Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Now, for non-fiction, which separates into the professional and personal categories, the books that relate to my work and those that I am compelled to read for interest.


Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn by John Hattie and Gregory Yates (2014)
This is the most comprehensive, readable, and visionary book on learning I have read.  It’s a must-read for pre-service teachers and those new to the profession.  Hattie and Yates analyze data to support effective pedagogy and to debunk some myths.  You’ve always thought that multi-tasking brings benefits?  Think again.

Opening Minds: Using Language to Change Lives by Peter H. Johnston (2012), the author of Choice Words.
In this seminal book that every single person with a stake in education needs to read, Johnston demonstrates the link between the language we use daily, whose implicit messages most often escape us, and the mindset we inculcate in our students or children.  The phrasing of questions and statements cultivates either a fixed mindset, he maintains, a black and right world of right and wrong answers and ways of doing things, or a dialogic approach that recognizes the gray, that is uncomfortable with uncertainty, and leaves room for creativity and new knowledge. 
It’s the difference between these statements, Johnston says: ” ‘The three reasons for the Civil War were . . .’ [and] ‘From the perspective of the white male living in the twentieth century, the main reasons for the Civil War were  .  .  .’ ”  In the first case, he says, “there is no uncertainty.  The knowledge is already made.  It is fixed.  There is nothing to be done, no sense to be made, no possibility of agency.” (p.  59)
Johnston cites Ellen Langer to state that people trained in this way “ ‘do not reconsider what they mindlessly accepted as true.’ ”   He goes on to make connections between these mindsets and political and social phenomena of our time.


The Power of Why by Amanda Lang
Amanda Lang, formerly of the CBC’s The Exchange, explains with concrete examples the critical importance not only of asking questions, but of asking the right questions, especially why.

The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King
A Canada Reads selection for 2015 defended by Wab Kinew, The Inconvenient Indian traces the history of First Nations in Canada and the United States.  In this parallel perspective, this book is different from other books on this subject.  King’s language is colorful and straightforward, making this an interesting but disturbing and often shocking read.

Running the Riders: My Decade as CEO of Canada’s Team by Jim Hopson with Darrell Davis
Confession:  I will read anything about the Sasaktchewan Roughriders.  I enjoy all the backstories, in film or video.  Although I enjoyed this book, I wonder why, in the section on the 2008 season, there is no mention of Weston Dressler named as the CFL rookie of the year that year, and getting the opportunity to become a go-to receiver when many receivers were sidelined in an epidemic of broken legs.  That is odd, given the enormous impact Dressler had on the Riders during his years there, from 2008 until just this winter, 2016. 

These books, along with a plethora of articles and comments I read, shaped my thinking during the past months.  If they pique your interest, I know they will also stimulate your reflection.

Monday, February 15, 2016


Almost two months into the new year, it’s past time to take stock of what I read last year, and to share some gems in fiction and non-fiction.   Looks like this will take two posts, though, so let’s start with fiction.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova
A professor of linguistics in her fifties and her family confront a diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimers.   I could identify with Alice, and asked myself more than once if I would pass the memory test her doctor uses to test Alice’s memory.  Could I, after five minutes or so,  recall and restate the name, occupation, and address of an arbitary person with no significance in my life at all, given to me only orally?  The answer to that question has frightened me since I read the book and saw the movie.  Julianne Moore won an Oscar for her portrayal of Alice.  In the novel, Alice’s agency with respect to her illness builds hope and meaning for herself and others afflicted with the disease; the movie, though, ends gripped in stark reality.  Read and view with caution.

12 Rose St. and One Fine Day You’re Going to Die by Gail Bowen
A masterful storyteller who creates memorable and complex characters involved in unpredictable intrigue, Regina’s Gail Bowen is always a good read.  I look forward to the ongoing events in the life of her heroine, Joann Kilbourn.

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Gallagher
A senior teacher of English I met in a workshop I facilitated recommended this book to me, and it did not disappoint.  After twenty-two people in a bread line in Sarajevo die in a mortar shell attack, a cellist performs the same piece of music in the square every afternoon, despite the real threat of death by sniper, to honor each of the victims.  The story is even more relevant in the current political context, as we witness virulent polarization of ideas, and as people value their individual ideologies more than solutions and the good of their country.   See my piece on this novel from October 2015.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
This American young adult novel takes up the racial issues that arise when a white police officer assaults Rashad, an African-American youth he (unjustly) suspects of shoplifting.   Quinn, a member of Rashad’s basketball team,  becomes involved when he witnesses the beating and realizes that the police officer is his best friend’s big brother.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer
This Pulitzer-prize winner recounts the story of a blind Jewish girl in Nazi-occupied France.  Yes, the story is captivating; it’s the language, however, that mesmerizes me.  Example:  “His voice is low and soft, a piece of silk you might keep in a drawer and pull out only on rare occasions, just to feel it between your fingers.”

La femme au carnet rouge (The Red Notebook) by Antoine Laurain
When I saw the title recommended in an email from Kobo, I thought I would rather read in French than use a translation.  What a delightful experience!  The language is poetic and original, yet accessible.  What can happen when a woman’s purse is stolen?  This simple plot springboard becomes a complex character study and love story.

Le chapeau de Mittérand (The President’s Hat) by Antoine Laurain
French author Antoine Laurain once more weaves an insightful tale about human motivation and the factors that support achievement.  What if you found yourself in a restaurant booth across from François Mittérand (president of France 1981 – 1995), and the latter forgot his hat when he left?  What if you took the hat?  Another simple premise drives a very intricate tale.

I will highight professional reads and non-fiction in the next post.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


The doorbell rings at my daughter’s, one morning the week of her wedding.  I answer the door because I am nearest the door, it’s the week before a wedding, and no one stands on ceremony.  Two women with pamphlets in their hands greet me, one on the step and one on the sidewalk just below her.   I can tell right away why  they are here, and, I know that, in about ten seconds, I will need to decide whether I will answer their question or send them away.  I open my mouth and take a breath to send them away when I hear the question.

“Has science replaced the Bible?  What can we do about science questioning the existence of God?”

That’s when I pause for second, and seize the opportunity to climb on my favorite soapbox.

”I’ve always seen science as a revelation of God,” I respond.  ”In my view, God has endowed humanity with the gifts that have produced the discoveries and inventions of science.   Look at how science has improved our life over the centuries,  in health, communication, and transportation, just for starters.   Why should God not work through scientists and other people to make His Kingdom come?”

The challenges that science has presented Christianity through the ages (see Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, reproductive technologies, for example) persist in our own (see Darwin, reproductive technologies).  I write in the Christian context because that’s what I know,  although I suspect that generalization to religion might not be out of line.  Why is it that Christianity interprets advancement through science in our time as such a threat?  Can religion not hold its own?  For religion to tout human progress through science in our time as indicators of the ongoing revelation of God,  though, it would first have to admit that  divine revelation continues through people, exceptional and ordinary, well-known and obscure, embodied through Jesus two thousand and more years ago, and the prophets centuries more before that.    It would have to curb a longing for the thought processes and standards of the Middle Ages and undo any moves already initiated in that direction.  It would have to stop perceiving revelation as having stopped centuries ago.  For me, that’s not such a leap.  It seems perfectly natural.  

Can scientific discoveries can have unforeseen and unwanted negative consequences?  Of course.   Examples abound:  nuclear energy, the internal combustion engine, the technologies that support social media, pesticides, genetic engineering, to name only a few.  Still, the nefarious effects don’t negate the benefits those same discoveries have brought the human race over time.  The arrival of the internal combustion engine, for example, a contributor to greenhouse gases in our age, was perceived as a salvation by early twentieth century cities wondering what to do about the serious problem of disposal of accumulated horse manure (see Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner in  SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance).   Genetic engineering created wheat strains adapted to the rigors and growing season of the Canadian prairies.   Benefits and challenges go hand in hand.

Art, it seems, hasn’t suffered the same stigma as religion.   Although art, long perceived as a revelation of God (see for example, Bernini, Michaelangelo, da Vinci, Milton, Dante, Bach, Mozart, Handel), has challenged religious beliefs and practices as well (see The Last Temptation of Christ,  Charlie Hebdo, The Simpsons, South Park, Da Vinci Code), individuals still look to song, music, and visual art to express their sense of God or to discover it.  Why, then, stigmatize science?

It’s time for us to see God revealed in scientific expressions through the ages and in modern times as much as in artistic expressions.  After all, scientific and artistic discoveries and creations are possible because of the gift with which God endowed the human person, created, as Christians believe, in His own image.  Then,  we can say with the lady at the bottom of the steps at my daughter’s that day, “I hadn’t look at it like that before,”  and we can rejoice and be grateful for  accomplishment of all kinds in our own time.