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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Compassion according to Jason Kenney and the UCP



This quid quo pro proviso of the United Conservative Party requires that a province must first be prosperous before a province can be caring and compassionate. From this statement, a number of questions arise.

First, at what point can a province consider itself prosperous? A recent article in the Globe and Mail addressed the complaints of Alberta's UCP leadership candidates about equalization payments to other provinces. It states that Quebec receives "$11 billion in equalization payments enjoying a budget surplus while Alberta has a $10.5 billion deficit and receives none." The reason for this seeming injustice is that Quebec taxes are almost twice that of Alberta's. If both provinces were to tax their citizens at the Canadian average, Quebec would suffer a deficit and Alberta would be enjoying the surplus.

However, implementing a sales tax would be tantamount to political suicide for any ruling party in Alberta. That's despite the fact that, according to the Conference Board of Canada, Albertans enjoy the highest per capita income in Canada, among the highest in the world.


One in eight Albertans over the age of 21 earns over $100,000 a year according to the more recent census and 21% of families have a combined income of over $100,000 a year.  Although many families have suffered over the recent drop in the price of oil and gas, others have still prospered.

Second, the prosperity of a province can be measured as an aggregate however it is felt by individuals. When does a person feel prosperous enough to be caring and compassionate? To help answer this question, I'll assume that people feel prosperous enough when they are happy. Fortunately, social scientists have studied this very question.

Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel prize winner in economics, and his partner Angus Deaton of Princeton University completed a study that gave happiness and income a number, $75,000 U.S.. That's the number people will find joy, affection and tranquility and no matter how much above $75,000 their incomes may rise, they don't report any greater degree of happiness . Below that number, people get weighed down by the everyday issues of making a bill payment or necessary purchases. If we convert those American dollars to Canadian, we get a number closer to $100,000 so  approximately 21% of families would have enough money to make them happy and thereby prosperous

Those who have studied people's satisfaction with their income have discovered that only those earning an income of $500,000 U.S. or above are 100% "very satisfied" while those earning $75,000 to $100,000 U.S. are 69% "very satisfied," 27% "somewhat satisfied" and 4% "somewhat" or 'very dissatisfied."

So if a person's to be considered prosperous only when they're "very satisfied" with their "income and life," then Alberta has a long way to go.

A third question and perhaps the only one that matters, is whether or not a relationship actually exists between prosperity and compassion and caring. Perhaps not surprisingly, the answer seems to be a resounding no.

In fact, studies indicate exactly the opposite. Those people in the income range of $500K and above, are less likely to be compassionate and caring than those making $10K or less. When driver behaviour was observed at two intersections,  researchers discovered that none of the cars in the "beater category" drove through the cross-walk while those in fancy cars were less likely to stop. Apparently, BMW drivers were the worst.

In another study, people from different socio-economic backgrounds watched a video about children with cancer. Those from the lower end of the spectrum were more likely to speak with greater compassion about the victims and exhibit physiological responses such as a slowed heart rate associated with a greater attention to the feelings and motivations of others.

On a personal level, wealthy tourists on safari in Africa wouldn't stop to help my wife after we'd been involved in a serious car accident. Instead, our saviour was a native Kenyan driving who'd studied microbiology at the University of British Columbia. When he stopped, he had no idea we were Canadian. He must have felt compassion for us and the situation we were facing.

Paul Piff, a Berkeley psychologist involved in many of these studies, speculates that wealth provides a greater sense of freedom and independence from others. Those who rely less on other people are going to care less about their feelings. For the same reason, the poor people are better at reading other's emotions than the rich.

The fourth and final question must be, why would Jason Kenney and the UCP claim that Alberta must first be prosperous before it can be compassionate and caring when the statement is so preposterously false? Perhaps the relative wealth of those to whom they're trying to appeal may be a clue.


Wednesday, 25 October 2017

David Staples - A Reply

David Staples replied to my blog which was a bit of a surprise because, no offence to myself, I
wouldn't have. He breaks his comment into five different points. Point 1 states that my fight is with cognitive scientists and math profs, not him. He continues by stating that the science is settled here for now and I'm getting it wrong. Cognitive scientists are clear that fluency in basic arithmetic is a pre-condition to deeper understanding in math, to the ability to move on [to] do more complex math problems.

I must admit I had to reread my blog to understand what he was trying to say. After all, I thought I made it clear that I didn't know what made some students good at math and others not. However, after a reread, I realized that he's doubling down on his hubris by claiming that I may not know but he does. In short, it's "fluency in basic arithmetic." For support, I needed to go down to point 5, where he states that my "own research is unimpressive." Just to make this clear David, I did not do research. That's my point. I will leave that to the experts.

He goes on to name two people that I should read regarding the need for diligent practice, four "top cognitive scientists" about the need for fluency and another two so that I can learn what they say about constructivist math curriculum. And then what? I realize what a genius David Staples is? That he's not full of hubris. That, in fact, the Alberta government and every math teacher in the province should listen to what he has to say because he knows what's best for the students?

Why would I? I'm just not that interested. David's the one with the fascination in the math curriculum and what's going wrong with it. I don't teach math. My children don't go to school right now and when they did, they excelled at math. My fascination is with his fascination.

In point 2, he states that "math illiteracy has doubled in [the] last decade in Alberta." When I googled this statistic I discovered in Mr. Staples own article that states this statistic applies to an international test taken by Grade 4 students in 2015 that indicates that math illiteracy rose from six percent in 2011 to 13.2% in 2015. Disturbing yes, but what's the reason?

He goes on to say that he's fighting for a noble cause by saying that it's the "most vulnerable students [hit] hardest as they sometimes lack parents who can afford tutoring or can teach math basics themselves." In point 3, he makes clear that he's fighting the good fight because the "educational establishment has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to even recognize the issue in math, let alone take any responsibility for it or agree it needs fixing." Yet, in his June article, David wrote that, with the K-12 math curriculum rewrite, Alberta's Minister of Education David Eggen staid "We are going to focus like a laser on improving math outcomes." One might say that was taking responsibility.

In point 4, if you're still with me, Mr. Staples says the push for the use of discovery math in the classroom was "driven by careerism and a distaste for previous practices in teaching math, not be by sound research." On what evidence does he make these claims?  Does he personally know the people involved in the "discovery math overhaul of curriculum?" If he does, have they spoken to him about career advancement and a hatred of past practices?

What I do know of teachers is that, except for the rare exception, they want what's best  for their students.  I also understand that teachers make up a large portion of a curriculum review and they are not careerist. How far can they go? How much room is there for advancement? For any of them to believe that promoting discovery math would help their "career" is pure folly. 

Instead of motive, Mr. Staples attributes on me an attitude. That is, my "attitude on the science of learning comes off at the level of Global Warming Denial." I don't know what my "attitude" to the science of learning is but I can state what my attitude to learning is. In point of fact, I am unaware of having an "attitude" on the science of learning. I do, however have on attitude about learning which is that people, both young and old, learn in different ways.

About science, I will say this. Mr. Staples uses statistics to make a connection between poor results in math competency tests and discovery learning. Statisticians use a technique called the null hypothesis when attempting to make a relationship between two phenomenon. That is, their default position is that there is no connection. In this case, a null hypothesis would be that there is no connection between the Grade 4 math results and discovery math. If that hypothesis can be rejected, then there must be a relationship.

In my blog, I suggested that there may all kinds of reasons for Alberta's poor math results in the 2015 International Math and Science Study exam. One of them could be the use of discovery math. However, research is required in order to reject that null hypothesis. To assume that the relationship exists is pure hubris.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

The hubris of David Staples.


David Staples - Hockey Report
David Staples is an interesting kind of guy. His primary interest is hockey which he writes about and produces a podcast about entitled, "The Cult of Hockey." Nevertheless, that doesn't stop him from pronouncing his expertise in other areas. For the last four or five years, one of his primary concerns has been Alberta's math curriculum. Why he should write so prolifically on the subject or feel so passionately is a bit of a mystery. More mysterious is why he considers himself an expert on the subject.

Alberta Education just released the results of the Provincial Achievement Tests and Diploma Exams. For the first time, the students were given a written, no-calculator portion of the test which 1/3 of Grade 6 students failed. In other respects the results for both PATs and Diploma exams were much the same as last year. Grade 9 math PAT results were slightly down from last year while the Diploma results in math were slightly up. Pretty boring stuff, right? Yet David gets right into it.

He responded on Twitter linking the related Edmonton Journal article with the comment, "Tragic that 1/3 of AB Gr. 6 students can't do basic arithmetic. But at least we know how low we have sunk." That said, he goes on to praise David Eggen, Minister of Education for bringing in the timed tests without

calculators in Grade 6. He retweeted Gary Feltham's tweet "It's pretty sad that my father got a better math education in rural Newfoundland in the 1940s that do students nowadays." Why? Does Mr. Staples really believe this? Does he even know what's expected of students working with math in the job market?

Recently I took a first year Real Estate Math course through Sauder Business School at the University of British Columbia. One of the main objectives of the course was to learn how to use a business calculator which was frustrating because the real work of this math is not done through the long drawn-out process of punching huge strings of numbers into a calculator. It's done by using an excel spreadsheet where the user can program complicated formulas into a long list of numbers that can be checked for accuracy. How would a 1940 math education in rural Newfoundland have helped me with the real-world math of appraising house prices?

In an article published just before the municipal elections was entitled Culture wars heat up school trustee races," David claimed that “the culture wars around various educational issues have exploded into the political realm” and that “debates rage on topics ranging from gay-straight alliances to the ideological slant of the professors writing our new school curriculum.”

What debates? If the debates actually exist, how are they related to a "culture war"? Culture has many definitions and almost none make sense here. Unless he means the recent emphasis on First Nations in the present and proposed social studies curriculum? But he doesn't say that so is it a dog whistle? Bad writing? Who knows?

He further claims that educational issues have exploded into the political realm. Well, who's responsible for that? Could it be the same guy who's claiming it to exist. He began his diatribes with the introduction of the new math curriculum when Dave Hancock was the P.C. Minister of Education. No question, the performance of Alberta students in math has slipped according to the PISA scores last updated by the Conference Board of Canada in 2014. That said, of all the provinces only Quebec received an A rating while Alberta, Ontario and B.C. all received a B.

Researchers who had investigated the reasons for Quebec's superior performance concluded that the result of intensive teacher training and a curriculum balancing math drills with problem-solving approaches. For example, elementary school teachers in Quebec must take 225 hours of university courses in math training while in other provinces it can be as little as 39. I believe the University of Alberta requires about 90.

According to the a Globe and Mail article published in 2014, "Alberta, which fared above-average in the test scores, has been the only province to bend to pressure from parents for curriculum changes." David Staples is at least partially responsible for those changes since he's been on a back to basics campaign since 2014.

So, instead of using real research that's been done by professionals, Alberta has chosen to focus on a pedagogical practice that may have little or no impact on student performance. After all, the "new math" as Mr. Staples likes to call it, may or may not have led to a drop in student performance. Perhaps, there's another factor at play. Could it also be possible that the bump of experienced teachers began to retire about this time and replaced by new ones possibly not trained to the extent of their Quebec counterparts? Who knows? That's what research is for.

Besides math, how did Quebec students perform on the other PISA tests? They received "Bs" in both inadequate and high-level scores in reading skills while Alberta received and "A" and a "B" respectively. In science, Quebec received PISA scores of "D" in high-level and "B" in inadequate while Alberta received "A"s in both. So, where would you rather send your child?



Students in Brad Wall's Saskatchewan, Jason Kenney's paragon of how a province should be run, scored abysmally on the PISA tests with a "D" in high level reading, "C" in high level math and a "D" in high level science. Competing in university with students from Alberta must be very difficult for students from Saskatchewan.

So, why are we not listening to the professionals at least partially responsible for these excellent results? Why are we even engaging with David Staples who spouts off theories as facts and anecdotes as proof? After all, we all have anecdotes. I have three children who have all pursued math related careers.

My eldest daughter received a perfect score on the Math 30 Diploma exam, graduated with an Engineering degree from the U. of A. and then went on to complete a PhD in Biotechnology from Cambridge University. My second daughter has a geophysics degree from the U. of A. and works for an oil company in Calgary. My youngest just graduated with a science degree specializing in computing science and works for a start-up in Calgary. They all come from a small town without the benefit of specialized programs like the I.B. or parents who could help them. After all, my wife and I are social studies teachers.

Besides bragging, there's no point to this story whatsoever. It's just an anecdote. There could be any number of reasons my children did well in math. It could be that they didn't like us and wanted to pursue careers that would make them as different as possible. It could be that they were encouraged to pursue the science because they'd witnessed the frustration their parents had experienced with parent and the public who think they know better how to do their job. Or, they could just be geniuses which may be the case however I can say that they worked awfully hard to be that way.

The problem is that for anyone to figure out why they succeeded in math and science where my wife and I didn't would require research. Research is a scary thing for those of us who are not involved. We like to think that we have greater control of our existence, that our intuition can tell us the right answer. Unfortunately, that's becoming more and more not the case. We are entering a world where machines tell us how to get to a location, what restaurant we might like in the area, how long it will take to go home and, in the not-too-distant future, drive us there.

Like most of the rest of us, David Staples is afraid of that future. He'd rather hide behind the facade of gut-feeling, to pick and choose his anecdotes and find comfort in the belief that, if only given a chance, he and his readers can gain greater control of his existence. After all, they grew up memorizing their mathematics tables. What's good for him is good for his children. But is it?

My children work with math everyday and it has nothing to do with basic math. Their math involves spreadsheets and formulas, algorithms and massive quantities of numbers that would require many individuals many lifetimes to calculate using basic math. Memorizing times-tables may be a good learning experience on its own (only research could tell) however don't pretend that's what our children are going to be using in the future.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Jason Kenney, the "unity' guy

In his campaign to become the United Conservative Party leader, Jason Kenney claims "it's time to Unite Alberta and bring back the Alberta Advantage."  He includes a commitment to unity in his banner 'Jason Kenney - Experience, Leadership, Unity.'


Ironically, he's the most divisive politician to enter Alberta Politics in recent memory. He uses dog whistle politics to question the heritage of First Nations people, the right of LGBTQ students to join a Gay Straight Association in school without being outed by their parents, accused the NDP of an ideology conspiracy and the use of social engineering to indoctrinate our young people, and called the politics of millennials a product of hardwiring collectivist ideas and identity politics. 

Lots of people hate Rachel Notley. She called Albertans the embarrassing cousins when referring to Alberta's environmental record; a huge strategic mistake probably the consequence of hubris after having just won a shocking majority for her NDP government. However, since that time, I've found no effort on her part to pit one group of Albertans against another. I couldn't even find a comment she might have made about George Clark's attempted 'kudutah." A more naive, ignorant effort to impact Alberta politics could hardly be imagined. Yet, to criticize George would have been to criticize his supporters. After all, cousins may be embarrassing but they're still part of the Alberta family. 

Jason Kenney likes to compare himself to Ralph Klein but Ralph never used social issues to divide the electorate. And, when he did, he apologized and humbly admitted to a serious drinking problem. During the recession of 1995, Ralph appealed to the public sector to roll back wages by 5%, I was in a room full of teachers who agreed to it. The problem was that he also  eliminated 4500 civil service jobs and 43% of all nursing positions, and cut funding for public kindergarten and didn't restore wages and jobs when the recession ended

Yet, Ralph was not known for using social issues or dog whistles to advance his agenda. After all, he knew the feeling of what it's like to be at the receiving end. In February of 2006,  Ezra Levant, a long-time fan of Jason's, published a story in his political magazine complaining about the influence of Colleen Klein on the political life of her husband. He stated that, "Once she [Colleen] stops being the premier's wife, she goes back to being just another Indian." Despite outrage from MLAs and a number of aboriginal groups, Ezra stood by his comment. Like a gentleman, Ralph refused to engage.

Jason demonstrated his disdain for aboriginal people and their heritage in June of 2016 when he tweeted that "on Aboriginal Day, we honour those  those who first settled Canada and their generations of descendants." What does this mean? Are they immigrants just like the rest of us? And, as immigrants, how can they have been nations when the French and British first arrived? And, if they weren't nations, how can they have signed treaties?

More recently, he's stated that the new social studies curriculum is "predictably riddled with politically correct themes like colonialism and oppression and climate change." I wonder, in what way is colonialism a politically correct theme? After all, according the Oxford Dictionary, colonization is "the action or process of settling among and control over the indigenous people of an area."

Ultimately, wouldn't the colonization of the First Nations peoples be an essential component of Canadian history? How else could I be here if my ancestors hadn't conquered these peoples and then removed them from the land I now inhabit? And wouldn't conquering a people and colonizing their land require some the oppression of those people? So, how could these be politically correct themes? Unless, of course, they were settlers just like us and like us, welcomed others to provide labour for our businesses and industry.

Besides the bizarre nature of these statements, I wonder how Jason can believe they will help unite Alberta? Or, are they meant to appeal to a certain segment of Albertans? Those who don't recognize the rights of indigenous peoples? And, does he even care about how his comments might be perceived by First Nations peoples? Or perhaps, he thinks his dog whistle is cleverly disguised as truly honouring the First Nations peoples.

Jason created a similar rift with the LGTBQ community when he stated that parents should be notified if their son or daughter joins a Gay Straight Alliance in school. He told the editorial board at Postmedia in Calgary that "parents have a right to know what's going on with their kids in schools unless the parents are abusive. I don't think it's right to keep secrets from parents about challenges their kids are going through." Except perhaps, if one of the students biggest and most feared challenges is informing his or her parents about their sexual orientation.

Bill 10, making GSAs mandatory if students request them, was introduced Laurie Blakeman, Libertal MLA as a private members in 2014. The bill received from all three parties and became legislation after a vote of 31 MLAs for and 19 against.

David Eggen, Minister of Education, called Jason's views extremist. Laurie Blakeman
tweeted ,"Dear #jkenney Remember, #GSAs were created to address the astonishing #s of young gay students committing suicide. Access to GSAs helped." K.D. Lang questioned Jason's own sexual orientation when she tweeted, "You're gay aren't you? @jkenney."

Could Jason's youth steeped in Catholic orthodoxy have prompted him to revisit this emotionally charged issue? (See "Nutty Jason Kenney, A History: Part 1) Does he see it as a way to bolstering support from his base? Or perhaps, he believes that outing LGBTQ students to their parents would be good for the student. Or perhaps, it doesn't matter so long as "parental rights" are observed.

Jason recently accused the NDP of carrying out a secret agenda with the current Alberta school curriculum review. As proof, he cites the fact that the names of teachers and professionals on the committee charged with the review were not released. Initially, my wife used her rights under Alberta FOIP legislation to prevent the publishing of her name. Like others on the committee, she had seen and heard the kinds of vitriols posted on Twitter against Rachel Notley and other members of her caucus and didn't relish the possibility of similar types of abuse.

Initially, my wife wondered why the publishing of the committee members' names mattered. After all, she'd participated in a number of social studies reviews, the first under Lyle Oberg, then PC Minister of Learning back in the early 2000s and then another when Dave Hancock was Minister. No demands from the opposition had been made for the names to be made public at that time and no accusations were made of secret PC agenda. However, after hearing Jason's accusations of a secret NDP agenda, she retracted her rights under FOIP and agreed to have her name published.

Jason expounded his "expert" views on the curriculum in a conversation with the Edmonton Journal back in August. He said the curriculum should "impartially transmit essential knowledge and skills to young people so that they can come to their own political and moral judgements about issues. I see that the language of that curriculum . . .  echoes of social engineering, telling young people what to think, rather than how to think, rather than quipping them with knowledge and facts and skills." He continues to say that the reason the NDP is proceeding in secret is because "the NDP has a political agenda at play here."


Jason speaks with the authority of a radio talk-show host with only dubious support for what is said. For example, how can a curriculum "impartially transmit essential knowledge and skills" and teach students "how to think rather than quipping them with knowledge and fact and skills"? How is not publishing the names of those participating proof of a secret NDP agenda? What does he mean by social engineering? Does he really think it only means teaching students what to think because the dictionary states that it's "an attempt to manage social change and regulate the future development and behaviour of a society"? If he means the latter, how can a school curriculum possibly achieve that goal? Or does he not care? Is Jason's real goal to create suspicion and anger? And, how does that help unite Alberta?

In a June, 2016 interview with Ezra Levant of Rebel Media, Jason states that "the big challenge which I don't have an easy answer is how to address the prevailing political attitude of millennials . . . I think it's the first generation to come through a schooling system where many of them have been hardwired with collectivist ideas with watching Michael Moore documentaries, with identity politics, from their primary and secondary to their universities. "


What does Jason Kenney know about millennials? Upon what does he base his judgement? He isn't a millennial and he doesn't have children He works 18 hours a day so when would he have time to get to know one? He refers to concepts that he doesn't seem to understand. For example, the equivalent in the brain to hardwiring in a computer would be the same as the anatomical make-up of the human brain at birth. If collectivist ideas are hard-wired at birth, no education system could change that.

Does Jason know that collectivist ideas and identity politics don't easily mix? Identity politics emphasizes individual rights and freedoms with respect to race, religion, sexual orientation or social background. Collectivist ideas require trading some of those rights and freedoms for the benefit of the group.

Identity politics depends on the protection of individual rights and freedoms as set out in our constitution. In 2006, a school board in Quebec refused to allow a Sikh student to carry a kirpan in school that is both a dagger and a religious object. The case was taken to the Supreme Court who overturned the ruling by the school board and Quebec's attorney general.  So, in this case, as in many others, the student's identity, as it's expressed in his religious rights, won out over a the school board's concern for the safety of the student body.

Does truth matter to Jason Kenney or would he rather push emotional buttons on social issues that divide Albertan? He's told millennials they have a "political attitude" that needs fixing. That teachers "hard-wired" students to accept collectivist ideas. Members of the Alberta curriculum review are part of a secret agenda to impose NDP ideology on students using a strategy called "social engineering" that brings up images of the Soviet Gulag.

According to Jason's "Grassroots Guarantee," he'll look to the "grassroots" of his party to create policy. But who will that grassroots include? Students? Millennials? First Nations? The LGTBQ community? Public service workers? Environmentalists? Or will he create a deeply divided political environment where only some people will feel welcome to engage in the political process?












Saturday, 16 September 2017

Hurricane Irma Relief Funds - some ideas

For those interested in helping with the hurricane relief, there are a number of efforts in place and the best way to support them is with money. The Center for International Disaster information encourages people not to send food, clothing and household items. They say
Sorting clothing - Slave Lake
that it causes problems with transportation and logistics that actually interfere with more urgent needs. 
I know we spent hundreds of man hours sorting clothes in Slave Lake after the 2011 wildfire with very little benefit. In the end, we had truck loads of clothing left over that could not be disposed of in the community. Much was sent to landfill


To donate money, the Hurricane Irma Relief Fund has been endorsed by the New York Times and Newsweek  magazine with a 4/4 star rating from Charity Navigator. Donations first go to the survivor's needs for food, fuel, clean water, hygiene products and shelter. Once those needs have been met, funds will be used toward long-term support for survivors. I would assume this would be to help the rebuilding of infrastructure and homes. Best of all, these long-term efforts will be run by local, vetted organizations. Local equipment owners and operators can often respond more effectively to an emergency situation than a central organization deciding what will be best for them. 
Volunteers needed Cuba
The Centre for International Disaster Information greatly discourages volunteering in areas affected by disaster. However, such is not the case with Cuba. According to Canadian Global Response, volunteers are needed there. If you've developed a special connection with Cuba and want to help, you can phone 1-403-512-5261 for volunteer opportunities or donate towards Hurricane Irma relief. 




Care Canada also provides emergency assistance to Cuba for water, sanitation, hygiene and household supplies. They also have a number of ongoing projects as outlined on their webpage such as promoting sustainable livelihoods, disaster risk and emergency response, (ideas that could be borrowed by the U.S. whose response in the past has been much worse than Cuba's), and learning partnerships.

If you have any other ideas of how to help the victims of Hurricane Irma, please add in the comments. Thanks. 


Havana before Irma
Havana - After