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Together We Are: Studying the past to dream our future

[Together We Are]

In this piece for the Together We Are blog, Adnan Husain, a professor in the Department of History, talks about using education to combat stereotypes, and he explains how universities provide us with the opportunity of learning from the past to build a better future.

As a historian, my reflex is to look to the past to analyze contemporary conditions and understand recent experiences. When I first began to study medieval European and Middle Eastern/Islamic History as a university student, I did not imagine that my preoccupations with how religious identities were formed through the interrelationships between Muslims, Christians and Jews in the pre-modern world would seem so relevant to so many others. My interests at the time developed from a more personal perspective as a Muslim from a religiously observant family raised in North America. I was seeking historical grounding for what seemed an eccentric problem – being what one scholar would later term a “Western Muslim.” My exploration of inter-religious interaction was meant to satisfy an internal dialogue about identity and its diverse sources and to discover ways to integrate and reconcile disparate influences of my heritage and formation.

[Adnan Husain]
Professor Adnan Husain, Department of History

It soon became clear that much more could be at stake than my own individual curiosity and exploration, even in such a remote and apparently distant past that initially seemed an antiquarian escape from modern relevance. But I discovered that so little of the surprising intellectual, humanistic and scientific achievements of pre-modern Islamic societies were generally appreciated or their profound contributions to Europe even commonly acknowledged. A diverse, complex and interconnected world of commercial, cultural, and intellectual interchange among Christians, Muslims and Jews had flourished around the Mediterranean and even sustained multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies for centuries. These untold stories and forgotten histories of the Medieval Mediterranean world hardly figured in Eurocentric narratives about our past and seemed crucial to me if we were ever to imagine a collective and cosmopolitan future.

Yet, medieval history continued popularly to be represented as entirely divided by narrow religious bigotry, crusading conflict and cultural isolation. And this vision of the past seemed increasingly attractive to extreme ideologues — nationalists and religious fundamentalists alike — emerging at the end of the Cold War. Right at the time I started graduate studies, Samuel Huntington published his infamous article The Clash of Civilizations? which attempted to use this distorted perspective on pre-modern global history to ground a conservative investment in exclusivist identitarian conflicts based on religious and “civilizational” identities.

Since the Gulf War of the early 1990s to our own era of terrorism, interventionist warfare and massive migrations of refugees, studying the historical relationship between “Islam and the West,” as it is typically and crudely formulated, has possessed undeniable relevance and importance. However, approaching the relationships from a skewed set of assumptions like Huntington did leads dangerously towards re-enacting the bigotries of the past in the present and regarding them as natural.

At our campus, our challenge is even more immediate than this. The general absence of curriculum on Muslim societies and diasporas globally affects our intellectual and academic community rather profoundly. In my two history seminars this term — one on the Crusades and another on Muslim, Christian and Jewish in the Medieval Mediterranean world, we examine and discuss together the episodes of conflict or persecution as well as the long periods of coexistence and cooperation that patterned a shared past and allow us to consider and imagine a shared future. Rather more such opportunities are needed in our curriculum and at our campus. Education affords us the chance to critique dangerous misconceptions and to combat the stereotyped fears that fuel Islamophobia and other forms of prejudice. It allows us to reflect on important contemporary issues or share experiences in an environment of genuine inquiry and respectful discourse. These are precious opportunities that universities can provide toward dreaming and, hopefully, building a more equitable future together.

The Conversation: How analyzing patterns helps students spot deceptive media

[Demographics graphic]
All demographics of people are susceptible to being deceived. (shutterstock.com)

With the current pervasive use of online media for personal and academic reasons, it’s necessary for students to have skills to confidently filter and decipher what they’re reading.

As such, educators have called for a new approach to teach students how to analyze digital media and some tech and media organizations are getting involved.

Education policy-makers have added new media modules to recently revamped curricula that aims to help students become better-informed and critical future citizens.

But the questions explored in public school media units are also important for people of all ages to consider. Recent studies have shown all demographics of people are susceptible to being deceived.

Showing students how to determine source credibility, and to analyze tone, bias and motive, is a great way to help them with their media literacy. Another helpful way to teach students to think critically about media is to teach them to examine media formats and media patterns.

What exactly does that mean and how do patterns work to manipulate viewers?

Patterns structure our expectations

People have become familiar with, and expect, specific patterns within specific genres of media. Canadian communications theorist Marshall McLuhan famously argued that “the medium is the message:” the media format or genre (including its patterns), can influence people’s thoughts and beliefs.

Each genre has a unique set of characteristics — for example, a haiku poem’s three lines have a particular number of syllables (five, seven, five).

[Haiku poem]
Haiku form: five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables. (shutterstock.com)

The genre of documentary film often includes suspenseful music, interviews with specialists and recorded footage or re-enactments.

Or consider the television news broadcast: there are often two anchors, and the colours blue, red and white are seen alongside an animated globe or map.

Even the news music itself has a common pattern. The “Six O’Clock Soundtrack” episode of the podcast Every Little Thing by Gimlet Media documented how news music is a global genre, and is difficult to create.

Yet news music composers from Israel, India, England and the U.S. all agree news music has three common patterns:

  1. The music starts by grabbing the attention of the viewer, and is usually quite catchy.

  2. The rhythm is constant, which often provides a feeling of reliability for the viewer.

  3. The tone of the music conveys a sense of urgency and importance, but at the same time, allows the viewer to feel things are still under control. The music, while tense, still provides a safe and authoritative feeling.

In my research, I have found that specific media forms and patterns can impact viewers’ understanding of important issues. Further, I have begun exploring how the success of deceptive media relies on manipulating viewers’ understanding of patterns. “Deceptive media” encompasses all forms of media that persuades or dupes, including fake news in all its possible formats (for example, print or video or other electronic content).

For example: Hollywood films can easily mimic such iconic aural or visual patterns of news to create a representation of reality which almost instantaneously invites particular viewer expectations. A movie like Anchorman is funny because it creates a satirical story based on viewers’ existing knowledge of news.

[Generic Breaking news logo]
Patterns associated with news: red, blue, white and a globe.

Producers of deceptive media use such representational patterning techniques to deliberately stimulate the viewer’s expectation that they are delivering factually-based news — even when they’re not.

Patterns plus personal experiences

In some instances, drawing upon people’s expectations of patterns in particular media formats, plus their lived experiences can make deception possible.

For example, Orson Welles’s The War of the Worlds radio play, an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s book broadcast by CBS on Oct. 30, 1938 mimics an interruption of a radio broadcast: it starts with information about the weather, and later plays ballroom music, which is then abruptly interrupted by the events of an alien invasion of Earth.

The opening of Welles’s play actually explained to listeners that the broadcast is an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s novel.

Yet there were instances when some listeners believed the broadcast to be true.

Media scholars Jefferson Pooley and Michael J. Socolow have determined most of the so-called hysteria was exaggerated. Researchers have found it was immediately fuelled by some newspaper journalists’ efforts to discredit broadcast media; later, the event’s legacy was amplified by a questionable academic study on psychological panic.

Still, because Welles followed the representational patterns of a radio broadcast, and drew upon people’s realities of surviving the First World War and being on the brink of the Second World War, Welles’s broadcast successfully convinced at least a portion of his audience the events were authentic.

Considerations for the classroom

A number of online resources offer ways for educators to help students detect deceptive media. Some provide checklists of characteristics to explore. PBS offers lesson plans on teaching students about fake news.

Such resources may be helpful, but coaching students to consider patterns in genre, and to look for representational patterns is also relevant.

I would like to thank collaborative researcher Ernesto Peña, with whom I have led workshops about genre and representational patterns in the Faculty of Education at UBC, and with teachers and teacher librarians in the Vancouver School Board.The Conversation


Claire Ahn is an Assistant Professor of Multiliteracies inf the faculty of Education at Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

The Conversation: Get Back – When The Beatles rocked the rooftop

Planned only a few days earlier, the Jan. 30, 1969 rooftop concert by The Beatles was their last. It is fitting the show included Billy Preston who symbolized their global collaborative efforts.

File 20190124 196215 opdvdm.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
John Lennon belts it out during The Beatles’ last concert, Jan. 30, 1969. (You Tube/The Beatles)

On a cold, gusty, grey afternoon half a century ago, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr climbed the five storeys of their office building at 3 Savile Row in central London. They then made their way out onto the roof, where they played an unannounced 42-minute set for friends, employees and office workers who clambered out of windows and onto adjacent roofs. A crowd steadily gathered in the street below.

There was no way of knowing it then, but Thursday, Jan. 30, 1969, turned out to be the last time The Beatles performed together in public.

Accompanying them throughout the impromptu show was the American keyboardist Billy Preston, who had been invited by Harrison to join them in rehearsals a week earlier.

Preston’s spirited playing lifted several of the songs they performed that day on the rooftop. His participation in the concert also demonstrates the ways in which The Beatles repeatedly opened themselves up to diverse creative sources that took them in new directions, and that fired their extraordinary musical and artistic growth.

The weeks preceding the “Rooftop Concert,” as it is now known, had been for the band full of both corrosive hostility and deepening lethargy, in the middle of which Harrison walked out altogether, only to return a few days later.

Yet once the four of them took to the roof and began to play, the strength and warmth of their music quickly turned them into a remarkably tight and still immensely charismatic unit even as the rain clouds and the winds — somehow symbolic — buffeted and chilled them.

They open with two different takes of “Get Back” and they close with the same song, in between which they play “Don’t Let Me Down” and “I’ve Got a Feeling” twice, and “Dig a Pony” and “One After 909” once.

There are shaky, even laughable moments, as Lennon flubs the words on “Don’t Let Me Down,” or Ringo yells “Hold it!” just as the other three launch into the opening riff of “Dig a Pony.” But these miscues only heighten the sense of the uniqueness and unpredictability of the occasion, providing a kind of light relief before the superb quality of their songs, their musicianship and their vocals reassert themselves.

Preston’s piano solo

Yet as compelling as it is to see and hear the four of them playing in public together for the final time, it is also telling to watch for and listen to the 22-year-old Preston, clad in a black leather jacket and tucked in behind McCartney on the left.

Preston was an old friend of The Beatles. He first met them in Hamburg in 1962 when he was a teenager backing up Little Richard, and they were all playing together at the Star Club. “Right from the start, I fell in love with the Beatles,” he later said. “I was probably their first American fan and friend.”

Billy Preston behind McCartney on the left. (You Tube/The Beatles)
Billy Preston behind McCartney on the left. (You Tube/The Beatles)

On the rooftop, Preston made his biggest contribution to “Get Back,” where his electric piano solo highlights the song. Released as a single a few months later, “Get Back” was credited to “The Beatles with Billy Preston,” and went to No. 1 in Britain, Australia, Norway and North America.

Today, in addition to his work with The Beatles and later the Rolling Stones, Preston is probably best remembered as the co-author of the ballad “You Are So Beautiful,” which he released in 1974, the same year that Joe Cocker issued his slower and much better-known version.

Bidding the world goodbye

Preston’s relationship with The Beatles also reveals something fundamental about the band itself. The Beatles always revelled in the new and the untried, and across their career they repurposed highly disparate influences with astonishing energy and inventiveness. Rooted in the north of England, they were shaped in Germany and deeply indebted to Black American music.

Once they hit the big time, the pattern deepened as they transcended, ignored and dismantled cultural and social boundaries in the glare of global attention.

They were a western band fascinated by the East. They were the most popular mainstream band in the world even as they embraced the counter-cultural, the experimental and the avant-garde. This open and avid pursuit of innovation and reinvention enabled The Beatles to transform popular culture and modern music, and to imbue both with previously unmatched vitality and variety.

Inviting Preston to join them on the rooftop was typical of the band, and mutually beneficial. Preston was Black and gay. Fifty years ago, that might have made a difference to many, but it didn’t matter to the Beatles. Preston is clearly at ease with them as they are with him, and he takes a supporting role on the stage even as they showcase his brilliant playing.

The Beatles idolized older American musicians such as Chuck Berry and Little Richard. And they knew and accepted that their recently deceased manager Brian Epstein was gay. “Brian was a beautiful guy,” Lennon later remarked.

The Beatles disbanded just 15 months after the rooftop concert, but our fascination with them and their music continues unabated. Among their greatest legacies is the way in which, from the start and to the core, they had a international ethos that grew even more expansive when they achieved fame, and that always fuelled their remarkable productivity and creativity.

There is much about the rooftop concert that is magical: Lennon, McCartney and Harrison singing three-part harmony on the chorus of “Don’t Let Me Down” always stands out. It is also clear that Preston is an intimate part of the magic. On that chilly and dull January day, Billy Preston played a central role in helping them to catch fire even as they were bidding the world goodbye.The Conversation


Robert Morrison is a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature. 

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

Funding focuses on humanities, social sciences

Minister Kirsty Duncan makes $141 million funding announcement at Queen's University.

  • [Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport]
    Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport, announces $141 million in funding for researchers across Canada through the Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), during a special event hosted at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's University on Wednesday, Jan. 30. (University Communications)
  • [Principal Daniel Woolf at SSHRC funding announcement]
    Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf comments on the funding announcement on Wednesday at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, highlighting some of the amazing research being conducted at Queen's. (University Communications)
  • [Lee Airton speaks at SSHRC announcment]
    Lee Airton (Education) speaks during Wednesday's funding announcement Dr. Airton's research explores how gender expression is being explicitly defined, and implicitly constructed, in the human rights, diversity and equity policy documents of Ontario’s publicly-funded school boards. (University Communications)
  • [Christine Moon at SSHRC announcement]
    Christine Moon, a MD/PhD in sociocultural studies at the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, explains her research into medical assistance in dying, and what assisted dying means to racialized Canadians. (University Communications)
  • [SSHRC announcement podium group]
    Speaking at Wednesday's announcement were, from left: Graduate student Christine Moon; Minister of Science and Sport Kirsty Duncan; Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf; Professor Lee Airton; Associate Vice-Principal (Research) Sandra Den Otter; and SSHRC President Ted Hewitt.
  • [SSHRC President Ted Hewitt]
    SSHRC President Ted Hewitt (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • [Ted Hsu, Stéphane Courteau, Kirsty Duncan, and Mark Chen]
    Ted Hsu, Stéphane Courteau (Physics), Kirsty Duncan, and Mark Chen (Physics). (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • [Una D'Elia (Professor, Art History) with Kirsty Duncan]
    Una D'Elia (Art History) with Kirsty Duncan. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • [Kirsty Duncan meeting student researchers]
    Kirsty Duncan meeting student researchers. (Photo by Bernard Clark)
  • [On tour in the Art Conservation lab]
    On tour in the Art Conservation lab. (Photo by Bernard Clark)

More than 90 Queen’s University researchers, including faculty, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows, are the beneficiaries of Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) funding announced Wednesday by the Honourable Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Sport.

At an event hosted by Queen’s at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Minister Duncan announced $141 million in research funding for almost 3,000 researchers across Canada through the SSHRC Insight Development and Talent grant programs.

A total of $4.6 million is earmarked for Queen’s researchers.

Minister Duncan was joined at the event by SSHRC President Ted Hewitt, and Queen’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Daniel Woolf.

“With the support of these funds, over 90 faculty and students across disciplines at Queen’s will contribute evidence-based research to issues of importance to Canadians and global citizens – from gender expression to assisted dying,” says Principal Woolf.  “The strength of our social sciences and humanities research in this country positions Canada as an international leader in facilitating dialogue, informing policy, and providing concrete solutions to global challenges.”

Speaking on behalf of recipients across Canada at the announcement were Queen’s faculty and student representatives, Lee Airton (Education) and Christine Moon (Kinesiology and Health Studies). Dr. Airton’s research explores how gender expression is being explicitly defined, and implicitly constructed, in the human rights, diversity and equity policy documents of Ontario’s 76 publicly-funded school boards.

• A total of close to 2,300 social sciences and humanities scholars at the master’s, doctoral and post-doctoral levels will benefit from today’s announcement.
• In addition, 677 faculty researchers and their teams received Insight Development Grants. This number represents a 74 per cent increase from last year.
• Queen’s University is one of 79 universities to benefit from the $141 million to support close to 3,000 researchers at institutions across Canada.
• The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) Talent and Insight programs support post-secondary based research and research training in the humanities and social sciences.
• The Canada Graduate Scholarships are awarded by the three granting agencies – SSHRC, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“We are analyzing hundreds of school board policy and guideline documents produced because of changes to human rights law, but also because schools already know that this guidance is needed,” says Dr. Airton. “It’s needed because gender is changing, and the future of gender is walking into Canadian schools every day, and schools are now legally required to offer a welcome: not a correction or a blind eye. This grant has established our research program, and with SSHRC support we will be able to help Canadian institutions like schools to offer this welcome, every day, to everyone.”

Moon, a MD/PhD in sociocultural studies at the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, will examine medical assistance in dying, and what assisted dying means to racialized Canadians. This is the first ethnographic analysis of assisted dying in Canada.

"It is my intent that my research will contribute both to Canadian public policy and to the everyday lived experiences of Canadians," says Moon. "I am grateful for the support I receive from SSHRC, and the opportunity I have been given to better the lives of Canadians with my research."

After the formal presentation, the podium party, including Minister Duncan and Dr. Hewitt toured the Art of Research photo contest exhibit. The annual photo contest is a unique opportunity for faculty and students across disciplines to showcase their scholarship in a non-traditional way, and a number of the exhibitors were present to highlight their research projects.

The official visit concluded with a tour of the state-of-the-art, interdisciplinary painting and art conservation laboratories. Queen’s offers the only Master of Art Conservation program in Canada and it is one of only five graduate programs in North America. Minister Duncan met graduate student recipients of the SSHRC Talent Fund and learned about the innovative research being applied to conserve art and artifacts to preserve our history

“Social sciences and humanities research is at the heart of understanding the challenges and opportunities facing our communities and our people,” says Minister Duncan. “Nurturing young talent in these disciplines is one of the best ways to build a healthier, stronger and more prosperous Canada.”

For a list of all the funding recipients visit the website.

VIDEO: SSHRC Research Funding Announcement. January 30, 2019

The Conversation: Culturally-responsive teaching in a globalized world

In increasingly diverse societies, teaching must recognize the importance of affirming students’ cultural backgrounds in all aspects of learning.


[Elementary school students in a classroom]
Culturally-responsive student assessment and evaluation is key to student success in diverse, globalized societies. (Photo by Neonbrand/Unsplash)

Classrooms in many parts of the world are increasingly diverse. International migration patterns have significantly changed the cultural make-up of many industrialized societies and, by extension, their school-aged populations.

Such changes are particularly seen in traditional destination countries such as Australia, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

In this increasingly globalized landscape, schools face significant challenges. Researchers have documented lower educational outcomes such as student achievement and graduation rates for immigrant students in the majority of countries around the world.

In response to these outcomes, more research is being devoted to understanding and supporting conditions for equitable learning. Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is one idea to support these conditions. CRT is concerned with teaching methods and practices that recognize the importance of including students’ cultural backgrounds in all aspects of learning.

To date, much focus in the field of CRT draws attention to the need for a greater diversity of role models and learning experiences in the classroom, and an expansion of teachers’ capacities to truly support and affirm diverse students.

As education researchers who have worked with teachers in training, and teachers in K-12 schools as well as teacher educators in Australasia, Africa, Asia, Canada, Europe, U.K. and the U.S., we argue that more attention needs to be paid to an overlooked aspect of CRT: both education systems and individual teachers must develop culturally responsive assessment and evaluation practices to boost student success.

How to recruit and prepare teachers?

CRT is sometimes also called culturally relevant teaching. This mode of teaching aims to be aware of how culture, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, language, gender identity and religious background may impact students’ learning experiences.

In many school contexts, student diversity far exceeds the diversity of teachers. Such an imbalance means students do not always encounter educator role models who reflect diverse cultural backgrounds throughout their schooling.

Thus, one aspect of promoting CRT is increasing efforts to attract a more representative demographic of teachers.

Recent analysis from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggests that in most OECD countries the typical person who expects a career in teaching at age 15 is a female with no immigrant background.

The findings are based on a question to 15-year-olds on 2006 and 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment surveys: “What kind of job do you expect to have when you are about 30 years old?” (4.5 per cent of non-immigrant respondents said teaching; only 3.1 per cent of immigrant respondents said teaching).

The OECD survey did not capture racialized identity. But more fine-grain analyses within the traditional Western destination countries suggest racialized people and Indigenous groups are particularly underrepresented among teachers.

For example, Canada’s largest and most diverse province (Ontario) has a significant teacher diversity gap as evidenced by fairly recent demographic data.

Racialized people represent 26 per cent of the provincial population, yet comprise only nine per cent of the 117,905 elementary school and kindergarten teachers and 10 per cent of 70,520 secondary school teachers.

Targeted teacher recruitment efforts are one strategy to improve racialized teacher diversity. Enrolment targets or quota admissions are others.

[Student in library]
When teachers don’t represent society’s diversity, students miss the opportunity to encounter educator role models reflecting diverse cultural backgrounds. (Photo by Elliot Reyna/Unsplash)

Specialized programs for Indigenous peoples such as the teacher program focused on Aboriginal Education at Brock University or Maori Medium Teacher Education in New Zealand demonstrate efforts to grow the number of Indigenous peoples in teaching.

But strategies such as as diversified recruiting, quotas or specialized programs would take time and will likely struggle to keep up with changing student demographics.

Hence, providing relevant cultural training and professional development for aspiring and experienced teachers becomes even more important.

Such training needs to extend beyond traditional multicultural education approaches, or what has been called a “tourist” curriculum characterized by occasional or “highlight” additions.

Instead, training for teachers must model a multi-dimensional approach that includes integrating content from diverse cultures and experiences, and critically examining how cultural identity impacts learning.

Our experiences with teachers and teacher education programs globally reaffirm research findings about recognized practices in teacher education that impact student success.

For example, teachers programs should help teacher candidates critically consider their own identities in relationship to societal inequities and prejudice; optimally, with growth and maturity, they learn how to model deep inclusion.

Assessment literacy: The missing link

We also want to draw attention to an area that has been neglected in broader discussions of CRT – namely, assessment and evaluation strategies.

Most educators now accept that student assessment is the beginning point for instruction, not simply the end. That means assessment can be a powerful support when used throughout learning stages to provide meaningful feedback to students. Teachers need to carefully consider assessment and evaluation before they begin a lesson or unit of study and to use assessment to monitor students’ learning.

However, assessment continues to operate in more traditional ways: it continues to be used primarily as a measure of students’ final learning in courses through tests and exams or through large-scale provincial, state or national testing programs.

Teachers’ competency in using assessment to support student learning and to accurately report on it is called “assessment literacy” — so named for the ability to “read” a class to develop fair, relevant and supportive assessment.

Teachers must learn culturally responsive frameworks to develop fair practices for obtaining accurate information about students’ learning. Our research suggests competency in developing assessment can be enhanced through effective professional development.

The issue of fair assessment also raises questions about system-wide standardized testing, often used for accountability purposes. Standardized testing can be biased, for example reflecting foremost the experiences of white middle-class students.

Thus we acknowledge the need to combine the dual movements of CRT as focused in teacher recruiting and training with greater attention to responsive assessment.

Unless that happens, CRT will only find limited success in creating classrooms that ensure learning and achievement is attainable for all.


The ConversationLouis Volante, Professor of Education, Brock University; Christopher DeLuca, Associate Professor in Classroom Assessment and Acting Associate Dean, Graduate Studies & Reserch, Faculty of Education, Queen's University, and Don A. Klinger, Pro Vice-Chancellor of Te Kura Toi Tangata Division of Education; Professor of Measurement, Assessment and Evaluation, University of Waikato.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

IGniting curiosity

IGnite: Research Stories to Inspire Generations will feature talks on oral history and climate change Jan. 31 at The Isabel.  

At its series launch event in November, IGnite captivated its audience with lectures on neutrinos and medical miracles. This Thursday, IGnite: Research Stories to Inspire Generations will showcase local history and research into climate change. 

Laura Murray (English Language and Literature) will take us back in time to Kingston’s historical Swamp Ward district with “History at home: Community research in action in Kingston.” Using research of past environments to illuminate evidence of climate change,

IGnite: Research Stories to Inspire Generations will feature talks on oral history and climate change Jan. 31 at The Isabel. Canada Research Chair in Environmental Change John Smol (Biology) will present “Back to the Future: Using the past to inform environmental policy.”

IGnite is a collaboration between the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute and the University Relations portfolio. Each event features two researchers from different fields discussing their projects and research experiences, while also including interactive demonstrations and poster presentations from students and additional researchers. The series offers a public platform where researchers can share what first ignited their curiosity and motivates them to pursue their research.

Dr. Murray explains that for her IGnite offers an opportunity to share her methodology and how it relates to the community.

“My research draws on the knowledge of the community, and it’s a primary goal of mine to give it back,” she says. “Through oral history we discover the real lives of the city, going far beyond names and dates and buildings and accomplishments to what it has meant to live here in the past, and what it might mean to live here in the future. Oral history is also a wonderful research methodology in that non-academics can do it too.”

For Dr. Smol, it is the emphasis on public engagement that motivates him to participate in the series.

“Events such as this provide an important vehicle for knowledge translation to the public – a group of people who, by and large, paid for the research in the first place,” he says. “In universities we search for evidence - we search for truth.  If facts and information are not prized and communicated, then ideology will trump evidence.  And if you don’t value truth, then you don’t value democracy.”

The event, the second in a three-part series for the 2018-2019 academic year, will take place Thursday, Jan. 31, 6:30-9 pm at The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. Registration is free on Eventbrite and light refreshments will be served.

For more information on the series, visit the McDonald Institute’s website

The Conversation: The urgent need for Democrats to embrace progressive policies

The Democratic Party needs a revised image, grounded in a new reality, that will address basic issues of inequality, access, and fairness.

[U.S. Capitol Building]
The Democratic Party gained a majority in the House of Representatives following the 2018 midterm elections. (Photo by jomar/Unsplash)

The vigorous agenda of social reform and expanded government services, particularly in health and higher education, promoted by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primaries, and now by a new class of Democrats in Congress, has much in common with mainstream European social democracy.

That senior Democratic Party politicians perceive it as radical suggests that a big part of the party’s problems lie in its commitment to an ideology of free markets and deregulation of capital, and a concurrent lack of concern for issues of class and inequality.

This has left the Democratic Party’s liberalism excessively focused on issues of equal access for racial and ethnic minorities, women and sexual minorities.

[The ConversationIt’s all created an opening for Republicans and the political right to denounce the party as led by disconnected “liberal elites” promoting “affirmative action” and “political correctness” while ignoring the interests of ordinary working- and middle-class Americans.

The Democratic Party needs a revised image grounded in a new reality that will address basic issues of inequality, access, and fairness. The central focus of a progressive program of reform must be to improve the lives of ordinary Americans, regardless of their race, gender or sexuality, and expand opportunities for personal and social mobility.

Real campaign finance reform will be critical in levelling the playing field. Sanders and other politicians have demonstrated that it’s possible to raise substantial funds by accepting only small donations. It is better for the democratic process to raise $150 million from a million citizens than from 50 or fewer millionaires.

Tax corporations

In terms of economic policy, the value of public goods needs to be recognized again. A necessary first step will be to restore the tax on corporate profits to its previous level and refashion genuinely progressive income tax, returning even to the levels of the 1950s, a period marked by vigorous economic growth and increasing real income for most Americans.

This will make possible a significant increase in public revenue for public purposes.

This should be accompanied by a broad-based increase in the minimum wage and a restoration and reaffirmation of collective bargaining rights for public and private sector workers. A revival of anti-trust laws and a closer regulation of finance capital will restore competition, curb risky speculation and help prevent a repeat of the financial crisis of 2008.

Inequality is the underlying problem that is eroding social trust while devastating the well-being of individuals and communities across the country. After declining in the post-Second World War years, inequality since the 1980s has grown to grotesque proportions that have resulted in a tiny plutocracy with a combined wealth equal of more than 90 per cent of Americans.

In their book The Spirit Level, Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson document the heavy toll that persistent and growing inequality is taking on individuals, communities and on society as a whole.

Eroding prosperity

Further, in his book Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis, author Robert D. Putnam vividly demonstrates how growing inequality and declining public resources have eroded the well-being of children and families in a mid-sized American city.

Renewed progressive policies need to make economic equality, health care and education central. The goal must be to eliminate poverty and discrimination that leave a large part of the population incapable of making the necessary productive contributions to tackle the challenges of the next 30 years.

Instead of access to health and education being rationed by cost, it must be enshrined as a fundamental right of citizenship and a critical foundation of the public interest.

[Woman with placard at protest]
A woman holds up a placard during the Women's March protest in New York City ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. (Photo by Mirah Curzer/Unsplash)

In specific policy terms, a number of initiatives would flow from this commitment.

In addition to minimum wage, tax reforms and the restoration of collective bargaining, an educated population equipped with the skills required for the modern world is obviously of critical importance.

Public education must be reinforced with resources and up-to-date facilities. We need to reverse the trend of declining public support for secondary and higher education.

Policies that divert public resources to private schools managed by community groups and provide tax and financing incentives to profit-making companies across a range of trades — from beauty schools to training for medical assistants, paralegals and mechanics, many of which rely on federal funds for tuition — should be curtailed or eliminated.

Fund public education

Instead, public education must be funded in ways that reduce what has become a ruinous trend of student debt.

In its present form, the American health-care system is financed through a ramshackle mess of private and public funding that’s a laughing stock among other advanced countries.

It should be replaced by a coherent single-payer public health- care insurance system that provides quality levels of care for all citizens and regulates the behaviour and costs of the pharmaceutical industry.

A reformed tax system that distributes individual and corporate responsibilities in a fair and equitable fashion would provide growing resources to meet the individual and collective needs of all Americans.

This is the time to begin implementing the policies to meet these urgent priorities.

Commentators on the right often complain that such ideas are too costly, that they’re unaffordable.

And it’s true — these are not priorities for the right. The right’s solution is to push the costs on to users.

But the result is that health care and higher education have become unaffordable for many Americans. And the institutions of U.S. democracy are the collective property of all citizens. A reformed tax system that distributes burdens in a fair and equitable fashion would provide more than enough resources to put health care and education within reach for American citizens.

The time has come for Democrats to start vigorously pushing these urgent priorities and restore the promise of a secure and decent future for all Americans.

________________________________________________The Conversation

Bruce J. Berman is a professor emeritus of Political Studies and History at Queen's University,and Daniel Levine is a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

The Conversation: Fossil fuel era is ending, but the lawsuits are just beginning

An American coal company is suing the Canadian government over Alberta's plan to combat climate change.

Trucks at a coal mine]
Trucks make their way along a makeshift road at a coal mine in Indonesia. (Photo by Dominik Vanyi/Unsplash)

“Coal is dead.”

These are not the words of a Greenpeace activist or left-wing politician, but of Jim Barry, the global head of the infrastructure investment group at Blackrock — the world’s largest asset manager. Barry made this statement in 2017, but the writing has been on the wall for longer than that.

Banks know it, which is why they are increasingly unwilling to underwrite new coal mines and power plants. Unions and coal workers know it, which is why they are demanding a just transition and new employment opportunities in the clean economy. Even large diversified mining companies are getting out of the business of coal.

The only ones who seem to have remained in denial are President Donald Trump and non-diversified mining companies like Westmoreland Coal. The Denver-based firm made a bad bet in 2013 when it purchased five coal mines in Alberta. Now it wants Canadian taxpayers to pay for its mistake.

Alberta’s coal phaseout

Three years ago, Alberta’s New Democratic Party (NDP) committed to what some have described as “the most ambitious climate plan in North America to date.” In addition to the development of an economy-wide carbon price, the province is phasing out coal-fired power by 2030. Without the infrastructure to export coal, the climate plan has also resulted in a de facto phaseout of local thermal coal mining.

To ensure support for the plan, major utility companies in the province were provided with “transition payments” to facilitate the switch to gas and renewable energy. Westmoreland did not receive a government handout, because coal mining companies have no role to play in the energy transition. The company, which filed for bankruptcy protection for its investments in the United States in October, doesn’t think this is fair.

NAFTA’s investment chapter

Because Westmoreland is an American company, it can rely on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for protection from “unfair” treatment. NAFTA allows a foreign investor to use a process known as “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) when government action harms its business in some way.

ISDS allows foreign investors to bypass local courts and bring claims for monetary compensation to an international tribunal. The system is not unique to NAFTA; it is found in other trade agreements like the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and thousands of bilateral investment treaties (known as Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements in Canada).

ISDS is hugely controversial. Concerns have been raised by a wide range of actors about both the process of ISDS, and the way the system can infringe on the sovereign right of states to regulate to protect public health, human rights and the environment.

More than 900 ISDS cases have been launched by investors since the early 1990s, including 27 against Canada that have so far cost Canadian taxpayers at least $315 million. There is one ongoing dispute that concerns a ban on gas fracking in Québec, but the Westmoreland claim is the first brought in relation to a policy explicitly designed to combat climate change.

Westmoreland argues that part of the reason it invested in Canada in 2013 was to diversify its holdings in response to regulatory risk. At the time, the Obama Administration was taking action under the Clean Power Plan to reduce the reliance of American utilities on coal. The company’s failure to anticipate similar regulatory action by its northern neighbour is remarkable.

A key battleground

If governments respond appropriately to the urgent warning issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October, efforts to phase out fossil fuels will have to ramp up considerably — and quickly. We should expect the industry to fight these efforts through a variety of means. ISDS may become a key battleground.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA or CUSMA, depending on who is talking about it), which may replace NAFTA (it has been signed, but has not been ratified), does not retain the process of ISDS between Canada and the U.S.

While this is good news in the long run, some have suggested that there will be a “rush of filings” before access to ISDS for already established investors expires (three years after USMCA comes into force). Canada will also be exposed to claims from investors under other agreements such as the CPTPP and Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).

Other countries, particularly poorer nations, face an even higher risk of ISDS claims and have far less resources available to fight them. It is notable that big oil companies have retained some access to ISDS against Mexico in USMCA, after lobbying hard for it.

[Oil rig works as the sun sets]
An oil rig pumps crude oil as the sun sets. (Photo by Zbynek Burival/Unsplash) 

A climate of fear?

If Westmoreland’s case proceeds to arbitration, it will not have direct implications for Alberta’s climate policy. An investment tribunal cannot require the provincial government to reverse the coal phaseout; it can only award the company damages. Westmoreland is asking for US$470 million. It is the federal government, rather than Alberta, that would have to pay compensation to Westmoreland if the company’s claim was successful. However, Ontario did agree to pay the award in a recent NAFTA case.

What is more concerning than any potential payout is that Westmoreland’s suit could hinder efforts to implement similar plans to combat climate change in other jurisdictions.

Regulatory chill” is a phenomenon that has been observed in several jurisdictions around the world. A notable example is the decision of the New Zealand government to delay the introduction of legislation to require plain packaging of tobacco products until Australia won its ISDS case against the tobacco company Philip Morris International. This delay of regulatory action — out of fear of expensive litigation — may have cost lives.

As recent forest fires and floods have demonstrated, delays in action to combat climate change can also be deadly.

____________________________________________________________The Conversation

Kyla Tienhaara is a Canada Research Chair in Economy and Environment and an assistant professor in the School of Environmental Studies and the Department of Global Development Studies at Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation is seeking new academic contributors. Researchers wishing to write articles should contact Melinda Knox, Associate Director, Research Profile and Initiatives, at knoxm@queensu.ca

Examining Indigenous rights and the RCMP

New research from Queen’s University examines how the RCMP assess protests.

Queen’s University researcher Miles Howe and co-researcher Jeffrey Monaghan (Carleton University) have revealed in a new report how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) assess individual activists according to political beliefs, personality traits, and even their ability to use social media.

In line with other criminal justice agencies in Canada, the RCMP are now relying on new models of preemptive governance and risk-mitigating strategies.

PhD candidate Miles Howe.

"My initial interest in the RCMP's profiling methodologies stemmed from my involvement, as a journalist, with anti-shale gas protests in New Brunswick, which lasted for much of 2013,” says Howe (Cultural Studies, Global Development Studies). “In a declassified report, known as Project SITKA, the RCMP had determined that 45 Indigenous rights activists in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia were meritorious of future surveillance, based upon their involvement in this protest event.”

Howe says that although their names were redacted from the report, he felt sure that many of the people who the RCMP listed had been classified as 'volatile' to state security.

“Having first-hand knowledge of the events of 2013, I was immediately curious as to how the RCMP had ranked these individuals, towards determining their 'volatility',” he added.

When co-author Jeffrey Monaghan and Howe received the RCMP's socio-psychological profiling matrices, for both individuals and events, he says the vast majority of risk ranking factors had to do with an individual or group's ability to use social media, to network, to easily convey their message – even their beliefs surrounding the issue. In short, the potential or reality of criminality was not what determined risk ranking; rather it appeared to mostly surround narrative creation and ability to disseminate.

“Though the RCMP regularly claim to protect and facilitate the right to lawful advocacy, protest, and dissent, my new research shows how these practices of strategic incapacitation exhibit highly antagonistic forms of policing,” Howe says.

The research was recently published in the Canadian Journal of Sociology.

Miles Howe arrived at Queen's University as a 2018 Vanier Scholar.

Capturing the Art of Research

The annual photo contest offers prizes for images of research in action at Queen’s in a number of categories. 

[Art of easearch Contest]
Exploring Worlds at Home by James Xie

Researchers … ready your cameras. Returning for its fourth year, the Art of Research photo contest is launching Jan. 14 to celebrate and creatively capture the research conducted by the Queen’s community.

Hosted by the Office of the Vice-Principal (University Relations) and open to Queen’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni, the Art of Research is a competition that provides a unique and accessible method of sharing and celebrating ground-breaking research. Past contest winners have captured stunning images of their research in all settings, from the summit of a mountaintop to a microscope slide.

“The contest embraces the creativity of research across disciplines, and demonstrates the breadth of Queen’s research happening at local, national, and international levels,” says Kimberly Woodhouse, Interim Vice-Principal (Research).


Prizes will be awarded in the categories of “Community Collaborations,” “Invisible Discoveries,” “Out in the Field,” and “Art in Action,” with additional prizes for “Best Description,” and “People’s Choice.” The top submissions in each of these categories will receive $500.  

[Art of easearch Contest]
Unspooling Vermeer by Stephanie Dickey

This year’s contest will also celebrate the significant anniversaries of two of our faculties. The Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science and the Faculty of Education have collaborated with University Relations to sponsor two additional special prizes of $500 each.

To celebrate its 125th anniversary of engineering education at Queen’s, the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science special prize will be awarded to the submission that best demonstrates how engineering-specific pursuits are likely to affect positive change in our daily lives.

Additionally, to celebrate 50 years of excellence, the Queen’s Faculty of Education 50th prize will celebrate the photography of students, faculty, staff or alumni as they pursue research in education.

As with all categories, entries will be considered for these two special prizes regardless of the submitter’s faculty affiliation.


[Art of easearch Contest]
Platinum Surface Electrochemistry by Derek Esau

All winners also have an opportunity to be featured on the Queen’s Research website and in Queen’s publications. Most recently, as a part of the beauty of research initiative, four past submissions were re-purposed as pennant banners along University Avenue.

The winners of the past three contests are also featured in a travelling pop-up photo exhibit. This exhibit has helped highlight Queen’s research to the Kingston community, on Queen’s campus, and at major research conferences such as the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa. Throughout the contest the exhibit will be on display at several campus locations, such as the Queen’s Centre, to inspire imaginative submissions.

The contest closes on March 1, 2019. The submission form is available online and information on past contests and photo winners is located on the research website.  


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