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The History Collective

“… some are more equal than others.”

I will admit to being very excited to write this post because I get to talk about one of my favourite subjects – political allegory. One of my favourite books is Animal Farm. I first encountered this book in Grade 11 and the story has never left me. In fact I bought Pink Floyd’s Animals shortly after finishing the book It was one those books that made me aware of a wider world and how words can be used to bring awareness to issues of social injustice. At the time, this idea was revolutionary and as time has moved on, I have maintained an interest in seeing how allegory can be used to educate and advocate for change. Continue reading ““… some are more equal than others.””

New Pedagogy and Transformative Education

Back in the mists of time when I was in my undergrad people would ask me what I wanted to do for a job. My response was always to be a university history professor. Usually, that was the end of the conversation. There were instances where the person would press me and ask why. It did not take me long to develop a repertoire of stock answers. One of my favourite was that at university I would be teaching people who wanted to be there. In my mind I had envisioned the perfect Platonic classroom in which students would be always engaged, they would discuss interesting and important topics with a high degree of sophistication, and then after a rousing seminar on Jean Bodin’s role in articulating the origins of French absolutism, we would all head over to a oak paneled club where the conversation would turn to comparing literary tropes found in Boccaccio’s Decameron and the 1001 Nights. Needless to say, I was disabused of this delirium in short order.

What made me think of this was Michael Fullan’s article, “The New Pedagogy: Students and Teachers as Learning Partners.” In his article, Fullen begins by addressing what

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he referred to as the push-pull factor of schooling. On one hand, students find schooling increasingly boring. He points to the stat that kindergarten children have a 95% satisfaction rate which by time students hit grade 9 the rate drops to 37%. As disappointing as this trend is, it is not completely surprising. Although there has been considerable efforts made to modernize the school system, the fact is most schools are still primarily little changed from their 19th century origins. The result is that a lot of the natural curiosity of a child is eventually suppressed in the effort to grade the student. In this case, the EQAO bears considerable responsibility as it focuses on the ability of students in grades 3, 6, and 9 to answer test questions with little regard for the vast variety of learning styles of these students. It is difficult to be engaged in learning if all you’re doing is learning facts to repeat every three years.

 

This is one half of the problem identified by Fullen. The pull factor is that there is also a corresponding decline in teacher satisfaction. The figure ranges from 40-50% satisfaction. These numbers certainly suggest that there are problems with the current school system. There are several reasons for this. One, it is easy to fall into a routine, especially with the busy lives teachers lead. I know there were times it was easier to use past lectures that had worked in the past than sit down and revise them. The system also makes it difficult. It is structured for a 19th century industrial society that only required rudimentary literacy and numeracy skills. Also, it was based on educational theory that emphasized rote learning over what we would now recognize as student-driven or inquiry based learning.

However, Fullan is correct to note that simply embracing innovation, especially in the context of technology, is not a solution either. As seen in the experience with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), what began as a brave new world of delivery higher education as retreated as the limitations of online courses became more apparent. It seems people still prefer to have access to an actual teacher. The prophets of disruption who claimed that technology would replace teachers have come up a little short. This is not to say technology has no role. Quite the contrary, technology can bring a lot of value to a class and can be the basis of rich and deep thinking on the part of students and teachers. The engagement with deep learning goals are referred to as the 6 Cs. 

In order to change the educational experience, I agree with Fullan that we need to work with students to design the 21st century school. They are interested in education that has real world impacts and as teachers, we need to be more conscious of how our teaching is relatable. This is not to suggest that the curriculum be watered down, but it means reassessing how things are done. It may mean reshaping the school day, it means ensuring the curriculum is interdisciplinary and is tied to the lived experiences of our students. It also means that teachers must transform their pedagogical practices to reflect the 6 Cs.

 

I will admit that I think there is value in some of the more traditional pedagogical practices, but there is no question the educational system would benefit from a major transformation. Educators need to be clear as well that as we transform the educational landscape, we are simply trying to entertain our students. Boredom may be an enemy of satisfaction, but whatever innovations we bring, they must be done with the purpose of instilling deep learning goals in our students to make them not just workers, or possessors of rudimentary knowledge, but fully developed people with a love of life long learning and a desire to explore their world in ways that we have not yet considered.

Global Citizenship and the Educational Divide

The idea of global citizenship can be traced back to as early as the 4th century BC with Socrates much repeated axiom that he considered himself a citizen of the world. Granted, Socrates’ world was much smaller than ours, and whether or not Socrates actually uttered the phrase or not is irrelevant, but the sentiment speaks to some

Portrait Herm of
“I went to Attica and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”

important truths that remain with today.

 

One of the underlying themes of this quotation is the idea that education knows no borders. Ideas, opinions, knowledge in an ideal world cannot be stopped. Thus for Socrates, global citizenship was seen as a result of education. However, the idea of global citizenship carries with other connotations.

I like to see myself as a global citizen. I have traveled to different parts of the world, I can speak another language passibly well enough that I can talk my way out of fight with a teenager trying to prove his masculinity. I have worked to educate myself about issues that impact different parts of the world. And yet, a large part of me remain wholly unaffected by the larger world around me. In contemplating this dichotomy, I have begun to realize that simply traveling to and reading about different parts of the world is not enough to justify my metaphysical global passport. As the current refugee crisis continues to unfold, global citizenship looks more and more like global responsibility.

This stands in stark relief in my community of Kitchener-Waterloo where the cities have taken in thousands of

Syrian refugees. As a global citizen, I have a responsibility to do my part in welcoming these people into the community; this may mean working to correct myths about the refugees, it may include being politically active to work towards solutions that are long lasting and will help preserve the dignity of these migrants, it means l

earning about government policy the local, provincial, and federal level and how these policies impact population migrations.

As someone who comes from the privilege of the global

north, I have the luxury of equating global citizenship with educational opportunities, but the fact is that the divide between the educated and non-educated is growing. Although there are major efforts to shrink this divide, political upheavals in the global south have prevented millions of children from receiving even basic education.

As efforts are made toart-2026066_960_720 shrink the educational divide, they must be informed by a humane approach to education. This is of relevance to teachers who may have children refugees in their classrooms. A humane educational approach will take into account the traumas experienced by these children as well as recognize that teachers have a responsibility to shrink the educational divide.

As the world continues to shrink, none of us can escape the reality of our global citizenship nor can we escape the responsibilities that citizenship places upon us.

 

Toulouse

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The front facade of St Sernin

So for the past week, I have traveling around the Haut Garonne. Based in the city of Toulouse, this has been a long awaited and deserved vacation.  Unfortunately, as with every trip, it is ending far too soon.  After seven days, I can certainly say that I have seen a lot and look forward to coming back to see many of the other things that I had to skip because of time constraints. Continue reading “Toulouse”

Never Forgetting and Never Remembering 9/11

I hadn’t planned on writing anything for the commemoration of 9/11. I know that there will be many other who will write more moving and thoughtful pieces about this anniversary. And I still maintain that, however this post was prompted by the controversy surrounding a mattress ad from Texas that showed two sales people crashing into two towers of mattresses.  It was tasteless, crass, offensive, but also I am ashamed to say, a little funny and not surprising.

The outrage that followed was predictable and justified.  3000 people died that day and the aftershocks are still being felt around the world fifteen years later with 100s of thousands dead and entire geopolitical regions destabilized and shattered.  The terrorists who flew those planes certainly have gotten a macabre rate of return.  For many, the memories of that day are still fresh, but missing from the outrage (the store was forced to close due to the controversy) is the reality of historical tragedies – they do get forgotten.  Obviously not forgotten in the literal sense, but the raw and throbbing wounds do close and in their place is the scar tissue of one line notices on a calendar.

While for many of us fifteen years ago seems like yesterday, but there is an entire generation that were not even born before 9/11 that are coming of age.  In addition are those born within 2-3 years of the event that have no memory of it.  For them, the wounds are not raw – 9/11 is history and not a shared experience. For them, 9/11 may very become what Pearl Habour is to my generation – something that happened a long time ago carrying no emotional meaning.  The first time I was made aware of the emotional forgetting came in 1999. I was teaching a class on the Cold War where I mentioned watching the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and how important that was to us as it marked the end of the Cold War and the beginning of hopes that we were entering into a new era of global peace (so much for the end of history).  In return I got blank stares. They were unaware of the fall of the Berlin Wall. It happened only 10 years earlier.  They were alive at the time, but there was no collective memory of it. What for me was a defining image of my life was one more dusty historical fact. And as much as we intone the modern credo “Never Forget,” one day there will be a generation that never remembered.

P5311643Jason Sager is a professor of history whose interests are wide ranging although his research focus is early-modern French intellectual history.  He loves a good eclair and sells historical and literary themed mugs through Old Berlin Designs (oldberlindesigns@gmail.com and facebook.com/oldberlindesigns) and can be reached on at facebook.com/jasonbsager and on twitter: @drjasonsager

“You want to work for how many hours?!”: A brief history of the Nine Hour Movement in 19th Canada.

This is a copy of a piece I wrote the Advocate, the official newsletter of Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association (WLUFA) for September 2016 in preparations for their contract negotiations with Laurier University.

Across this country, we celebrate Labour Day.  We celebrate the achievements won by labour movements of the past and present – our 5-day work week, 8-hour work day, the minimum wage, and not sending our children down into mine shafts. While every Labour Day is an important reminder of these hard-won victories, this year’s Labour Day holds particular significance for Contract Faculty at Laurier.  As we pivot from the hazy dog days of summer to the bustle of a new school year, we also are entering into the serious business of contract negotiations.

Continue reading ““You want to work for how many hours?!”: A brief history of the Nine Hour Movement in 19th Canada.”

Donald Trump: Tyrant of the United States of America

To be honest, I truly did not think that I would be still writing about Donald Trump as the presumptive Republican nominee as we now head into or careen out of control, depending on your point of view, towards the RNC Convention on July 18-21.  And yet, here we are.  The rise of a demagogue such as Trump is not unprecedented of course, but the fact that a major political party is about nominate someone so manifestly unfit for the Presidency of the United States has compelled me to add my own thoughts about what such an eventuality may mean for the country. Continue reading “Donald Trump: Tyrant of the United States of America”

Who owns the Colosseum?

One of the most enduring symbols of the Roman Empire has just been given a facelift.  Built under the reigns of the emperors Vespasian (69-79 CE), Titus (79-81 CE) and Domitian (81-96 AD), the Flavian Amphitheatre, or as it’s better known, the Colosseum has ignited the imaginations of generations of tourists, historians, archeologists and just about anyone else who has seen the structure either in person or a Google search. Continue reading “Who owns the Colosseum?”

Bringing the past up to speed: thoughts on digitization and its impact

When I was first asked to write for The History Collective, I was unsure what to talk about. I am not currently involved in any groundbreaking research, nor am I in the process of completing a PhD. I’ve been out of the game for a while, so to speak—a casual observer of academia more than a participant. A friend and fellow writer suggested that I produce a piece about digitization, something that I’ve been involved with intermittently over the past 5-6 years. At first thought, it didn’t seem all that promising. From 2011-2013, I supervised a two-year project to digitize a collection of 130,000 Second World War aerial photographs at LCMSDS, an interdisciplinary research center at Wilfrid Laurier University. The images are fascinating, definitely; but there’s little to say about the actual process of digitization. As I recently reaffirmed at another job—this time to digitize the municipal address records for the City of Waterloo—digitization is incredibly tedious work. It’s the final product that’s important, not the process itself. Continue reading “Bringing the past up to speed: thoughts on digitization and its impact”

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