June 29, 2005

Some viewers may not share this sense of delight*

Hornblower beat me to it this morning. I'm another proud Canadian who can't think of a more delightful way to kick off the coming Dominion Day festivities.

Thanks to Hornblower, too, for the news that Rick Mercer has a blog. The Farmer and I have been in withdrawal since *This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Monday Report finished for the season.

Interestingly, several Members of the Legislative Assembly met today to discuss the ramifications of Bill C-38; before last night, Alberta was one of only two provinces to disallow same-gender marriages. I found it more than a bit ironic that the gist of the meeting concerned how best to provide protection -- yes, protection -- for those who may be discriminated against because they disagree with the legislation. I'll bet Sarah, who coincidentally wrote about the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms yesterday, noticed it, too.

And in the let's-cut-off-our-nose-to-spite-our-face department, the same group of MLA's also discussed the possibility of refusing to issue marriage licences to anyone, straight or gay. This is what passes for "brainstorming" in this province. And if I wasn't such a Luddite, right here I'd link an audio clip of Ray Bolger singing "If I Only Had a Brain" from the Wizard of Oz. No, we're not in Kansas anymore. We're stuck in Alberta, which most of the time is a dandy place to be.

June 27, 2005


In honor of the new Tim Burton/Johnny Depp version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which we are not going to see (in order to preserve the magic of the book and because I've decided that Tim Burton, and Johnny Depp for that matter, just don't suit my own vision of the book), we decided to reread it, since Davy (now 4.5 years old) doesn't remember our last go-round.

The kids enjoyed it so much that they went scrambling to the bookshelf to find more books by Roald Dahl (hint -- move your cursor over the Glass Elevator), and we decided to have an RD festival. We just finished Fantastic Mr. Fox, with fantastic illustrations by Jill Bennett -- whose I much prefer to Quentin Crisp -- and have started Danny, the Champion of the World.

I've read that Dahl's family gave him a rather Viking-type funeral when he died in 1990. They buried him with his snooker cues, some red wine, chocolates, HB pencils and a power saw, the last of which seems very appropriate for some of the adult fiction he wrote. Not a bad substitution, by the way, for those Goosebumpish books.

June 22, 2005

Opting Out

Read an interesting article in today's New York Times. You have to register, but it's free and then you're set.

The article is about the refusal of mainstream scientists, including Dr. Kenneth Miller of Brown University, to testify or otherwise participate in the Kansas State Board of Education's hearings this spring on what the state's schoolchildren should be taught about evolution. According to the Times, "they offered two reasons for the decision: that the outcome of the hearings was a foregone conclusion, and that participating in them would only strengthen the idea in some minds that there was a serious debate in science about the power of the theory of evolution." The hearings are, as Eugenie Scott, director of the National Center for Science Education, described them, a show trial: "We are never going to solve it by throwing science at it."

Dr. Alan I. Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, concludes: "Evolution is not the only issue at stake. The very definition of science is at stake."

I'll have to see if the library carries Dr. Miller's book, Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution, mentioned in the article.

June 20, 2005

A little help and individualized attention

From the local rag, today's issue, we learn that the local public school division has reduced the work hours of its schools' support staff, and, according to Jane Smith, president of the local union chapter as well as librarian at our nearby elementary school, "it is affecting the quality of education students are receiving":
Smith said, "One of the things that is insidious about hours cut is that you have less time to be there, less time to do what you're supposed to be doing and give your services, without actually disappearing all together. Parents might believe that there's as many services as there always were, but there's a difference." She said the hours are being cut because the school board says they don't have the money, but offered evidence to suggest otherwise. "This is a choice. We know this board has money for what it wants to spend money on. For instance, they spent $900,000 this year to bring wireless service within the division, when SuperNet is coming and will be up and running in the fall. So they have $900,000 to spend on what they want to spend it on. The technology is being serviced, the children are not," said Smith.

The reduction comes on top of cutbacks implemented in September and December. For teaching assistants, hours went from 1,400 last year to an expected workload of 1,075 for next year. The reduced hours are impacting teaching assistants, librarians, receptionists and in some cases, caretakers, but Smith says children are the ones who are impacted the most. In the case of her own hours, Smith said she will be in the library only one third of the number of hours she worked last year. "That affects the children in a lot of ways. It stops us from doing effective reading programs. It stops the children from having access to somebody who can help them find what they're looking for."

"'If you're a TA and you're not there, you're not there. If you have a special needs child that you're working with, that child still needs the amount of hours they always needed. They're still in school the same amount of hours, they just don't get the help that they need for as many hours," said Smith. Smith said another change is that the school board has directed that TA's are to only be assisting special needs children, and not children who just need a little bit of extra attention. "A little help will put them into the area where they succeed. Without that little help, they're not succeeding. A little help with reading, a little help with math. A little individualized attention in any area, and those children aren't going to get that anymore," said Smith.

Without support staff working full time, teachers will be forced to take on extra responsibilities and Smith said that will further decrease the amount of teaching time available to students. "All of us do the jobs we're good at. The less hours we're there to help, the more you have teachers who are having to fill in those spaces. You have teachers in the library doing library work. That's not what teachers should be doing. Teachers should teach," said Smith.

The school board superintendent did not return this reporter's phone call before press time.

Smith said concerned parents should contact their Member of the Legislative Assembly, the superintendent and their school trustee. "Parents have a terrific amount of power. They should exercise it."
We did, a year and a half ago, when we pulled our eldest out of first grade. She was a year ahead of her classmates and no-one, from her teacher to the principal, seemed to think the situation required any help, little or otherwise, or individualized attention. No matter -- we found a very nice way to guarantee our own kids lots of help and individualized attention. No SuperNet, though.

June 19, 2005

Help for the poor piping plovers

We heard on the news the other week that nests of piping plover eggs along the shores of Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan are being moved to higher ground, since a surge in water levels began threatening the birds. The rain that flooded High River, Calgary, and Medicine Hat in the last week is having an effect across the border as well. I'll see if I can link this article at CBC, but in case that doesn't work, here are some of the interesting bits:
A dramatic rise in river levels is threatening an endangered species of bird that nests on the shores of Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan. There are an estimated 115 piping plover nests buried in the sand at the Saskatoon-area lake, but more than half of them could be wiped out by rising water levels in the days ahead, said Glen McMaster of the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority. 'This water is going to be rising so quickly that many of these nests will be flooded,' said McMaster, an ecologist with the watershed authority's habitat protection branch.

The problem stems from the recent torrential rainfalls in Alberta, which are pushing water along the South Saskatchewan River into the lake. Earlier this week, forecasters predicted that lake levels could rise as much as three metres by the end of June. Eight to 10 people are racing against time trying to move as many of the nests as they can, but it's delicate work, McMaster said. The nests, shallow bowls a centimetre or two deep, must be carefully transferred to dishes and then moved away from the shore a few metres at a time, he said. If they're moved too far, too quickly, the mothers won't be able to find them.

Piping plovers were nearly hunted to extinction at the end of the 19th century and have been on endangered species lists worldwide for many years. Saskatchewan is home to about six per cent of the global population.

The sad part, McMaster said, is that it had looked earlier like it was going to be a record year for nests and adults on the lake. The people at work now hope to save about 50 nests – each typically with four eggs – but the rest could be lost. "It's frustrating," he said. "We're trying to minimize the damage at this point."

And in case you're wondering about Lake Diefenbaker, it's named after Canada's 13th Prime Minister, the charismatic John Diefenbaker. Here's a nifty and thoroughly unofficial website all about this great Canadian.

June 16, 2005

New blog on the block

Does the world really need another blog? No. But I thought I'd see if a cranky Luddite could manage one, and so far with blogger.com it does seem possible.

I also thought it might be nice to have a daily record of our life and our homeschooling journey, especially since I've had no luck whatsoever over the past 35 or so years with the usual pen and paper approach, and of course a place to pass along all the nifty links and sites one comes across.

The one problem I can foresee is having trouble getting comfortable and personal enough to write interestingly. I'm cautious (okay, paranoid) anyway by nature and nurture, having grown up in the mugging capital of the world, 1970's NYC, and between the Internet and having children am even more so.