Is homework a vital part of education?

Discussing whether homework is an outdated concept, its benefits and adverse effects

As a kid, homework was often a major source of stress for me. On the other hand, I understood that it was a crucial factor in my educational development and saw it as an essential part of my everyday life. However, following the implementation of a no homework directive in November by Elizabeth Ballantyne Elementary School in Montreal West, a new debate has begun to arise in the educational system, according to CBC News.

The focus of the debate is on whether or not homework still has any use in the present-day education of young children. Elizabeth Ballantyne is one of several schools to implement a no homework policy. By removing homework, the policy focuses on giving students more time to do their work in class. Even more importantly, the policy seeks to encourage parents to spend more time reading with their kids, according to CBC News.

Michael Brown, the principal at Elizabeth Ballantyne, explained the school’s reasons for adopting such a policy. CTV News reported that Brown believes students should not be spending more time continuing their schoolwork after a six to eight-hour school day. Indeed, a  period to relax is an essential requirement for young students. According to The Ventura County Star, schools in Finland adopted a similar approach. By allowing periods of recess in between classes, students are able to properly process the material they learn in class. This approach to Finland’s educational system is a major reason why Finnish schools are recognized as some of the best institutions in the world. Additionally, other schools across Ontario and Quebec have also implemented a homework ban, according to CTV News. The same source explains that homework can lead to conflicts between parents and their kids.

Unfortunately, despite these justifications, not all parents are as enthusiastic about the ban. Most parents believe homework is an essential tool for their children. According to the non-profit organization Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), the homework debate has been ongoing since the 40s. The United States educational system increased homework after the launch of the Sputnik satellite during the late 1950s, believing their schools lacked a certain level of educational rigour, according to the same source. Also, during the 80s, scientists claimed homework had adverse effects on children’s mental development and well-being.

A longstanding belief held by those who support homework is that it contributes to helping students develop and achieve academic success. However, not all social groups benefit from doing homework, according to ASCD. A student’s socioeconomic status is a crucial factor to consider. Most students who are of poor socioeconomic status or live in a poor home environment are sometimes put at a disadvantage when compared to their peers. According to Louisiana State University’s website, poor and unstable home environments affect students on a physical, social, emotional and cognitive level that is reflected in their school work and performance at school. Other disadvantages of homework include the possibility of teachers inadvertently assigning too much homework, which contributes to students’ stress levels. In such cases, some students find it difficult, as many of them differ in terms of learning styles, which affects their ability to do homework. Furthermore, some students have an after-school schedule that doesn’t give them much time to relax, let alone do homework, according to ASCD.

One of the solutions proposed to maximize the positive impact of parental involvement in homework is applying the concept of interactive homework. According to CBC News, school staff and education experts insist that, even without homework, parents should still take the time to read and review the work they completed earlier in the day with their children.

Presently, further research is required before a definitive decision can settle this debate. Additional factors must also be considered, such as whether a lack of parental presence is beneficial during homework or not. I believe it’s important to get more input from students about how their educational experience can be improved and if abolishing homework from school curriculums could contribute to this process.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


The importance of inclusion in the film industry

Inclusion riders can improve the age-old problem of the lack of diversity in Hollywood

At the conclusion of the 90th Oscars on March 4, actress Frances McDormand, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress that night, ended her acceptance speech by saying: “I have two words for you: inclusion riders.”

I must admit, before her speech, I had never heard anyone use the term in relation to the film industry before. According to an article by National Public Radio (NPR), I was not the only one. Following the actress’ speech, internet searches for the term spiked overnight.

According to The New York Times, McDormand’s mention of inclusion riders was the biggest public acknowledgment of the term to date. An inclusion rider is “a stipulation that actors and actresses can ask (or demand) to have inserted into their contracts, which would require a certain level of diversity among a film’s cast and crew,” according to NPR.

These days, I believe people are more accepting of diversity in terms of race, gender, ethnicity and culture, and so inclusion in the media is a crucial aspect of progress. Yet, for something that should be an obvious movement in the film industry, it is taking far too long to achieve results.

According to a 2014 Hollywood Reporter article written by Stacy L. Smith, the founder and director of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, women are severely underrepresented in the film industry. A nine-year study conducted by USC observed that, in 2013, women represented less than a third of speaking characters among the top 100 grossing films, a ratio that has remained constant for the last 25 years. In regards to current statistics, women comprised 34 per cent of all speaking roles, 37 per cent of the major characters and 24 per cent of sole protagonists among the 100 top-grossing films in 2017, according to the website Women and Hollywood.

Racial diversity wasn’t much better last year among these top 100 films, as 68 per cent of all female characters were white. Of the remaining 32 per cent, 16 per cent were black, seven per cent were Latina, seven per cent were Asian and two per cent were another race or ethnicity.

For years, Smith has made it her personal mission to promote diversity in the film industry. Unfortunately, factors such as the biases of producers, directors or casting directors interfere with the interviewing and hiring process, which not only prevents any progress from being made, but also makes it more difficult for gifted actors to reach their full potential, according to The New York Times.

According to NPR, Smith’s findings do indicate that although not many actors pushed for an inclusion rider in the past, many have started asking for it. She also elaborates that the

benefits of inclusion riders could increase diversity in the film industry both on screen and among the crew, according to The New York Times.

Among those taking action in the last few weeks, Michael B. Jordan, who most recently played the role of Erik Killmonger in Black Panther, announced that his production company, Outlier Society Productions, will now be adding an inclusion rider into its projects, according to The New York Times. This decision marks the first time a major actor has publicly adopted a rider since McDormand’s speech.

A lot of progress has been made in the last few decades to promote diversity and equality in society. However, in my opinion, it is important to recognize that we still have a long way to go and that we must acknowledge the faults within our current system, especially in the film industry. In Smith’s words, we must make sure that “the world on-screen looks like the world in which we live.”

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth


To clone or not to clone: An ethical debate

The recent cloning of monkeys in China highlights potential risks, discoveries and dilemmas

Biologists in Shanghai, China, announced on Jan. 24 their successful attempt at cloning two macaque monkeys, Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, reported CTV News. Though it was not the first time humans have attempted to clone a non-human primate, Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua are the first to be successfully cloned into “fully developed monkeys,” according to National Geographic.

The method used by the scientists was an improved version of the technique used to clone Dolly the sheep in Scotland in 1996. The process is called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, and is described by National Geographic as the transfer of the nucleus from the cell of an animal donor into the egg cell of another similar animal, where a simulated fertilization occurs. Once it reaches a certain level of maturity, the egg is then implanted in a surrogate mother. In this case, the subject was a macaque monkey instead of a sheep.

This latest cloning success highlights a breakthrough in both the biological and medical fields. The macaque monkeys were chosen specifically because researchers insist that studying a primate model is essential for researching complex human diseases, according to National Geographic. Due to the genetic similarities between humans and other primates, cloning monkeys can lead to a better understanding of mental and physical conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and autism.

However, this breakthrough also raises some ethical questions about the field of cloning and what it could mean for the future. It will surely reignite discussions about the laws and regulations put in place to control the practice of cloning.

Presently, more than 46 countries, excluding the United States, have banned human cloning. In China, while cloning is permitted for research purposes, it is prohibited for the purpose of reproduction, according to National Public Radio (NPR). The team of Chinese researchers responsible for the procedure claim they have no intention or valid reason to begin cloning humans, according to National Geographic. They have said their only purpose is to study how cloning can improve the medical field.

According to an article from The Cornell Daily Sun, there are two possible applications for human cloning. The first involves cloning another human, either living or deceased. The other involves using therapeutic cloning to treat illnesses using stem cells from human embryos.

One of the most prevalent ethical dilemmas surrounding cloning is how it potentially disregards life, rights and dignity. Through therapeutic cloning, an embryo is created for the sole purpose of scientific progress.

Another critical issue is the controversial mistreatment of and experimentation on animals. According to Reuters, the process used to clone Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua has a low rate of success and required 127 eggs to produce two live births. It doesn’t help that China is also facing scrutiny about the safety and ethical treatment of animals, in science and in general, since the country has no laws in place against animal cruelty, according to National Geographic. Fortunately, grassroots animal welfare groups, like the Freedom for Animal Actors (FAA), are helping to strengthen the country’s stance against animal cruelty.

The Chinese research team behind Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua have said they are monitoring the macaques’ long-term health, and that further improvements in genetic research and technology will limit the need to perform experiments on non-human primates, according to National Geographic.

Personally, I think the idea that cloning could potentially cure illnesses is a compelling argument, and is arguably a good thing. Yet, I also believe there is a risk scientists will take this too far. It isn’t hard for humans to lose their sense of ethics and conscience in the quest for scientific progress. At this point, it is crucial for us to retain our ethical standards and avoid potential risks that could harm people and animals. As writer Kristin Houser stated in an article published on Futurism, “scientific advancements aren’t always determined by what we should do, but simply what we can do.”

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


The pot-ential of legalization in Canada

Industry regulations, police resources among factors to consider before July 2018 legislation

The legalization of marijuana in Canada is a major step in the country’s history. This is an issue that impacts society on a fundamental level. In my opinion, how each province handles and adapts to the changes resulting from this legislation will be an important part of the transition.

In July 2018, the Quebec government will officially recognize Bill 172. This bill introduces the legalization of marijuana, along with several key points. Firstly, the legal age to purchase and consume marijuana will be 18 in Quebec, according to CBC News. Secondly, the bill prohibits the growing of marijuana for personal use or growing it for commercial use if it is conducted outside the laws established by the provincial government.

Additionally, under the bill, marijuana can be smoked in areas permitting tobacco smoking, but it will be strictly forbidden to smoke on the property of an educational institution, according to the same source. And, of course, driving under the influence will still be against the law. Anyone caught driving while under the influence, or suspected of being under the influence, could have their license suspended for 90 days or even face jail time, according to CBC News.

Concerned citizens and several Quebec officials are still hesitant about the idea of legalizing marijuana. Some believe that by legalizing it, younger citizens could be influenced to pick up the habit, according to the Montreal Gazette. I believe these concerns are justified.

Even though marijuana will be legalized, the long-time criminal element associated with it remains, and law enforcement officials are striving to postpone its legalization date. They are insistent that the bill must allow for stricter regulations when it comes to managing this new industry. This includes making sure companies and the health ministry have stricter security clearances for employees to avoid introducing organized crime into the legalized marijuana industry, according to the National Post. Many law enforcement officials also believe police require additional training and resources—besides the saliva test, which has yet to be federally regulated—in order to identify and handle impaired drivers, according to CBC News.

While valid points, I believe it’s also important to see the good that this legalization can bring. One major example is that, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, medical marijuana could help combat the opioid crisis. Since 2015, the opioid crisis has become a dangerous problem for Canadians. In 2016, there were over 2,800 reported fatalities in connection to opioid overdoses in Canada, according to The Globe and Mail.

Portugal is one example of successful marijuana legalization. Since 2001, the country has legalized all drugs up to a certain amount, including marijuana, and each legal limit varies per drug. According to Sensi Seeds, a cannabis seed marketing company, carrying up to 2.5 grams of marijuana is legal in Portugal. However, trafficking and cultivating marijuana is still illegal and could result in jail time, according to the same source. Portugal has seen several advantages, including a decline in drug overdoses. Within the European Union, Portugal has the second lowest rate of fatal overdoses, according to the Washington Post.

Make no mistake—I am not saying we should be legalizing all drugs. I am saying that legalizing marijuana may have the potential to do some good within certain communities. By following and adapting our policies to the examples set by the legislations in other countries, Quebec can create policies that provide strict safety and security regulations for marijuana. There is also a potential benefit to people’s health, especially when considering the opioid crisis.

However, such a sensitive issue requires patience. While I wouldn’t say no to the idea, I am saying that we need more time to finalize all the details and appeal to all the groups involved. In my opinion, if we rush this process, the consequences could result in severe social backlash.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


With remembrance should come appreciation

More initiatives like the Invictus Games are needed to offer purpose and strength to veterans

In the aftermath of any war, I believe nothing is more important than honouring the contributions and sacrifices made by the soldiers who fought in them, regardless of their age, gender or nationality.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele and the Battle of Vimy Ridge, as well as the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Dieppe. These historic battles transformed Canada into the country it is today. According to a public opinion survey by Historica Canada, 29 per cent of Canadians intended to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony this year. The results of this poll indicate a three-point increase compared to the attendance in 2016.

On Saturday, Nov. 11, thousands of people, both military and civilian, gathered on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to honour the sacrifices of our country’s soldiers and veterans. According to Craig Oliver, the chief political commentator for CTV News, the crowds at Remembrance Day ceremonies 30 years ago were far smaller than they are today. Oliver attributed the growth over the years to the increasing number of young veterans.

“A new generation has learned to appreciate that sense of self-sacrifice that the military represents,” Oliver stated during the televised live coverage of the ceremony. “It’s great to see crowds growing the way they are, and it’s particularly great to see young people coming out, appreciating self-sacrifice, as young people do. More than my generation ever did.”

After returning home from a war zone, it is easier for younger veterans to appreciate the sacrifices of their contemporaries compared to veterans who are a few generations older, according to David O’Keefe, a history professor at Marianopolis College and a former member of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada. This results in a higher turnout for military ceremonies like Remembrance Day, he added.

Unfortunately, regardless of this increased appreciation, I believe there are still many problems that hinder our veterans from enjoying a peaceful life. According to an article from The Globe and Mail, veterans still face a myriad of issues ranging from homelessness to trouble with pensions to mental illness. For example, O’Keefe said, even though there is a stronger medical understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this doesn’t mean the government or society has done enough to help veterans deal with this issue.

My conversation with O’Keefe showed me that society and the government in Canada are not putting enough importance on improving healthcare and pensions to help struggling veterans. Fortunately, noticeable efforts are slowly being made to help veterans adjust to post-military life in terms of their mental health and social interactions. One such initiative is the Invictus Games, an international multi-sport event for wounded and handicapped veterans and their associates, that was launched in 2014.

According to O’Keefe, the Invictus Games help make the return of wounded veterans to civilian society seamless and restore a sense of normalcy to their lives. According to the Toronto Star, adaptive sports like the Invictus Games are a new way to offer support to veterans and their families. Sports give veterans a purpose and mission again, and can help them improve their mental and physical health. “You are capable and still able,” O’Keefe said about this change in mentality for wounded soldiers. “You are differently abled, as opposed to disabled.”

Sporting events are also a chance for veterans to reforge a bond of camaraderie with their peers, and to use these bonds to inspire and educate others about their experience, according to the Toronto Star.

As times change, so does our inclination to honour the deeds and sacrifices of our veterans. Especially with the number of World War II soldiers dwindling with every passing year. Today, we must evolve beyond the idea of remembrance to enter a new age of appreciation for those who defend and protect our nation.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin


Jagmeet Singh and the future of Canadian identity

As a visible minority, Singh’s NDP leadership win highlights a positive change in our country

Following the announcement of his NDP leadership win on Oct. 1, Jagmeet Singh said, “Canadians must stand united and champion a politics of courage to fight the politics of fear […] a politics of love to fight the growing politics of division,” reported CTV News.

Leading with 53 per cent of the ballot vote, Singh is the first person from a visible minority to be elected to lead a federal party in Canada, according to CTV News. In the aftermath of the election, many Canadians are asking what this historic moment could mean for the future of Canada’s identity.

According to an article from The Globe and Mail, at least 70 per cent of Canadians believe having a person of colour in a position of leadership at a national level is a good thing for Canada. Nonetheless, when the Angus Reid Institute surveyed 1,477 Canadians between Oct. 2 and 4, the results showed that 31 per cent would not vote for a Sikh man who wears a turban and carries a ceremonial kirpan knife—as Singh does.

Despite this statistic, it is an improvement compared to the results of a previous poll about Singh conducted in June. As a result of these improved statistics, there is growing belief that public acceptance of openly religious Sikh men has increased since Singh’s election victory, according to the same article by The Globe and Mail. Coupled with his young age, 38, making him the youngest leader the NDP has ever had, Singh’s success to date is nothing short of a breakthrough. Even though he still faces criticism from some because of his faith, Singh is diligent and dedicated to his work.

According to CBC News, Singh constantly faced criticism while growing up and was often bullied for being different. His childhood experiences in a society where minority groups are often looked down upon was a motivation for him. Singh dedicated himself to fighting for those who, like him, were and are still harassed for being different.

According to CBC News, one of Singh’s primary objectives is to show Canadians that he is more progressive and willing to go further than the Liberals. He has discussed his intentions to fight social oppression, denounce stereotypes about Sikh men and help eliminate racial profiling. In an interview with CBC News in May 2015, Singh claimed he had been a victim of racial profiling by Toronto police at least 10 times. He was later involved in pushing a motion to ban random police checks in Ontario that was implemented by the provincial government in 2016, according to CBC News.

Singh’s rise to power has shattered social barriers preventing the progressive evolution of Canada’s political identity. His acceptance by the NDP party and its supporters, as well as the growing support from his fellow Canadians, demonstrates a substantial step forward for Canada. Regardless of race and cultural background, Singh is making progress not just for himself, but for others who have been marginalized by society. He is opening the eyes of Canadians and working himself to the bone every day to renew and reconcile the relationship between Canadians with diverse backgrounds. If he, a member of a visible minority, can be accepted by Canadians of various cultures and faiths, then it speaks volumes for our progress as a multicultural nation.

And it does not stop here. Singh has only begun to change what it means to identify as Canadian. As his party’s new leader, Singh is beginning his campaign to reclaim the NDP’s title as the country’s most progressive party. As he explained in an interview with The Globe and Mail, Singh wants to transform the NDP into “the party that inspires, that truly touches the hearts of the people. We have to inspire because we have to win—we owe it to Canadians to do so.”

In a first step on his way to perhaps becoming prime minister, Singh is now touring the country to gain support from suburban ridings, which could potentially result in a significant shift of support for Singh and his party. Considering his current progress, I believe it’s highly likely Singh may once again defy the country’s expectations. Certainly he will continue to redefine what it means to be Canadian.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth


Why kneeling speaks louder than words

Colin Kaepernick’s protest has emphasized the debate on freedom of expression

Colin Kaepernick, an American football quarterback, took the country by storm after kneeling during the anthem at a National Football League (NFL) game in September 2016. His reasons for doing so weren’t out of spite or insult, but rather to protest against the continued violence and injustice towards people of colour in the United States.

Kaepernick’s form of protest spread as other athletes followed his example, even branching off into other sports, such as basketball. Unfortunately, not everyone approved of this type of protest. U.S. President Donald Trump, for one, reacted harshly, calling a player who kneels during the anthem a “son of a bitch,” according to The Guardian. Furthermore, Trump said athletes who kneel or show any “disrespect” to the national anthem should be fired, according to CNN. His words sparked protest and shock throughout the sports world. Across the different leagues in America, athletes voiced their contempt towards President Trump. Notable examples include the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player Lebron James, who spoke out against Trump, calling him a “bum” on Twitter.

In light of Trump’s comments, the Golden State Warriors basketball team refused an invitation from the president to visit the White House. Even football player Tom Brady, a close friend of Trump’s, sided against him, calling his words “divisive,” according to CNN.

President Trump has twisted a protest against racism into a matter of disrespecting the very essence of American pride. This isn’t the first time Trump has been insensitive towards issues of race, as demonstrated by his poor handling of the events during the Charlottesville riot. Yet with all his claims of others disrespecting the flag, according to the Washington Post, on Oct. 12, Trump made a joke during a bugle call, which is a military tradition that consists of raising the flag to show respect.

Although Trump claims Kaepernick’s protest is an instance of disrespect towards the American flag, it is bringing up the topic of the right to freedom of expression. When Kaepernick knelt in protest, he didn’t intend to ridicule the sport or the NFL, nor did he want to insult the symbolic or literal importance of the American flag. He wanted to bring awareness to a critical issue dividing Americans. He was protesting against issues of racial violence and police brutality—acts that are happening in America.

Mike Evans, a wide receiver for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, responded to Trump’s actions, saying in an interview with CTV News: “You know people say it’s unpatriotic, but it’s unpatriotic of the president to disrespect our rights.”

White House officials claimed they stood by Trump’s statement, and that it is always appropriate for the head of the nation to defend the flag. I was shocked when I heard the president justify his words by claiming he was protecting the American flag. I was surprised considering the flag was not the focus of the national anthem protests. What is under fire here are people’s constitutional rights.

As Kyries Hebert, a linebacker for the Montreal Alouettes, explained during an interview with CTV, whether it’s fighting for their country or fighting for a cause, people do not fight just to protect a flag. Although it’s an important symbol for any country or cause, people fight to defend and respect the constitution as well as the people it protects.
American athletes are not alone in protesting during the anthem. They’re being joined by their fellow athletes in the Canadian Football League, including players for the Calgary Stampeders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Kaepernick’s and other athletes’ acts of protest have brought attention to a critical issue in America. Despite Trump’s comments, athletes in the United States, and even Canada, haven’t backed down. If anything, the actions to date have served only to reinforce the players’ resolve and unite them on issues of racial injustice and constitutional rights.

Regardless of race or nationality, we are all human. So long as we do not inflict harm on others, we each have the right to say our own piece. However, in today’s society, our words may no longer be enough. If anything, our actions have more power than ever before. As Kaepernick and many others have shown, we must use our actions responsibly—there is no telling how much of an impact they can have in a world where words may no longer be enough.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth 

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