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Archive for April, 2010

Ontario’s New Sex Education Curriculum

Ontario’s proposed new sex education curriculum is casuing quite a stir. The Toronto Star reported yesterday that “Children in Grade 1 will be taught to identify male and female genitalia….In Grade 3, students will learn about visible differences and invisible differences between people, such as learning abilities, gender identity and sexual orientation“. The uproar is that some parents believe Grade 1 is too early to begin talking to children about sex.

The Sex Information and Education Council of Canada released a timely report (March 2010) on “sexual health education in the schools: questions and answers”. The report outlines many conclusions, some of which are key to the issue of sex education in schools. Among the report’s conclusions are:
– For a majority of Canadians, first sexual intercourse occurs during the teenage years
– The prevalence of STD infection among youth and young adult Canadians is unacceptably high
– Rates of teenage pregnancy have declined steadily
– The percentage of teens who have had intercourse has also declined in recent years
– The rates of condom use among sexually active young people have increased

Mostly good news right? So why the push to expand sex education to younger children?

This debate flared up south of the border during the 2008 Presidential Debate, with President Obama stating that “If [kindergarteners] ask a teacher ‘where do babies come from’… providing information that…it’s not a stork is probably not an unhealthy thing.”; while republican candidate Mitt Romney stating that “that the amount of sex education appropriate for a five-year-old is none”.

To argue that no level of sex education is appropriate for a five year old, or someone in Grade 1, misses the point. That view is informed by a belief that children should be sheltered from sexual exploits with the hope that they would abstain from sex as long as possible. The point is the betterment of society. In the end, does this help children make better choices? Or does it actually encourage youth to go out an experiment? (see Rolleri, 2005)

To answer this, some considerations should be kept in mind: the prevelance of the internet in the lives of today’s youth is enourmous, and indirectly teaches children about sex (which is often a distorted/perverted view). Advertising doesnt help either, which often promotes distorted images of male and female sexuality. A large portion of parents today feel uncomfortable speaking to their children about sex, even though many youth consider their parents as a valuable source of sexuality information.

With these circumstances in mind, it appears more appropriate to focus the debate on what is considered “age-appropriate” education, rather than how young is too young.

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Eight Tips for Winning Brains

Eight Tips for Winning Brains

Self-awareness: Train yourself to interpret other people’s facial expressions and body language by watching scenes from a movie on mute. Then watch the scene again, this time with volume, and compare how well your interpretations matched up. You can improve this skill over time.

Motivation: If you have a problem with procrastination, make large tasks feel more manageable by breaking them down into parts.

Focus: Like playing Whac-a-Mole, sometimes you can actually perform better when you’re not concentrating too hard. If something’s not coming to you despite your best efforts, try relaxing and letting the brain work on autopilot.

Emotional balance: Practice managing your emotions by changing your perspective of a situation. Research shows that if you think of a highly emotional event as a challenge rather than a problem, you can stay calmer and retain a better memory for details.

Memory: “Edit your brain,” the authors say. Recognize and consciously purge useless information. Imagine sweeping it away, so you can concentrate on more useful data.

Resilience: When you’re in a tough spot, think of a “resilience role model,” a parent, teacher or mentor, and ask yourself what they would do in your situation. That way, you’ll have more than your own resources to draw upon.

Adaptability: Try a few minutes of meditation a day to calm your thoughts. Studies show “regular yoga and meditation can increase cortical thickness in as little as eight weeks.”

Brain care: Research suggests that 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, three times a week, can help strengthen your mind.

by Mark Fenske and Jeff Brown in their new book The Winner’s Brain.

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Mandatory Voting?

I recently read an article entitled “Making Voting Mandatory” on a new website I discovered: The Mark News. Actually, they discovered me. I got signed up to their mailing list randomly. At first, I emailed the sender and asked about it. He mentioned that my name came up on a blogroll and that he thought I may be interested in the content of the webpage. Turns out, I am.

Thus far, the Mark News seems to be a news webpage/forum for open debate on political issues. By the nature of my profession, I am trained to identify bias. From my minor account of the content on this webpage, I cannot accurately say what its slant appears to be. Regardless, Make Voting Mandatory peaked my interested.

I recently wrote about a research study that “debunked” political apathy among youth. The premise of the study was: youth are not apolitical, they just want to engage in the political process through non-conventional methods (social networking, debate, participation). This article supports that premise, arguing that political parties in Canada dont target all voters in elections, but rather play to their base. The “get out the vote” campaigns that the United States recently experienced are simply not found in Canada.

Unfortunate it is. It appears as though the media has given up on youth activism as well (not to say it hasn’t in the USA also). I often listen to radio talk shows, both out East and in the prairies, to gain a perspective on the political pulse around the country (talk radio is very telling!) I rarely hear efforts to engage young people. Interviews conducted hardly include youth. There appears to be minimal efforts to reach out to University campuses. Employees themselves are often older!

As social networking and communication gain momentum, and companies like Google become juggernauts, I do believe that politicians everywhere will have to rethink what Government really means.

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Political Apathy Among Youth Debunked

In 2007, I recall listening to a radio talk show in Winnipeg that discussed the “apathy of young people towards politics”. Citing low voter turnout among young people (defined here as those aged 18-24), the general consensus was that today’s youth are less politicized, ask fewer questions, and have lost a sense of collective values.

A recent research project undertaken by Policy Research Initiative addressed these perceptions directly (among others in their analysis of youth values across a spectrum of topics). The full report can be read here: Investing in Youth – PRI

This report validated a common theme within the press that often portrays today’s youth as lazy, self-centered, and out of touch with older, more “responsible”, generations. A recent forum entry I read supports this perspective, citing “Lets face it – the world isn’t like it use to be. My parents and their parents valued family, history & heritage.”

As the “Investing in Youth” report demonstrates, youth are not very different from their seniors in terms of their interest in political matters. What is different is that youth are more interested in the so-called “non-traditional” forms of political participation (such as those that contribute to defending causes – fundraising, signature gathering, blogging, petitions, discussion groups, information campaigns, boycotting products, etc) rather than traditional forms of political participation, such as voting, membership in political parties, rallies, etc. In addition, the study shows that in the area of volunteer work, or participation in cultural or professional organizations, those aged 18-24 have the highest participation rates than any other age group.

To accurately understand youth’s interest and participation in the political process, a much deeper understanding of political participation is required. Non-traditional forms of political participation are changing the way the world works, as Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social-networking have shown us.

With this reality in mind, policy makers, politicians and the media should be careful not to represent youth as apathetic, or stereotype them as so. Instead, policy should be oriented to encourage the use of non-traditional forms of political participation, as it presents positive implications for the democratic health of society, the confidence level of youth, and the relationship between government and its citizens.

Barack Obama’s Letter to his Daughters

I often post articles, stories, short phrases, quotes and other literature that I consider motivational. Motivation can be defined as the driving force behind all the actions of an individual. People are inspired or motivated in different ways. I believe we could always use more motivation because the world in which we live is too often characterized by competition and self-interest, rather than the values we are asked to promote in the workplace, like teamwork and working towards the public good.

Upon winning the Presidency, Barack Obama wrote a letter to his two daughters. The letter didnt garner much media attention, however it did make its way around the internet fairly quickly, instilling a sense of optimism upon the people that read it. I am sharing it here not only as a source of motivation, but as a demonstration of leadership in public service values and ethics shared innocently in a letter from a father to his children.
______________________________________________________________

Dear Malia and Sasha,

I know that you’ve both had a lot of fun these last two years on the campaign trail, going to picnics and parades and state fairs, eating all sorts of junk food your mother and I probably shouldn’t have let you have. But I also know that it hasn’t always been easy for you and Mom, and that as excited as you both are about that new puppy, it doesn’t make up for all the time we’ve been apart. I know how much I’ve missed these past two years, and today I want to tell you a little more about why I decided to take our family on this journey.

When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me—about how I’d make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn’t seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that’s why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.

I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential—schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college—even if their parents aren’t rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity.

I want us to push the boundaries of discovery so that you’ll live to see new technologies and inventions that improve our lives and make our planet cleaner and safer. And I want us to push our own human boundaries to reach beyond the divides of race and region, gender and religion that keep us from seeing the best in each other.

Sometimes we have to send our young men and women into war and other dangerous situations to protect our country—but when we do, I want to make sure that it is only for a very good reason, that we try our best to settle our differences with others peacefully, and that we do everything possible to keep our servicemen and women safe. And I want every child to understand that the blessings these brave Americans fight for are not free—that with the great privilege of being a citizen of this nation comes great responsibility.

That was the lesson your grandmother tried to teach me when I was your age, reading me the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and telling me about the men and women who marched for equality because they believed those words put to paper two centuries ago should mean something.

She helped me understand that America is great not because it is perfect but because it can always be made better—and that the unfinished work of perfecting our union falls to each of us. It’s a charge we pass on to our children, coming closer with each new generation to what we know America should be.

I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you’ve had. Not just because you have an obligation to give something back to this country that has given our family so much—although you do have that obligation. But because you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.

These are the things I want for you—to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure.

I am so proud of both of you. I love you more than you can ever know. And I am grateful every day for your patience, poise, grace, and humor as we prepare to start our new life together in the White House.

Love, Dad