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Saturday, 18 February 2017

Feeling - if it feels right, it's got to be right


I got my first teaching job with my wife in Fort Resolution. That was hard. I used to dream of turning the wrong way when we went to get groceries in Hay River. Instead, I'd drive toward freedom in the south. The residential school was still standing and, although it was no longer in use, you could still feel its effects. Binge drinking was among the worst. For some kids, school was their only refuge. Which was rewarding. I taught grades 2/3 and my wife taught grades 7/8. I took both classes for gym. They loved indoor soccer. And they were good. Really good. They were also artistic. Nicola's cousin taught Grade 2 in Vernon and wanted to exchange letters with my students. The contrast in drawing abilities was stark. When my students drew a person, she had bulk and depth. A ski-doo looked like a ski-doo. Then, Nicola got pregnant. She wanted to stay home with our future daughter. I took over
Nicola, our eldest, and our dog, Emily
her grade 7/8 class in the second year and she became incredibly lonely with only a new-born baby as company for most of the day.  At the end of that year, 
I blanketed the province of Alberta with resumes and got an interview to be the guidance counsellor in Viking, Alberta, home of the Sutter brothers. 

I was given an interim contract for one year but I needed to impress to get that contract extended. So, I volunteered to coach the boys’ junior high basketball team even though I'd never played the game outside a few high school gym classes. The boys were excited. They hadn't a team in Viking for years. Our first game was against Tofield, a larger school about 70 kilometres down the road. We got trounced. Not only did they know their positions, they had plays they could use to take advantage of our weaknesses. By the end of the second half the score was a tad lopsided and my players were getting a little bit testy. One pushed an opponent and then there was a lot pushing and my player got ejected and you'd think that would have been the end of it. But no, the assistant superintendent had been in attendance. We’ll call him Biff. Biff’s son was on the Tofield team and I don’t know whether his son was pushed or what but suddenly, my player who’d been ejected was not only barred from the league but suspended from school for a period of three days. Lets me make this clear. There was no blood, no scrapes, nothing more than battered egos and mostly on our side of the ball. 

My first teaching evaluation was by the superintendent.  He asked me why the class had behaved so well. Good lesson planning, I suggested. He still couldn't understand. Maybe that's the reason, Biff took over my evaluation. Maybe Biff could get to the bottom of my obvious incompetence. He came in during a health class which aren’t positive experiences at the best of time. For better of worse, nobody cares about health class; not the students, the teachers, the administration, or the parents. 

For some reason, I’d planned a role-playing exercise for my grade 9 class. What I was thinking, I don't understand except that maybe, I was trying to hit a home run instead of just getting on base. The assistant superintendent in Ft. Resolution had come in to my grade 2/3 class while we were making butter. This was an enrichment exercise tied to a story we'd read in their reader. That guy was really impressed. Biff was not. The kids did not behave. Probably because they'd never done it before. I should have given them worksheets, the meat and potatoes of most health classes back then. 
My students at recess in Ft. Resolution- always on supervision
At the end of the lesson, Biff had no suggestions nor did he ever visit my class again. In May, he called me into the assistant principal's class to inform me that my contract wouldn’t be renewed. When I asked why, he told me that it was a gut-feeling and he trusted his gut. He said, he liked to shoot from the hip. I had been given no written feedback for my evaluation nor was I being given a reason for my dismissal apart from the fact that he trusted his gut. I called him unprofessional and he exploded. After the health class, he said he'd told me to phone if I had anything to show him. I asked him how I was supposed to interpret that. He said I should have known. I told him that I would have known if I'd actually received something in writing. He told me to get out. I think he was afraid he was going to hit me. 

I couldn't understand his outrage. After all, I was the one being fired. Weirdly, losing that job was one of the best things that happened in my life and that of my family. The staff was great but the principal was an idiot. He was the president of the local ATA and I was the school rep so we drove to Ryley for the meetings. On the way back from one of these things, I complemented him on his Toyota Celica. He interpreted this as meaning I really wanted one. Then, he dropped me off at our house which was one of the biggest in Viking. I could feel the air go out of his balloon. I should have had him drop me off at the school. Our next conversation took place in his office in the evening after he'd had one too many drinks. I can't remember what he said because it made no sense. He definitely didn't like me anymore. 

Biff's explanation for my dismissal stuck as a gut feeling was just so stupid. Making decisions based on a gut feeling and shooting from the hip seems to be quite the fad lately. During the presidential debates, many of us wondered about Donald Trump. Everything seemed off the cuff like he couldn’t even read. Obviously, that was what a good chunk of the American population wanted. Someone who spoke to them. Someone who didn’t think. Someone who just felt. Someone who shoots from the hip because guess what, he’s “like, a really smart person.” That's why he doesn't need daily intelligence briefings. Not because he has the attention span of my goldfish. 

So, this is my theory. We can’t make decisions based on religion. Nobody understands science. So, what’s left. “Feeling.” I was intrigued by an interview of Trump supporters by Jordan Klepper for the “Daily Show”.  One guy in a “United States Army” ball cap says about Barack Obama, “He acts like a Muslim, he talks like a Muslim and he does the Muslim principles as far as the jewelry’s concerned.” “Jewelry?” Jordan asks. “Yah, certain months he doesn’t wear his wedding ring.”

A whole book?
That’s one of the dumbest comments I’ve ever heard. He must have gotten it from somewhere and sure enough, if you do a Google search of "Obama, Muslim, and ring," you’ll get all kinds of hits. For example, Jerome R. Corsi, a correspondent for the website “worldnetdaily.com”, says the inscription on Obama’s wedding ring reads “There is no God but Allah”. The website looks completely legit. Worldnetdaily.com looks like any other news site except it advertises Christian literature on its banner. Jerome R. Corsi doesn't look unlike Walter Cronkite, your quintessential veteran reporter. Who wouldn’t believe him? Except that I know that my grandma who I loved dearly referred to the Chinese as Chinamen and my grandfather thought the Chinese woul take over the world.

Of course, the ring accusation is ridiculous. There’s no prohibition against wearing jewelry during Ramadan and the reason Obama was not wearing his wedding ring during that brief period in September of 2010 was because it was out for repair. Besides, who could give a care if he was Muslim? (which he’s not. Let’s be clear on that.) Naheed Menshi, the mayor of Calgary is one of the most popular mayors in Canada. And this is Calgary, not exactly a hotbed of liberal thinking. 

Mr. Klepper ends his interviews with Trump supporters by wondering if they could back up their theories with “iron clad sources.” So, when he asked three people about their sources, one older lady replied, “just Facebook or twitter, everything” and Jordan rephrases her statement by saying that she just takes all the “facts and bullshit and . . . put[s] it all together” and she nods her head and replies, “yah.” To an older gentleman, he asks, “outside of no proof, what proof do you have” and the gentleman replies, “I don’t have any. . . my opinion” and finally, a younger lady replies to his question, “Do I have proof? No. Do I have articles? No,” and Jordan sums that up by saying “Your mind is made up without any information” and the segment ends with her reply that, “My mind is made up.”


This stuff fascinates me. How can people be so sure about a man and his ideas that they know nothing about? Trump’s the kind of guy that I meet at the bar or at an uncomfortable social gathering and he’ll be holding court to a group of guys, or worse, talking to me and at first, he sounds somewhat reasonable. What he’s saying sounds ridiculous but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he has support for his theories. And then, one theory leads to another and I realize, this is all bullshit and all I’m thinking is how do I escape. But, the Trump supporters not only tolerate the bullshitter. They like him and want to believe him. It feels right and so it’s got to be right. Just shoot from the hip and hope you hit the right target. 

Monday, 6 February 2017

Needs, the ultimate motivator

Having been a high school teacher for way too many years, I often wonder what adults would have been like when they were in school. And so, the world’s latest obsession, Donald Trump. As an adolescent, I was very late going through puberty. I used to see this when the junior high kids would come in to the swimming pool where I was lifeguarding. You’d see a bunch of girls blossoming into women and boys still very much boys with a very small number making the transition to manhood. The interactions between the two sexes at that age was quite comical.

Back in Grade 8, the first-time Rocky F. challenged me fight, I had no idea who he was.
Unfortunately, being a little too feisty for my own good, I accepted the challenge. I’ve never been a very bulky kind of guy but at least, prior to Grade 8, I’d been involved in competitive swimming, practicing twice a day and doing land exercises between. So, even though I was not big, I was strong and had been involved in the occasional fist-a-cuffs which were more like elaborate wrestling matches. With Rocky, I was easily outmatched. Ipso facto, I got my clock wiped and then, he challenged me again a few days later, I accepted and a few days after that as well.  I wanted to hurt him. Our last fight was not far from my house where one of my mom’s friends had seen the altercation and reported it to her. Not only was my humiliation known to my peers, my mom wanted to get involved.

After our third fight, Rocky wanted to be friends. For some reason, I accepted the invitation to his house. I recognized it immediately. It was the one where my brother and I and the kids across the back lane had played knock-a-door ginger except I had wanted to make it more interesting. Instead of running away, we would walk by the house like we’d been witnesses to a transgression and not the active participants. When Rocky’s mom came out of the house, we told her that we’d seen a bunch of kids going around the side and down the back lane.



She would have none of that. She told us to get into her house (which, for some reason, we did) and
We weren't cuffed
proceeded to phone my mom to tell her to come and get us. Mrs. F. was told under no uncertain terms, that we could find our own way home to which she responded by phoning the police. In short order, two officers arrived and, after a brief lecture, led us out to the squad car. We were just preparing to get in for a humiliating ride home when my dad showed up with the family dog in tow. My dad easily convinced the two officers that we could be released into his custody and that was the end of it. Being an elementary school principal, he knew when a kid’s been punished and learned his lesson and he figured my brother and I had learned ours. So, we walked home and that was that. We didn’t play with the kid from across the back lane again probably because my brother and I were considered bad influences. 

The day I accepted Rocky’s invitation, his mom either didn’t recognize me or preferred to forget all about our previous interaction. She was nice and Rocky was nice but also incredibly boring. We might have played a board game or two. I have no recollection. I never returned the invitation nor did I ever go back to his house and our interactions at school came to an end.

Donald Trump reminds me of Rocky. He’s like the kid who’s always trying to impress because he feels there’s no other reason a person would want to know him. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, his area of need would be esteem which, for a man of his age, is quite sad. Granted, the levels of public esteem to which Donald aspires  is well beyond the capacity of many of us, but who cares? By age 70, good health will make most of us happy.  And what billionaire, or very rich man at the age of 70, can think of little else to do with his time except augmenting his already considerable wealth and power and prestige? Wouldn’t his time be better spent purchasing mosquito nets to be distributed throughout the malaria infested areas of Africa ala Bill and Melinda Gates or purchasing technology for the less fortunate in the world or, at the very least, pledging to give away half his wealth to charity like Warren Buffet? No, Donald can proudly be included among the least charitable billionaires in the world.


I have greater hopes for Rocky. Like me, who pathetically accepted the invitation to his house, I’m sure Rocky has matured and changed. Donald, not so much, and the result could be disaster, not only for the world but the U.S. as well. And maybe, going back to Maslow, Donald’s supporters have the same need for esteem so obviously missing from his life. Feelings of superiority are always so precarious and filled with insecurities especially when they’re based on race, sex, sexual orientation, country of birth, or religion. Sometimes being human is to see the human in everyone. Sometimes, we should aspire to something greater than the approbation of others and the capacity to pursue something better in ourselves.