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Letters to the editor


The Athabasca dilemma

It would be a loss to the town of Athabasca, to Alberta, to Canada, and to students around the world, if Athabasca University had to close because staff were forced to live in the town (“Athabasca U’s ‘near virtual’ plan worries town residents,” July-August 2022). The town has a choice: host a vibrant online university, and receive some economic benefit from this, or require staff to live locally, and see the institution close, due to being unable to attract staff.

If the town doesn’t want a university, I am sure there would be political and financial backers willing to reform Athabasca University elsewhere, under a name like “Canada Online University.”

Tom Worthington
Mr. Worthington is an honorary lecturer of computer science at Australian National University. He completed his MEd at Athabasca in 2016.

Sobering advice

As a retired professor who, in a happier era, secured a tenure-track position after eight years of contracts, I found Stuart Chambers’s advice to sessionals sobering (“Advice for sessionals,” July-August 2022). He says that faced with a scheduling nightmare, or having to make a decision about adopting a colleague’s course at a few hours’ notice, to “accept … willingly.” The lessons you then teach must be “directly related to a course’s major themes…on target…and interesting,” and to that end you should “own the subject matter.” The ideal being to teach “upwards of seven or eight courses annually.” In between, publish. This from someone who declares “I love my job.”

Chambers suggested that the system has been characterized as “exploitive.” No kidding!

Richard Harris
Dr. Harris is a professor emeritus at McMaster University.

The impact of multilingualism

It’s interesting that the letter from Kent Anderson on the potential pitfalls of preprints – including inaccurate or incomplete information making its way too easily into the media – appeared in the same (July-August) issue as the piece by Shauna McGinn which reports on the benefits of multilingualism. It is clearly a good thing to be competent in more than one variety, and the benefits of language learning, whether formal or informal, are self-evident and always have been. To argue, however, that there is a direct connection between bilingualism and improved cognitive functioning is, at the least, premature. Not mentioned in Ms. McGinn’s piece, but obviously attracting media notice, have been reports that increasing one’s language repertoire may even retard or lessen the impact of Alzheimer’s disease. The fact that virtually all the studies bearing on these important issues have been laboratory-based should in itself suggest caution, for at least two reasons. The individuals investigated in such work are hardly typical of the wider population, in all sorts of ways, and the billions of bilingual and multilingual people in the world at large do not seem, as a group, to exhibit notably greater cognitive efficiency traceable to their several fluencies.

John Edwards
Dr. Edwards is a senior research professor at St. Francis Xavier University.

Teaching as storytelling

Kieran Egan is a former Canada Research Chair holder at Simon Fraser who passed away recently. Prompted by a student whose teaching was transformed by Kieran’s Teaching as Storytelling, I have written the following poem:
Here Lies Kieran Egan
He wanted to change the world.
The world is the same.
He wanted schools not to dun dumb facts,
To spin fine stories;
he wanted to tell of Isambard Kingdom Brunel
and a fabulous bridge to America;
he wanted to tell the grocery store as provision
over want,
commas as splendid innovation.
He wanted teaching to be storytelling,
school a story of growth and depth.

Maybe he knew.
The system needs numbers.
Knowledge must be blocks to be shifted.
If schools tell stories,
can learning be meted, controlled?
They will be somebody’s stories, not anybody’s stories;
they could be the wrong body’s story.
To control the narrative, we need no narrative.
We fear the spellbinder.
Bankable knowledge must be concise, clear as the old phone book.
Let’s maintain the myth for sanity’s sake.

Kieran: we owe you the hope.
Thanks for the light.
Here’s to you.

Ted Newell
Dr. Newell is an associate professor at Crandall University.