Stylocycle’s Blog

Snowed In, Snowed Under
February 6, 2011, 4:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Blue Beauty is stuck in a snow pile over two feet deep. Until about 10 days ago I was still riding regularly. Winter arrived late this year insofar as snow dumps go. Another 10 cm last night brings our total over the last few days to something in the range of 30cm. Our roads are considerably narrowed by the ingress of snow-banks… but it can’t be too long now until the spring thaws start to take back our streets.

Meanwhile, I’ve been doing what I do when I’m not out and about. I think. I write. That’s my gig in this this life. Think. Write. Communicate ideas.

Here’s something that’s stuck in my craw and won’t leave.

I’ve recently heard the old adage that “parents are the first teachers of the child” much abused. The idea that parents are the first teachers is sometimes attributed to Schinichi Suzuki, and arises in much of the current public discourse about parental responsibility with regard to education. As a truism, it can suffer from being taken-for-granted as an obvious point that verifies whatever the issue that follows from it.

Here, I’d like to take it back to the point Suzuki was making: that children did not (when he was writing) generally encounter formal education before age 7, and yet were already aware of the larger world around them, and to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the ability of parents to invest attention and time in the children, would take on the values and talents and knowledge of the parents. I am reminded at this point of the anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu’s work on the transmission of class values and tastes from one generation to the next as exhaustively described and assessed in his sweeping study, Distinction. Unlike so many current educators who are obsessed with transmitting the “superior” values of the middle-class, Bourdieu made the point that there was no inherent value-difference between ‘high’ culture and ‘low’ culture. He did not advocate for schools to colonize and wipe away the tastes and values of the working class. Nor did he see any rational purpose to disparaging the tastes of elites as ‘frivolous’. He did outline the interests served by the bourgeois rationalisation of formal education, and of the working class disparagement of elite culture, but understanding the mechanisms served by each strategy does not amount for Bourdieu to advocating a particular approach.

So what has this to do with parents being the first teachers of their children?
So far as I can tell, the truism is descriptive, not prescriptive. It tells us that a child will learn internal anatomy of different vertebrates from the parent who hunts for food, will learn the migration and dietary habits of birds from the same parent… The description accounts for the tendency of children to learn valuable information through informal but repeated transmission.

Here’s what it’s not about:
Getting ‘the jump’ on a state-supplied curriculum so that you can get a wedge of advantage in over the other children in the class.

“Parents are the first teachers of the child” is a description of what we already do, more or less unconsciously. To use this point — as schools increasingly do — as a coercive insistence that parents should be enforcing tedious homework, or supplying the curriculum in advance, or trying to figure out how to do the formal work of the school in addition to holding down two or three jobs is just abusive.

It is abusive because it exacerbates existing class inequalities between children by measuring their ability to learn only against the given curriculum instead of using the knowledge and interests children arrive with to help them learn in school. It is abusive because it problematizes some families and privileges others. It is abusive because the declared rules of the formal education system tell us that the curriculum begins at the same place for all the children (unless you happen to know how to get the jump on it and are not concerned with whether doing so breaks the apparent rules). It is abusive because it understands teaching as the rote repetition of decontextualized information and recasts that as ‘knowledge’ while ignoring all the pragmatic and aesthetic knowledge that children may actually have. It is abusive because it passes off the responsibilities of state-mandated education to parents and thus responsiblizes them for the failings of a system that is too large to serve the specific needs of individual children. It is abusive because it teaches some children that what they know, and what their parents know is not worthy.

My kid could read before he was 5 years old. Because his father has a musical talent and interest that our son also displayed from toddlerhood, our child had more musical training and ability by age 6 than most kids have at the completion of high school. Because we were fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in the countryside, our son learned a lot about the habitats and life-cycles of reptiles, amphibians and birds, about how beavers structure their dams, and about water cycles… all before he was in the third grade. We have no idea why, but the kid loved to play math-based games from a very early age and could do arithmetic in his head…

We sent him to school early so that he could have friends. He is an only child and when he was young he would look out our window longingly at the children who went to school and wanted to play with them too. We were not concerned about his ability to learn. It never occurred to us that school would end up being disastrous for him from an official measures stand-point.

The first 3 years were fine. But then we moved to a suburban location because my work required a move out of the city. In the suburbs, the new elementary school assumed that mothers stayed home and fathers earned income. The expectation was that we were at home to enforce the ‘extras’ required to master the curriculum, to police homework, and to supply the unpaid labour for the school in the form of fund-raising and child-supervision during lunch and recess. All of the things we had had to give the child that had made him ‘school ready’ were not enough. For other families who had produced school-ready children with other talents, but similar work-demands for parents, the results are predictably similar: failure to master the curriculum because the parents do not have time after work to do what ought to be accomplished with the child during the school day. It is made our failure instead of the school’s failure. We are labelled as uncommitted, as absent, as ‘poor’ parents, and our children are labelled as ‘problems’. We can find that our children are expelled from ‘good schools’ with provincial testing measures that they want to protect. Meanwhile, we are denied the right to educate our children in the talents and values and capacities that might actually profit them. Oh, sure, we can ‘home school’ but only if we agree to repeat the state mandated curriculum. Again, the knowledges of some families and communities are made abject.

As a professional with a work-week of 60-70 hours and more in the first years of my own career when the input required is steep, and as a parent in a commuter marriage with an out-of-town spouse, it was all I could do to get our son fed, clothed and out the door. When I was writing 5 new lectures a week, I simply could not police his homework completion. Of course, he was bright enough that he could sail through anyway, but it was clear on his projects and homework that they were missing the flourishes and embellishments of over-invested parents. We began to be the ‘problem’ family. The previous school board’s assessment of our child as probably intellectually gifted was sidelined and he was not assessed by the new board who decided simply to discard the previous board’s recommendation that he be formally tested. No pretty projects meant he could not possibly be that smart.

A little over a year ago, after a series of catastrophes, the state finally intervened and required an intellectual assessment. At age 16, our son who could not bring himself to pass his high-school courses tested as ‘at curriculum’ level for maths, and ‘beyond curriculum’ level for the complete humanities and social sciences requirements of 12th grade.

Ours is one version of the way that things can go horribly wrong when we abuse the idea that the parents are the first teachers. It does not mean that it is our job to teach (pre-teach) the curriculum.

For parents with less formally valued cultural capital, it can mean that all the really important things the child knows (l’m thinking of indigenous knowledges, for example) are derided and discounted. Not only is this latter issue morally repugnant, it’s also a pragmatic waste of all kinds of useful talent in working class and agrarian knowledge bases.

Finally, is the abuse of the truism, when used by state employed educators and state mandated education systems not a tacit recognition that they are failing at their own declared obligation to educate children in the things that the state has declared to be worthy of measure?

If we really are the first teachers (in this abused sense), then the state ought to be deferring to us, not dictating that it is now our obligation to use whatever privileges we have to get the jump on those who do not have easy access to Shakespeare, the Ballet, the art gallery and Saturdays with the retired teacher from down the street.

I’m snowed under, and really beaten down by an argument I had with a relative who is a retired principal who believes that there is nothing wrong with pre-teaching the grade 9 English curriculum to his nephew. I’m tired of the system trying to have it both ways, insisting that only its own knowledges ‘count’ while simultaneously asserting that it is the duty of parents to teach only those things (that are not necessarily part of the parents’ social and cultural capital) to their children. The point, it seems, is to get an ‘upwardly mobile’ job… a goal that for thousands of years was not the purpose of education at all.

We wonder all the time why our jobs are hateful, why shopping does not make us happy, why zoloft-use is through the roof, why over 60% of students in post-secondary are treated for depression…. and are missing what’s right in front of us.

It’s time to radically rethink what an education is for, and how to measure ‘knowledge’. I’d like to start by questioning the idea of measurement altogether.

My objections are part and parcel of the other things I reject: a car for every person, that labour is to be avoided, industrial farming and agrobusiness…

And I see a time in the not-too-far future when I may have to abandon the university because it has become too much like the state-mandated education from K-12, and no longer feeds any of my own soul either. That day is fast approaching.


I don’t normally go in for fund-raisers but…
January 3, 2011, 5:17 pm
Filed under: Get outta town!

A former student and current FB friend is joining the Ride to Conquer Cancer. Both her parents were diagnosed with cancer in 2009.

Not only is Melissa riding for the cancer fund-raiser, she’s also riding as part of a response to Rob Ford’s insistence that roads belong to cars. (Tell that to the Romans, Rob).

If you feel like donating, have a look-see at Melissa’s participant page, which you will find here:
Melissa’s Ride

New year… what?
January 2, 2011, 8:06 pm
Filed under: around town, Hop on the bus Gus

I never really expect things to happen all of a sudden just because yet another day has turned over on the calendar. It’s just another day, people.
However, much of the world does get all excited about the ‘new year’… so hey: smoke ’em if ya got ’em, I guess.

I’ll admit that this year I’ll be very interested to see how the local discussions about public transit progress. I happen to favour the development of a central LRT with a more grid-oriented bus service that would connect to the LRT with a few rapid bus routes heading east-west, and with localised routes for neighbourhoods bounded by those rapid bus routes. I can see rapid buses making sense on Northfield, Columbia, University, Victoria and Ottawa and the LRT to take us from the very North end of town to at least the bottom end of King St. in Kitchener.

Apparently 3/4 of the local population works in the Cambridge-K/W region, and the existing bus lines on the main corridor can’t keep up with demand, meaning that people continue to drive instead. I happen to have a bus that stops almost outside my front door, and if I take that bus and transfer to the mainline I can make it to work in 22 minutes (including a walk across campus from where I get off the bus). In good weather I can walk to campus in 28 minutes (i.e., when the sidewalks are clear and I don’t have to navigate snow, ice, or puddles). In bad weather it can take as much as 45-50 minutes to walk to campus and the bus will still get me there in under 30.

But my bike? Well my bike gets me to campus in about 15 minutes, and a smidgeon less than that to get home, and that’s door-to-door, with no walk across parking-lots or fields, etc.

Therefore, it’s almost always my bike that I use… but someday I imagine that I’ll be too old to do everything by bike. We’d like to give up the car, too. So for us, having an LRT line makes most sense. Thing is, I think it makes most sense for the region, too. Lots of people want to give up their cars, but keep them because the bus schedules are unreliable and because the transfers are terribly inconvenient. The only reason the bus works so well for us is that we live only 2 blocks away from the main line with something like 5 routes to choose from to get to our work-places.

LRT will not require more and more bus drivers or more and more buses to be added, and won’t require paving over even more space in order to create designated bus-routes all over the place. There’s a pretty compelling argument favouring LRT in Today’s local paper ( It outlines these and other observations that make the initial outlay for LRT the better financial and service choice.

All this said, I don’t have much faith in my fellow humans. Too many feel entitled to their private little living-rooms on wheels. Selfishness and griping about “my tax dollars” will persuade regional politicians… and the idea that bus-riding, bike-commuting people aren’t paying taxes will prevail.

I sure hope I’m wrong.

2010 in review
January 2, 2011, 7:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Frankly, it’s empty flattery. I know I’ve been distracted from writing around these parts. Perhaps in 2011 I’ll get back to it. I don’t know how much “Riding my bike is so fun” type posts the world can take, though.

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,000 times in 2010. That’s about 7 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 32 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 101 posts. There were 64 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 220mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was March 12th with 53 views. The most popular post that day was Loving the new Batavus.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were,,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for stylocycle, batavus fryslan, batavus fryslan heren, trashed boots, and goth mom.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Loving the new Batavus February 2010


For the Pashley Riding Grad Student April 2010


VIA ma bicyclette January 2010


Look at what I bought my sweetie for his birthday January 2010


Sunday Brunch: Salade Niçoise de Thomas Keller et son “French Laundry” April 2009

Promises, promises
November 30, 2010, 4:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Yes, I know: my blogging rate has been completely sucktastic for the last little while.

It’s been a wretched term, dears. I had 3 major projects due within an 8 week span and it made me crazy. 2 weeks prior to the deadline my computer, my ipad and two ipods were stolen right outta the house. Bye bye audio data from interviews with families (encrypted, thank god). Bye bye photo collection. Bye bye music library (except for what was saved on my one remaining ipod). Bye bye years 2004-2010 course developments, research libraries etc (all on a freshly burned back-up DVD that was in the drive bay when the machine was stolen).

In short, I barely had time to breathe to recover my projects; blogging died on the vine.

Insurance will replace the hardware but that does not even begin to replace what was lost. Aaaand… we have to wait eons for the insurance to pay out. Arg.

Anyway, I promise — really I do — that I’ll start writing more regularly. I was reminded of the need to spread the word about riding as a daily activity when one of my grad students told me that I have a ‘super cool bike’. He and I agreed that the sight of it just spreads the joy.

So… even though it’s a dreary day out there, I’m going to find my warm rain-coat, throw on my sugoi tights under my dress, and head out to work in a few minutes. It may be a damp ride, but along the way I’ll grab a really nice latte from my favourite shop, and I’ll arrive at my office in easy time for my consultation hours. If I’m lucky Dear Spouse will be able to meet me for the ride at he end of the day, and we will hum “Les bicyclettes de Belsize” while we pedal our way through the glistening lights of early evening in early winter.

Did you have plans?
October 8, 2010, 2:12 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It’s a gorgeous week-end here in SW Ontario and we are going to take advantage by driving several hours to the North Central region to hang out in Coloured Leaf and Icy Blue Water Country. We so rarely manage to get away to our shabby retreat in the woods. Mostly we are limited by having a teen-aged boy who generally refuses to accompany us. This week, however, he decided to grant us an act of grace and to go with us for Thanksgiving one last time before he turns 18 at the end of the month. We aren’t going to to the Turkey thing this year; with my grandmother gone and Dear Spouse’s family dispersed hither and yon with their own fixations there just didn’t seem to be much point in doing the Big Deal.

I look upon this week-end and I think to myself that I actually have a fair amount to be thankful for. I was reading some academic advice for women just recently in “Inside Higher Ed”, and the advice came down to “Don’t make plans”. The general idea was that the academic world is inhospitable to women, and more so to women with children, so instead of thinking “This is how I’m going to do it”, just decide to ride whatever waves come at you… It’s not terrible advice, except for the premise. I find the premise defeatist, and if I were to use it with my own young students — male or female — I’d feel like I was working in kinda bad faith.

To me, you see, while it’s true that it’s damnably hard to have kids, be female, and carve out a space in the academy, it’s a much better option than almost anything else going. The women I know who have both stability and the time for a really creative life, and who have to earn money (rather than being the owners of significantly sized companies and I only know one woman who has that) are all in some form of teaching gig, usually with graduate degrees to their name. I know women who have great lives out there in the corporate world, or in the non-profits but they seem not to have kids (which is fine, I’m just talking about *having kids* as a specific feature of the deal), and they often have a male partner with a larger and more stable income.

Anyway, back to the “Don’t plan” bit. I had a plan. And all through undergrad and grad school I lived pretty much according to plan. To a large degree I lived that way because I had grown up knowing that it was best not to rely on anyone else to have my back. I saw a lot of men who didn’t have the backs of their S.O.’s, who left their kids out to dry when the marriages fell apart. I had my own financially challenged father… so I figured I needed a plan and had to stick to it — more or less — if things were going to turn out better than they had started. My plan wasn’t super-rigid but it went something like this:

Work to pay for Undergrad
Earn a fellowship for grad school
Have a kid sooner instead of later because little ones are a liability on the job market
Use the window of time you have now for kids instead of waiting for a chance that may not come
Get a tenure-track job
Write at least one book
Be reliable

So, I did all that. I was very lucky and when I had both a fellowship and a great programme to enter for my M.A. I decided that it was the ‘now or never’ moment to have the kid. We got lucky and the kid came along promptly.
The PhD was harder; I didn’t have so much funding because I went to a school in another province where the funding models for out-of-province students were kind of punitive. IT was 95-96 and not a nice time to be moving *to* Montreal… so once my residency was completed and as I prepped for my comprehensive exams we moved back to Ontario and I worked full time all through the comps and dissertation stages. 30-35 hours a week right to the end. And yet i still finished on time, and when my dissertation was deposited I got lucky and found a sessional job at a local university that gave me just enough teaching experience to tack on as I hit the job market.
A tenure track job took two years to arrive, so those 2 years post-doc were miserable. My god!
But I stuck to the plan.
I got the tenure-track job, and I got the book, and now I look back on it and indeed, I have so much more than my meagre little plan allowed for me to have… ever.
20 years married to the only person in the world who really ‘gets me’, who never tried to discourage me, never said I could not achieve the things I set out to achieve.
A stable home in a happy neighbourhood in as much house as I will ever need.
A kid on the verge of his own adulthood whom I love dearly — even if bringing up baby has been among the hardest and most heart-breaking things I’ve ever done.
A career that pays me well and allows me time to think — at least sometimes.

Maybe others can handle abandoning the plan, but I need to feel that I have some control over the course of my life, and if I had ever veered too far off course, I think I would not have been able to survive other challenges that came along.

How about you? Did you have plans?

Not much ging on; too much going on.
September 24, 2010, 7:19 pm
Filed under: around town

I’ve been madly busy, and I haven’t had much to say other than “riding my bike in beautiful weather is great fun”.

I don’t much care for how I look in photographs these days, and I’m rather shy about asking anyone else to be photographed on their bikes for the blog.

Also: the photo uploader for wordpress is, as they say, ‘teh sux’. I’m tired of spending ages uploading photos, catpitoning them, titling them and having the resulting series appear to have been mounted by a squirrel on crack.

I will say that it’s very nice to see that 3 fairly close neighbours are all riding around on city bikes, and that I really apprecaite having a new friend in town who does things by bike, and meets me on her bike. It’s just a nice way to get around.

I’m a bit disappointed that the hub gears ob Dear Spouse’s Fryslan have gone already, but we understand they are under warantee, so we are waiting for the bike to come out of the shop. Anyone else out there had trouble with SRAM hub gears? Mine are doing just fine after 3 winters and being parked outside year round, but DS’s blew a few weeks ago on an ordinary ride home. Some bolt came flying off and the wheel came to an immediate halt… he took the bike in for repairs, and it came back seeming OK, but bit the dust a few days after that.

We don’t know if the second problem results from a bike shop that doesn’t really know what to do with Dutch bikes, or if it’s true — as the fellas at the shop claim — that SRAM hubs aren’t that great.

Anyway, it’s time to take my bike in for maintenance to get it ready for winter riding — which will come soon enough, even though today was 31 degrees C.

Other than twice annual tune-ups, though, I have had to spend very little on the bike.