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Archive for June, 2010

We live in a high pressure world.  Our work day now extends beyond normal hours, thanks to longer hours at the bank, the grocery store, and the fitness centre.  The Blackberry has invaded every aspect of our daily lives, blurring the lines between business and pleasure.  Growing numbers of Canadians admit to working virtually around the clock. We’re more stressed, less rested and have less time to devote to our kids.  Welcome to life in the early 21st century.

This is not just another rant, but rather a quick synthesis of the results of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing Report, released June 15, 2010, and aptly entitled Caught in the Time Crunch: Time Use, Leisure and Culture in Canada. It’s also a report that captured headlines across Canada — and left many Canadians nodding in agreement that the time has come to assess the total impact on our families as well as our general wellbeing.

The Toronto Globe and Mail (June 15, 2010) provided a succinct summary of the key findings:

  • The 24 Hour Work Day: Twenty-five per cent of Canadians are working around the clock;
  • The Generational Squeeze: One in four of us cares for an elderly dependent and one in five is responsible for both a child and a senior;
  • Busy Kids: Two-thirds of teens spend  over 2 hours daily in front of screens; more than 80% of 6 to 9 year-olds are taking part in an organized activity programs;
  • Shrinking Leisure Time: More time working means less time for social activities; only 5 % find time for arts and culture activities, fewer than ever visit national parks.

The Time Crunch means that work-life is taking over our lives, cutting deeply into time spent with family, refreshing our minds, and exercising our bodies.  We are clearly being driven by the pace set by our globalized, technologically advanced world.

The pressures felt by today’s families, parents, and children were starkly revealed in Carl Honore’s profoundly important 2008 book Under Pressure: How the Epidemic of Hyper-Parenting is Endangering Childhood. The root of the problem, according to Honore, lay in “our culture of speed, efficiency and success at all costs.”  It had created a new phenomenon called “hyper-parenting” which was “pushing children and their parents to the brink.”

The CBC-TV Doc Zone program, Hyper Parents & Coddled Kids (2010), drove the message home: What began as sheltering children from a dangerous world and preventing those “skinned knees” was producing a generation of “coddled kids” unable or unwilling to function on their own.

The spectre of “hyper-parenting” crept up on us slowly. We just wanted what was best for our kids and now nothing is too good for them.

What’s causing families to be so under pressure?  What’s the impact on well-meaning parents ?  Are today’s  parents giving children a leg-up in life?  Or are we  creating problems that will last a lifetime?  Let’s hear from you.

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The controversial video of the former Dartmouth Junior High principal Ken Fells has now gone international, following news that it was leaked to Atlantic Frank by none other than the Halifax Board Superintendent’s husband, Dr. Chris Olsen.  The shocking news about the source of the leak has touched off calls for a provincial inquiry and a full review of the Superintendent’s conduct.  The latest crisis has brought the Board under world-wide scrutiny and is now among the most discussed educational topics virtually everywhere.  Yet, among Nova Scotia officialdom, all of this has been greeted by a puzzling silence.

Three days after the damaging revelation, the Nova Scotia Education Minister Marilyn More was finally compelled to respond.  Instead of addressing the fundamental issues, she announced a school video security crackdown, ignoring calls for a provincial inquiry and a full review of the Halifax Board Superintendent’s conduct.  She may have taken her cue from the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union. Amidst all the chaos of the recent revelations, the NSTU issued a peculiar Media Release (June 4, 2010) defending the reputation of Ken Fells and claiming it had been sullied by the Superintendent’s husband’s actions.

The Halifax Regional School Board is now under intense pressure to re-open the whole matter. The Toronto Globe and Mail and CNN have weighed in, both claiming that that Ken Fells used “excessive force” in “manhandling the student” to seize his cell phone.  Public opinion is hardening, judging from the online comments on The Chronicle Herald news website.  When CBC-TV Nova Scotia (June 4 ) asked – “Should  Carole Olsen continue as the HRSB  Superintendent?,”  the results were overwhelming. Commentors calling for her departure outnumbered those opposed by a 3 to 1 margin.  Adding to the confusion, one Board member has broken ranks and called for Ken Fells’ restoration at Graham Creighton Junior High School.

The Nova Scotia Education Department’s focus on school video surveillance will only open a new debate. By side-stepping the core issues, the Minister may have opened a new “can of worms.”  Focusing on the security of school video systems seems like a strange response to all of this worldwide scrutiny.  It might be interpreted as a reaction conditioned by a “siege mentality.”   Lashing out at the “leakers” certainly protects the system and reassures the beleaguered staff.  In all likelihood, the idea came from the NSTU and is aimed at calming the waters among teachers.

School boards now routinely video daily activities as a security measure and, since 9-11, most schools are well protected from intruders and emergency threats. All entrances and most hallways are under video surveillance.  Some classrooms in Canada’s larger cities are also taped, allegedly for security reasons. Oddly enough, we may have Ken Fells to thank for making this known to a much wider audience.

After 9-11, we were quite willing to accept such massive intrusions into our personal lives because of the very real terrorist threat.  Today, the challenges facing schools  are quite different. Building collegial, trusting communities is, once again, an aspirational goal for schools.

The Big Question concerning School Video Surveillance is: How much school security is too much?  Should we be taping virtually everything  happening in our schools? Whose rights are being protected? In the case of the Ken Fells controversy, is it the rights of private property or individual rights?  And whose individual rights?

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