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Inflation of high school marks: A false economy

February 12, 2013 Leave a comment

The system of education in Canada has put tremendous pressure on students.  Greater numbers of students flood post secondary institutions in hopes of gaining the requisite qualifications for a job in a particular field.  These post secondary institutions base their acceptance almost entirely on marks (though some also require supplementary essays and letters of reference as well).  The sole focus of senior high school students is marks.  They NEED them to continue their educational journey in hopes of a good career.  The sheer number of applicants to a program means that the minimum averages for a given program become inflated and students need higher and higher averages to even be considered for these coveted spots.

This crucible is exaggerated by the fact that astronomical averages can be bought at private schools, affectionately termed “marks mills”, by students who are known to their day school teachers not to have the skills and abilities to attain them via conventional public schools where teachers feel some moral duty to uphold academic standards.

Ironically, it was the Canadian Universities who fought for Full Disclosure Transcripts of students coming out of high school, which provided them with not only the top 6 marks of the student, but all of their marks from grade 11 and 12 as well as the number of times they have retaken a course to improve their average.  However, these same institutions have continued to accept the marks issued from dubious institutions, further perpetuating this situation.

Moreover, it seems that completion of a post secondary program does not mean what it used to.  Recent grads face staggering unemployment and underemployment.  CBC Doc Zone aired a documentary entitled “Generation Jobless” where they investigated the fact that Canadian post secondary institutions continue to graduate students despite the lack of demand.  This is most apparent in the number of Ontario graduates from Teacher’s College.  Perhaps the colleges and universities simply are not interested in what happens after their program ends, preferring to enrol students, put asses in seats, and laugh all the way to the bank.  The result is a population of young workers deeply in debt, under experienced, over educated, and dissatisfied with their job prospects.

Such a system does students a great disservice.  Marks are not the end goal; skills are the true target.  Marks are theoretically the communication of how developed a students skills are.  However, when students focus only on the marks, and ignore developing their skills and understanding, they have missed the point.  And perhaps they are not the only ones.  What is the purpose of the education system if not to equip our youth with the abilities to succeed in the world?

Given what we know about the prospects of getting a job in today’s current market, it almost seems advisable for a high school student to drop out of school, get a job apprenticing or volunteering in a particular industry when they don’t have any financial burdens, gain valuable hands on experience,  and either work their way up or start their own company?  This way at least they are free from debt, have some money in the bank, and are seemingly no worse off than if they had spent all that time in the education system.

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Choice: A Paradigm of Paralysis

January 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Most of us have been conditioned to believe that choice is a good thing in our lives, and that a wide breadth of choice will lead to greater personal freedom and therefore greater happiness.  To a limited extent this holds true.

Certainly the very core beliefs of Capitalism is that consumers should have the right to choose.  The result of this approach is that it creates a consumer driven democracy in which purchases are the ballots by which votes are cast.  In such a system a great responsibility lies in the hands of the consumers, though this power may be largely unrealized.

Social conscience, therefore, doesn’t rest in the hands of the companies.  This responsibility has also been downloaded onto the consumer–if the consumer didn’t agree, they wouldn’t vote for it.  At least this is what basic economic principles hold to be true.  (One must remember, however, that such theories also presuppose that consumers have “perfect knowledge” of the choices they are making, that is to say they are fully aware of all of the factors involved in their choice.  I dare say that is not the case)

Choice can be debilitating.

Consider chewing gum.  Likely we have all deliberated over the bevy of choices laid out near the cash register.  For discussion let’s say that there are 64 different flavours to choose from. Consider what choice you would make?  To make a truly informed decision, you would have to have tasted all 64 flavours.  Assuming you could distinctly recall what each one of those flavours was, you would now be in a position to decide.  It is likely, however, that you haven’t tried all the flavours and so can’t possibly know what you want.  So you guess.  After you have made your choice do you reconsider?  Do you wonder if there was another flavour which might have been even better?  How many other choices are made and then tinged by regret at the possibility that a different choice would have been more satisfying.

Consider the possibility that there were only three flavours of gum:  Blue, Green, and Red.  The choice would be much simpler and the likelihood of dissatisfaction would be drastically reduced, unless you’re like me and always choose blue despite the fact that green is a more pleasing mint flavour.

Chewing gum is a relatively simple task with only one variable: flavour.  Other decisions about more valuable purchases are much more complex with multiple variables and greater consequences for poor decisions.  It is overwhelming to try to make an informed decision about something like a camera and a computer if you are not already an expert in that area and fully understand all of the applications required for your use of the device.

Recently I bought a winter sleeping bag.  It took me nearly a month to reach a conclusion about the bag for me, and there were only three variables to consider: price, weight, temperature rating.  Agonizing over the decision consumed me.  How many hours did I spend pouring over websites and reviews?

This type of preoccupation with choices really inhibits our ability to act decisively.  It impairs our ability to move forward.  It is a modern mental paralysis.

 

Sandy Hook Shooting Massacre and Political Agendas

January 17, 2013 1 comment

The tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting reached many of us in a very profound way.  What could be more tragic than a deranged gunman slaughtering innocent children?  It strikes a chord in all of us.

In the weeks since the incident there has been much speculation online about the events of that day, particularly the seeming lack of genuine emotion on the part of those interviewed about the shooting.   Perhaps most notably, the medical examiner appears to be a macabre figure who offers odd answers to the questions he is asked, and seems to guffaw and chuckle at bizarre  times while giving cryptic responses about how good photographers can make anything look real.  One might chalk this behaviour up to as a strange man in a morbid profession and think no more about it.  Further examples of the alleged actors used to portray mourning parents and others are widely available online, and many videos explore these possibilities.  Certainly there has been a recent push by Obama to reform gun legislation.  Allegations suggest that such an incident is quite useful in moulding public opinion in favour of such reforms.

Watching videos on Youtube is a dangerous thing.  What are their sources?  Where do they get their information?
One of the websites mentioned in several of the videos is CrisisActors.org.  Here is what they provide in their own words: “Visionbox Crisis Actors are trained in criminal and victim behavior, and bring intense realism to simulated mass casualty incidents in public places.”  While the website has posted a firmly worded rebuttal of the recent allegations of their involvement in the Sandy Hook Shooting, it does beg the question why anyone would want to hire crisis actors to enact a large scale crisis like the large shopping mall catastrophe, as they describe on their homepage.  If one would like more information they are encouraged to click on a Visionbox link which will take the viewer to an acting guild website offering information about classes one can enrol in, productions and much more.

Whether due to recent traffic on the site or not, all pages for CrisisActors require email verification to view.
One video suggested that CrisisActors was owned by a larger corporation called Vision-Box.  Spelling isn’t communicated through audio, so when I Googled “Vision Box” the site at the top of the search was not about actors at all, but rather about a company whose business was providing personal identification systems (biometrics).  The company’s mission is to “Be the market leader in the design, development, manufacturing and commercialization of computer vision, biometric and electronic security systems.”   This refers to the identification of people based on fingerprints, facial imaging, retinal scans and other such information.  Vision-box offers a kiosk for this purpose.

Is there a connection between the necessity of creating and portraying realistic crisis scenarios and selling equipment designed to track people and ‘secure’ areas?  Perhaps they are opposite sides of the same coin: fear.  One is used to create fear, while the other is used to assure people against the possibility of that fear.

Driving Fallacies and Traffic

January 10, 2013 1 comment

Many of us commute to work via highways or freeways–supposedly uninterrupted channels of traffic flowing smoothly to their destination.  The reality, however, is a often a nauseatingly congested, stop-go-stop sweaty barnyard of honking maniacs trying to make time on their morning commute.

There seem to be a couple of presuppositions that contribute in a big way to these flutserclucks.

FALLACIES:
1.  You are in direct competition with other drivers. Don’t pad your wilting ego with the disillusioned idea that you have ‘beaten’ someone who wasn’t racing you.  It’s not a race. There are no winners.
2.  Preventing 1 car, 2 cars or 15 cars from merging in front of you will get you to your end destination faster.  Once moving at proper highway speeds, the distance of 20 cars (let’s say 400 feet) will take only seconds.  Keeping one or two people from merging ahead of you can only save you tenths of a second.

TRUTHS:
1.  Slow downs (accidents aside) happen most often at points where two streams of traffic are forced to merge. 
2.  Your actions can affect the column of traffic behind you.  Slamming on your breaks or coming to a stop will cause the driver behind you to act accordingly.  This reaction can echo back through the column indefinitely (unless there is a gap large enough to buffer the following cars).  This is reason YOU have found yourself in an infuriating gas-beak-honk scenario for the last 15 minutes.

RETHINKING OUR GOALS WHILE DRIVING:
The goal of driving is to propel the vehicle forward.  Instead of measuring the distance to the traffic ahead, think about keeping the vehicle rolling forward.  Isn’t that what we pay those high fuel costs for?  Preserve that forward movement instead of rushing ahead to stop.  (Laws of Physics and Inertia teach us that starting the motion of an object is most difficult–maintaining motion, comparatively easy)  Maintaining a steady flow can be achieved by creating space between you and the traffic ahead.  This space will ‘soak up’ the erratic starts and stops of other drivers and allow you to travel at a constant speed.
These gaps in traffic will inevitably be filled by others, which is not upsetting once you realize that their action doesn’t impact you arrival time by more than a couple of seconds.

BENEFITS:
1.  Wear and tear on your car:  Stopping and starting is hard on your brakes and your vehicle, not to mention the fuel savings of maintaining momentum. 
2.  Wear and tear on your patience:  Changing your focus will do wonders for your mood and level of stress and road rage, making the quality of your experience that much better.  If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.
3.  Space to accelerate:  When you have space ahead of you it makes changing lanes much easier; you have room to accelerate so you can catch those gaps in traffic. 
Drive with an understanding of the fact that we are all connected. Our actions impact those around us.
Not convinced?  Consider the impact on traffic if you were just to stop in your lane, get out and walk away.

Food System

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

For those of you who have not seen the documentary on the industrial food system FOOD INC, see it.  It does not try to shock the audience into an emotional response against meat. In fact, it is not anti-meat at all.  It does however shed some light on an industry that does not want light shed upon it.

This clip from the film is a wonderful overview of some of the issues and the ideas.  The farmer being interviewed, from Polyface Farms, is Joel Salatin.  I think he challenges the red neck stereotypes to which we might be prone, and certainly proves himself a very intelligent, well spoken expert in his craft.

Notable highlight from the Video:
-” A culture that just views a pig as a pile of protoplasmic, inanimate structure to be manipulated by whatever creative design the human can foist on that critter will probably view individuals within its community, and other cultures within the community of nations, with the same type of disdain, and disrespect, and controlling type mentality”  (Joel Salatin)

Pay particular note to the events at 3:15 of the video. (Point to follow)

Q: How did you react to the slaughtering of the chickens?

Having shown this to many, and witnessed hundreds of reactions, it seems that we tend to be horrified by the act of slitting the chicken’s throat.  Yes, it is a brutal act.  How many of us are more than willing to order wings at a restaurant, but don’t want to be shown the consequences of such a decision?  How disconnected have we become from the effects of our food eating habits?

Honest advertising

December 19, 2012 1 comment

Lots of ads these days use all kind of methods to deliver a kind of propaganda.  What if there was an ad that was entirely truthful about the effects of that product?  Would we be in a position to accept it?

Perhaps the alien aspect of the commercial is a bit of a stretch, but is this scene not being played out in coffee shops around the world?

Einstein come true

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Albert Einstein.  Undisputed visionary.

“I fear the day when the technology overlaps with our humanity. The world will only have a generation of idiots.”

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