Category Archives: School

American Secular Stainless Steel Ring

Some of my most popular blog posts remains my rejection of the iron ring posts based on the religious references that I wasn’t allowed to strike.

Every few weeks I get a new comment, typically a self-entitled engineer who feels like calling me names on the Internet. But the latest comment was something new.

Someone dug up a smaller American ceremony that was developed in 1970 and is simply called The Order of the Engineer.

The US obligation states (PDF) in secular (and dare I say humanist) terms:

OBLIGATION OF THE ENGINEER

I AM AN ENGINEER,
IN MY PROFESSION I TAKE DEEP PRIDE.

TO IT I OWE SOLEMN OBLIGATIONS.

SINCE THE STONE AGE,
HUMAN PROGRESS HAS BEEN SPURRED BY THE ENGINEERING GENIUS.

ENGINEERS HAVE MADE USABLE,
NATURE’S VAST RESOURCES OF MATERIAL AND ENERGY FOR HUMANITY’S BENEFIT.

ENGINEERS HAVE VITALIZED
AND TURNED TO PRACTICAL USE THE PRINCIPLES OF SCIENCE
AND THE MEANS OF TECHNOLOGY.

WERE IT NOT FOR THIS HERITAGE OF ACCUMULATED EXPERIENCE, MY EFFORTS WOULD BE FEEBLE.

AS AN ENGINEER,
I PLEDGE TO PRACTICE INTEGRITY AND FAIR DEALING, TOLERANCE, AND RESPECT
AND TO UPHOLD DEVOTION
TO THE STANDARDS AND THE DIGNITY OF MY PROFESSION, CONSCIOUS ALWAYS
THAT MY SKILL CARRIES WITH IT
THE OBLIGATION TO SERVE HUMANITY
BY MAKING THE BEST USE OF EARTH’S PRECIOUS WEALTH.

AS AN ENGINEER,
I SHALL PARTICIPATE IN NONE BUT HONEST ENTERPRISES.

WHEN NEEDED,
MY SKILL AND KNOWLEDGE
SHALL BE GIVEN WITHOUT RESERVATION FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD.

IN THE PERFORMANCE OF DUTY
AND IN FIDELITY TO MY PROFESSION, I SHALL GIVE THE UTMOST.

It seems like in the case of the Robertson screw, the Americans couldn’t import the Canadian invention due to copyright claims. But unlike the Phillips screw, this time the Americans improved upon the original Idea. From their website they even seem to have toned down the creepy cultish vibe that the Iron Ring ceremony gives off.

Were I a practising engineer, I might consider travelling to Seattle to attend their next ceremony.

It’s worth noting that the Canadian rings are also made of stainless steel now too since the iron wears down to quickly.

Arguing with 15 year old me–The Young Offender’s Act

On my last trip to my parent’s house, I grabbed a couple of my old Social Studies 10 essays that I had written. I did quite well in Social Studies and was quite proud of my essays, a belief justified by the marks I tended to get.

This first essay, on the Young Offender’s Act, received a perfect 10/10, but on re-reading it, I am quite disappointed in my fallacious 15-year old mind. First the essay, then my comments.

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Alberta Education: An election bomb?

Alberta is ramping up for an election and while busty buses and money-for-nothing schemes are dominating the scandals, the new Education Act may be the thing that pisses enough people off to actually care about how this election turns out.

Alberta’s education laws haven’t been updated in decades and given last year’s slow resolution of bring secular schooling to Morinville, it’s long overdue. Yet the proposed act is drawing criticism on all sides.

The Catholic School Trustees Association fears that this is the first step to destroying their century-long privilege. Specifically, the act will allow the government to force secular and Catholic schools to share space when necessary and to amalgamate school boards.

Meanwhile, homeschoolers rallied 1500 people for a protest because they don’t want to have to teach they’re children to obey the Alberta Human Rights Act (seriously).  To placate these religious homeschooling extremists, the education minister caved and “offered an amendment on Monday to the preamble of the bill, recognizing parents’ right to raise their children within their ethical and religious traditions.” This was not enough to satisfy those who believe we can simply put two words like parents and rights together and suddenly have a codified law.

Nevertheless, the Alberta Liberal Party (who are the fourth party in terms of the number of candidates nominated) is skeptical of the government and fears it will further surrender to the Religious Right.

Kent Hehr, MLA for Calgary Buffalo, asked the education minister , Tom Lukaszuk, whether the province would soon provide “public funding of a school of Scientology or Druids or a school for witches and Wiccans?” Lukaszuk parroted the standard lines of “choice in education” in response.

Hehr pressed further asking if Lukaszuk was “comfortable with parents teaching that homosexuality is a sin or that evolution is not real?” Sadly, the education minister either dodged the question at best or admitted that parents have a right to poison the minds of their children.

Please, listen to the answer. I am comfortable with the fact that parents have the right of teaching their children and passing on their family values, their religious beliefs, and their morality. This is what we do as parents. Whether my daughter comes from a public school or whether she stays at home all day long, I still take responsibility for teaching her what is right and what is wrong, so that aspect has nothing to do with homeschooling. That is what we all as parents have the primary right to do, and we continue doing that.

Choice in education is a smokescreen for wasting money on inefficient two-tiered school systems. Alberta (and BC) currently grant ridiculous amounts of money to private schools, which can discriminate in enrolment and hiring under this absurd system. Furthermore, the United Nations Human Rights Committee condemned the separate school system in Alberta, Saksatchewan, and Ontario as discriminatory and called for the ending of separated school funding.

It will be interesting to see if the majority of Albertans (represented by neither the Homeschoolers or Catholic schools Associations) will stand up for secular, adequately funded education. Hell, it will be interesting alone to see if any party is that brave – the Alberta Party already missed that boat with their platform [pdf].

Religions taking advantage of children

It’s an easy topic to write about and these three articles speak for themselves mostly, so I’m only going to give limited commentary on three pieces from the past couple days that definitely classify as religions taking advantage of (if not abusing) children.

First, the Vancouver Sun mistakenly takes the view that science and Christian lobby groups deserve equal weight when presenting research. Their article titled “Research mixed on whether parents should be banned from spanking” does a solid job of presenting the scientific evidence of the harms of corporal punishment of children, but then goes and quotes the homophobic Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (at least it identifies it as a Christian right group spun off of Focus on the Family) who want the right to beat their kids. It’s telling that the following day this article was republished on the Ottawa Citizen under the more accurate title, “Time for parents to disarm.”

Next, we have a good news-bad news story, also from the Vancouver Sun. The good news is that the Delta school board has kicked religious proselytizers out of its classrooms, while the bad news is that many volunteer evangelicals remain in schools across the province – including in Kitsilano Secondary School (near my home). The BC school act makes it explicitly clear that our schools are to be secular, so any move from volunteering to preaching will hopefully be rooted by our teachers and school administrators.

Finally, the British Humanist Association has highlighted some research undertaken by the Guardian which showed that publicly funded faith schools are discriminating against poor students.  This research is quite relevant in Canada where several provinces provide funding to private schools (BC and Alberta) and others provide full funding to separate Catholic school boards (Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario). It would be interesting to do a similar study here to try to prove if such systemic discrimination exists here as well.

Stand against homophobia on the Vancouver School Board

Robin Perelle, writing for Xtra!, gives a good background on the swell of opposition to anti-homophobia policy in the lower mainland.

Basically, NPA trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo have been caught red-handed in videos lying to the Christian Social Concern Fellowship that Vancouver has no anti-homophobia policy, when in fact one was passed in 2004. They’ve also been trotting out the “parent’s rights” arguments, long used by the Christian Right who want the right to continue to keep their children as ignorant and biggoted as themselves.

Vancouver’s LGBTQ community isn’t taking this one lying down.

On Monday evening, the first Vancouver School Board meeting was held and a resolution was put forward calling on the VSB to reaffirm its support for the policy and to censure trutees Denike and Woo. The resolution passed with the strong Vision-COPE majority but the crowd was split between pro- and anti-gay protesters.

There is now a Facebook call for people to send letters to Denike, Woo, and VSB chair Patti Bacchus, calling for the NPA trustees to resign. Please consider sending this message (or a modified version) to the emails listed below.

Dear Trustees Woo and Denike,

You have failed in your position within the Vancouver School Board. You have infracted and abused your powers and position, and have tried to spread hate within our society.

-You have made many students feel unsafe and uncomfortable within their schools.
-Publicly disagreed with the ‘Anti Homophobia Policies’ that were put in place by VSB (2004)
-Accused the ‘Out in Schools’ program for showing pornographic images.
-Are closely related and in support with the Parents Voice Committee, Who are known for their Anti-Homosexual campaigns.

I do not support your actions and views on this issue. The messages you and your groups are spreading are inhumane and dishonest. I do not want people in my city to feel unsafe or unwanted, Vancouver is meant to be a city that accepts differences and respects culture and diversity.

Because of these actions you have taken, I am asking you to resign from your position as Trustee as you have failed to protect all the students within the school board.

ken.denike@vsb.bc.ca
sophia.woo@vsb.bc.ca
patti.bacchus@vsb.bc.ca

Christy Clark’s staff respond to homophobic bullying

5 days ago I sent a form letter to Christy Clark, as my MLA, asking her to address homophobic bullying in BC schools.

Dear Christy Clark, Premier and MLA,
I am writing this message in the interest of protecting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in the province of British Columbia.
Recently calls have come from across the province for an explicit provincial policy to offer protection for all students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These calls have come from the British Columbia Teachers Federation, the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver School Board, the Representative of Children and Youth, and grassroots activists meeting with the Minister of Education through the Purple Letter Campaign. These calls have come as a result of a year of highly publicized youth suicides across North America, including several in Canada. While this is not a new issue, attention is being paid that was not in the past.
In Canada research done by EGALE recently noted that this homophobia and transphobia are pandemic in our schools. 70% of all participating students, LGBT and non-LGBT, reported hearing expressions such as “that’s so gay” every day in school and almost half (48%) reported hearing remarks such as “faggot,” “lezbo,” and “dyke” every day in school. More than one in five (21%) LGBT students reported being physically harassed or assaulted due to their sexual orientation.
Recently Quebec introduced legislation titled "Plan d’action gouvernemental de lutte contre l’homophobie" which includes explicit policies, funding for anti-homophobia initiatives and a provincial research chair on homophobia. In Ontario the government has introduced legislation calling for explicit policies, enforcement and the creation of support networks within schools through Gay Straight Alliances or similarly themed clubs.
Where British Columbia was once on the forefront of protecting youth, we are now lagging behind other provinces.

Struggling students in British Columbia need explicit protections now to prevent tragedy from striking in our province. I would like to know where you stand on creating an explicit provincial plan on ending bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity and how you plan to work with your colleagues in government and opposition to make sure it is done quickly.
I thank you for your time and look forward to your response.
Sincerely,
Ian Bushfield

Well I actually got a response today from one of her staffers.

Thank you for your email regarding bullying in schools. We appreciate the time you have taken to share your concerns.

It is regrettable to hear when any young person takes their own life. Bullying is a terrible phenomenon and the province recognizes that something must be done about it. We understand that LGTB students face many challenges which can be dramatically compounded due to bullying and discrimination. No student should feel that they are unsafe or the target of harassment and abuse due to their sexual orientation or identity.

Premier Christy Clark has been very out spoken about the unacceptable nature of bullying. One of her most important accomplishments was helping to bring the Pink Shirt Day anti-bullying campaign to BC. The Premier has also been vocal very recently about the need for action on this issue. Our government remains committed to making sure that we bring in anti-bullying policies and anti-bullying actions at schools all across British Columbia. We want our schools to be a safe haven for our students, not a place of fear and intimidation and there is more to come from this government in this regard.

We have shared your input and the information you have sent us with the Honourable George Abbott, Minister of Education, so he, too, can review your feedback. Please be assured your comments will be included in any related discussions.

Again, thank you for writing. It was good to hear from you.

It’s good but will be better when it’s backed by real action. I hope whatever legislation or action gets introduced will recognize the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQ community and will seek to combat homophobic bullying with a multi-pronged approach.

The light at the end of the tunnel…

This afternoon I defend my masters thesis, after which I will hopefully have only a few minor corrections and then I will have earned my masters in physics. I also hope to be done school for a while, so if you know of any good job openings…

But the busy life won’t end this afternoon.

This weekend I will be one of the Vancouver-Point Grey delegates to the BC NDP’s 50th Anniversary Convention. I won’t be live-blogging it, but I will try to tweet updates. There’s a federal leadership townhall on Saturday from 4:30-6 PM, so those tweets will be under #ndpldr while general convention tweets will be under #bcndp50. I’ll try to make it to one of Brian Topp’s meet-and-greets at The Lion’s Pub (either Friday or Saturday night) and we’ll see if I can find any other leaders.

After the convention I will have my corrections and then holiday parties begin. Then I head to Alberta for Christmas, but will be back in Vancouver by New Years.

In other words, I will try to get some blogging in next week, but otherwise it might be quiet around here until January.

Is Zero Tolerance the best response to bullying?

School bullying, especially bullying targeted against LGBTQQ children, is finally getting the attention it merits.

Rick Mercer’s viral rant on teen suicides (see below) has been viewed nearly half a million times in a mere week.

This morning on the radio, Mercer discussed the video with local indie rock station The Peak, and admitted he was overwhelmed with the unexpected – and positive – response.

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Students get an A in anti-abortion activism

I was going to post this on Canadian Atheist, but I was beaten to the punch by one of my co-authors. It lives here instead.

Canada’s biggest secular battlefield is over the publicly-funded Catholic school districts in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario, but a number of provinces also fund private religious schools to varying amounts.

In Winnipeg, Manitoba, a private Catholic school receives 50% of the funding compared to a neighbouring public school. The school can then inject as much religious education as they want (typically so long as they meet the basic curriculum requirements).

It’s little wonder then why Christ the King School (yes, it’s that unapologetic) is brewing up controversy, given its latest stunt:

Children at a private Catholic school in Winnipeg who attend anti-abortion vigils outside the city’s Health Sciences Centre are receiving community service credits for their participation.

Principal Dave Hood of Christ the King School said Tuesday that joining the vigils is a voluntary and family decision. But he’s considering it as an official school activity as early as next year.

And before you ask, this isn’t a high school, or even middle/junior high. It’s an elementary school for 200 students from K-8.

The principal emphasizes that “We’re not there to block anyone,” but did advise parents of the daily anti-abortion vigils outside the hospital.

At least the paper adds a voice of reason to the debate:

Lori Johnson, executive director of the Klinic Community Health Centre and the Sexuality Education Research Centre, calls the vigils a political lobby and argued any school receiving public funding should not be allowed to involve children.

"It would certainly not be allowed in the public sector," said Johnson, a registered nurse and former longtime school trustee with the Winnipeg School Division board. "That is ill-considered by any school, public or private. It should be at the cost of losing their public funding."

So congrats Manitobans, a part of your tax dollars are going to promote a religious agenda through young children.

Of course this is also in the province that recently returned the NDP to a fourth majority government. It is also the province that has had some issues with the Lord’s Prayer being pushed on students in public schools.

While I am glad that Manitobans didn’t opt for the regressive Conservatives, democracy doesn’t end with election day.

Secular progressives (I think I need to write a book detailing this position) in Manitoba need to get involved in the provincial NDP and push for the end of this two-tier education system. I’ll discuss this further in a coming post though.

CUPE ramps up job action

Sensing that the SFSS has little inclination to respect collective bargaining rights CUPE, representing the locked out SFSS staff, has started fighting the PR war.

According to the CUPEsfu twitter feed, their picket lines have moved to SFU Surrey today. They also report that an entire class walked out.

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Not only that, the CUPE staff working the SFU Surrey Registrar and Information Services centre have joined the lines today, shutting down the office where overdue students can pay their tuition (online and bank payments are still available).

j6ib.jpg

This latest action seems targeted at SFU – a neutral third party in the dispute – and its reputation. Perhaps CUPE hopes by spinning some bad press for the university that the administration will pressure the Student Society to return to the bargaining table.

Its a risky manoeuvre, given the tendency of many universities to outsource, downsize, and union-bust. Perhaps they’re hoping that new university president and former NDP MLA Andrew Petter may show some sympathy.

I’m sure there’s more news to come.