Tag Archives: Canada

BOOK REVIEW: “Metis and the Medicine Line: Creating a Border and Dividing a People” by Michel Hogue

I came to this book with an academic background not in history but, rather, in issues associated with philosophical change in Canadian postsecondary education. One of my interests is implications for humanities research, including historical research, of postmodernism. I’ve also had a longstanding interest in Canada’s First Nations people, but mainly in the present context. (I worked for a few years for CESO on a Native youth employment program that gave me the opportunity to visit several reserves in northern Quebec and BC. The experience left a very strong impression.)

Frankly, I’m generally wary of the work of academic historians. So much of such work buys into, if not explicitly then implicitly, the binary logic that has held sway in Western universities since their inception. This system of logic no longer generally prevails in modern democracies like Canada so, at best, such work is merely outdated. Often, such work is not only outdated but also conceivably could do harm. (I could say more about how such harm may occur, but this isn’t the place for another one of my screeds about academic humanities research.)

Although Michel Hogue is a professor in the History Department at Carleton University and “Metis and the Medicine Line” is published, in Canada, by the University of Regina Press (it originally was published in the US by the University of North Carolina Press), I would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in Canadian Metis history and culture and/or the history of the Canada-US border–even to those skeptical of academe. I also would recommend it to any culturally responsible Canadian whose knowledge of plains history is, like mine was before I read this book, basically confined to compulsory high-school history classes and watching “Dancing With Wolves,” who should know more–even if they don’t yet know it. (I saw “Dancing With Wolves” a second time, on APTN, after reading this book, and the movie was more interesting the second time around.) I also would recommend it to academic historians, regardless of their areas of specialization, as a model of how academic historical work can remain relevant, and be beneficial, in the current era.

Because of its rich detail, “Metis and the Medicine Line” sometimes can be tough reading, even for academically trained readers. But getting through the book’s densely packed pages is worth the effort. (To be fair, there are several interesting historical photographs interspersed throughout the book.) These details are included not merely to illustrate particular points but also themselves effectively comprise two central points of the book.

The first is that Metis history is much more rich and complex than has traditionally been portrayed. As Hogue recounts, when the North American plains were first being colonized, the Metis people crossed many of the conceptual ‘borders’ that the White colonists, who themselves thought in binary terms, tried to impose on them: these include ‘borders’ relating to race, culture and nationality. The second is that the development of the physical border between Canada and the United States in western North America was a more complex, and more conflict-ridden, process than is usually understood, owing in large measure to the cross-border travel in pursuit of buffalo, and cross-border shenanigans, of migratory plains people, most notably the Metis. (The meaning of “the medicine line” in the title of the book is related to some of these shenanigans. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read the book.)

A stylistic device that Hogue employs throughout this book that helps to organize, and to bring resonance to, details he provides about Metis life and culture and Canada-US border creation issues is to follow a single Metis family, the family of the peripatetic trader Antoine Ouellette and his wife Angelique Bottineau, through the period covered in the book. It’s a very clever, very elegant, device that draws readers back in when the details may be starting to wear them down. It worked that way for me, anyway.

Because I’m not a historian specializing in Metis culture and/or Canada-US border development, I don’t know if and, if so, to what extent, Michel Hogue’s book, and his related academic work, is precedent setting. I’m curious to know. I would suggest that with “Metis and the Medicine Line”, Hogue not only has written an important book about a people that crossed racial, cultural and national borders, but also has done some significant border-crossing himself, bringing a fresh, non-traditional, non-binary, perspective to this subject. He is to be commended–as are his publishers.

A relatively minor shortcoming of this book, in my view, is that I wish that Hogue had said a little more about himself in his book, and what led him to write it. The combination of his first and last names suggests his family backgound is culturally mixed, including some French or French-Canadian. In a book like this, I think he owes it to his readers to let them know at least if he is, or isn’t, Metis. . . . Actual Metis, that is, and not just any old border-crossing, contemporary, Canadian who identifies with these border-crossing people.

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Reclaiming Our Stories: Another View of Residential Schools

For a couple of years, when I was in my late teens, my family was entirely dysfunctional. Right after my mother and father separated, there was some financial hardship and the trauma of moving from a small town to the big city so my mother could go back to work as a secretary. But that was nothing compared to when my mother hooked up with an abusive, violent, alcoholic, fertilizer salesman (really), who moved in with my mother and we four girls when I was 17. Things then got completely out of control–or, should I say, the fertilizer really flew.

As the eldest of the brood, with only two years left in high-school, immediately after which I hightailed it out of there, I got off relatively easy. But I do know a thing or two about growing up in poverty with an alcoholic parent, or surrogate parent, and how this can affect kids. The kids who are especially vulnerable, because they’re the youngest, or smallest, or least developed intellectually or emotionally, are likely to be left deeply scarred, with very low esteem. As adults, unless they recognize their problems and get professionally help, or somehow work out their problems themselves, they are likely to perpetuate the pattern of abuse.

And, oh yes, I’m White. Bad stuff sometimes happens in White families, too.

I mention this aspect of my background here–that I haven’t previously publicly divulged–because it’s relevant to my concerns about dominant narratives in Canada concerning First Nations residential schools.

I personally know not just one, but two, White Canadian writers, both of whom come from, in my view, very privileged backgrounds and both of whom are strong proponents of the now-dominant view in Canada, shared by Whites and Aboriginals alike, that Canadian First Nations residential schools were basically hellholes. Although it’s not indicated in any of their published writings of which I’m aware, both received at least their secondary educations (and maybe their elementary educations, too) in private Christian boarding schools. Schools for rich kids.  (At least some of my readers probably will want to know these writers’ names. I’m sorry, but I won’t be providing that information here. You’ll have to take my word for it.)

I don’t personally know anyone who attended a residential school. However, the comments of a Native audience member, who had family members who had attended such schools, at a talk I attended in Toronto about the residential schools, back when I was a student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, support my suspicions.

This Native audience member, a teacher herself, took exception to the overall condemnation of residential schools by the speaker, a White university professor. She pointed out that her aunt generally had enjoyed her experiences. Among the things she enjoyed, according to her niece, were that there were three meals a day and clean sheets on her bed once a week–things she wasn’t able to take for granted at home. Also, she developed a love for learning, that she shared with her niece, who went on to university and became a teacher.

I don’t mean to suggest that the residential schools were entirely without problems. But I do suspect that the very dark picture of them that currently prevails in Canada is due at least in large measure to certain influential, privileged, White folks projecting dark memories of their own boarding school experiences onto residential schools and their First Nations students. If one comes from a financially and emotionally stable family background, boarding-school life may indeed seem wretched compared to family life; but if one isn’t so lucky, while school may not be paradise, it’s likely to be more tolerable.

As for emotional scars having been left on former generations of Canada’s Aboriginal people by the residential schools, and these scars being the root cause of problems such as alcoholism and domestic abuse among succeeding generations, there are other ways that one, whether Native or White, can become emotionally scarred. Only approximately 30% of Canada’s Aboriginal children attended residential schools during the period that they were primarily active (between 1876, following the passage of the Indian Act, until the late 20th Century). It would be interesting to know which group, those who did or those who didn’t attend residential school, ended up better off.

Poverty, associated with the breakdown of traditional cultures, was rampant among Canada’s First Nations people during most of the period of the residential schools, and continues to be common among many of our First Nations people. To escape poverty, education is key.  Also, through education, we  can achieve greater control over our stories–stories told about us by others and stories about us we tell ourselves.

**In doing some basic research for this piece, I came across an interesting article published in The National Post newspaper last year, “Could it be that residential schools weren’t so bad?“, in which the author, Paul Russell, debunks various common conceptions about residential schools. While the issue of privileged White people possibly projecting their own narratives onto Aboriginal people isn’t addressed in this article, issues such as the ‘high’ rate of fatalities in the residential schools from tuberculosis and smallpox and the ‘abusive’ disciplinary practices of teachers are addressed. For anyone interested in the residential schools, I believe this article is worth a read.

Picturing Canadian Multi-Multiculturalism . . . or Fun With Flags

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Various ideas I’ve put forward in this blog regarding Canadian post-secondary education are born of my recognition that Canada is officially a multicultural country and my belief that certain educational practices are more consistent with multiculturalism than are others. Until recently, I took it for granted all Canadians possessed a very similar understanding of what was meant by ‘multicultural’ and ‘multiculturalism’; but it seems that’s not actually the case. For example, as was pointed out by Douglas Todd in his Vancouver Sun article of March 13th, ‘A blank slate, with no culture,’ some recent immigrants to Canada are under the impression that, because Canada is officially a multicultural country, in this country all cultures have the same basic status and Canada has no real culture of its own. As someone born and bred in Canada, of English and Scottish stock, that certainly never was my understanding of ‘multicultural’. Then too, as I further considered this subject prompted by Todd’s article, I realized my own understanding of ‘multicultural’ had evolved over the years.

To grasp the various possible understandings of ‘multicultural’, and ‘multiculturalism’, I find it helpful to organize the various options in graphic terms. I’ve taken some liberties with our Canadian flag (and availed myself of the nifty iPad app Brushstroke for palette inspiration) to help me better understand the options myself and, since I’m incorporating these pictures in this blog post, to perhaps help convey to my readers various possible meanings of ‘multicultural’ and ‘multiculturalism’ in the present Canadian context.  As I’m more than willing to admit, this scheme is, in some respects, very simplistic, and for some of my choices (especially colour choices), I do take artistic liberties. Nevertheless, it seems helpful–to a point.

A ‘GEOGRAPHICAL-CULTURAL’ CONCEPTION OF CANADIAN MULTICULTURALISM (WITH POSTE DE LA BALEINE/GREAT WHALE RIVER/WHAPMAGOOSTUI/KUUJJUARAPIK AT THE GEOGRAPHIC CENTRE)

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When multiculturalism first became enshrined as Canadian federal policy in October of 1971, supporters of this policy had essentially only two groups in mind: French-speaking Canadians, who predominated in southern Quebec, and English-speaking Canadians, who predominated in the southern portion of the rest of Canada. The policy basically was intended to appease Quebec francophones. Since the education system of Quebec had the same European roots as did that of English-speaking Canada, this conception of ‘multiculturalism’ did not, nor does it today, dramatically affect Canadian post-secondary education.  (Certain changes, like a greater emphasis across the country on attaining bilingualism, would be expected.)

At least since the time that I worked in Quebec’s far north immediately after graduating from McGill in the late 1970s, my own version of multiculturalism also has incorporated First Nations cultures–that seem to have increasingly gained entry into the conceptions of ‘multiculturalism’ of most Canadians through this decade. After working in a unique village on the Hudson Bay that included both Cree and Inuit people as well as French-speaking Quebecois and English-speaking Canadians from across Canada (and that is known by the four different names I’ve indicated above), my conception of Canada’s First Nations people has included two main groups, like Canadian anglophones and francophones tied largely to Canadian geography: the Inuit, who predominate in a very substantial part of northern Canada and who have a very distinctive culture among Canadian First Nations, and all of the other, more southern-dwelling, First Nations.  (I realize the latter group actually includes a panoply of culturally, linguistically and geographically distinct sub-groups.)

Thus, my basic, underlying, conception of multiculturalism, at least since the late 1970s, has incorporated four main groups, that may be thought of as Canada’s four founding cultures, each of which has laid claim to a significant geographic expanse in this country for a significant period of time. These four groups can be divided into two main pairs–hence the mainly two-colour colour scheme of the above group of four ‘flags’, representing, in total, one picture of ‘multiculturalism.’

Getting back to multiculturalism in relation to post-secondary education, this conception of ‘multiculturalism’, that incorporates certain non-European cultures and values and, thus, opens the door to postmodernism, does have very significant implications for Canadian post-secondary education in general; however, it isn’t the only possible version of ‘multiculturalism’ that may have such implications.

A CONCEPTION OF CANADIAN MULTICULTURALISM THAT STARTS WITH FOUNDING CULTURES & INCORPORATES RECENT IMMIGRANTS

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Back in the south of Canada, where I’ve lived since my relatively brief foray into Canada’s far north, it’s easy to forget how distinctive Canada’s Inuit people are, even among Canada’s diverse First Nations people.  Among we ‘southerners’–including even those of us who should know better–at least for the purpose of thinking about Canadian multiculturalism, it’s common to lump together all First Nations people, including the Inuit. The above picture thus incorporates three flags whose upper portion is Canadian red, two of which are almost identical (they share a blue lower portion) and represent Canada’s anglophone and francophone cultures, and the third of which (with earth tones at the bottom) can be seen as representing Canada’s First Nations cultures, considered collectively.

The fourth flag in this picture, the green (and blue) one, represents recent immigrants to Canada. Although recent immigrants to Canada weren’t a major consideration when Canadian multiculturalism was first conceived, ‘multiculturalism’ has increasingly come to refer to the entire range of cultures and linguistic groups from which Canadians now come. In this particular conception of ‘multiculturalism’, that is respectful of Canada’s historical origins and founding peoples, all recent immigrants, regardless of their cultural and linguistic backgrounds, are considered collectively. (This is not to say that, at other levels, distinctions would not be made.  Even in some of the following pictures, some rudimentary distinctions are made.)

AN EXAMPLE OF ONE INDIVIDUAL JUGGLING MULTIPLE CONCEPTIONS OF MULTICULTURALISM

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This third picture in the four-quadrant series of pictures in this post was produced simply by overlaying the first two above pictures–which is an easy process with digital graphics tools. I’ve included it here to suggest that it’s possible to hold at least two different conceptions of ‘multiculturalism’ at one time–or at least to fluctuate in one’s views.

MODERN CANADIAN MUTICULTURALISM INCORPORATING INCREASED DIVERSITY & WIDESPREAD ACCEPTANCE OF DISTINCTIVE, CENTRAL, CANADIAN CULTURE 

This variation of ‘multiculturalism’ is intended to suggest long-time Canadians (represented by the lower left, mostly red, quadrant) and a large number of immigrants from diverse cultural and linguistic groups (represented by the other three quadrants) living side by side, as is the case now in Canada’s urban centres like Vancouver.  (The fact that, in this picture, there are only three ‘flags’ representing these other groups is only because I’ve wanted this picture, as a whole, to basically match preceding pictures in this blog post.  I can imagine another graphic representation of this kind of ‘multiculturalism’ with dozens of such ‘flags’.)

The graphic variation in the three quadrants other than the lower-left quadrant is meant to suggest cultural variation as well as that there is variation in how these groups integrate into Canadian culture. For example, in the upper left quadrant, the maple leaf seems to be midway in a process of turning from newbie green to Canadian red.

Because of the widespread acceptance of a distinctive, central, Canadian culture, this variation of ‘multiculturalism’ is harmonious.

MODERN CANADIAN MUTICULTURALISM INCORPORATING INCREASED DIVERSITY, WITH DIVIDED VIEWS ABOUT DISTINCTIVE, CENTRAL, CANADIAN CULTURE 

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This picture, that involves the same basic configuration as that of the preceding picture, but that is a lot messier, and generally more washed out, may be seen as illustrating a situation where some, especially certain recent immigrants to Canada, believe that all cultures represented in Canada are equal and that Canada has no real culture of its own while others believe that Canada does indeed possess its own distinctive culture.

Although messy, it’s also hopeful, with a strong Canadian foundation still holding it all together.

A GRAY FUTURE?

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Taken by itself, I kind of like this picture. However, if we follow the logic of the colours and shapes their interrelationships that I introduced earlier in this piece, it actually illustrates a sad state of affairs, with very little left of an indigenous Canadian culture–with this dearth represented by gray maple leaves with only a bit of red in one quadrant.

It suggests to me a time in the future–that apparently already is here for some of us–when a view of ‘multiculturalism’ involving all cultures in Canada being entirely equal and Canada having no culture of its own wins the day, and even long-time Canadians believe that Canada has no culture of its own.

CONCLUSION

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In the past, when I’ve thought of Canada as a multicultural country, I’ve thought of it having essentially just one kind of multiculturalism.  But maybe this is now not merely a country of various cultures but also of various multiculturalisms–in other words, a multi-multicultural society.

I realize now it’s essential for arguments I’ve been making, and will continue to make, in this blog about Canadian post-secondary education that, when I discuss multiculturalism, I’m clearer about what I mean by this term.

The Evolution of ‘Feminist’–Starting With Jian Ghomeshi

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So Jian Ghomeshi, the former CBC radio star, minored in Women’s Studies when he was studying at York University. Maybe this had no influence whatsoever on his shocking, abusive, treatment of women, as chronicled in the Canadian media, including our social media, in the past week. But I do have to wonder if Ghomeshi could, to some extent, have learned how to abuse women through taking university Women’s Studies courses when he did. It’s an appalling idea; but, based on my own experiences with academic feminism, I can’t help but consider it.

Ghomeshi is 47 now so, according to my calculations, he would have been taking those courses around the same time that I had returned to university in my early 30s to do an MA in Education. I was then confronted by an angry, bitter, form of feminism that portrayed men in general in the worst possible light, that seemed to be a relic of the most vitriolic feminism of the 1960s and 1970s. Feminism, at least in Canada, outside of our academic institutions, had significantly evolved since then–or at least I thought it had. But, apparently owing largely to a professional interest in maintaining the status quo, those academic feminists didn’t see this–or wouldn’t openly acknowledge it if they did see it.

Even as a grad student, I was critical of this kind of feminism, and got into some trouble for it. (The most noteworthy incident is that my Master’s thesis, in which an academic publishing house initially was interested in publishing, was so strongly shot down by an academic feminist reviewer that the publishing house chose to abandon the project. The comments this reviewer had scrawled on the manuscript were just rude. Not as bad as a fist to the head, but something like it.) But then I was allowed to be critical. I was a White, middle-class, woman who grew up the oldest of five in a female-led family, with a very strong mother, and who already had some career success behind me when I went back to university for an MA, so I could afford to be critical. That was so unlike Ghomeshi’s position.

I imagine a young Iranian guy trying to fit into a predominantly White Canadian culture, who hadn’t yet had a great deal of experience of Canadian culture outside of our universities, listening to those academic feminist rants about an evil, abusive, Patriarchy, and I wonder, I just wonder, if maybe his misogynist, abusive, tendencies that have come to light in the past week were, in part, Ghomeshi’s way of fitting in. That is to say, a way of being a Canadian man, as he understood Canadian men to be, through doing that minor in Women’s Studies at a Canadian university when he did.

Before all of this Jian Ghomeshi business started, I had been planning to write a piece for this blog simply about the evolution in recent decades of the meaning of the term ‘feminist’. I’d been interested for several months in how many young women today are unabashedly describing themselves as ‘feminist’ (the British actress, Emma Watson, and the American entertainer, Beonce, are prime examples) although most older women, such as myself, are now much more reluctant to use this term. This includes even those women who, in the past, described themselves as ‘feminist’. I wanted to try to make some sense of that.

But, inevitably, I’ve also been thinking in the past week about Jian Ghomeshi and, especially after I learned that he had minored in Women’s Studies, I couldn’t write a piece about feminism without mentioning him. Maybe there is–or maybe there isn’t–a relationship between the Ghomeshi case and the ‘ENIMFIST’ anagrammatic variation of ‘FEMINIST’ from the list of variations at the top of this post. (Most, like ‘ENIMFIST’, aren’t real words, although a meaning is suggested through the meanings of the constituent parts.) I’ll have more to say about the evolution of the meaning of ‘feminist’, and those anagrams, in a later post.

 

University ABCs: Let’s Fix This Mess, Canada

This is a modified version of a post I posted on my blog about two years ago, before I joined Twitter.  It’s something I thought some of my Twitter followers–especially those concerned about post-secondary education–might find interesting.  Also, it provides some clues about the graphics featuring strings of letters that I include with many of my Tweets.   Also, I have another reason for ‘reposting’ this now, that  I’ll get to at the end of the piece.  (The original version of this post was in response to a special Globe and Mail series about post-secondary education that ran in the fall, almost two years ago.  I’ve taken out references to that series for this modified version–although the graphics are unchanged.  If you’re interested in reading the original version, it can be found here.)

 . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The uppermost of the two above pictures is a god-awful mess, wouldn’t you agree?  That’s what happens when you’re tired after a long day at work, trying to produce a graphic for a blog post you want to get up as soon as possible, using graphics tools whose versatility can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a help.  I was ready to delete the picture from my iPad; but, when I looked at it beside the original version, essentially the picture below it (the original didn’t have the oval frame around the lettering), and realized that the two pictures together fit in with what I planned to write about in my post, it seemed worth preserving.

A big problem with so much recent commentary about universities is that the issue of underlying philosophical change in recent decades within Western society–including within our universities and towards universities, from an outside perspective–has been overlooked.  In this period of philosophical transition, there are multiple basic philosophical perspectives towards universities, which differentially affect attitudes towards particular issues.  These include attitudes about what should be taught, to whom, by whom, the methods used to teach, and even how university education should be financed.  Beneath the surface, to those who have given some thought to the issue of philosophical change as it relates to our universities, some coherence may be discerned among the diverse views about our universities.  But, on the surface, this commentary, taken as a whole, is likely to appear to many, if not most, to be an incoherent jumble–and not very useful in helping to further constructive change in our universities.

There are now basically three different philosophical perspectives from which our universities, and aspects thereof, may be viewed.  These three perspectives I’ll call here A, B, and C.  A book chapter could be written about each of these perspectives; but, since this is just a blog post, I’ll stick to the basics.

The A perspective is the traditional elitist view that predominated in Western universities until the mid-20th Century.  Until that time, only a small proportion of the population attended universities, and attendees were almost invariably white males, and from relatively prosperous families.  In the second half of the 20th Century, significantly greater diversity among students, and also ultimately among the professoriate, led to a second basic perspective: perspective B.  This perspective may be summed up as being that of the “academic left”.  Although those from the B camp favour a more inclusive approach to university education than those of the A camp, it should be emphasized that members of the B camp do not question the basic activities conducted within universities.  Members of both groups are likely to support traditional university policies and procedures, such as academic freedom (including freedom from interference from those outside universities), academic tenure (or guaranteed jobs for life) for senior professors, the notion of the all-knowing professor as the source of legitimate knowledge for students, and the emphasis on research in the evaluation of professors with little weight given to teaching ability.

By the late 1970s, the basic dualistic and hierarchical framework of Western metaphysics, that had supported Western universities for so long, was crumbling.  Both perspectives A and B were now being challenged–mostly from outside of universities.  Yet it is worth noting here that, by now, there were many more adults studying in universities than there had been in the past, some of whom, especially those studying at the graduate level, already had achieved mid-career status in their professions, who personally brought the ‘outside’ perspective into our universities.  (I was one such student when I was doing graduate work in education.)  This third basic perspective, or perspective C, is the ‘postmodern’ perspective–with ‘postmodern’ defined essentially as it is defined by Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition.  (You can look it up, if you’re interested.)

If, as I believe is the case, the majority of Canadians now possess the basic C perspective (this distinguishes Canada from the United States) a reasonable reevaluation of our universities has to start explicitly from that position.  This doesn’t rule out the possibility of certain institutions and programs catering to those who possess minority A and B perspectives (a Christian-based university, like Trinity Western University,  generally falls into the A category);  but it does suggest that at least the greater part of funding for such institutions and programs will have to come from somewhere other than general tax revenue.

It would seem to be enormously helpful if commentators on our universities would preface their commentary with some reference to philosophical change in our universities. Better yet, it would be fantastic if influential commentators (like the Globe and Mail newspaper) publicly endorsed a postmodern position.  That could be the stimulus Canadians need to really get down to the serious business of reevaluating our universities, and reconstructing them within a non-dualistic, non-hierarchical, framework. But I’m not optimistic.  Generally speaking, our influential commentators seems too beholding to those who support the A perspective–or who at least who pretend to support that perspective–for any such thing to happen.

Which brings me to my final point here.  I’d love to be able to devote more time to this kind of work.  But, for that, I need MONEY.  Is there perhaps someone out there reading this who has more money than they need who might be able to help me with this?  Or perhaps who knows someone else with money who might be sympathetic to my views?  It probably can’t hurt to ask–although I could loose some of my Twitter followers by being so blunt . . . Oh, hell,  I’ll post this anyway.

 

HMMPH: The Humanities Without the ‘U’, on CBC TV . . . if There is Still Any CBC TV

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Originally, this post was going to be simply another in my series of “Hmm . . . ” posts, or the “Humanities Without the ‘U'” posts (get it?), concerning Canadian organizations that could play a greater role in humanities education to make up for the declining enrollment in the humanities programs of Canadian universities and colleges.  This one was going to be about the increased role that could be played by Canadian public television–including the television division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, or CBC.  Especially after it was announced in early June that, in response to the recent large loss of revenue for the CBC, CBC-TV’s new general manager of programming, Sally Catto, was going to put more Arts programming in CBC’s television schedule, I was optimistic CBC-TV could play an important role in this area. (This loss of revenue comes from a combination of a reduction in federal government funding and projected TV advertising losses now that a private network will be airing NHL hockey games instead of the CBC, that long held the Canadian TV broadcasting rights.)

That was my original plan. However, a more recent announcement about how the CBC is going to address its shrunken budget has me very worried about CBC television–including its earlier announced greater emphasis on Arts programming.  My “HMM . . .” post turned into a grumpy “HMMPH” post, partly about the increased role Canadian public television could play in humanities education (I’ve already said most of what I’ll be saying in that regard) and a good measure of HMPHing.

Now they’re telling us that much of the money and other resources formerly allocated to television will be allocated to the Internet.  On June 26, CBC president and CEO, Hubert T. Lacroix, announced the CBC is shifting its priorities from television and radio to digital and mobile services.  To quote Lacroix, “We used to lead with television and radio. Web came and then mobility came. We are reversing, we are inverting the priorities that we have. We’re going to lead now with mobility, we’re going to lead with whatever widget you use.”  I can understand now putting more resources into mobility and less into television and radio; but to lead with mobility is taking things too far.

In a 19-page report issued by the CBC that accompanied Lacroix’ announcement, ironically titled “A Space for Us All,” to justify the CBC’s reverse of priorities, statistics are provided indicating changes from 2000 to now in how Canadian consume media.  Some of these statistics seem to me misleading.  For example 77% of Canadians are said to now watch internet video (including Netflix) for 6.5 hours/week.  What percentage of that 77% watch work-related video at work, or education-related video at school, for at least much of that 6.5 hours and, in their personal lives, watch only snippets of video on their smartphones and tablets and, perhaps, an occasional episode they’ve missed of a favourite show, and only when they have access to free Wi-Fi–as do I? Also, what percentage of that 77% has over-reported their internet video viewership to researchers to appear ‘cool’?  Another statistic I question is that 24% of Canadians now watch Netflix for 7.4 hours per week. I’d be very interested in seeing a breakdown of Netflix usage for different  regions of Canada.  For example, I think the figure is probably far higher in Toronto than it is in Vancouver, largely because, in Toronto, you can get many more channels on TV without subscribing to cable than is possible in Vancouver.  Most Vancouverites have cable and, thus, Netflix may be an unnecessary frill, and too expensive in combination with the cost of cable.  24% might be right for populous Toronto, but I suspect it’s much too high for Vancouver, and for other regions in Canada.

I thought the CBC was supposed to be for all Canadians. Until the day we all get internet service for free–which is not going to happen–it seems this newly conceived CBC will be mainly for a relatively wealthy elite, who can afford large internet bills and all the paraphernalia associated with watching ‘television’ on line, and the rest of us will be left with only scraps for our cultural nourishment. I wish they would prove me wrong, but I am worried.

Incidentally,  I’m liking CBC Vancouver’s “Musical Nooners”–a noon-hour outdoor concert series held through the summer on the plaza of the CBC Vancouver building–a lot less now that we know how strapped for funds the CBC is. Is this really a priority for the CBC?  I like the idea of a few free concerts, but this is a six-week, daily series (if you don’t believe me, here’s the schedule), and each of the concerts is attended by a couple of hundred people at most.  (Vancouver’s CBC building is very near where I work, so I can see what goes on there every day.) Even if the concerts are taped to be incorporated in some of the CBC’s radio shows, I can’t see how the cost is justified.  (If taping is a key reason for this concert series, couldn’t these acts be taped when they are playing at other venues, including Canada Day celebrations, where many of these acts also performed?) If the CBC was financially healthy, yes. But it’s not.

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And, yet another HMPH . . . What about streaming music for free, that puts the CBC in direct competition with companies that provide the same service? I would think that television, just regular TV, that is accessible to all Canadians, preferable with a good amount of Canadian Arts and other humanities-related programming, is a far higher priority.

 

HMM . . . : The Humanities Without the ‘U’, Within our Public Libraries

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I’d be very curious to see a breakdown of the educational backgrounds of public-library users who currently borrow humanities-related material from our public libraries, and who attend public-library sponsored, humanities-related, events, like author readings and book-club meetings. I suspect it’s mostly people who have at least some post-secondary education in humanities-related areas who engage with the humanities through our public libraries–although I could be wrong. Proving this point would seem to be next to impossible since, as I learned when I enquired at my local branch of the Vancouver Public Library about obtaining a record of books that I, myself, had read during a period of some heavy reading (and before I kept a reading diary), for legal reasons, public libraries, at least in British Columbia, don’t even keep records of which books are read by individuals: apparently, it’s considered an invasion of privacy (although libraries always know the titles of the books that you return late).

Although I don’t have the statistics to back me up, my theory is that a humanities education at the post-secondary level whets people’s appetites for more–and that one of the ways (not the only way) adults with an interest in the humanities satisfy that interest is through use of public libraries. Conversely, my theory goes, those who didn’t study humanities-related subjects at the post-secondary level, even if they did participate in post-secondary education, are less likely to engage with the humanities later in life–including through using the humanities-related resources of public libraries. I would suggest that the educational experience is at least as important in keeping people engaged with the humanities later in life as is an early interest in this area that contributed to them studying the humanities in the first place. (At least back in the good old days, when university humanities degrees alone were still a great asset in obtaining employment, it seems many people enrolled in humanities programs more because they wanted the degree than because they were particularly interested–at least initially–in the subject matter. Also, math may not have been their forte, so the humanities it was.)

Also, getting back now to what I discussed my previous blog post, although there are now some serious problems with university and college humanities programs (including cost; career prospects for those who can afford to obtain only one degree; and, last but not least, philosophical and political turmoil), there also are some good things about a humanities education, for the individuals who received such an education and, dare I say, even for our society as a whole. For example, in Canada, that was culturally dwarfed by Britain and the United States for such a long time, a blossoming of Canadian culture, including Canadian literature and home-grown performing arts, occurred around the same time as the major expansion of Canadian universities, including our university humanities departments, in the 1960s and ’70s. These university humanities departments championed Canadian culture, and made it part of the basic curriculum for their students.

The ongoing decline in enrollment in university and college humanities departments may, therefore, have some serious negative longterm consequences–including not only in Canada, although this relatively young and relatively sparsely populated country of ours may need to be more concerned than most–unless other public institutions, such as our public libraries, can help to pick up the slack.

If you’re ready to engage with the humanities, a good public library–like our wonderful Vancouver Public Library–has everything you are likely to need. Obviously, there are all the books, including both hard copies and digital books, available on loan, all for free (assuming you return your books on time). Most public libraries today also provide free access to computers, as well as free Wi-Fi, enabling anyone with just basic computer literacy to do simple research about subjects of interest–including, perhaps, finding out more about the authors of books one has read and what else they may have written. But there is so much more than that, of which I doubt even most regular users of public libraries today are aware. I wasn’t fully aware myself of what our Vancouver Public Library has to offer in this area until I started to look into it in preparation for writing this piece.

For those of you who are interested, especially those of you in the Vancouver area, I would suggest having a good look at the Vancouver Public Library’s website.  All things considered, one could become just as knowledgeable in the humanities though self-directed ‘study’ at a public library like the VPL, perhaps with some assistance provided by its librarians, and perhaps also with some assistance from members of on-line chat groups, as one could through doing a BA in the humanities at a university. Also, as I noted in my previous post, the CNN correspondent, Fareed Zakaria, had mentioned in a college commencement speech he recently gave that improving his writing and oral communication skills were among the things he most valued from his own humanities education–quite apart from the content of the courses he took.  There are opportunities for these things, as well, at least at the Vancouver Public Library.

Our public libraries traditionally haven’t served as cheerleaders for the humanities, as such–although library literacy programs, encouraging and assisting people to read period, can provide a basis for helping them to explore, and appreciate, the humanities. But, now, and heading into the future, perhaps our public libraries need to increasingly take on that role. One possible programming addition (where it doesn’t already exist), is outreach programs to elementary and secondary schools, explaining to students all of the resources, especially humanities-related resources, available in their public libraries, and how they may access them. Also, larger budgets for advertising, in various media, may now be in order. For these kinds of programs and marketing enhancements to exist, however, adequate funding is required–and, now, more than ever, our libraries seem to require that funding.

Incidentally, the above picture is of the interior ‘Promenade’ of the Central branch of the Vancouver Public Library. This remarkable, award-winning, building was designed by the Israeli-Canadian architect, Moshe Safdie, who also designed the innovative housing complex, Habitat, for Expo 67 in Montreal.

Last Friday, the Promenade was being used for multicultural festivities for our upcoming Canada Day–including Scottish dancing.  (My surname, ‘Third’, is Scottish.)  Happy Canada Day everyone!

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