Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I was driving my car, minding my own business, listening to the news, when the announcer reported the following:

"Same-sex marriage is now the law in Canada."

Well, I know helmuts and seatbelts are compulsory here, but surely this step takes heterophobia a bit too far, no? Well, I could hardly stop laughing at the news-reader's gaffe (she added the "the" to the lead), but then I heard the next item, which makes me say, again, ARGH!

The U.S. Congress has adopted a plan to extend daylight time by two months each year as part of a sweeping new energy plan. If U.S. President George W. Bush signs it into law, the plan means Americans would turn their clocks forward one hour on the first weekend of March, instead of April, and "fall back" on the final weekend in November instead of October. — from; full story here.

Of the three calendar months not on Daylight Time, what exactly will be "Standard"? Now, you know that I really don't like switching to and from Daylight Time every year. I'd be quite happy if we could just set the clock forward — or backward — and be done with it. But thanks to that genius the Americans have elected to run their country, we'll have to change our clocks just before Christmas and again just after Valentine's Day. I'm all for saving energy — oh, don't even get me started — but can't we just make up our political MINDS? And worse, Canada isn't sure whether it should actually follow the %$#@! American administration in adopting two more months of Daylight Time. Perhaps we should spend two months of each year slightly out of sync with the rest of the continent — well, actually, has anyone asked Mexico how it feels about Daylight Time? Grr. I get a little irrational about this issue.

Because, after all, we're going to need all that energy we save to operate our big-ass HDTVs:

Researchers at National Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, recently conducted a fascinating experiment: They ran a two-minute clip of Shrek on a whole range of TVs, from small analog ones to massive, table-top-sized high-definition sets, while measuring the power usage. The result? The new big boys chew more than twice the energy of the old-school TVs. Interestingly, high-definition images require more power for their increased picture quality. Click here if you want to see the whole report.

Hrmph! I'm turning into a grump in my old age. But here's a positive item:

People who sing along to music while driving tend to concentrate more and fall asleep at the wheel less often, suggests a British study. Singing stimulates the mind and body, making you more alert, said Dr. Nicola Dibben, a music psychologist from the University of Sheffield. See the full article here, at

I seem to spend a lot of time on the news, huh?

Well, I've just spent the last three weeks having curriculum theory shovelled into my head, and my brain feels ready to explode. But I've been reading a lot of fun stuff too. One YA item, a novella called The Glass CafĂ© by Gary Paulsen, particularly stood out — smart, accessible, loaded with personality and interest. Definitely a good choice for reluctant readers with an interest in social justice. I'd also recommend, surprisingly, Beverly Cleary's autobiography, My Own Two Feet. It is engagingly written, covering the period from her high-school graduation to the submission of her first manuscript, Henry and Ribsy. I loved her books when I was growing up, and her memoir offers some keen observations about the way that growing up on the Amercian West Coast during the 20s and 30s informed her fictional characters. Then I read (blush) a Marian Keyes novel, The Other Side of the Story. It was surprisingly complex, entwining the lives of a literary agent, a novelist, and an events planner. But I was greatly disappointed by her treatment of the character who has an affair with her boss; her resolution of the situation did not feel authentic to me. But otherwise, this is fine beach reading — except that I don't have a beach!

Next week, after I complete the final paper for my course, I will be reading Harry Potter 6. The guys have both already read it — it's taking a lot of restraint not to tear into it myself. Oh, patience, patience. There are some slabs I need to conquer before I get to all that...

Off to the mountains,

Sunday, July 17, 2005

The Dreaming Curriculum

As promised. Wish me luck presenting it on Tuesday! — L


Although some of it is thoughtless and even puerile, popular music has proven that a unique combination of words and sounds can offer a potent form by which to influence the masses. As pop moves closer to artistry, it may capture distinct moments in its creator's life or reflect significant passages in its culture's development. At its best, popular music is art, both a document of personal transformation and an invitation for listeners to identify, to empathize, and to learn.

Long before Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan there was Kate Bush, one of the first girl-and-piano singer/songwriters. Bush arrived on the music scene in 1978 with the single "Wuthering Heights" from her album The Kick Inside, a series of largely personal, introspective songs. The record launched her into the experience popularly referred to as "overnight success." Critics appreciated her intelligent writing, while her ethereal beauty appealed to the masses, creating an intense, sometimes fanatic following. Bush released a second album, Lionheart, similar to the first, and then a third album, Never Forever, a little more instrumental and experimental, in the span of just over eighteen months. Then there was the blank period, between 1980 and 1982, when Bush released nothing of her own and worked very little with other musicians. When her fourth album, The Dreaming, was released, fans and critics alike were taken aback: The Dreaming documents a personal crisis — a literal record of disintegration. Read through this album, the curriculum of our culture is a curriculum of alienation from the Self: the experience of education as existential angst. Bush uses her medium to articulate the lessons fame has taught her, offering up a catechism of madness.

Bush intended The Dreaming to be heard as a comprehensive whole, not a series of singles. Each song presents a Self adapting to and functioning in a political, social world. Track 1, "Sat in Your Lap," deals with learning and epistemology. Track 2, "There Goes a Tenner," recounts a bank robbery gone wrong. On Track 3, "Pull Out the Pin" — a protest song — a North Vietnamese peasant confronts an American soldier. Track 4, "Suspended in Gaffa," discusses the fear of dying without finding a sense of self, while Track 5, "Leave It Open," describes psychic collapse as side one ends. Opening side two is another protest song — Track 6, "The Dreaming" — which explores the plight of Australia's Aborigines. Track 7, "Night of the Swallow," is about needing risk to feel alive, while Track 8, "All the Love," discusses changing relationships after a death. Track 9, "Houdini," is a love song to the escape-artist; the track also helps listeners interpret the record as a whole: its central image is the mouth — and by extension, language: "With a kiss I'd pass the key..." (also the visual for the album cover). Track 10, "Get Out of My House," concludes the record with an angry, oppositional theme. Bush's instruction in the liner notes is informative — "This album was made to be played loud" — suggesting that the lyrics were intended to be shouted, not whispered, and that the music was meant to disturb, not soothe. The album is a carefully engineered syllabus, mediated by the technologies and influences that surrounded Bush as a subject in the late twentieth century.

From this provocative lesson plan I have chosen three songs to explore Bush's curriculum of angst. The first, "Sat in Your Lap," is about the elusive project of learning. Is knowledge received or earned? The speaker cannot decide. Perhaps knowledge is one of many heritable talents, as Howard Gardner might suggest — "something sat in your lap." Perhaps it is a construct of the powerful, created to control the distribution of scarce resources, as IQ test scores might suggest — "something that you never have." The speaker's quest for wisdom is interrupted by mundane concerns: work, status, material being. She believes she should learn, but is frustrated when her goal proves more elusive than she expects ("just when I think I'm king, I just begin"). Here Bush articulates a familiar model of curriculum as product, rather than process; her speaker is alienated from learning when her journeys go unacknowledged, unrewarded.

Wrapping up side one is "Leave It Open," a song about the psychic space of the mind and the struggle to remain receptive to difference. Ideological state apparatuses — the school, for example — seek to colonize the mind. Resistance is exhausting and possibly futile; at the song's conclusion, the speaker succumbs. The final, double-backward-masked chant "We let the weirdness in" may be a promise or a threat: we cannot know whether the speaker has accepted an alternative path of socialization ("weirdness" by a social standard) or opened her mind to conformity to the point of breakdown, letting go of her sanity. In the meantime, she has swallowed her ego and must shut her mouth to stop it from emerging — she is silenced. This song is a bitter indictment of the hidden curriculum of socialization: we cannot be our true selves if we are to survive in a world that demands conformity and obedience. Success in this world divides the lived Self from the perceived Self, leading to fragmentation and, as the highly processed, mechanical vocals suggest, a loss of humanity.

"Get Out of My House," the final song on the album, is about reclaiming the Self from forces that would dominate and destroy the speaker. It is sung from the perspective of an embattled individual confronting fear, anger, and violence. The house represents the embodied Self resisting psychic and physical violation. If we read in this text the aim of schooling as socialization, we discover an individual who can resist only by barring and bolting her Self, protecting it from invasion. Two statements of resistance — "can't knock my door down" and "this house is full of fight" — are clear. When reason and physical evasion are not sufficient to evade her pursuer, the speaker draws on animal energy for resistance ("I change into the Mule"); the song ends with a noisy, meaningless chorus in which the human rationality of language is rejected in favour of a rhythmic, wordless state. This text might then be read as a response to the scientific efficiency method of curriculum development; it is a curriculum of refutation, a reclamation of the embodied Self, but ultimately it must resort to wordlessness to escape rational thought. Like the other songs on the album, it ends with unresolved feelings and situations — the whole text reveals a striking absence of closure.

The curriculum of The Dreaming is both a curriculum of oppression and a curriculum of evasion. In this text, Bush adopts the roles of both student and teacher. As the student, she reveals the experience of depression and alienation in the classroom of popular culture. The songs offer strategies of resistance and survival within the psychic onslaught of life as a popular female musician in the late capitalist system. Bush sees herself objectified and responds with anomie: "I want the answers quickly / But I don't have the energy." As the teacher, Bush presents a structural-functionalist view of society: each element of her worldview exists in dynamic relation to the others and attempts to correct the system when another element breaks down. Notice the recurring imagery of fixing and cleaning: "Wide eyes would clean and dust / Things that decay, things that rust" and "I wash the panes, I clean the stains away"; equally, note the response that follows: "But now I've started learning how / I keep them shut."

The content of this curriculum is largely hidden: the intrapsychic shocks of living in an alienated, consumerist society (remember, 1982 was the height of Margaret Thatcher's Conservative England). Education, as we know, may be formal or informal; Bush's experience of sudden, worldwide fame affected her deeply (she was allegedly the most-photographed woman in Britain in 1979). This curriculum of notoriety, of exposure, teaches by turns the helplessness, depression, and rage we discover in this album.

However, a curriculum of resistance that turns to insanity, criminality, and wordlessness as its ultimate strategies cannot be a pedagogy of hope. Any sense of praxis — reflective action — is unclear. The Self presented here is battered by psychic storms. The gesture of expression — coming to speech (or in this case, song) — is important, and the text attempts to grapple with the silence and isolation of modern life, with more or less success; but ultimately this Self is defeated by the many forces attempting to confine her to a predetermined role: a vulnerable, sexualized, female object. On her next album (Hounds of Love, 1985), Bush turned to love as the answer to this crisis, but she needed to name the crisis, as she did on The Dreaming, before she was ready to take that step.

Monday, July 11, 2005

An addiction gone bad

It's now gone too far. Not only have I succumbed and driven my family into its insidious grasp but now I've started to broaden my scope to friends and other family members.

"...a sick addiction that conumes your thoughts, shreds your tendons and threatens your very existence."

That's my brother Doug working his way up the Unnamed 5.6 at Abraham Slabs. Been on a Gym wall exactly once and I forced him to climb 27m of sharp Rockies' limestone; and I didn't even feel guilty.


For more pics of this summer's activities, check out a selection at Macblaze or the whole online catalogue on my online image gallery.

I must say I wouldn't have predicted that climbing would be come such a fascination. I guess it has something to do with the unique mixture of challenge, fear, nature and opportunity to grow. I've always believed that life was about growing and learning. That if any universalraison d'etre, metaphysical or otherwise existed then it was to be more tomorrow than we were today. As with so much in life, learning can become stagnant, growth can become plodding progress and the increments can disappear into day-to-day details that leave no trace that they even exist. Mostly though, I thought of this a spiritiual or intellecual goal.

I'm not really into sports or physical competition but I've always understood that they provide an outlet for growth outside the self. For those lucky few whose bodies become a finely tuned tool, the nature of "sports" allows both the body and mind to continue to expand, explore and excel every day and honestly there are days when I am a bit jealous of that. I occasionaly remember that in our modern society, we have a tendency to elevate intellectual pursuits a bit too much. Ballet is nothing more than an exquisite blend of the body's potential and the mind's capacity--a lot like watching Wayne Gretzky on a breakaway if you can just shift you view 90 degrees.

Let's give credit where credit is due. All those high school jocks and beer league heros have learned to to grow and learn in a way that some of us never have. I've never minded a good game of catch, wasting an afternood at frisbee or a splash in the pool, but its always been as mindless as a classic episode of Three's Company. Playing sports is like watching sitcoms of reading a good trashy romance, fun but ultimately just a way to while away the afternoon. Still, I can picture a few moments from the past: my old friend Mitch, poised between 2nd and 3rd, snatching the ball out of the air and oh so gracefully pirouetting to land nimbley and blast the ball across the infield to make the play. I know it wasn't mindless because I grew up watching him push and push those skills so his body would do exactly what his mind told it to. I was alway just too worried about whether I could actually stop the stupid ball to wonder what I was going to do with it next. He grew, I watched.

All this is to say that I think I've found in climbing a way to push my body to learn and grow not because I want to be a jock or spray about my latest rock conquest, but because it is becoming a tool that allows me to focus my thoughts and learn to exist in a whole new way. There is something very, very unique about being 20m up a rock slab that you know you can't climb, know you can't descend, know you can't fall from and know you can't just cling to. I've said it to L quite a few times now..."that scared the hell out of me!" and followed up with a smile. "Scared" is definitely not the right word although if you can conceive of fear as a power for good, something to actually strive for, then you'd be close.

There is something inexplicable that occurs when you get all of your processes working in synch. The human psyche is is a construct of nerves and neurons, habits and hormones. I'm beginning to believe that if one can only get the system working together... if thought, perception, imagination, instinct, strength, flexibility, if all the elements that make the machine work are working in harmony, then it doesn't matter the level at which you perform, whether mental giant and world class power lifter or city bus driver and newspaper proofreader, what matters is that the system itself works and continues to grow, to work "stronger, faster, better" and that we learn to celebrate that.

I'll never aspire to being Chris Sharma, a lot of things I've read and done lately are allowing me to center my new addiction within my self: I grow, everyday. I think in the end, Jake's quote (above: "climbing is a sick addiction...") sums it up well when it ends with, "Other than that, it is just plain fun."

It is.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Kibbles and Bits

I am currently taking a graduate course in curriculum foundations. It's very interesting, but my brain is tired. Here are some bits and pieces to mull over. Meanwhile, I'm working on a little project about pedagogy and the album The Dreaming. I'll probably post it once I've presented it. Watch out! —L

Sadly, the history of language is too often a collapse of words for action into words for things. —Madeleine R. Grumet

From CBC Edmonton: Foothills-Rocky View MLA Ted Morton says if the province doesn't fight the legislation, homosexuality will creep into the mainstream and those that don't agree will be discriminated against. "If gay marriage has full support of both federal and provincial law, it would be very difficult, for example, for a teacher at a high school or junior high to refuse to teach this as part of the curriculum that presents this as normal," Ted Morton said.

Give me a break
Oh, let me try
Give me something to show for my miserable life
Something to take
Would you break even my wings, like a swallow?
— Kate Bush, "Night of the Swallow"