Sunday, December 20, 2015

Dec. 20 something a little different. Well, it's Sunday.

In the morning of Dec. 21, my building will lose electric power for 12 hours. So it may not be possible to get a blog out on that day.

I'll begin today with a note especially for Canadian readers. That's a big piggy, I know, because three-quarters of the audience for this blog is not Canadian. But bear with me.

Yesterday, Dickie Moore died. He was a kid who grew up in my very depressed district of Montreal. In our end of town, we played hockey in the streets. (And, of course, with no skates.) Nor could we afford hockey pucks. Instead, we used the frozen droppings of horses that were still common on the streets pulling delivery wagons. Dickie Moore grew up to become one of the greatest hockey players in history. But he was more than that. In a city divided by language, usually with bitterness and anger and real danger, Dickie Moore was the one person admired by all. I shall never forget the day I saw a copy of Le Journal du Sport with the headline (here translated), Dickie Moore is better than Maurice Richard!

Dickie played in the days when pro hockey player salaries were pretty modest. No player could expect to retire on savings. But Dickie was always a worker. His father was a furniture mover, and Dickie was expected to pitch in from an early age. In his hockey-playing days, he bought an ice cream franchise. He was both the boss and one of the staff. (The big kids, the ones who all planned to become hockey stars but never made it, the ones who pretended to be friends of Dickie – but really disliked him for his success – used to hang out at the ice cream shop to make fun of him.)

Then, after his playing days, Dickie kept working as he always had. From scratch, he built a construction equipment rental business that spread across Canada, the U.S., and to the middle east.

To top it all off, he married a girl who had sat in the next row from me in grade seven. She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. But she never showed the slightest interest in me. Go figure.

Dickie was a good guy.

The Guardian (US edition) has what the FBI admits is the best count available of Americans killed by their own police. As of today, the count is 1095. That's good, but not good enough. We need 1100 by Christmas. Come on, now. We can do it. For America.

The count for Canada this year? It's about 20. Perhaps there's a message in there.

Recently, I had an e-mail from a nutbar who got my address somewhere. He said he had absolute proof that Islam teaches its followers to hate Christians and to kill them. His proof was a list of invasions of European countries by Muslims over a period of some 1200 years.

It was a short list and, even at that, I can't imagine how it proved anything about Islam. In fact, Europe gained intellectually from Islam – and Christian Europe has invaded Islamic countries (with the blessing of the Christian churches) are more that Islamics invaded Europe. At least Europe gained from Islamic occupation. Muslims got nothing but poverty and death from Christians. For my correspondent to consider his statement a proven truth is simply bad thinking, really bad thinking.

And bad thinking is very widely spread. In the American leadership campaigns, the candidates can get away with remarkably inane statements and, sometimes, with just calling each other names. Jeb Bush made headlines by calling Trump a jerk. What does this have to do with anything? But reporters excitedly write it down, and reach for their cell phones. (Bush, by the way, is the accomplice to mass murder because he's the one that was a major author of Project for the New American Century, the blueprint for world conquest, and the real reason for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya and…..)

Canadians are no better. You can tell that by reading almost any Canadian newspaper or by watching TV. How could any person who thinks watch dart-throwing or unspeakably corny wrestling shows is a great way to pass the time?

It's difficult for public schools to teach thinking because so few parents want their children to learn how to think. Their idea of school is more often that it's a place to produce children who conform. University programmes like history, literature, psychology should teach students to think. But very, very few university professors have any understanding of how to teach thinking. And university boards of governors, the ones who have a powerful control over the universities, are made up of representatives of very big business. They want students who have work skills that are useful to big business, and are trained never to have an original or critical idea for the rest of their lives.

One can also learn a good deal about thinking and understanding by reading suitable books, and by joining groups that steer them to good books, to a broader range of music, to film.… In my early days of teaching, this was accomplished with groups that met after school. I was responsible for current events, film (showing the history of film from the silents to today, and with film from all over the world. That one normally attracted 300 or more for every screening.) I also had the debating club.
Oh – and weightlifting.

These (well, maybe not weightlifting) had a notable effect in broadening the outlook of students, in choosing careers – and in developing the ability to think and the will to discuss.

School bussing schedules now make such after-school groups close to impossible. And I don't see anything filling the gap in New Brunswick.

When I taught university, I also had a current events group of some 300 that met in a Jewish library. Judaism has a long history of encouraging thought and debate. That library was always packed by adults and students. And it was packed with groups who were there to think and to broaden their interests. The library director was a brilliant and tough-minded woman who made sure there were activities to meet the need.

I thought of that when I visited the Moncton Library, found it largely empty, and noticed what seemed to be the only group in it. They were adults – doing their colouring books.

Judaism takes learning and books seriously. New Brunswick, with its large, illiterate population, has the worst or one of the worst funded library systems in Canada. Hey. We need a new hockey rink.

I worked for the YMCA for a couple of years – dances, street gangs. I occasionally organized a discussion group for the gang crowd. But most YMCA activities were physical. Then I ran a couple of camps for the YMHA. And it was made very clear to me that along with physical activities it expected some serious reading, visits to museums and art galleries, serious discussion.

I have seen almost no leisure activity in New Brunswick that requires or encourages thinking. That's why a typical gathering of teenagers means sitting in a circle, each playing a game on his or her cell phone. Nor have I seen much that could be called mental or cultural activity in the churches or any other organization.

No thinking? No democracy. That's why this province has spent a hundred and fifty years alternating between two political parties which are in no way different from each other. That's why it tolerates newspapers that are designed to encourage ignorance.

In planning a budget, a government has to start with the needs of a society. Then it decides its spending priorities. New Brunswick does it the other way around. That's why we're going to spend a hundred million on a hockey rink, but fire teachers.

This province needs more teachers, teachers for children and for adults. It has to revive schools as places for children and adults to go to, perhaps in the evening, perhaps as families, to learn to read, to learn what is worth reading, to learn to think, to discuss. The future of New Brunswick depends on a thinking and openly discussing population. We need it for political understanding. We need it for setting priories. We need it for the creativity and the adaptation that is lacking.

And it would help if the churches would offer something more on weekdays than burping.

Follow the American leadership races. If you think about them, these are frightening. Except for Bernie Sanders, nobody has any platform but hatred and fear. This is an election that could well be called insanity. Oil and the war industries want nothing but more war, more spending, much of it corrupt, that the country can't afford, more neglect of health and education, spreading poverty, destabilizing the whole world and, of course, no taxes for the rich.

We desperately need to learn how to think. It's a matter of survival.


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