwards, when by myself, I kind of got a bit stubborn and thought to myself, watch me, maybe I will become a professional atheist. So I kind of at that point felt that I wanted to make it a point to become more active and outspoken. I started a blog. Actually I started the blog as a place to keep ideas I was researching, but after dropping out I decided to make it more about atheism, secularism and humanism. I don't get a lot of hits, almost nobody reads my blog, but that's ok. It out there 'published' on the internet publicly, and that's enough for me symbolically, and who knows maybe if I got involved in secular groups and stuff, I'd be more visible, and it might get more traffic. Regardless, it's not important, traffic or not. What's important is I feel good about making a conscious effort to not be silent. 

This brings me full circle to where I began, the question of being vocal as a teacher. I still wonder, so many questions, will it jeopardize my chances of getting a job once I complete my B.Ed degree. Should I be vocal publicly as an atheist, write columns in newspapers if I am also working as a teacher. Will it make religious students feel threatened? Will it help atheist students to feel represented. Will I get in trouble with my employers. Are these valid areas of research to some degree that I can explore when I'm doing my Bachelor of Education or should I just avoid it, and look at this degree as a practical way to employment and keep that side of me completely separate from me as an educator? Can I do that even? If I decide to get involved in or start a secular group (from what I can tell there isn't one at the school yet, and maybe none in the town non university affiliated) when I go to study should I make it as a campus group or something out in the community separate from the University? This is not my hometown and I'll likely only be there for one year. If I decide to start something like that, what one would be most likely to survive, and do the most good after I leave, a student group or a group in the wider community? I'm guessing starting both would be over ambitious as I still have to study and whatnot. There are some promising things I've read, Daniel Dennett talked about how in Quebec there is a provision or something that all high school students must me taught 'facts about religions' or at least the religions that are major players in the province, so that all students understand about religions different from themselves, as an attempt to curb religiously motivated prejudice. I don't remember if that also included non religious groups as one of the groups of study, but if they do that might be something I could research, as well as research into whether or not other provinces should follow suit. 

As I said, I really like your articles and value your opinion and experience. I would be really grateful if I you ever have time to give me a reply, even if it is a short one. I assume you are a very busy person, and will totally understand if you don't get back to me. I am after all a stranger sending an unsolicited email, and I can imagine since your blogs are well read you likely get lots of emails. I will be posting the contents of this email to my blog (not including any direct mention of you in other paragraphs, until I get permission) as well, but I won't mention that it is a letter to you specifically, unless I get your permission, at which point I will edit it to include that fact. I will merely mention it's an email I sent to a well known blogger and that I'll reveal the mystery blogger in question if I get permission. (Hmmm, an idea just crossed my mind, perhaps I could send a similar email to other writers I admire and respect. Thoughts or advice? Has receiving this email been bothersome? I hope not, but if you did find it so, I'll rethink sending a similar one out to others. If so, sorry that you were that guinnea pig) Also if you do find the time to answer this embarrassingly long letter, I would like, with your permission, to also post your reply, some quotes from your reply, or a link to your blog if you happen to feel the inclination to make this topic a subject of one of your own blog entries. I also give you full permission to quote any or all of this in your blog or other articles if you so wish. 

Here are some of my blog entries that are related in some way to the above questions I asked.

On Atheism as a Social Movement -

On the Dan Dennett thing I mentioned regarding teaching about religion in schools -

About Secular Studies -

About having a dialogue with my brother who is a minister, not quite as related but maybe indirectly to the 'self censorship' idea

On atheist ministers, because it also deals with the choice to speak up or be quiet, in a profession that is even more hard to do so than that of teachers - 

About Alom Shaha, a vocal Muslim Athiest -

Indirectly about one way to maybe be a 'professional atheist' - to be a secular provider of funerals, this is also a reply to your own post on Humanist Funerals -

And finally, one I wrote about why I quit my masters, and thinking about possible alternatives, this was before I decided to apply to B.Ed programs, but was considering it -


Trevor Clements

Monday, June 11, 2012

More on Atheist Ministers from Greta Christina

My last post was dealing with The Clergy Project, especially focusing on Jerry DeWitt, a minister who became an atheist and left the ministry, joined the Clergy Project which is a support group online for ministers in this situation, and is the director of Recovering From Religion. Now I've come across another article on the same subject, this time from Greta Christina, who always inspires me with her articles. I really like the way she writes about issues such as these. Here's the article in question, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did. Even if you are not an atheist but a religious follower, or leader, it may be interesting.

If you like this article, check out her blog