Sunday, September 19, 2004

Slightly Surreal Weekend

Attended an academic conference in Kananaskis this weekend, where my wife and I presented a paper & poster session (on an analysis of the functions of stakeholder advisory committees in government). The venue was a smart move on the part of the UofL organizers, because the locale attracted delegates from as far away as India and Australia and the Canary Islands, where I somehow doubt that Lethbridge would have had the same drawing power.

Unfortunately, the scenery was largely wasted on my wife and I, since our ten month old is still too young (i.e., still nursing) to be left behind, so we had our kids with us. Consequently, aside from our own presentation, when we arranged for a sitter, and one or two presentations we desperately wanted to take in and had the other parent cover for us, we basically had to spend all our time parenting. While our colleagues were out hiking the trails or horseback riding or etc., we were dealing with a sick baby (third virus since starting day care three weeks ago) and a bored six year old.

Coping with a crying baby in a single hotel room at 3 AM is not fun. At home, we often switch off responsibilities, with one parent sleeping soundly in the spare room while the other takes a shift on duty pacing with the baby. But what do you do in a hotel room when the baby is keeping the whole floor awake, let alone both parents and her older sister?

So I found myself walking with Kasia through the halls late Saturday night, trying to give my wife time to get the six year old settled and asleep. As I stood window shopping in the hotel's mall, a tiny, aging Japanese woman walked down the hall, so stooped over that I wondered how she could manage without a cane. But she took one look at Kasia in my arms, and came over and began bowing deeply to her while speaking to me in Japanese.

Now, I am fairly use to strangers complimenting us on our baby, and I certainly agree that Kasia is pretty adorable (see photos in previous postings) but this woman was really bowing. I know enough about Japanese culture to know that the deeper the bow, the greater the respect being shown, and this was way beyond "your baby is cute" adorable, to "your child is the second coming" adorable. You know? I kept thinking of that case where a group of monks showed up on the lawn of an unsuspecting couple in California and told them their child was the next incarnation of some revered religious figure. Nice and flattering and kind of surreal at the same time...

Once the elderly woman had moved on, a second group of Japanese tourists came by, and immediately came over and politely asked if they could have their picture taken with Kasia. They seemed a nice enough family group, so okay, but as they are madly clicking away, I am bemused by the celebrity status Kasia and I have suddenly acquired that everyone wants their picture taken with us. The experience is repeated again and again as (I presume) a busload or two of Japanese settle into the hotel for the night.

When I get back to our room and relate the experience to my wife, her first response is, "But you're in you're in your pajamas!" But that doesn't really bother me in this context, because in Japan, it is not only acceptable but actually expected that patrons wear pjs in the hotel lobby -- the hotels provide robes for this purpose (as did ours, obviously used to dealing with Japanese.) So to the folks back home viewing their friend's slides, the guy in pjs makes perfect sense. But it is still a bit surreal to think of all those folks admiring my baby as one of the wonders of their trip...

Friday, September 17, 2004

Collapse of Charter Schools

Interesting story in NY Times on collapse of Charter Schools. Of course, as any sociologist could have told you, publicly funded but privately run schools represent the importation of private sector logic into the public sector and is therefore essentially inherently contradictory. So no surprises here! But it is validating, if slightly depressing, to have my predictions proved correct once again. Too bad no one ever listens to us before the disaster hits....

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Self-sustaining Robots

Here is a story link that has some interesting long term implications... Once robots become self-sustaining, they come close to being their own lifeform.

My students are trying to learn how to teach today's kids, but by the time my daughter (grade 1) is in high school, the world we are in will be significantly different. What prepares my students to be teachers in that world? Preoccupied with mastering the skills necessary to be successful teachers today, how can they even begin to keep track of how the world is changing, to prepare themselves for the future world their career will span?