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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ditch the screen(s)... go outdoors!

Rang-a-tangs running their legs off in a rose garden, Zurich

The Globe and Mail recently published a bucket list for children under the age of 12. It mostly involves outdoors activities because, as research seems to show, being active and spending time outdoors has many significant benefits for kids, some of which we might not instinctively guess. For example, not only is it good for physical health, it would also help kids do good in school. And in these times of environment consciousness, I say that one of the best ways to come to cherish nature is to be surrounded by it on a regular basis.

The list

1. Climb a tree
2. Roll down a really big hill
3. Camp out in the wild
4. Build a den
5. Skim a stone
6. Run around in the rain
7. Fly a kite
8. Catch a fish with a net
9. Eat an apple straight from a tree

Apple picking in the Annapolis Valley

10. Play conkers
11. Throw some snow (or build a snowman)

One of the innumerable snowmen

12. Hunt for treasure on the beach

Beach combing in Cape Breton

13. Make a mud pie
14. Dam a stream
15. Go sledging
16. Bury someone in the sand

BEING buried in sand is even better! Bayswater Beach

17. Set up a snail race
18. Balance on a fallen tree
19. Swing on a rope swing
20. Make a mud slide
21. Eat blackberries growing in the wild

Picking berries in Quebec

22. Take a look inside a tree
23. Visit an island
24. Feel like you’re flying in the wind
25. Make a grass trumpet
26. Hunt for fossils and bones
27. Watch the sun wake up
28. Climb a huge hill (or take a hike in the woods)

Walking in the woods in Quebec

29. Get behind a waterfall
30. Feed a bird from your hand
31. Hunt for bugs
32. Find some frogspawn
33. Catch a butterfly in a net
34. Track wild animals
35. Discover what’s in a pond

What's in there? Quebec

36. Call an owl
37. Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool
38. Bring up a butterfly
39. Catch a crab
40. Go on a nature walk at night
41. Plant it, grow it, eat it
42. Go wild swimming

Late afternoon swim in the neighborhood

43. Go rafting
44. Light a fire without matches
45. Find your way with a map and a compass
46. Try bouldering
47. Cook on a campfire

Roasted marshmallows in the backyard. Notice the 3-at-a-time homemade roaster!

48. Try abseiling
49. Find a geocache
50. Canoe down a river

Now some personal additions to that list!

51. Sail a sailboat

Sailing around Halifax

52. Play golf

Being silly on a golf course, Quebec

53. Last but not least... have a nap on the beach!

Catching some ZZZZZZZZZZZZZs in Gaspesie

There would be sooooooooo many more ideas! Any good ones to share?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Time to play!

One of my favorite toys of all times is Playmobils. I played with them as a child, and I still feel like it nowadays (but my kids won't let me. They say I wreck it all.)

Playmobils are colorful, versatile, sturdy, and a never-ending source of imaginative play. Their best characteristic might be that they keep children of all ages busy and happy.

Granted, as children age, they start using their Playmobils differently.

Here are a few scenes that I stumbled upon over the past year or so.

Imaginative play does get its inspiration from everyday life.
Cats in the sink: a rather common sight in our house.


Hmm... not so common.

"Hey, Miranda, I think we're due for a cleanup! I just found two scorpions in the kitchen!"

Meanwhile, the equally fearless Miranda was getting ready to give the sharks a bath.

What to say... we did have a bad case of family-wide stomach flu last spring...


When I asked about this one, I was told "Oh, the Queen ordered him to do it".
Their concept of authority worries me a little bit to say the least...


Ever discovered a funny toy layout in your house?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

No money... no study

We've talked about sex on this blog. Now is the time to tackle yet another taboo: politics. Let's also throw in the money topic, for good measure.

More specifically, let's talk about the politics and economics surrounding higher education and academia (and let's top it off with medical research).

For those who might not be aware of it, students have been on strike for a few weeks now in Quebec. They are opposing a rise in tuition fees.

For some onlookers, this is absurd. First of all, because tuition in Quebec is very affordable when you compare it to tuition in other provinces.

Second, because according to onlookers, the shortfall (or money lost) from freezing tuition fees would have to be compensated by digging into taxpayers' pockets, some of which are not rolling in money, as we all know. Hence the argument stating that poor taxpayers would have to finance students who will eventually make much more money than them. 

Contradictory to this argument is the one that states that a number degree holders never actually use their diploma, which implies that by financing their tuition, we, as a society, are wasting money.

I will not go into the details of why I disagree with those arguments. There is a lot to be read on the topic and I am confident that readers will get informed before forging an opinion.

For now, let's just remind ourselves that 1) income tax is much higher in Quebec; 2) degree holders who end up as cashiers are not that numerous, and that most degree holders will in fact get "good jobs", become substantial contributors to income tax (more so than very low income citizens, who pay much less taxes), and therefore will be the ones helping pay for other people's tuition. I will allow this is a simplistic explanation, but again: if you want to forge an opinion, read on the topic. Get the real numbers. Inform yourself. Being informed is not a right. It's a responsibility. 

As is being open-minded. The fact that other provinces/countries citizens pay more for their higher education does not mean Quebec-ers should. Especially when you look at this from the following point of view: education is supposed to be free. We already pay taxes towards that. What's next? We'll have to give money directly to the doctor and to the guy who plows the snow on the street, just because the taxes we pay don't seem to be enough anymore? And all the while huge, super-profit companies get taxes exemptions? Come on. Agree or not with the strike, but do see the underlying society debate. It is a huge one.

As for not using their diploma... not only does a university degree help people get a better job, I strongly believe it is useful in many other spheres of life. I am convinced that my university degrees make me a better parent, a better spouse, a better friend, a better communicator (granted, my major was Psychology and my Master's was in Literature and Writing). More importantly, my university degrees made me a better citizen... and a better voter, for that matter, by reinforcing my critical mind and intellectual curiosity.

But let's put that in parentheses.

What I want to question here is the whole focus on money.

My friend P, who happens to be an economics teacher, shared this link to an enlightening article (in French) in Le Devoir, by Diane Lamoureux, professor of politics at Université Laval. This article sheds new light on the reasons underlying an opposition to higher tuition fees.

As Lamoureux underlines it, the main point is not to try and evaluate if students can actually afford higher tuition fees, and to try and determine who should help them pay if it's too expensive. The point is to put tuition fees in a wider context.

More specifically, the question should be: is university a profit-seeking business? Do we mostly want to hear words such as profitability, cost-effectiveness and user pays principle from the mouths of university administrators? Because lately, that's what it looks and sounds like. Someone is putting money in their pockets right now... and it's not the students.

I do not have a student in my family or circle of close friends at the moment, but I happen to share my life with a university professor/researcher. And let me tell you that the whole "Is academia a profit-seeking business" question resonates a lot under our roof these days.

Between questionable government priorities, puzzling university administrators' decisions and the lack of accessibility to research funds (not only in humanities but also in science), it is legitimate to wonder what the purpose of university has become. Does university exist to offer a strong intellectual training and make progress in research, or does it have the mandate to make money? It is not so clear anymore. Not clear at all. If anything, the evidence seems to favor the latter.

This obviously has huge implications. Because when money goes to the wrong places, and when money is taken from the wrong places, it means that the areas where money is truly needed are going to be begging for crumbs.

For medical researchers in particular, no money also means no discovery... and who says no discovery says no remedy!

Or, to be more accurate... incomplete discoveries... and dangerous remedies.

Is it normal that medical researchers have such a hard time obtaining the funds they need to do what they were hired for, namely, research? OK, some money does go to medical research. But from what I understand, right now, emphasis is put on creating new drugs quickly, very quickly. Too quickly. With all the dangerous side effects it implies. But who cares? It is lucrative!

Researchers who study the fundamentals in order to fully understand the human body's underlying mechanisms and therefore benefit generations to come with 1) useful information 2) well-designed drugs/therapies 3) ways to prevent disease altogether... those researchers only get the leftovers. Meanwhile, you see drugs like Vioxx appear in pharmacies... only to disappear later, but not without killing a few people in their path. And this is where, as a society, we have decided to invest?

And now that pharmaceutical companies are in an increasingly shaky state, guess who will be pressured into creating more marketable drugs, fast, faster, fastest?

You got it: universities!

Students and faculty members are facing a similar problem: in today's context, the emphasis that should be put on studying and learning is put on creating (or becoming) sellable merchandise. On generating big bucks. Is that the role we want academia to play?