A chant, its context
Re Saint Mary’s President Fights The Echoes Of A Sexist Chant (Sept. 9): The only difference between “orientation week” at SMU and other Canadian universities is a video gone viral.
I attended orientation week at the University of Western Ontario in the 1990s. New female students were forced to sing Madonna’s Like a Virgin on their knees, while being sprayed with whip cream by male “frosh leaders.” Groups of girls were forced onto a stage holding bananas in their mouths and instructed to roll over each other. Students were required to slide through wet, rotting garbage. Those opting out were physically removed from the dorm and forced to participate.
Sex, humiliation and the degradation of women have always been at the core of university orientation programs. It is time for all university presidents to wake up and take responsibility for orientation-week activities.
Jennifer Dent, Toronto
It is especially callous to chant about the delights of raping underage girls in the city that is still living the Rehtaeh Parsons tragedy.
Dan E. Kelley, Halifax
During frosh weeks, some students get a kick out of doing goofy rituals, especially by being politically incorrect. Of course the video was offensive, that was the goal: to be totally irreverent.
When someone uploads it to the web, all context is lost. The media storm is getting a little sanctimonious. Do you honestly think at other universities they’re chanting algebra slogans instead?
Pete Reinecke, Ottawa
Why aren’t the experts commenting on the fact that at least half the chanters in the infamous video were female?
J. K. Inwood, London, Ont.
Bombs: then what?
Re Air War (Sept. 9): After the U.S. bombs start falling on Syria and they land on one of the chemical storage facilities, then what?
The U.S. had “proof” there were “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq also.
Larry Allison, Woodstock, Ont.
Russia has asked Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control, so they can be destroyed. The longer this Syrian fiasco goes on, the more Vladimir Putin looks like the wise sage of international politics and the more Barrack Obama looks like an old-time gunslinger determined to have his “High Noon.”
Charles Reid, Nanaimo, B.C.
In a heartbeat
A thank you to Michael Posner for sharing his personal story of heart disease, including an undiagnosed heart attack and life-saving surgery (My Great Escape – Focus, Sept. 7).
Nine in 10 Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke; while the article quite rightly points to genetics as a risk factor, research shows that much can actually be done to overcome genetic predisposition.
If we think of our choices as the light switch, and genetics as the wiring for heart attack and stroke, we can control whether the light is on or off. That is why it is crucial that we make healthy choices the easy choices for all Canadians.
Canadians can take our Risk Assessment to see where they can make a difference to their health.
Bobbe Wood, president, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Faith, after a fashion
Re Quebec Plans Exemption Clause (Sept. 9): I don’t go around shoving my atheism in people’s faces, and would prefer that religious people be encouraged to rein in the public advertisement of their beliefs in kind.
Quebec’s proposed charter isn’t demanding that people abandon their religion, just that they respect the secular nature of our society by abandoning symbolic dress at work.
If that’s an irresolvable conflict for them, they should lobby their religious leaders to revisit their rules and bring them more in line with the 21st century, in which rational people understand that faith is not measured by what costume you wear.
Lynne Wright, Montreal
Mission control for ABC’s
Re Classroom Fads And Magic Beans (Sept. 7): Thank you for Margaret Wente’s column about fads and idiocy in the education system. I’m a retired high school teacher who grumbled through 30 years of that nonsense, giving stealth lessons on grammar after it was forbidden, faking most of my “group assessments,” and dodging the moronic commands to evaluate students on the basis of only their “most recent, most typical” work or to slice up every 10-mark quiz into four separate marks of 30 per cent application, 30 per cent knowledge and understanding, 20 per cent thinking, 20 per cent communication (it was a quiz, for goodness sake!).
What infuriated me most as a grunt in the trenches was how the system ran: shades of the USSR. Administrators were commissars. Promotions were based on parroting the jargon and forcing the crackpot theories onto teachers and students. The climbers, the goose-steppers, the cynics ready to sell their intellects for a mess of pottage were the ones who were promoted. It made me cry for the students. Luckily, most teachers found a way to maintain common sense in their classrooms and did a good deal of their work in secret, like the French Resistance.
I know the system will swing back eventually, although I worry it will swing back to another out-of-balance point. But in Ontario we wait for change until California announces its next revelation.
David Schreiber, Toronto
We are all exposed to our share of “magic beans” in stories about business and health, as well as education. But let’s not descend too far into cynicism. We need to be better consumers of the research and insights into all fields.
An issue I have with some critics, including Tom Bennett, is that they overgeneralize, ironically committing the same mistake that advocates and zealots make.
For example, there are places where you want students to talk in small groups: to explore new ideas and have informed respectful debate over contentious issues, as we are supposed to do in a democracy. The mistake comes when you have students do it all the time.
There is much learning best done alone or through direct instruction by a teacher. For group work to be effective, students must be individually accountable for their own work, as well as supportive of others as they strive to achieve a common learning goal.
There is a vast amount of research going back more than a century looking at the conditions promoting achievement in work done in groups. Perhaps some “critical thinking” is in order to separate good ideas from bad.
John Myers, curriculum instructor, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
Margaret Wente tells us that “good, experienced teachers” roll their eyes when confronted with what she calls “faddish, mostly unsubstantiated ideas.” But is such conservatism necessarily the sign of a good teacher?
The education of a child is not altogether unlike the Apollo 13 mission. What parent has not occasionally experienced those white-knuckle – “Houston, we have a problem” – moments?
A great school is like mission control, manned by innovative, cucumber-cool teachers, courageously doing whatever it takes to bring the ship home.
Farley Helfant, Toronto