The Herdmans Part 4-1

The Herdmans – Part 4-1

Billy K’s behaviour continued to be an issue. He could go several days without incident but then WHAM. I suppose his belief was, go big or go home. While his brothers needed academic support in the classroom their behaviour wasn’t much of an issue.

By this time, one of the measures we had in place for Billy consisted of an intervention worker (IW) meeting him when he stepped off the bus. An intervention worker was a teaching assistant who specialized in behaviour intervention. She had several students on her case load and her day consisted of quietly moving from class to class and connecting with kids for whom behaviour was an issue. We tried to make it look like she was connecting with most students but there were several she was monitoring closely. The intention was to have her intervene before behaviours became disruptive. Her day began with meeting B.K. when he first arrived.

You could tell what type of mood Billy was in within seconds. When he was in the zone he presented differently. His eyes seemed wider and he held his upper body differently. The IW could get a fairly good read on him before they even spoke. If he seemed to be in the right frame of mind to participate in class then off he went; however, if he seemed to be in that somewhat hostile space, he had to initially spend some time with the IW. They would go to the conference room to talk (decompress?) before he was permitted to attend class.

I would stick close to the main office at the beginning of the day. If Billy was in need of some intervention then I would see (hear) them heading toward the conference room which was located next to the main office. On this particular day I saw no sign of Billy and the intervention worker so I assume all was good.

About ten minutes after the buses unloaded a parent arrived. She reported that she was driving toward the school and was flagged down by a woman who said that she worked at the school. “She told me to tell you that she is chasing Billy.” Had I been strapped to a heart monitor it would have been interesting to see how it changed at this point.

I jumped in my car and off I went. Sure enough, I caught up with Lori and she was, indeed, chasing behind Billy. She explained that when he parachuted off the bus he quickly declared that he was going home and started running down the hill. Not sure what to do she took off in pursuit.

When Billy saw me talking to Lori, he picked up the pace. I’m sure he thought I was going to chase after him. I told the worker that I would take her back to the school and that I would handle matters from here. When we at the school I asked the secretary to call Billy’s mother and to call the police detachment. I wasn’t sure how this was going to play out but if someone reported that a middle-aged man with a moustache was seen following a nine-year-old boy along a country road I wanted the authorities to have been informed beforehand. In my car I returned to the chase.

By this point he was about a kilometre away. When he heard my car he looked over his shoulder and proceeded to run as fast as his little legs could carry him. I wasn’t sure how I was going to proceed but I was quite certain that I didn’t want the little gaffer in my car, so I drove past him and pulled over to the side of the road about 70 metres in front of him. He stopped running; after all, if he continued to head in the direction of his home he would be moving TOWARD me. He continued to ponder the situation, looking back and forth between me and the direction from which he came. He obviously made up his mind when he bent over, picked up what I assumed to be a rock and came charging toward me, full bore.

                                                                                                    ………… to be continued


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Pokemon cards

Phil Elwood and I were in the same R.O.U.T.P. division during the summers of 1978 and 1979, and we keep in contact to this day. He is the consummate nice guy – a true gentleman. Throughout my adult life, Phil has been the standard to which I have compared good people. I have met and worked with many who have been as good as Phil but none were better. In the navy we all agreed that Phil was the type of fellow you would want your sister to date; in fact, he is such a nice guy, most would be OK if he dated their wives.

Pokemon Cards

In the late 90’s, Pokemon cards came on the scene. They were quite a hit with kids but, in many school hallways and on many playgrounds, they led to fighting and other disruptive behaviours. It reached a point where they were banned from many elementary schools. Personally, I think teachers missed a golden opportunity. Imagine a collection of these cards being used for the teaching of thinking strategies: observing, comparing/contrasting, sequencing, grouping, etc. One would certainly have the attention and enthusiasm of the class.

One Monday morning I received a call from a mother whose son (grade 4) can home quite upset the previous Friday. She explained how he had been goaded (bullied) into trading one of his favourite Pokemon cards by an older student (another reason many schools banned them). She asked if there was anything I could do in helping him get his card back. I looked at the pile of paperwork on my desk and considered the number of issues I was trying to resolve. In addition to being the principal, during my time at MCS I average a 0.35 teaching assignment; ie, I spent 1/3 of the day in the classroom teaching. That particular week was going to be as busy as any of them and I asked myself, do I really want to get involved with what seemed like such a trivial manner? I then imagined my own son in a similar situation and realized how I would feel as a parent. I told her I would look into it and get back to her.

As I made my way to the young fellow’s classroom I thought to myself, where is this going to lead? I figured it wouldn’t take too much time to, at least, ask a few questions. Hopefully, the student with whom he made the trade had the card at the school and we could clean this up rather quickly.

The grade 4 student became somewhat teary as I asked him about the card. He answered my questions and gave me the name of the older fellow, and I realized that this could well have been a case of bullying. I thanked him for his cooperation and located the older boy.

Now I could include much more detail but here is the bottom-line. During the weekend, the card changed hands twice and was now in the possession of a fellow who attended school in the city. I thought to myself, “Ah man! This is becoming a real headache. How much more time is this going to take?” Fortunately, I knew the principal of the city school. When I called and explained the situation, he was understanding and more than willing to help me out.

I have to admit that I was quite pleased with myself when, the following week, I was able to hand the young fellow his card back. I told him that during school time he was not to do any more trading unless he was 100% happy with the trade. I explained that that was going to be the one and only time I would be willing to intervene in such a situation. He agreed, told me he understood and skipped off to class.

I don’t know what else I accomplished that week, but, for one youngster at least, I made a difference. In his eyes it was worth my time and energy.


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Reversing Noir


Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce

Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce

Films of the noir era usually focused on one character who, though no saint himself, had a strict view of just how much bending of “right” was acceptable.  The hardboiled dick who lets the dame off despite the fact that she is guilty as hell because the guy had it coming is the typical storyline.  There is one other twist which is that everyone, including the point-of-view character is so deeply mired in muck that they are irredeemable.

By 1945, however, Michael Curtiz decided that the genre needed a new twist, and used that feeling to create his take on Mildred Pierce, an adaptation of the novel by James Cain (who you might remember from here).

In this film, while some characters are certainly sleazy, there is only one who is actually bad… and the rest of them spend the entire film putting themselves at risk in order to try to help that one character (I don’t want to spoil the film for anyone who might be watching).  Their reward?  Betrayal of all sorts, from sexual to downright criminal.

Other than that particular twist, the film is notable for the way Mildred Pierce creates a business empire against all odds, often hindered by friends and family.  It’s a sign of how the war had affected American society – audiences accustomed to women performing war work were definitely ready to see them on screen as strong business leaders.  Although this isn’t the central theme of the movie, it is strong enough to be very notable.  And Joan Crawford is extremely believable in the role, one can’t help but think that she was a much better choice than the other women considered for casting.

This is a good complement to the noir era, something to watch if you’re really into noir in all its permutations.  Of course, it’s a film a casual viewer might never actually get to, but for fans of the genre, it’s a must.

Ann Blyth

Also, a shout out to surviving cast member Ann Blyth, who is notable because she was a key member of the cast – and central to the plot.

Une Quelle Suprise


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Une Quelle Suprise

First a bit of background:

  • a toque is a knitted cap, usually without a brim

  • in Newfoundland, the birthplace of my parents, the protruding part at the top of a hat is often called a pook

During the fall of 2006 I was granted an Educational Leave (sabbatical). I enrolled in a French Immersion programme in Shippagan, New Brunswick and was living, of course, with a French family. It was total immersion; ie, no English at all, and what a great experience it was.

With Christmas approaching, a group of local artisans were given the opportunity to set up a craft table on the university campus. My classmates and I were encouraged to visit the display if only to dialogue with them. We were happy to do so.

Now I should point out that if I were asked to describe myself, I could, depending on the circumstances, do so in many ways; however, regardless of the circumstances I would say, unequivocally, that I am a toque man. I wear toques and have done so most of my life. Over the years, my mother knit me many toques. I like toques, particularly plain toques. I don’t want tassels, pompoms, ear flaps or a multitude of colours – just a plain, simple toque.

When I spied the knitted goods, I first looked at the socks (my wife likes knitted socks) and I picked out a pair for her. I then looked at the toques but they all had stuff hanging off them or were multi-coloured. There was no plain, pook-less toque. I explained to the toque-knitting lady what I wanted and she offered to knit me one but said that it would be a week or two before it would be ready. She also explained that i would have to drive to her place on Lameque Island to pick it up. I said, “Pas de problème” and gave her the phone number for my host family.

About ten days later my toque was ready. At the university we had a two hour lunch break so I set off for Lameque the following day at noon. I found the home and knocked at the front door. The woman who knit my toque invited me in and presented me with my new hat. As I was trying it on, a man came walking around the corner into the living room. Now, i don’t know what tune was playing in his head but he was humming away and grooving his upper body. He was also taking these short steps and bopping up and down. But what was most striking was the fact that he was only wearing a pair of powder-blue briefs – nothing else. When he saw me he stopped grooving, froze for a few seconds then retreated rather quickly back into the other room. Seeing this as an opportunity to practice my French I turned to the woman and said, “Une grande suprise, une grosse suprise ou une bonne surprise?” With a face so red it could stop traffic she replied, “Une grande suprise.”

I don’t know who he was, he didn’t stick around long enough for introductions to be made. I assume it was the woman’s husband, or her boyfriend or, perhaps, someone who was ready for the fitting of a one-piece, knitted suit. I have no idea.

Perhaps, like me, he simply wanted a toque, but he impressed me as the kind of guy who would want at least a pook with his toque.

************** Merry Christmas folks and Happy Holidays *******************


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“Whenever I make a film that’s for war, you can take me out and shoot me.”


by Stacy Ketcham, Omaha Chronotype-Mercury War Correspondent in Italy*


Italian Colonial Exposition 1940

Buildings of the 1940 Italian Overseas Exposition before the war

December 26, 1943 With US Army 21st General Hospital, Mostra Fairgrounds, Bagnoli. Italy–Candidates for the Purple Heart in recognition of battlefield wounds in Italy will now pass in review under the eyes of no less famous a figure than Benito Mussolini. His face, substantially larger than life, is prominent in a mural at the Albanian pavilion of his 1940 Colonial Exposition, an extravaganza intended to modestly showcase his glorious achievements as Italy’s leader. The immodest number of bullet holes which mar his likeness manage to render the image pleasant enough for medical personnel to work in view of it in what is now the surgical area of an Army Hospital, and few of the soldiers they attend to take the time to look up at the man who still looks down on them.
Just three weeks ago, as the Third and Forty-fifth Infantry Divisions began crossing the Volturno River, the men and women of this hospital, more than four thousand of them, began crossing the Mediterranean, bringing with them more than three thousand crates of medical supplies and equipment, to set up shop in this new location, right outside of Naples, and only thirty miles from the front lines. This proximity relieves much of the pressure on field hospitals even closer to the front, and allows greater flexibility in determining the best treatment for urgent and critical cases.
This proximity also allows wounded men to be brought directly from the battlefield to what is literally the newest, most modern hospital in the world, And Il Duce allows these men to recover in good humor; the post-op room was originally a memorial to Italy’s brave soldiers, most of whom have now surrendered or simply discarded their uniforms and quietly gone home. No man, regardless of whether he is American, British, or any of the other nationalities now fighting with the allies in Italy, has failed to find this amusing.
Another thing every man has found amusing is discovering what knockouts some of these nurses can be. To free every available doctor for surgery, a number of nurses volunteered to learn how to administer anaesthesia. I found it reassuring to see a man wounded less than an hour earlier ask his anesthetist if she’d go out with him after he recovered. Her only reply was a smile; before she could have spoken a word, he was unconscious.

* * *

There were, of course, a number of things I couldn’t mention in this column without risk of undermining the war effort. I couldn’t say that this man, like many battlefield casualties, was in shock. Nor could I say that, like most battlefield casualties, he had not been told how badly he was wounded. If he’d been wounded before, he might have known how unusual it was for the anaesthesia to be injected into the neck, rather than an arm or a leg. But he no longer had arms and legs. That was something else I couldn’t mention.

And this is only one hospital, Erich Maria Remarque had written. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this… A hospital alone shows what war is.

I remembered that as I typed, but still sent my column.

* * *

Dusk was well upon us by the time I stepped outside. I was nominally billeted in a field hospital nurses tent a few miles away, and wondering if I should try to find a closer place to sleep for the night or hope for a ride when I noticed a jeepload of clean uniforms heading my way. Replacements going somewhere, I supposed, until they stopped in front of me. A Signal Corps Captain looked at my armband, then spoke up.

“We were in San Pietro before anybody,” he said, with the tone of a man in shell shock. “There’d been an attack and a counterattack in the night, and there were just hundreds and hundreds of dead.”

What had he expected to find after a battle, confetti? I didn’t ask, I just stood there listening to the motor of the jeep idling, and glanced at the newsreel cameras on the floor of the jeep.

“Battalion?” the driver asked, a trace of Yiddish to the question, somehow. I pointed and the jeep was moving again.

I don’t know when I finally realized I’d met John Huston that evening. Certainly not by May of 1945, when I saw the Army’s fiercely edited two-reel release of the battlefield documentary Frank Capra had sent him to film.

* * *

On the Road to San Pietro

US Tank destroyed attempting to enter San Pietro

How do you create the cinematic documentation of a battle when you weren’t there until the battle was over, and the first thing you find when you do arrive is hundreds and hundreds of dead? Of course, a critic, particularly if he’s never directed a movie or been anywhere near a battlefield littered with corpses, many of them fragmentary, will say you fabricate the whole thing. Yes, anyone can recognize that John Huston’s The Battle of San Pietro was a re-enactment, for the most part, with no particular effort made to capture realism in the scenes depicting the battles. Even the men shot in the five-reel original were staging their deaths. The only aspect of the film which was genuine and even in the least candid was the part Huston experienced personally on the first morning of filming. The corpses, even when repositioned for effect, or to keep the grotesquely distorted faces, if they were American, out of view, were absolutely real. They were not extras, they were the stars of the film, and Huston, editing either version, must have calculated how much carnage could be tolerated by the typical audience without blunting their sensitivity to what they were being shown, and how much of this brutal depiction of a brutal reality was necessary to validate his own statement, as the movie approaches its close, “These lives were valuable–valuable to their loved ones, to their country, and to the men themselves.”

* * *

The officers for whom Huston screened his original edit all walked out in quick succession, but George Marshall, who had to concern himself not only with morale, but also with the more difficult issues of desertion and combat fatigue, decided that a shorter edit of Huston’s stark depiction of battle would be an appropriate training film. Marshall was pleased by this version of the film, with a brief introduction by General Mark Clark, and Huston was promoted to Major.

* * *

The wind and snow on Christmas Eve were answers to prayer. Everyone’s prayer. The Germans–those still alive–were glad of something to cover their retreat. And those Americans still alive were glad of the excuse to let them slip away. The battle per se of San Pietro had been over for a week, and the 3rd Infantry was taking up forward positions in relief of what remained of the 36th. There had been a flood of T-patchers in the field hospital, and from those able and willing to talk, I’d pieced together a story that still needed a lot of window dressing and white washing before it could be typed up and cabled home.

Essentially, the Germans had built their own little Maginot Line from Lincoln Logs. A series of fortified foxholes with nearly perfect defilade and concealment, protected by alternating layers of barbed wire and land mines. Further, each of these could only be approached by a single man scraping his short hairs in the mud. Covering fire could be provided, but only carefully; more of his boots and buttocks were exposed to that fire than the whole of the German position. As I said, there were a vast series of these strung along the mountainside, interlocking in a pattern something like the teeth of a circular ripsaw. The flank had to be turned, and the 143rd Regiment had begun doing that in early December, scaling a mountainside in the face of mortar and machine gun fire which could excoriate the landscape without being aimed. The Germans knew the Americans were there. When that mountainside had been secured, and this in a relative sense, the assault itself began, one American at a time, approaching each in this series of small fortifications, until somebody was lucky enough to get a grenade in before another man had to pull him back, wounded or killed. You can imagine that casualties were high, but even I had not imagined how high.

* * *

I’d been to Mass that morning with the 100th Battalion; Japanese Americans from Hawaii, attached to the 36th. From the small number there, I’d assumed that only a few of them were Catholic.

Technically, the 36th was still at the front, but through the good offices of the 3rd Division and cooperation of the momentarily defeated Germans, the front was moving away, allowing the T-patchers to enjoy their Christmas dinner of C-rations on the hood of a jeep, or to gather around an impromptu Christmas tree chosen from among the myriad fragments of trees scattered by two weeks of uninterrupted combat. Their trees were decorated with strips of their C-ration’s foil packaging, usually discarded, but now kept and carefully torn to form tinsel garland.

In the early evening, as darkness became definite, I noticed four candles at the opening of several tents knotted together at the grommets, forming a shelter large enough for half a dozen men to gather. I went to it.

“Are you Jewish, Ma’am?” one of the Texans asked.

“My mother was.”

“Then I guess you are.” He tapped a wooden board, covered by a surprisingly clean white cloth. As I sat where he had indicated, each of the boys pushed a few of their piled M&Ms toward me. Then the one who had greeted me handed me the dreidel.

* * *

“Are you the reporter, Ma’am?” a voice behind me asked. The Jewish soldiers and I had been pushing M&Ms back forth for about an hour.

“Yes,” I said, turning around to see an NCO from Divisional HQ.

“You’ve had clerical experience?”

“Yes,” I said, now getting up. The two of us left, and he led me toward a jeep cleaner than most I’d seen that day. We sat in it.

“A battalion clerk has a problem,” he said. “You might be able to help, if you’re willing.”

“Yes, of course.”

We drove further from the front. Perhaps ten minutes, arriving at a farm building labeled as Bn HQ. He led me inside, where I saw a clerk, his head resting on a typewriter, weeping profusely. I wouldn’t have believed a clerk this far from the front could have combat fatigue, but that’s exactly what it looked like. There were packages piled up, filling nearly three-quarters of the office.

“You need help delivering these?” I asked.

“No Ma’am,” the driver said. “We need you to draw a line through the address of each one, and mark it KIA.”

I was on the floor, sitting, wondering if I’d fainted. Amid the fog, slowly dispersing it, I heard President Roosevelt, his voice crackling on the radio.

“We ask that God receive and cherish those who have given their lives, and that He keep them in honor and in the grateful memory of their countrymen forever. God bless all of you who fight our battles on this Christmas Eve.”

I reached up. The driver handed me a pen.

“Thank you, Ma’am.”

I nodded. He left as I grabbed the first package. The clerk was still weeping over his typewriter when I finished, just past dawn, my hand stiff and fingers numb.

* * *

When the 36th Infantry Division returned to the front line in January, 1944, 80% of its men had been in the Division less than two weeks.




*This is actually an excerpt from Stacy Danielle Stephens amazing WW2 magnum opus, very intimately linked to this post.

Turtle Coffee


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Earl Campbell is a member of my Masonic Lodge. When I was a youth I was a member of the Order of DeMolay (Building better citizens for tomorrow, today). Although Earl wasn’t an official adviser for my Chapter, he did serve as a mentor. His work ethic includes, Early in the day, early in the week, early in the month, early in the year. He is one of the most organized and energetic people I know, and, to whichever organization he belongs, he gives it his all. Earl is now in his 80’s and he continues to make a difference in his community. I hope that when I am his age I can say that I have accomplished at least half of what Earl has done.

Turtle Coffee

I have taught in seven different schools. One of the first things I wanted to know when I first arrived at a school was how the availability of coffee worked. In some schools it was every man for himself but, in most cases, there was some sort of formal arrangement. I am proud to say that I was a founding member of the Golden Moments Coffee Club at Kennebecasis Valley High. Participating members took turns bringing in pounds of coffee. We grew to be a two-pot club and even had a semi-annual newsletter (perhaps more on that later). But when it came to the availability of milk and/or sugar, we were on our own.

Now I need to digress for a moment. In the library there was an aquarium with turtles. These red-eared sliders had been given up by a student and the librarian, George McCaffrey, agreed to become their adoptive parent. Students would often drop in to see the turtles. They were a unique feature of the library.

Now back in those days I was still taking milk in my coffee. I found coffee to be too bitter without it. Each Monday I would take to school what I thought was enough milk to get me through the week. My supply was often depleted due to the fact that some others felt that any milk in the fridge was public domain. Because it was every man for himself, I decided to find a solution.

One weekend, following another Friday of little milk, little coffee, I found an empty Cheez Whiz bottle at home. I soaked the bottle until the label came off and attached an eye-dropper to the side. I made a label for it that read, “TURTLE FOOD. Add 10 drops daily.” On Monday morning, and each Monday thereafter, I poured milk into the bottle and added 10 drops of green food colouring. I took the bottle to school and placed it in the fridge in the back of the library. NO ONE ever used my milk after that; mind you, I had to turn my back to people when I poured it into my coffee. It made my coffee turn a shade of grey but it tasted just fine.

What is it they say, Necessity is the mother of invention? In this case, it was certainly the mother of innovation.


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Ready For Christmas?

Ready for Christmas?

A number of years ago a close colleague asked if I was ready for the Yuletide season. The conversation went like this:

“Hey G, you ready for Christmas?”

“Are you asking if I am ready to rejoice in the knowledge that we are about to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, Christianity’s redeemer and Saviour, or are you asking if I have my shopping done?

“Ahhhh…… Do you have your shopping done?”

“No, but I am working on it.”

He has never asked me that question again.


Re education: “This is a serious business we are in, but don’t take yourself too seriously.” – gc


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The Single Biggest Issue with Postmodernism

It’s interesting to note that, of all philosophical trends in history, only modernism was declared dead due to a failure of architecture.  The demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe complex in St. Louis was hailed by everyone from serious sociologists to literary critics as the end of one era and the beginning of the next, which they imaginatively called “postmodernism”.

pruitt-igoe implosion

Pruitt-Igoe complex demolition – hailed as the end of Modernism.

Of course, the aspiring postmodernists had were simply using a fortuitous event to further their cause and ignoring inconvenient truths.  While it’s true that Pruitt-Igoe was undoubtedly designed on modernist principles, its failure had more to do with mismanagement and public policies than with modernism itself*.

In the long tradition of social reformers, however, the postmodernists ignored the facts and pushed their way of thinking forward – successfully.

In its original form, postmodernism was a typical adolescent rebellion by social theorists against what had come before, turning a skeptical eye towards both antique institutions and modernism itself.

So far, so good.  They say nothing is more predictable for intelligent people than the avant-garde, and postmodernism was living up to that truism from the outset, and would soon settle down to become the established norm with new rules and values.

They did this admirably.  Nowadays, if you know what is particular pet topic is, you can write a postmodernist scholar’s paper for him before he knows he is going to write it**.

And therein lies the problem, and ultimate barrenness of postmodern thought.  At some point, postmodernism began searching for tools with which to give form to what began as a rejection of what came before, and they seem to have taken a wrong turn.

The central tenet they ended up embracing is, in layman’s terms, that there is no such thing as a “big picture”, and that it is perfectly valid to analyze individual elements separately – and in a separate, but ultimately equally damaging turn, that the observer is a critical part of the analysis.

While subjectivists were alive in Ancient Greece, the idea that single-element analysis is valid it’s called deconstruction, BTW) has been particularly detrimental in combination with it, damaging fields as disparate as History and Architecture.

We can dispense with the architectural elements easily – all one needs to do is to envision a building where the elements are meant to be viewed individually with no concern for the whole.  There are some out there (you can see one below – and it isn’t even the ugliest), but most architects have a grounding in art history, and an appreciation for aesthetics, so they have, on the whole, rejected the idea that the big picture is irrelevant.


The K2 building is Pure postmodernism.

Where things do get unfortunate, however is in the softer sciences such as history or literary criticism (I won’t repeat the XKCD joke here – go find it yourself!).

History students suffering the postmodern wave of revisionism (every movement has its revisionist wave) are being taught that unimportant groups and people were just as important as the movers and shakers of their era.  That slaves were historically important in societies where they were just used as human cattle, or that minority groups were politically influential in ancient India, or whatever.  The justification seems to be that the history of anyone who ever existed is important, so it must be taught as important.

The reality is that the suffering of minorities, slaves, or any other disenfranchised group is only important in times when the group managed to get some kind of power… if not, their suffering actually was in vain.

And yet, historians today are telling a different story.  It’s all very democratic, but will ultimately prove as damaging to the science as any other philosophically-based prejudice (see Eugenics for another 20th century attempt to fit history to philosophy – that one didn’t turn out so well either).

Criticism is often a butt of jokes about the academic worth of its practitioners, but we have to admit that, lately, the discipline has earned the scorn.

The problem is that with deconstruction allowing one to choose the focus one wants, it becomes easy – nay, obligatory – to focus on a single dimension when evaluating a work of art.

Warhol Campbells Soup

Soup Can: very pretty, but how does it speak to animal rights?

So a novel that touches the human spirit can be attached for not being feminist enough, a beautiful sculpture is worthless because it doesn’t address the plight of oppressed minorities.  Postmodernism’s obsession with minutiae blinds it to everything other than minutiae, to its own detriment.  Political arguments in the early 21st century seem to be imbibed with the same kind of narrow-gauge thinking.

It ends up feeling like postmodernism is the whiny self-absorbed teenager of philosophical movements…  Even to the point where there are already rumblings of a post-postmodernism.

However, like whiny teenagers, it will be hard to steer this one to a good port.  You see, the death blow to postmodernist thought has already been dealt, nearly two decades ago.

In 1996, physicist Alan Sokal submitted an intentionally flawed, parodical academic article to peer-reviewed postmodern journal Social Text.  Not only did the ridiculous piece pass the peer review process, but, after Sokal came forward to announce the hoax, some of the journals defenders actually said that (and I paraphrase) “Sokal didn’t understand the actual depth and significance of the piece he had written”.

Now that is more embarrassing than a simple demolition, don’t you think?




*Modernism clearly had its moronic moments, but Pruitt-Igoe wasn’t its fault.

**For example, that last sentence would be rewritten by a feminist post-modernist using “her” in place of “him” and “she” in place of “he”.  A multi-gender postmodernist will attempt to use an invented gender-neutral word in its place, etc.

Tobacco-Free School?

Daryl Doiron was a buddy of mine in high school – we have shared a lot of laughs together over the years. In addition to being rugby and football teammates, he was in my grade 11 chemistry class. I recall the day Daryl was having difficulty figuring out a gravemetric stochiometry problem. I took the time to explain it to him; in fact, I explained it in a way that was different from the teacher’s approach. My explanation worked, and Daryl was off and running. I vividly remember him saying, “Hey (nickname), thanks. You should be a teacher.” It was at that moment that the thought of going into education first occurred to me. Thanks, Daryl, for planting that seed.


In 1998, the Department of Education in N.B. introduced Policy 702, the Tobacco-Free Schools policy. I was at Macdonald Consolidated and, by this time, it was a K-8 school. For us, the use of tobacco by students really wasn’t an issue.

Now I should point out that our school was named for Sir William Macdonald (note the lower case “d”), 10 February 1831 – 9 June 1917. He and his brother founded Macdonald Tobacco. As a philanthropist, he built a number of rural, consolidated schools. Our school was constructed in 1910 and the original structure still exists.

Following the release of Policy 702, schools in our district received an e-mail message from the administrative assistant to the Director of Education. It asked, “ … what programs (if any) do you have at your school dealing with smoking; ie, programs educating students about the consequences of smoking. Would you please let me know whether or not you have anti-smoking programs and, if so, what those programs are.”

I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Here is my exact response:

From:  Caines, Gary

To:  N., J. (ED6/8)
Subject: Anti-Smoking Programs

Being a school which was built with money provided by a tobacco company, we actually encourage smoking, but we tell children that moderation is the key. Our rule is, “One cigarette per day per grade level”; ie, 1 smoke a day for grade 1’s; 8 for grade 8’s (kindergarten children are allowed to share 1 cigarette between 2 kids). Occasionally we have a child who refuses to smoke but I simply suspend them and they become the parents’ problem. Unfortunately, some of these parents are nonsmokers themselves, so I know in many cases the kids are not being forced to smoke at home – I don’t have much control over that though. All we can do is try our best.

To actually answer your question, we do not offer any formal anti-smoking programs.

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An Indigenous Encounter

I am going to take a side-step today. Most of my posts have focused on actual classroom experiences. Today’s submission falls under the banner of life-long learning; specifically, my learning of late.

I was in Winnipeg last week. This city lies in the middle (east-west) of Canada and is often referred to as the Gateway to the West. Europeans first settled there in the 1700’s but First Nations have lived there for thousands of years. It has a large indigenous population.

Over the last thirteen years I have visited Winnipeg twenty-five times. During those visits I have become aware of many of the issues facing the aboriginal population. During the past several months, Canadian media has carried a number of stories, some of them quite horrific, regarding this same population. For several years now I have had questions in need of answers.

Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to meet with Dennis White Bird. He is a former Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. I did not have an appointment but he welcomed me into his office to chat.

At my request he presented an overview of the Numbered (post-confederation)Treaties. He differentiated between land ownership and land stewardship. He talked of relations, old and current, with non-Aboriginals. He told me about promises made; some broken, some not fulfilled. He spoke of the residential school system and its devastating impact on his people.

I asked him, `Knowing what you know now, if you could go back in time and be present for those treaty negotiations, would you do things differently?”

“Oh yes”, he replied.

“We have a new federal government and the Prime Minister has vowed to form a better relationship between our two nations. Do you think in four or eight years things will be much different?”

“I have hope”

I said, “The Government of Canada is currently vetting Syrian refugees to determine which are to be allowed to settle here. It’s too bad your ancestors didn’t think to do the same thing.”

He smiled.

Personally, I can imagine the conversation going like this:

First Nations (FN): “Welcome traveller. Where are you from?”

European (E): “A place called Europe. It’s nice but we want a fresh start in this land of yours.”

FN: “OK, but first we want to vet you.”

E: “Go ahead. Shoot.”

FN: “Pardon?”

E: “Oh, sorry. It will make sense later. Go ahead and ask your questions.”

FN: “What are your intentions once you get settled?”

E: “Well, we are going to trick your people into giving us most of the land.”

FN: “I see. Any other big plans?”

E: “Well, once we get really settled, we are going to create these places called residential schools. We’ll tell you about them later.”

FN: “Hmm….. Do you have anything to declare?

E: “You should know that we are carrying these little, tiny bugs called smallpox and tuberculosis.”

FN: “Is that something we should worry about?”

E: “Welllll… In the spirit of transparency, I should point out that twenty-five to fifty percent of some of your nations will probably die.”

FN:”Sorry, you can’t come in”

My meeting with Chief White Bird lasted the better part of an hour. At no time did his body language or demeanour suggest that he was tiring of my presence or that he preferred to get back to the work I had interrupted. I felt a genuine warmth and connection. Although there were more questions I wanted to ask, I did not want to take any more of his time.

Before I left, he extended his hand and we shook. I thanked him for his time and told him I was sorry for the plight of his people.

I don’t know how often white guys like me drop in and say sorry; perhaps, more often that you realize. I’m glad I did.

What if we asked our First Nations if we should allow Syrian refugees in? I wonder if they would say, “No Syrian ever lied to us or ripped us off.”

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Me, a Freak?

Over the years I have worked with a number of school custodians (janitors). During that time I have also been involved with extra-curricular activities that, invariably, have added to their workload: locker and shower rooms in need of cleaning, stages needing to be swept, supplies to be replenished. Here’s a shout-out to those who came to work with a what-more-can-I-do-to-help attitude. You were such a joy to work with.

Me, a Freak?

Here’s a conversation that took place in my office on January 10, 2000. I know that’s the date because I actually typed out the conversation and e-mailed it out to some colleagues. Thank you, Erica, for saving your e-mails.

“Your teacher tells me you told your class that I was a freak. Is that true?” The grade 5 student replied, “Yes it is. I said it because it IS true.”

“Really? What caused you to make this statement to your class?”

“I said it because it’s true.”

“Hmm.. Well, perhaps you are of the impression that freak is a happy word. Maybe I should be thanking you for what you believe to be a compliment.”

“I know what it means, and it isn’t nice.”

“Really? Well what did I do to you to make you feel this way?”

Folding his hands behind his head, “There are other things I could say but there isn’t enough time.”

I chuckled and said, “I’ve got lots of time.”

“Why are you laughing?”

“You don’t expect me to get mad do you? I’m not paid enough to get mad.”

“There are other things I could say but I don’t think swearing is allowed in this school.

“You’re right about that. I think it is time to call your home.”


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The Synchronicity of Birds

It seems like this was destined to be a Hitchcock-themed week, even though we didn’t plan it this way.  Our Tuesday post and this one were planned completely separately, but there is no denying that Daphne du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock are inextricably linked, so it’s a happy coincidence for those who are fans of both! –Ed.

Daphne Du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier

Most writers would probably kill to write a string of popular best-selling books spanning four decades and be created a Commander of the British Empire for their efforts, but it’s arguable that, in Daphne du Maurier’s case, she might have been better off having written just two books.

du Maurier will always be linked to one of the great novels of the 20th century, the brilliant Rebecca.  Despite modern covers that attempt to fool readers into thinking that the book is aimed at the 50 Shades audience, or possibly the crowd that prefers tamer romances, this one is not a piece of entertaining fluff.  It’s a mature, unflinching look at adults who are less than perfect, but who do what they must and deal with the consequences as best they can.

Rebecca also contains one of the most memorable (some people say the best) opening lines in literature:  “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”… a haunting preview of what is to come and perfect for the novel.

It’s a bit sad that, while attempting to recapture the magic of her first hit, du Maurier focused on the romantic elements of the novel and produced a string of books that has since been completely dismissed by the establishment – with some justification – as mere time-passers not worthy of a second look.


The Birds Film Still

The true tragedy is that the dismissal of her work often extends to Rebecca itself (which is both ignorant and unforgivable) and to her other noteworthy book: The Birds and Other Stories.

That du Maurier was a master of suspense is clearly evident from the fact that Alfred Hitchcock decided to film no less than three of her tales:  The Birds, Jamaica Inn and Rebecca – and it’s arguable that The Birds is Hitchcock’s most famous film (although, admittedly, he has so many that it could be quite an argument!).  Nevertheless, that’s not the way she’s remembered, and most people wouldn’t be able to connect The Birds with her at all.

It’s their loss.

Originally published as The Apple Tree, the title was changed and the book was reissued as a companion to the film in 1963… and it’s well worth reading.

It’s a book that clearly shows that du Maurier was wasting her time with romance.  While love interests were fine to sustain the plot, what she really, truly did well was a kind of weird suspense, a mix of slightly surreal elements that never let the reader understand whether events are caused by natural or supernatural forces, or even if, perhaps, the characters are imagining it all.

It’s a slim book, and has six stories in it, but, with a deft touch, explores everything from adultery to cults with much the same effect as Rebecca, but in bite-sized chunks.  Anyone wanting to learn how to write a modern suspense tale – or wishing to consume one, need look no further.  Even though they are well over a half-century old, they feel perfectly modern (if one overlooks technology, of course).  The prose is that good.

And the title story feels very different from the film… so even if you think you know the tale, you don’t (also interesting to read the original material as Hitchcock did, to see what inspired him about it).

Of course, this review is being written for Classically Educated, so we’d be truly remiss if we failed to mention that a beautiful edition of this one was Published by Easton Press, although we don’t know if it’s currently available (ebay should help if not…).

All in all, we strongly recommend you pop into the local bookstore, buy these two du Maurier books and make a comment to the clerk about how sad it was that she never wrote anything else.  It would be a small white lie, and who knows – you might possibly be starting the restoration of her reputation.

Rant # 1 – Where Do We Draw the Line

Rant # 1 – Where Do We Draw the Line

I just read an article in the Globe and Mail titled, How should Canada teach financial literacy in schools? It included the statement, “School is an excellent place for young Canadians to learn about smart money-management habits and practices.” This statement brought back a number of memories.

I recall, one Saturday, driving into the city to meet a buddy for coffee. On the radio was someone expressing concern regarding the seemingly lack of physical fitness among young people. During this person’s argument, he said the words, “Schools need to be doing more to combat the problem.” I arrived at the coffee shop earlier than planned, so I started reading that day’s newspaper. In it was an article detailing the poor diets of many of our youth. It included the words, “School need to be doing more.” At the same time, the coffee shop was airing a local radio station. The news came on and one of the reports dealt with the high rate of teenage pregnancy in an area south-west of the city. The person being interviewed said the words, you guessed it, “Schools need to be doing more.”

I am an avid CBC Radio listener. Four years ago I started collecting quotes. Most of them come from the regional radio show out of Halifax; however, a number were from national programs:

Jan 13, 2011 – schools should be teaching our kids how to budget their money.

Dec 3, 2011 – teaching prescription drug awareness should be is as important as                               teaching math.

Dec 8, 2011 – Re mental health issues: Schools need to be doing a better job in                                   identifying adolescents with mental health issues.

Feb 13, 2013 – Re the dangers of power drinks: Schools have a role to play in                                       educating our youth.

Aug 23, 2013 – Ontario schools should let parents know when their child is overweight.

Sep 1 2013 – Regarding binge drinking: We need to start educating students as early                                    as middle school.

Jul 2, 2015 – Schools need to make our children aware of  Stoop-and-Scoop bylaws                      (picking up after your dog).

All of these are important issues. I certainly don’t want to step in my neighbour’s dog’s business, but it seems that whatever significant social ill we are facing, ends up being put on the backs of schools. Parents seem to be getting off easy.

I believe, out there somewhere, there is a manual that is given to newly-elected politicians. It is titled, How to Solve Political Problems and includes the following steps:

When faced by a societal concern brought to you by either the electorate or the media carry out the following steps:

  • Inform the media that you are forming a task group to study the issue. This will buy you at least 6 months during which time you can respond, “We are studying the problem. We do not want to rush into any action until relevant stakeholders have had the opportunity to offer input.”
  • After 6 months, have the task group inform the Department of Education that it is to write a new policy, or set of guidelines, informing schools how they are to deal with the problem.
  • Just before students arrive in September, have superintendents present the new directive to principals and tell them that this is to be a high priority matter.
  • You can now respond to the media by saying, “We have dealt with the issue. Schools now have the tools they need to fix the problem.”
  • In the years ahead when either parents or the media point out that the problem still exists, simply say, “I guess schools aren’t doing their job. We’ll look into it.”
  • Appoint another task force. Go back to Step 1.

As a principal, I used to imagine I had a cupcake in my briefcase. I also had a number of containers of different colour icings. When I attended a principals’ meeting and was given a new policy to implement, or a new set of guideline to follow, I imagined putting another layer of icing on the cupcake. I so wish I actually had the nerve to do this during our meetings (that would have made for a great story). If ever we were told to remove a policy from the manual I would have gladly scraped a layer off the cupcake. That never happened.

There  seems to be few gatekeepers in our system. More and more is being asked of our teachers. The message being delivered is, Be all things to all people.

Sorry- we can’t


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A Song in the Making

I believe it was 1991 when kindergarten was introduced to the New Brunswick public school system. Several years later, the Department of Education had the audacity to refer to grades 9 & 10 as the Foundation Years. So I guess that made K-8 the Pre-Foundation?

 I want to salute our primary (K-2) teachers. They are the hardest working teachers in our system and the ones who are poised to make the greatest difference. Thank you.

A Song in the Making

During my entire time as principal I taught music to the kindergarten students. At least twice a week I would visit each of the two classes. This would give their teachers some much needed preparation time and it gave me the opportunity to get to know the kids on the ground floor. Years later when I finished off my career teaching chemistry at Hampton High (my last 6 years), I had at least 2 of those former kindergarten students in each of my Chem 12 classes – now how cool is that? During the very last class I taught, I asked two of those students to stay behind after the bell. After the class was dismissed I said, “Fellows, you were in the last kindergarten classes I taught. I want you to be the last students to walk out the door before I retire.” I shook their hands and thanked them for being part of my journey.

But that’s not the story I want to share.

On one particular morning there was an in-service (professional development) being conducted at our school. Teachers were visiting from different schools and two people from the District were in attendance, both of whom wanted to peek in on my class. Sure enough, as I was getting set up they both appeared. This is the conversation they overheard:

Little girl speaking to me, “Today is my grammy’s birthday.”

I responded, “Well isn’t that special. I hope you sing Happy Birthday for her.”

Girl: “She’s dead.”

“I am sorry to hear that. It must be a sad day for your grampy.”

“They were split up.”

Not knowing what to say at this point I turned to my two colleagues and said, “I think I have enough now to write a country song.”


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Did this guy ever screw up a film?

Bergman and Peck

Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck in Spellbound

Today, we look back on a rare beast – a suspense film from the mid-forties that had no noir pretensions whatsoever.  Spellbound (1945) is a Hitchcock vehicle which is the second Psychological thriller to have appeared on the list – the first was 1942’s Cat People.

The two films feel completely different, since the older movie is more about the shadowy workings of the mind, while Spellbound actually looks into both the methods and profession of psychology.  Whether or not it’s an accurate portrayal of the state of the field in the 1940s is not something we’re qualified to discuss, but for the purposes of the movie, it worked well.

As usual with Hitchcock, the movie is well thought out and reasonably convoluted – and the ending is impossible to guess, despite the best efforts.  Hitchcock was a master of foreshadowing enough that the partial reveal wasn’t a surprise to the more intelligent viewers, but that the whole picture would only really appear when the director himself felt the time was right.

That technique actually works much better in Spellbound than it did in the film that old Alfred himself said was his favorite.  In fact, of the movies he directed that have been on the list so far, this is the best of his Hollywood movies (although there are still plenty more to come, so that might change over the coming months.

Spellbound Dream Sequence

Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound. Dream sequence by Salvador Dali.

We won’t get into the plot of the film itself, as it’s well worth watching, but it’s interesting to see the kind of talent they put together for it.  As leading couple, no less than Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck.  Then there was famous acting coach Michael Chekhov. The film even had the collaboration of Salvador Dali, who filmed the dream sequence, which was reputed to be completely insane, but, sadly, was cut by the production team and is now mostly lost (although Dali’s unmistakable flavor can still be seen in what remains).

Perhaps this film would give To Have and Have Not a run for the title of the old film with most still-recognizable names involved.  All that talent created a good flick – go find a copy and enjoy it!  It does somehow seem that most Hitchcocks fall into this category…


As always, a mention of two of the actors who were involved in this one who are still with us: Rhonda Fleming and Norman Lloyd.  Here’s a shout out and thank you, if you’re reading this!