Montreal students hindered by thugs who break law with impunity

Click for Sun Media video.

What kind of society allows student law breakers — naive thugs — to take control of post-secondary schools and city streets without any consequences whatsoever?

Mexico? Syria? Somalia? No, actually, it is the City of Montreal in the Province of Quebec in Canada.

Strange, just a week ago, Matt Gurney of the National Post wrote that the Quebec government of Jean Charest had boxed the student’s into a corner. Well, who is in the corner now?

For example, check out this Sun Media link.  This morning some students, armed with a court injunction that would allow them to attend school, tried to enter Lionel-Groulx in Ste-Therese.

However, they were unable to do so because they were stopped by masked protesters. And, as readers can see in the photo above, the police just seem to be standing in front of the masked protestors doing nothing. 

So, what is going on there? Are we seeing another potential Caledonia when there is one law for most of society and one law for the thugs?

Well, in my opinion, it’s long past time for some tough love in Montreal.  Millions of students in other cities in other provinces are watching. What is the official inaction teaching them? What is ignoring injunctions teaching them? Plus, what kind of message is the inaction sending to terrorists around the word?

In other words, the Charest government has to stop the pandering and pussy footing around. Confirm the tuition fee hikes. Support the police to do their jobs.  And if protestors get hurt, or they lose their academic year, so be it. Such are the consequences of the students’ own actions!

No society, particularly a Western democracy can allow the continuous thwarting of the law.


Update: The Quebec Education Minister, Line Beauchamp, resigns. Here is a Google link to several sources that confirm that update. What difference her resignation is going to make is hard to understand given that many of the student groups want their own way — no tuition increases, if not no tuition fees period.  Like I said in this post, some tough love is needed because the Quebec students cannot get their own way given the tuition fees in rest of Canada are much higher. Plus, Quebec gets billions in equalization! a fabulous site for parents & H.S. graduates

In recent weeks I came across a fantastic U.S. website for parents and older students, such as those about to graduate from high school and wanting to find just the right college or university. It is located at and has just about everything a parent or older student would want or need, just  by clicking on each of their choice of drop down menus — all located on the header bar.

  • First there is a “Just Ask.” All a parent has to do is fill in their question and see if it has been asked before and what answers were forthcoming. However, if it has never been asked before, there is a place to ask a new question. To do that, visitors would have join the site by scrolling up to the right corner where it says “Welcome” — and follow the instructions, including checking off what information you would like to read about in their regular e-mail newsletters.
  • Directly beside the “Just Ask” header page, there are a couple of activity-based menus, starting with the “Activities“– with its pages and pages of ideas for every grade level from kindergarten to high school, even to home school, followed by “Worksheets” (all printable) and “Videos” for even more activities. The first sample videos are about painting with coloured ice and making homemade play dough.  
  • Following “Videos” is a header menu under the title: Find a School.” The options on that page cover an amazing number of topics. For example, all a visiting parent has to do to find information for their geographic area is to type in their zip code and state. And, voila, they can find out the standardized test scores for schools where they live, or where they may be considering moving (although as I have written before, there is a great deal more to a school than test scores). As well, there are details about public versus private schools to consider and pre-school options.
  • At the very bottom of the “Find A School” page, there are links where parents can browse schools by state or older students can check out universities, community colleges or career colleges.
  • Lastly, there is the goldmine “Education A-Z” area, an online library of just about any topic a parent would need to research, plus whole sections devoted to specialists. Of course, that area would also be useful to university students preparing to write an essay on such topics as “aspergers syndrome” and “bullying.”  

In other words,, located in California, is a one-stop information and access centre for parents and students just graduating from high school or, in fact, anyone interested in educational issues. Which makes me wonder if a similar site could be financially sustainable in Canada — although the A-Z topics are applicable anywhere.  Whatever the case, it is something for my Canadian readers to think about.

“Gifted” BC high school students tops on Advanced Placement test

Coming on the heels of the OECD International Tests on reading, mathematics and science last week, the fact that some BC high schools students continue to be the best in North America when it comes to completing the pre-university assessment — called the “Advanced Placement” (AP) — is a positive outcome. It is particularly positive  for those students who are considered “bright” or “gifted” because it challenges them to stretch. Janet Steffenhagen of the Vancouver Sun writes that:

“The province’s top high-school students ranked among the best in the world in another international competition, the results of which were released today. B.C. students who take university courses while attending high school had the best scores in North America in the latest Advanced Placement (AP) College Board assessment, Education Minister Margaret MacDiarmid says in a release. ‘For six years, our students taking university courses in secondary school have consistently performed at a world class level,’ she states.”


Endnote: I included “gifted” in the title of this news post because, in my opinion, only students with above-average abilities would be able to, or want to, complete university courses in high school. What reminded me of that fact was Paul Bennett’s recent post on why schools stigmatized gifted children. Check out the comments on that EduChatter thread as well, as they provide an excellent picture of what challenges parents of bright and gifted children face.

School standardized testing about accountability, not fairness

It seems that most, if not all, principals, teachers and teachers’ unions hate school-based standardized testing. Why? Well, according to Ian Gillespie’s column in the London Free Press on November 24th (H/T Catherine), it’s because the tests are costly to administer, stressful for the students and unfair to teachers.

Too costly? Unfair to teachers? How? Do they not indicate how well students can perform certain tasks? Do they not indicate whether or not students have all the skills they need to read and calculate? Yes? Well then, if that is the case, they are neither too costly or unfair. 

However, that said, the problem seems to be that teachers as a group do not want to be held responsible for what a child learns. They also don’t like the competition that results from ranking schools. Which may not be fair, but which is, after-all, what public accountability is all about!

Now, I have some sympathy having been on the front lines for more than a dozen years. I mean, you can’t simply open up a child’s head and dump in the learning. They have to be willing to be active participants in their own learning. However, if teaching practice research over the past fifty years has shown us anything, it is that the way a teacher teaches influences the way children participate — and yes, learn. So, it’s a two-way street.

However, teachers don’t like to have that responsibility. Thus, the likely reason they think standardized tests are unfair is because they are not only exposing how well a specific class is performing, by default, they are also showing how well a teacher is teaching — and, let’s not forget, given how parents use school rankings,  how well an entire school is doing .

Then, there is the endless cry that if students do badly they are maimed for life because their self-esteem is crushed. Hogwash! Absolute nonsense. Life if about stress. Life is about succeeding and failing. I mean, that is how we learn, by screwing up and learning from our mistakes.

Which is why I am so against “success” policies that are nothing more than “no-fail” policies or social promotion policies that push kids through from one grade to the next before they are ready. Short sighted hardly begins to describe the current ideology in most school boards in Canada and the U.S.

Well, this type of philosophy has to change. It has to change because the standardized testing results we do have, in Canada at least, indicate the results are abysmal. Meaning, that far too many of today’s high school graduates are not ready for college, university or an apprenticeship, in terms of the skills they will need to complete qualifying tests.

Need proof? Here is a section from Gillespie’s column with quotes from Jim Cote, a sociologist at the University of Western Ontario and one of the authors of the Ivory Tower Blues (a blog that has been on my favourites list for some time).

“‘The low-achieving students obviously need some remediation. I mean, isn’t that the point?’ says Cote, a professor in the University of Western Ontario’s sociology department and co-author of Ivory Tower Blues: A University System in Crisis. ‘The intention is not to be punitive. The intention is to bring up everybody’s standards.’ And those standards, he says, are abysmal. A survey of nearly 2,000 faculty and librarians from 22 Ontario universities released last year reported first-year students frequently displayed a lack of required writing, math and critical thinking skills, poor research abilities and an expectation of success without the requisite effort.

All these problems,’ says Cote, stem back to the 1960s when department exams were abolished and grades began to be routinely inflated to boost overall averages. ‘Grade inflation is really messing up the system,’ says Cote, whose new book on the topic (Lowering Higher Education, co-written with Anton Allahar) is due out in a few months. ‘We’re getting people coming to university who are really not prepared. They’ve been given totally false feedback.’

Cote says making a student feel better about their abilities avoids the real problems revealed by the tests. ‘You’re really doing (students) harm because they’ll eventually hit the wall and do a major fail, and that’s not good for self-esteem,’ he says, adding testing helps students prepare for the stresses of life. ‘If there are problems, let’s deal with these problems: Identify those (students) who are weak and who need remediation, and get them help early. But don’t pass them on to universities and expect us to do it, because it’s too late.'” [My highlighting.]

Students have “been given totally false feedback.” Cote is right on! When I was teaching university, undergraduate students — who were training to be teachers — would show up in my office asking me to change their marks. Why? Because they inevitably thought their mark was too low and that they deserved an “A” because they had, quote: “worked hard.”

When I would explain that, since I had no idea how hard anyone had worked, I had to base my mark totally on what they handed in, they seemed puzzled. Yes, I would explain, I gave marks for grammar, spelling and presentation of sources and footnotes, but that an “A” was only ever given, not only for a near-perfect presentation, but for a well argued and exceptional argument and defence.

In other words, students need to be taught what accountability means, what an “A” means. As such, school standardized testing should be here to stay, in fact increased to include more grade levels.  Yes, it is about public accountability, but more than that, it is about students learning that they too are accountable for their own success or failure.

And so, the crux of the matter is that it should NOT be considered unfair to students, teachers or the teachers’ unions that our provincial governments insist on having standardized testing.

Ontario university students’ “notewagon” website innovative

The first time I read this London Free Press article by Kate Dubinski, titled “Slacker Students Get Help” (H/T Catherine), I was shocked and appalled. A team of students at the University of Western Ontario, Waterloo and Guelph had started up a website for sharing (buying and selling) lecture notes. Meaning, as the LFP column title implies, it sounded like slacking off, or even worse, cheating.

Yet, on second reading (and therein lies the reason students should be taking their own notes), I came to the conclusion that this was not, in fact, slacking off at all. Rather, it was a very creative and innovative solution to a chronic student issue — having to miss classes for one reason or another.

Look, I manage this blog myself, so I know how time-consuming setting up and maintaining a website can be.  However, bloggers have templates they can use, as do website developers of course. But, clearly, setting up a complex website like must have been incredibly complicated and time-consuming. So, kudos to the developers!

Now, a fair question would be: Why did they not use all that creativity and energy simply to go to class and take their own notes? I don’t know, although I can guess — boredom and not seeing the relevance of lecture content to what they want to do with their future lives. So, perhaps university professors can learn something from this and make their classes so interesting that no one will want to miss anything.

In any event, the note sharing website is not likely to slow down since students from Toronto, McMaster, Waterloo, Guelph, Ryerson and Laurier have now joined in as well. So, here is my point. The developers and managers need to realize that learning anything new is a process that involves attending (concentrating), digging into our long-term memory for what we already know, adding to that pre-requisite knowledge, and then retaining enough of it in long-term memory for later use.

So, while I can appreciate that the “notewagon” site developers are making sure the content of lectures are thorough and complete, they also need to find a way to highlight the main ideas, key points or concepts before they are available for sharing.

Why? Because, as I explained above, the student getting the notes needs to be able to learn what is relevant and important without having been present at the lecture. Students reading this might want to check out what I have written here about organizational strategies because knowing what to do to remember notes is not automatic. They could also check out Chapter Six in my book, which is specifically about notetaking strategies, and likely available in most university libraries. There are also some excellent Internet sources, such as College Board and Alamo’s Notetaking Strategies, as well as a number of links via this Google page. 

So, in summary, note sharing by itself is not necessary slacking off, although it can be for some students. However, in my opinion, the developers and managers of this service are hardly slackers, particularly if their “notes” service includes the necessary highlighting and follow-up summaries. By so doing, they can actually be of some benefit for students who: (1) have to miss a class for some reason, (2) are not good at writing notes, (3) have learning disabilities, or (4) have some kind of a physical challenge whereby they do not have full use of their hands.

Endnote: Although I have turned the comment feature off for awhile, I would be interested in receiving feedback from university students involved in this project or using it.  To do so, please use the Contact Form on the header bar.

Update: Here, then, are examples of messages received:

  1. From fh: “Sandy, I think the students are very creative we all remember trying to get notes for missed lectures notes are guarded like a pot of gold. I remember my friend getting his notes back and they looked like they had been in a hurricane and he was in a fraternity where notes were more easily obtained. Kudos to the students it is about time. I just hope that they keep up the quality of the notes. (Time: Thursday November 25, 2010 at 12:47pm)”
  2. From Janalee: “I think another benefit is getting a second set of notes. I remember sharing notes in my university days with other students in the class and noticing that they emphasised things in thier notes that I missed in mine. Particularly in history courses where the lectures consisted of a professor talking for the entire class it was easy to miss something as you were attempting to keep up. (Time: Thursday November 25, 2010 at 6:57 pm)”
  3. From Saif Altimimi: “Hey Sandy, I’m Saif, the Co-Founder of Notewagon. I read your article about us, just wanted to say thank you very much for the positive input. I want to assure you that we are indeed not incentively students to slack off but in fact we are working hard to provide a learning management system for students by students. A Peer-2-Peer network of sharing knowledge specific per classroom. We have other product launches that will make this vision come true! (Time: Thursday November 25, 2010 at 5:58 pm)
  4. Saif also clarified the following: “One of our co-founders goes to western, but the core team is actually in Waterloo&Guelph Ontario.” (Time: Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 8:05pm)

Ontario secondary students can now get “zeros!”

What grades are supposed to reflect…

Traditionally, when most parents and educators thought about grades, whether at the high school or university level, they assumed they were a realistic measurement of a student’s work.  Sure, most knew that teachers included a small percentage for effort and participation in every grade, but that a total grade could be counted on as a clear indication of how well a student could duplicate a skill or had covered a certain body of material. 

Ontario government’s “success” strategies…

Well, not so in Ontario since the Dalton McGuinty government came to power in the fall of 2003. In fact, in the government’s quest for “inclusion” and “equality,” they have watered down what students have to do to the point that academic standards are now meaningless.

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Job research “before” attending college

Originally published in May 2010, I thought I would update this article for those who are currently considering attending a private career/vocational college in the fall of 2012.

Post started here: This post is for all those who are considering applying for admission to any post-secondary institution, whether it is a public university, a public college or a private career college. My message is this: It is your responsibility to figure out if the major or program you want to take is likely to provide a job when you are finished.

True, it would be helpful if all post-secondary institutions didn’t offer programs unless they knew jobs were available, but no one can be that certain.  But, unlike a university degree, where skills can be generalized to any number of occupational fields, public and private career college programs tend to be very job specific.

The Importance of Preliminary Research

So, doing preliminary homework is crucial. Why? Because if you put all your time and money (student loans) into something only to find out, once you have graduated, that there are no jobs, not only will you be unemployed but you will owe a ton of money.

And, if you can’t pay that money back and default, it will have serious consequences all around. It will be a black mark on the college you attended, whether it was private or public. And, it will adversely affect your credit rating, which in turn can make it difficult to rent an apartment, let alone get further financing for a vehicle or anything else.  

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