So, are you surprised to hear that Back-To-School, or B2S(!) shopping is now second only to the buying frenzy of Christmas? Marketers are happily salivating to know that in 2018, parents in the U.S. spent $27.6 billion on school fashions and supplies. I think we can safely say that Canadian parents are not lagging far behind. No question but what 2019 market will be even more profitable. According to a report by Deloitte, the average parent will spend well over $500 per child on back-to-school stuff, with kids making most of the decisions.

Why? “Because you know finding the perfect first day of school look is half the battle. The start of a new school year can be chaotic and stressful …” So says But that’s not all, because once you’ve found the look, “all they need is the perfect backpack and lunchbox and they’ll be good to go.” So it’s not surprising to know that 55% of the B2S budget goes to clothes. The remainder is divided 22% for school supplies and 23% for computers, cell phones, tablets, and such necessities.

You’ll also not be surprised to learn that most of the advertising is directed at teenage girls, who must, at all costs, be “cute.” And by cuteness we don’t mean anything like ingenuous charm, unh uh, we mean up-to-the-minute, sassy, and provocative or, as Nordstrom puts it “so fresh and fun.” Why you can buy a tatty-looking pair of abbreviated torn-off faded blue jeans for a cool $54.38 Canadian.

On a cooler note, boys are advised to choose their style as defined by WikiHow, “be it casual (safest and most common style), sporty, preppy, skater (fun and functional), goth (dark and brooding), emo (philosophical and sensitive), hipster (anti-establishment), or classy (you aren’t afraid of being different).”

And you thought school was about education …

Pity those unhappy private school kids in their (also expensive) uniforms, who are deprived of the thrill of showing up for school arrayed in the latest fashions, destined for popularity. Well, we needn’t mention the poor or unattractive kids, they don’t really count anyway in the sub-culture world of school’s well-trained mindless consumers.

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I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of hearing about sports as though this or that game is the most important thing going on. The CBC now announces who won some tennis match or which little league has made it to the finals side by side with international political and social news. “Mary Jo Geenan came third in the Wimbleford finals and civil violence resulted in the death of ninety-two people in an uprising in Urgmikstan.”

I’ve already commented on Canada’s national obsession with the NBA basketball tournament and the furor aroused by the performance of our hired hero Kawhi Leonard who has now been lured to the Los Angeles Clippers by a mere $142 million. We can only hope he’ll be able to pay the rent. Nevertheless, he is still celebrated as “our” hero.

I am reminded that even Wayne Gretsky sold out for greater financial rewards than Canada could offer him.

Not to be dismayed however, coach Nick Nurse has great hopes to get Canadian basketball into the Olympics, no matter, I imagine, whom we have to pay to do the playing on our behalf. It is, he said, “a dream that hasn’t been realised for two decades,” and he intends that Canada shall “make its mark on the basketball world.”

Pardon my ignorance, but I didn’t know we were living in a basketball world.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to sports, athletic achievements, or encouraging young people to devote themselves to becoming great players. But what about all the Canadians who are making their mark on the world of art, music and literature? Alas, their stipends are not in the multi-millions, so I suppose they don’t really count. But, hey, they are the products of the serious but unacknowledged culture of this country. Serious? Who cares? Let’s just have fun and pretend that we’ve won something!

Did I mention music? Don’t get me started on the CBC’s relentless promotion of so-and-so’s latest album. Every fifteen minutes or so we are inflicted with a feeble electronically enhanced voice “singing” inane lyrics to the accompaniment of a strummed three-chord guitar. Enough already!

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Anyone living in Canada would be hard-pressed to have missed the hoopla and furor over the recent performance of the Toronto Raptors, the only Canadian team on the roster of the National Basketball Association. As we all know, the Raptors won NBA Tournament Finals, causing an enormous sensation across the country. Thousands, if not millions, of people were leaping about and cheering “We won! We won! We won!” There were parades and parties and, no doubt, drunken revelries. The national anthem was even “sung” by Sarah McLachlan. The official final word was “The north has spoken,” as though some significant event had occurred or, as they say. the Raptors have united the country and inspired thousands of youngsters to want to become basketball heroes.

Now, I believe it’s very nice when your team wins a game, whether it’s the local little league team your kid plays on or a major event like the NBA Finals. However, I can’t help but wonder what all the fuss is about. How can the prowess of a hired team of professionals be seen to represent the pride and patriotism of the country? It is, when all is said and done, only a game. Someone wins and someone loses. So what?

“So what” is a lot of money spent on the players and on tickets. The Toronto Raptors consists of sixteen players (Only one, as far as I can tell, is actually Canadian.), and, since it is a professional team, all the players are hired and well paid. In fact, paid beyond any idea of what most of us would think of as “well.” The payroll for the sixteen totals $134,213,077 or an average of over to $8 million per individual. Of course, key team members are walking away with considerably more: Kyle Lowry acquired a cool $31,200,000; there was $24,119,025 for Marc Gasol; $23,114,067 for Kawhi Leonard, and so on. These players, and others, will receive even larger sums for continuing contracts. There’s a reason why some parents dream of their sons becoming basketball stars.

Tickets for the games were selling for an average of $8,000 and as high as $60,000 for one seat. Tickets for the series sold out the minute they went on sale through Ticketmaster, so fans were driven to the “secondary market,” otherwise known as scalpers. Nevertheless, every seat was full for every game. As someone pointed out $8,000 could also be a year of university education or a nice holiday in Europe. Oh well, the thrill of seeing “your” team win some trophy beats an education hands down.

Let’s just admit that a tournament like this is all about big money, and lots of it. The estimated revenue—revenue, that is—of the Toronto Raptors in 2017-2018 was $275 million US dollars! No wonder it’s necessary to work the public up into a frenzy. National pride my foot!

There are many things the people of this country can be proud of and celebrate. We have one of the highest standards of living in the world, a wonderful medical system, an elected government responsible to rule by law, and numerous artists, writers, and musicians who are famous the world over.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, one of the best in the world, operates on an annual budget of just over $24 million. There are 93 musicians in the orchestra. Top pay is around $114,000, and that’s for ten months of service. You can attend a TSO concert for as little as $42 or. if you want a seat on the main floor, around $115.
Go figure.

Posted in Arts Funding, Basketball, Canadian Musicians, Toronto Raptors, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Uncategorized | 2 Comments


How is it that some people think they can make other people be and do what they want by just giving orders? Like the teachers I hear saying Sit up straight! Be quiet! Pay attention! They have to keep saying these things for twelve years or so because nobody is really listening. Sure, everyone kind of does what they are told because there are probably consequences, like failure or detention. Even I would get down on my knees and say Yes, O Mighty One, if there were a gun held to my head or even if I were threatened with being dragged before the authorities—as in the principal’s office.

I would probably even cram a lot of useless information in my head if I knew there was test coming. And, in school, there always is. But my compliance would merely be play acting, and I would see the authorities on hand as monsters or, at best, idiots. If I want people to respect me, should I go around saying, “Respect me! Or else!”? A funny notion, isn’t it.

Not only that, but don’t we encourage rebellion by handing down arbitrary commands? Of course. It’s amazing what you can get away with in the way of subtle, or even not-to-subtle, rebellion when confronted with authority figures telling you what you ought to be and do. Just ask any school kid—or maybe they aren’t even so aware of their own tactics. You might have to observe. Yes, observe, if you can, the charade that goes on in school day after day, year after year.

Nobody learns.

Posted in Classroom, Compulsory Schooling, Curriculum, Education, Grades and marks, Learning, School, Standardized tests, Teachers, Tests | 1 Comment



Most parents send their kids to school. They do this because they believe it is a necessary and valuable part of every child’s growing up. It is what they call “education”. You’ll never get anywhere in life if you don’t have an education. Fail at school; fail at life, they say. School promises the road to success.


1. School helps you find your major or “What are you going to be when you grow up?’

2. School prepares you for the real world.

3. You will make new friends and gain social skills such as networking.

4. You will learn how to become a useful, law-abiding citizen of the world. co-operative and responsible.

5. You will learn how to qualify for jobs by learning arithmetic, spelling, grammar, and using computers, calculators, and tablets.

6. You may participate in extra-curricular, after school, activities such as football, dance, chess, math club, martial arts, floor hockey, drama, and many others.


1. School institutionalises young people, effectively keeping them out of touch with the real world of work and professions. Opportunity to associate with working grownups is limited to immediate family and teachers. While confined in school, they will learn an idealised fantasy of careers that lie before them.

2. Yet school is nothing like the “real” world. School is not unlike prison, in which inmates are confined and kept separate from everyday society. In school as in prison, attendance is compulsory, rules must be obeyed, and ordinary functions like eating, drinking, and use of the toilet are strictly regulated. Quiet obedience and compliance are demanded and enforced. Segregation, known as “time out”, is a common punishment in both prisons and schools.

3. School segregates children into age and achievement classes where association with anyone outside of the designated group is rarely possible. In addition to their classmates, they will experience but a small number of adults (teachers) who are trained to act as functions rather than individuals. Like prison guards (see above) teachers are not to fraternise with students lest they lose the all-important power to control.

4. Unlike democratic society, school is an authoritarian dictatorship in which arbitrary rules and regulations are enforced by evaluations, judgments (grades), comparison with others, humiliating discipline, and the threat of failure. Children are rewarded for being docile and compliant instead of being active participants in a functioning democracy.

5. The nineteenth century city school with compulsory attendance was modelled on notions of scientific management as espoused by William Farish (1759-1837) and Frederick Taylor (1856-1915). Accordingly, and following the logic of the factory, school turns learning into a chore, dividing academic pursuits into subjects, and each subject into gradient steps to be assessed at regular intervals by standardised tests. The curriculum, which determines what goes on in school, reads like a recipe book: combine these ingredients in this order to arrive at a predictable product: the graduate—ready for work in a nineteenth century environment.

6. Teachers are discouraged from spending out-of-school unpaid time on extracurricular activities. What is offered will depend upon availability and willingness of volunteer parents and others from the community, consequently not many schools have after-school activities.





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The label on the 5 oz, (59 ml.) Tabasco Sauce bottle has changed little or not at all since its introduction, as produced by Edmund McIlhenny, in 1868. The familiar perpendicular square with the majestic TABASCO appears on the front. Turn the bottle around and on back you’ll find a concise description of the product: “Made from special peppers fermented naturally in wood for 3 years.” Then, without excess verbiage, we are told: “Gives delicious flavour to hamburgers, eggs, tomato juice, salads, etc.” Though one may be left hanging by the implications of “etc.”, there can be little doubt about the straight-forward imperative that follows: “Add Tabasco directly to seafood and always to soups, stews and gravies.” (The emphasis is mine) Yes—”directly to seafood”—it’s de rigour with oysters. What about “tomato juice”, an essential ingredient, I remind you, of a Caesar (a Canadian invention), and what is a Caesar without Tabasco? As for “soups, stews and gravies” perhaps only the pusillanimous would hesitate to follow the directive.

Now, these quotes are from the familiar small bottle, sometimes found hidden for years in the recesses of the refrigerators of unbelievers. (They’ve been married so long that they’re on their second bottle of Tabasco.) Of course, the bottle, as sold in Canada (notice the spelling of “flavour”), also provides instructions, rather elegantly I thought, in French: Ajoutez Tabasco aux fruits de mer, et toujours dans les soupes, ragouts et sauces. Ragouts is so much more elegant than “stews.” And et toujours might well be found at the end of a love letter.

We who live in this bi-lingual country are privileged to be presented with a label designed specifically to manage and direct our diffident, self-effacing and sometimes romantic nature.

The pleasure I have always taken in the Tabasco label wording was shattered when, a few months back, I accompanied my daughter and her husband to a behemoth-size Costco store in the state of Washington. Though overwhelmed by the enormity of it all (You can buy gallon bottles of gin!), I was delighted to find a generous 12 oz. (355 ml.) bottle of Tabasco. It came packaged in a flashy red box covered with all kinds of enthusiastic directives and panegyrics, implying that the purchaser belongs to a special class of people who are to be addressed in upper case: “ARE YOU ONE OF US?”, who will no doubt, “SHAKE WELL: and “Crack open the FLAVOR.”  Oh well, that was just the box yelling “BUY ME!” at the supersaturated American shopper. Surely the bottle itself would preserve the dignified diction of the familiar label. No such luck! Now, following such jazzy information as: “For well over a century, the adventurous flavor of TABASCO (Note capitals.) Sauce has fired up generations of thrill seekers.” OK, who, in this generation of red-blooded thrill seeking Americans, would want to be left out? However, the final blow is yet to come. After these upbeat and ever-so-contemporary-words we are informed that “TABASCO [is} on the culinary cutting edge.” So of course you will: “Try it on eggs, pizza, salad and other food for a burst of flavor that will tantalize your taste buds.” What?  Try it? Tantalize? What happened to the reassuring admonitions of the label I had come to love? Is it that Americans prefer to be tantalized, or at least try to be, rather than simply being told what to do?

In hopes that the Canadian version of the larger bottle might still address me in reasonable human terms, I have, without success, looked for it in the markets where I shop. I cling to the hope that if and when I do find it, the label will show that we Canadians can be trusted, without hoopla, to add Tabasco judiciously to the appropriate, even etc., dishes and, need I say, always to soups, stews and gravies.

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VIRTUAL REALITY, A TEACHER’S DREAM The fact that I can virtually take them some place we’d never be able to visit is just a teacher’s dream,” she explains. But that dream is just not affordable for many schools.
–Rebekah Henick, school teacher



When I was about seven years old, we lived not far from the downtown public library in Portland, Oregon. My brother and I and our neighbourhood friends were frequent visitors to the children’s department there. One day we discovered, or were shown, and were allowed to use a stereopticon. These were binocular-like devices that enabled you to view photographs in 3-D, unlike anything we could experience beyond the real world. There were black and white photographs of mountain, waterfalls, and views of Africa. We would pass the device around while commenting enthusiastically about what we saw. And, by the way, the librarian made us wash our hands before she would give us the precious viewer.



I was thinking of this when I heard about virtual reality and how it is considered to hold great educational promise. As the teacher quoted above said, “I can virtually take them some place we’d never be able to visit … “ And thus the schools are rushing to adopt yet another form of the latest technology.


Virtual reality is an artificial environment that is created with software and presented to the user in such a way that the user suspends belief and accepts it as a real environment. On a computer, virtual reality is primarily experienced through two of the five senses: sight and sound.

I hasten to add that virtual reality is still in its infant stages. Who knows what the future holds, but you can sure that it will be more than “two of the five senses … “


In his 1993 book “Technopoly”, Neil Postman compares print and oral learning with computer and television learning;

On the one hand, there is the world of the printed word with its emphasis on logic, sequence, history, exposition, objectivity, detachment, and discipline. On the other, there is the world of television with its emphasis on imagery, narrative, presentness, simultaneity, intimacy, immediate gratification, and quick emotional response.

In other words, print encourages thoughtful consideration and internal image-making. Television—and I would suggest all other screen technologies—provide entertainment, infotainment (often masquerading as education), and salesmanship. As an extension of the television experience, I would suggest that virtual reality performs a similar function. Rather than passing a stereopticon from hand to hand, each student will be isolated in his or her own experience of what may seem startlingly real. Like television, virtual reality places its user on the receiving end. Putting on a VR headset blocks out the outside world and presents a whole new view for the user, immersing one in a highly realistic experience created by simulated sights, sounds, and sensations of movement. Almost as good, maybe even better, than the real thing. The viewer is a passive recipient of a predesigned programmed experience.


The young Canadian entrepreneur Josh Maldonado says, “Just like [sic] the internet democratized information … virtual reality will democratize experience.” Just what this means is not made clear. If by “democratizing” he means making available to all, he has a point. The internet has indeed made information readily available to all, information that is packaged in tidy quickly digestible parcels. It has been said, and I think accurately, that the internet has provided us with information, but no knowledge. I pads, smartphones, cellphones, computers–and now virtual reality–give us ready handheld access to a world of pictures, games, news, curious happenings, dietary advice, constant advertising, pornography, and cute cat videos, along with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, Tumblr, and hundreds of social networking sites participated in by billions of people worldwide.

Like schools, most people seize on such technological wonders as though they are necessities of life. Businesses, like London Drugs, Safeway, etc.—and even the public library—are installing self-serve check out devices, enabling them to lay off more and more staff. Government now expects us to perform most transactions on line, with the same results in staff cuts. We pay our bills on line, we do our banking on line, we buy books, clothes, and glasses on line (with groceries to come). How long will it be before we go through life without ever having face-to-face-contact with another human being?


As long ago as the year 2000, Robert Putman wrote “Bowling Alone, the Collapse and Revival of American Community”. Based on thorough research, Putnam shows how Americans—include the rest of us—have lost touch with family, friends, neighbours, and democratic structures. I would now add trades people, shopkeepers, bank tellers, and fellow students. Though he optimistically proposes ways in which this trend can be reversed, the past seventeen years have shown that it only continues to grow. While it may seem unimportant, even a friendly “hello” from a clerk or librarian provides us with regular human contact and acknowledgement that we are part of a larger community.


In Technopoly, Postman also wrote:

In Technopoly, we improve the education of our youth by improving what are called “learning technologies.” … To the question “Why should we do this?” the answer is: “To make learning more efficient and more interesting.” Such an answer is considered entirely adequate, since in Technopoly efficiency and interest need no justification. … “Efficiency and interest” is a technical answer, an answer about means, not ends; and it offers no pathway to a consideration of educational philosophy. Indeed it blocks the way to such a consideration by beginning with the question of how we should proceed rather than with the question of why.

I would suggest that the same observation applies to technologies as they are increasingly applied to public and commercial services as well as to personal communications. I needn’t remind the reader that e-mail, Facebook, and Instagram have already taken place of written letters, telephone conversations, and real live human contact. Sadly, schools are usually concerned with how can we do what we do more efficiently rather than why do we do what we do. Instead of examining and questioning the basic assumptions upon which our school systems are based, teachers and educational “experts” devote their energies to cooking up new and clever ways to do the same old thing. You can see why schools are so eager to seize new technologies like virtual reality.


Marshall McLuhan distinguished between hot and cool media. “Hot” media are those that require little or no mental or emotional participation of the observer, content may be said to be spoon fed. “Cool” media, on the other hand, offer minimal stimulus and require the observer to participate actively, to fill in the gaps, to perceive abstract patterning. As examples, we might cite a popular songs, with simple harmonies, basic repetitive rhythms, and commonplace lyrics, of three to four minute duration, as opposed to, say, a classical symphony that will be of prolonged duration, involve complex harmonic, melodic development pushing the boundaries of expression. The listener will be required to devote care and attention as well as repeated hearing to the experience. McLuhan saw art at a means for societies and individuals to recover from the numbing and “massage-like” effects of technological innovation.

Schools are rushing to adopt the latest in “hot” technological media like IPads, computers, and virtual reality while abandoning “cool” media like music, art, poetry, handwriting, spelling, and grammar. Schooled in the notion that learning should be easy and—God save us!—fun, and offered no alternative, young people gravitate to the immediate gratification of texting (who needs to know how to spell when you have spell check?), obsessive cellphone use, video games, and drugs. The search for entertainment has replaced the search for knowledge and wisdom. Commercial interests have been only to eager to offer immediate gratification in the form of mind-deadening sit-coms, violent movies, banal songs, and anti-nutritious fast foods.


McLuhan’s most important message is that media determine the way in which information is perceived. (“The medium is the message.”) To accept technological media as being simply new and efficient ways of delivering experience is a major error. All media must be looked at critically with an eye to understanding how content is controlled and influenced by the medium itself. Facebook, Instagram, e-mail and Twitter already control how we communicate with each other.

If we don’t control media, media will control us.

Now there is a subject worthy of attention in schools.

Posted in Education, Learning, Marshall McLuhan, School, Teachers, Technology, Television, Virtual Reality | Leave a comment


My friends, here is a most extraordinarily awkward avoidance of “me”, from an announcement of an AGM delivered today via e-mail:

“… receive and approve our Treasurer’s Report, receive and discuss reports from myself, our Artistic Director, and … ”


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Imagine, studies show that during the summer break kids forget a whole lot of what they were taught in school.

According to On Line College, scores in standardized tests are lower in the fall than they were at the end of the school year in June. That’s because kids have usually lost at least two months-worth of math computational skills. (I don’t dare ask just what two months-worth might mean, but I can’t help wondering. Do mathematicians measure their skills in months?) Oh well, as if that weren’t bad enough the kids have also slipped two months or more in spelling and reading. According to The New York Times article This Is Your Brain on Summer, “Summers off are one of the most important, yet least acknowledged, causes of underachievement in our schools.”

Oh heck! Just when I was beginning to enjoy it.

Golly, what are these kids doing all summer? Just goofing off when they should be practising math and spelling? Or is it just that what they have been “taught” matters so little to them that forgetting is perfectly natural and to be expected? I’ll bet they haven’t forgotten how to play soccer.

As you might expect, the suggested remedy is more school. Cut out summer vacation completely or provide more school during the summer. The usual philosophy is: If it isn’t working, give them more of it.

Nevertheless, school people bemoan the fact that the first couple of months of the school year are spent in catching up. After all, those standardized tests are lurking there ready to pounce, so the kids had better get brushed up and ready or else the school will look bad in the comparative ratings. However, do not fear, various experts on Summer Leaning Loss have emerged and are providing helpful tips to remedy the problem. Sarah Macoun, educational psychologist with the University of Victoria, in a CBC interview, suggests “Do a little bit of math” and “Keep reading”. I guess kids don’t get out during the summer and build forts and race tracks the way we used to, and, school has apparently turned reading into such an unpleasant chore that books are to be avoided at all costs. As someone once said, the surest way to stop a runaway horse is to bet on it, and accordingly, the surest way to kill interest in anything is to threaten to have a test on it.

But Professor Macoun also has her soft side; her Tip Number Three is “Have fun.” “[Kids] are learning specific facts and skills when they’re in the classroom, but it’s really important that they’re applying those to real life situations and that they’re having those less-structured experiences.” Imagine! You have to apply what you learned–or forgot– in school to “real life situations.” There’s no escaping it.

Finally, As Ivan Illich puts it (in Deschooling Society): “A major illusion on which the school system rests is that most learning is the result of teaching.” and “Schools themselves pervert the natural inclination to grow and learn into the demand for instruction.”

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In the previous post (FRASER INSITUTE SAYS PRIVATE SCHOOLS ARE OK), I pointed out how we were told repeatedly that any notions we might have of private schools as expensive and elite were uninformed, misguided, and incorrect. Furthermore, private schools provide us with choice. Just think, you can choose between sending your kids to any of the, relatively uniform, public schools in the city or to one of the private schools that may offer just what you’re looking for in the way of religion, academic emphasis, or educational philosophy.

The Fraser Institute, I said, exists to provide appropriately slanted “research” to support and legitimize right wing government and corporate agendas. So what is the agenda supported by promoting the “choice” offered by private schools? And why should government support private schools to make them more “affordable”? It’s not exactly rocket science to figure out that the Christy Clark Liberal government favours a two-tiered school system just as they favour a two-tiered medical system—not mention the various PPPs (Public-Private-Partnerships) that they enjoy and promote.

The “choice” offered is simple: Take the under-funded, trimmed down public school (or health system) paid for by your taxes, or pay handsomely for a private school (or a deluxe medical clinic). The more you pay the more you get in the way of prestige. It’s an excellent way to reduce taxes, especially for the wealthy and for corporations, and to cut down on government funding for and “interference” with public institutions. It’s the “small government” that the right wing conservatives love so much.

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