Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pooling Together

This is somewhat of a rant posting. I have been thinking about this topic for about six months now. S.O.V. is an abbreviation that is common in traffic planning. It stands for Single Occupancy Vehicle. I do not own my own car. This is partly through choice, and financial constraint.

During the summer I worked at my university. Every morning for three months I took the bus to work. I live near a two-lane arterial road in my current city. While I stood in at the bus shelter I watched the cars and trucks and SUVs pass me by. I started to notice something I found peculiar with the cars that were passing me on this major avenue. Virtually all of them had a single passenger.

I watched the cars pass me on the road I could not help but wonder how many of them originated from similar places. More to the point I could not help but wonder how many of them were going to nearby places. It is impossible for me to know the actual destination and origin point of the commuters that passed me on the road, but in my life I have experienced concrete examples of people failing to carpool.

In my family, one member lives in the same neighbourhood as fellow co-workers. Every morning three of them drive from the same neighbourhood to a distant office park in a different city. If the three of them pooled resources they would spend one third the money on gasoline and take two cars off the congested route to their works. They would also force their work to provide less parking and have a more social commute.

Generally speaking I am very much in favour of car pools, and policies which support them, like car pool lanes on highways. But that’s easy for me to say as a person without a car I suppose.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What About the Boys?

The classic liberal inside me rails against looking at people as categories. As I’ve spoken about before I don’t like it when people accept birth as a recipe for destiny. Being born a certain race or a certain class does not determine the path for the rest of your life. This belief sits at the heart of my worldview.

Likewise I would like to believe that a person’s gender does not inevitably shape his/her life. I said I would like to believe. Gender roles are fundamental in every society. Natural and cultural values are assigned to the sexes and shape our interactions. In our society we are aiming for true equality between men and women. At this, we are failing. Boys are getting left behind.

I was thumbing through the October 25 issue of Maclean’s magazine and discovered this article. There are growing trends amongst the youth in Canada that give me pause about the future of men in our society. It is a widely known fact that universities are increasingly skewing towards women, roughly 60-40 female: male. At first I had no concern over this, but upon reading this Maclean’s article, it is clear that the trouble starts early on.

Ontario secondary schools are divided into two major streams, applied and academic. Applied is a less intensive program academically. Applied students are disproportionately male. Are we to accept that men are simply dumber than women?

The article points to the fact that males mature slower than females. This creates a gap in early years that boys may interpret as a weakness in education, turning them off. However, Maclean’s briefly points to another factor that I think may be more important.

Over the last 30 years or so education has transformed from a teacher-centred practice to a student-centred practice. The cliché of women being more in touch with their feelings, and attuned to their own emotions and thoughts allows them to succeed in this type of environment. On the other hand, boys tend to thrive when there is strong structure and a more authoritarian leader in the classroom. Part of me wants to believe that men and women don’t respond differently to different styles of teaching, but it seems they may.

In a previous era when these boys dropped out of high school they would find work in factories and shops and earn a respectable living for decades. From this healthy salary they could raise a family, and live a comfortable middle-class existence. That’s not the case anymore. What becomes of these young men?

Drop-out rates are higher for men than women. According to the article many women drop out of high school to start/raise a family (or did), young men who drop out don’t do that generally. The title of this article is what caught my eye most, “Are we raising our boys to be underachieving men?” Sometimes when I looked into the faces of my students, or think about my peers I do not see the drive and ambition I hope to. Too much apathy, and a disregard for their own futures means that they may be less bright, and frankly - dull.

I’m not a gender warrior, my point isn’t that feminism has gone too far and now everything is screwed up. I wonder now that professions are skewing female how this will affect society. I have a lifetime to watch it unfold, and so do the young boys the system isn’t working for now.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Züming to Success

Readers, recently I posted on a discussion of Brampton’s upcoming experiment on Bus Rapid Transit known as Züm. The service has been in operation now for over a month. Sadly, I haven’t myself been able to access it. I’ve been home once this semester and it wasn’t online then. Friends of mine back in Brampton have told me positive things about the system so far.

Züm recently pointed its Facebook Fans to the following news article.

According to the article, Züm has contributed to a 16% increase in ridership for Brampton Transit along the Queen Street Corridor. This is an exciting development. Whether or not this can be sustained is something else entirely, but it is a promising start.

Many critics suggested that Züm could not work in a low-density, suburban city like Brampton. I feel that characterization also doesn’t match the city, but Züm is proving critics wrong, at least for now.

I hope the next city council continues to support Züm and the program, and that Brampton can become a leader for cities such as itself in transportation innovation.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Prediction Results - 2010

So this week I want to reflect on how accurate my prediction was for the American midterm elections last Tuesday. I apologize for not posting last night, as usual, but I was delayed.

Of the Governors’ races I predicted 32 correctly. I got three wrong and two are yet to be determined. The three I called incorrectly were Illinois, Hawaii, and Rhode Island. These three states favour Democrats generally and elected Republicans or former-Republicans. I figured Illinois would favour the Republicans, and that since Kirk won the Senate seat there that he would pull along Brady to the Governor’s Mansion. The race in Hawaii received little polling and the state normally votes very strongly for the Dems. Rhode Island was in the middle of the three-way race. Linc Chaffee, a former-Republican Senator turned independent, managed to beat out the Democrat. The two races that are being recounted – Minnesota and Vermont – are favouring the Democrats, who I picked to win. So of 35 called races I got 32.

In the Senate there were 37 races. I predicted 33 races successfully, 3 unsuccessfully and 1, Alaska, has yet to be called. The three that I called incorrectly were Colorado, Nevada, and West Virginia. I predicted all 3 would go to the Republicans, but the Democrats managed to hang on/win. Colorado was very, very close, so I don’t feel so bad about that one. The polling for it was nuts. Two polls would come out the same day showing Ken Buck up 5% and another with Michael Bennett up 4%. It made no sense, but I figured Colorado would go Red. Oops.

Sharron Angle failed to gain a majority of support in Nevada. Harry Reid beat her 50-44 with approximately 5% casting their ballots for none of the above, or another candidate. I was deeply impressed with Harry Reid’s win, and I honestly did not think it was at all possible. I have heard from pundits that he won on the back of Hispanic voters. Frankly, I think he won by being the lesser evil of two despised candidates.

West Virginia was a bit of a gamble on my part. West Virginia never like President Obama, and I figured they would send a message by keeping their popular governor in Charleston and sending a Republican to Washington. Oops.

In addition in Alaska over 40% of the vote is Write-Ins, and Miller got 34%. I haven’t lost hope that Miller beat Murkowski yet, but if one in four Murkowski voters filled out their ballots incorrectly than that is game over for them. I’d rather Murkowski win overall, but Miller is who I put my money on.

If I may brag now, I got over 90% of my predictions correct, which I think is a pretty good prediction. The sad news now for election watchers is that it is time to start governing America again. Maybe.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Education and Elections

It’s a political junky’s favourite day – election day. I’m avidly following on television. So far my prediction is holding up pretty well, but it is still very early. As near as I can tell I’m wrong about one race.

We just left behind a municipal election. One election people pay very little attention to are the elections of school board trustees. Even though school board trustees are possibly the lowest level of government we elect, they are the highest officials in our educational system. The Minister of Education has a lot of power, yes, but much of the time the Ministry outlines broad policy and then school boards determine local policy. Local boards often overlook policy recommendations from Toronto, or put them in the drawer. Boards have a lot of power, more than people realize.

Yet most school board elections get only a few thousand votes. Most people do not bother to investigate the candidates. It is hard to imagine that in an area of such importance that we care so little. Education is often held up as the key determinant of economic competitiveness in the 21st century. How can we say we’re taking education as a serious matter if we don’t examine the policies being implemented in our area?

There are some matters that I think schools should take into consideration right now. Here are two ideas that I think if introduced would generate a healthy change. First, research has consistently shown that if schools start a little bit later that it makes a big difference. In my experience students don’t wake up until about ten, but we drag them in and whip them into paying attention. I wonder how different a school environment would be if we went from an 8:30-2:30 clock to a 10-4 clock.

Something else I think would transform schools is if we provided more free lunches and breakfasts. Too many of my students come to school hungry. They haven’t had any breakfasts, and if they do it is a poor one. I’ve seen students swigging from 750 mL Coke bottles at 9:30 in the morning, or eating from bags of chips during O Canada. I’m not typically an advocate of institutions intruding on what I consider the domain of personal and familial responsibility, but if some won’t take care of their children, then someone must.

Sometimes I feel no one is taking the education process serious. It’s either critical to our success as a city, province and country or it’s not. If it is, then we should treat it with the respect it deserves.

Now, I’m going to go watch more election results to get my fix.