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Eric is a student and a teacher. A descendant of settlers, he calls Toronto home. He writes about education, art, nature, death, and birds.

The pandemic asked schools to adapt once. Now they must do it again — and this time, the stakes are higher.

Many public schools have been shuttered as educators have been asked (in many cases little more more than the scant resources to which they are accustomed) to shift the locus of learning from the physical to the virtual.

School districts in locked-down parts of the world adopted their own response to the crisis, each one informed by advice from politicians and, at times…

A beloved teacher’s final advice is a clarion call for public education — and for civilization itself.

This week I lost a hero.

She was my teacher. One of those teachers. The kind that stay with you. Maybe you had two or three.

Elaine Blais was one of mine. She was a formidable presence, her silver hair and thick-rimmed glasses conjuring Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada.

But beneath her sternness was humour and a profound heart. Her seriousness belied her essence, which was warm and giving. If she came off as intimidating, it was because she understood the seriousness of her job. Hers was a tough love.

She possessed a formidable mind. She read…

200913 | The wind bent forest, Tom Thomson, and the objects of our consideration

Hello from the ravine. The maple felled in April lies on the bank, its dismembered form covered in kudzu, swallowed by green and damp earth. For as long as I am, there will it be. A group of teens walks past: “There is literally a dead body in there.” I open the door prepared to reply You have no idea but my appearance spooks them, they scream, run off, laugh, scream at the green in the night.

A boy careens down the path; his tire catches a root, and he falls. A gap, then — a cry, the panic at…

200906 | Young minds, old patterns, and the function of lakes

“Once we get out,” says the young girl to her mother, “we’ll be back.”

Bright, green orbs are scattered on the ravine floor. The sky is red, the horizon redder still. Wide-eyed squirrels burrow and stash. The creek has slowed, but still, it runs. It finds its way, the old way, carved over time. It flows into the dark beneath the streets, empties into sewers. It finds the lake.

Above: Robert Houle, ‘Muhnedobe uhyahyuk (Where the gods are present) (Thomas),’ 1989.

I’ve been in the woodshop inspecting my possessions. I turn over in my hands the fragments of a hand-made…

200830 | A geometry lesson, night gardening, and teaching as survival.

In the ravine fall the hard, green acorns. You hear them — tokh — connecting with roofs. The squirrels are a flurry — this is their time.

Then the static of surveyors’ radios. I ask what they’re up to, realizing that I’ve become that guy in the neighbourhood. They’re from the department of transportation, the younger surveyor tells me, his orange vest an interruption in the deep green wall of kudzu. I wait for more information, but we just hold our smiles in the shade and the silence. …

As schools scramble to adjust to learning in a pandemic, an unlikely casualty emerges: the French teacher.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

The Herculean Task

Though the back-to-school ads have yet to appear, educators are already bracing to return to the classroom. Schools are facing unprecedented logistical hurdles.

In many major North American cities, the Covid-19 pandemic remains a real threat. The thought of hundreds of young people sharing desks and rotating through narrow hallways and poorly-ventilated classrooms is proving to be one of the greatest tests to face public education systems in living memory.

With many governments pressuring school boards to re-open, often without a clear road map for how to do so safely, stakeholders in education are coming to terms with what school…

200628 | On a neighbour’s death, and a glimpse of his partner in the after.

Hello from the ravine, awaiting the waxwings’ arrival. A man walks along the shaded path. “I want peace,” he says, on the phone. “You can have them until Sunday. That’s a concession. Don’t you want peace? ” His voice is simmering.

“That way,” he says, “we have peace.”

Above: Alex Colville, The Living Room (acrylic on masonite, 1999–2000).

It was summer; there were no clouds. In an airy bedroom, G pressed shut his eyes and moistened his lips. His breathing had become laboured.

G was, like most of my clients, in the process of dying. At my arrival his partner…

200614 | On the jazz problem, HiFiLo, and music as resistance.

Sister, I promise you I’m changing

You’ve had broken promises, I know

If you want to change it, you must break it

Rip it up and something new will grow

Above: Screengrab from Dizzy Gillespie Quintet (1966). From left to right: James Moody, Chris White, Gillespie, Rudy Collins.

A summer storm. Before the downpour, a…

200607 | From Toni Morrison’s ‘Racism and Fascism.’

Hello from the ravine. Then there were leaves, a wall of them, a hiss of them.

Above: Renato Bertelli, Profile of Mussolini (bronzed terra-cotta, 1933)

Italicized passages are excerpts from a speech by Toni Morrison in 1995. Published as the essay ‘Racism and Fascism’ in The Source of Self-Regard (2019).

Racism may wear a new dress, buy a new pair of boots, but neither it nor its succubus twin fascism is new or can make anything new. …

200531 | My black students, Ibram X. Kendi, and what our job must be.

Hello from the ravine.

Above: ‘Mary Comforter of the Afflicted’ by Kehinde Wiley (Stained glass, 2016)

*Names altered for privacy*

Andre wears a hoodie instead of the uniform. He is tall and friendly, and often rests his head in class, but will perk up if a meaty discussion starts up.

Early in the pandemic I called home. His mom told me Andre was at his father’s. In the background a baby was screaming.

While I don’t make a habit of phoning students directly, it seemed the only reliable way of connecting with Andre. So I phoned and we chatted; his…

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