Joan Deebank: BC’s oldest ever high school graduate at 92

Born in England in the mid 1920s, Joan Deebank grew up during the Great Depression. When her father told her to drop out of school at thirteen to get a job, she worked as a maid until two years later during the Second World War. She then quit her job and lied about her age to join the army, where she worked on the front lines serving the soldiers. She eventually suffered hearing loss from the noise of the guns.

Deebank later married a soldier and had four children. The family immigrated to Ontario and then BC.

Between motherhood and two jobs, Deebank never found the time to go back to school. She kept her mind sharp reading magazines on science, archeology, biology and art. The late Stephen Hawking was — and still is — a favourite.

Sometimes, as she got older, she would sit with the material and cry. “She would have tears rolling down, mourning the loss of her education,” her daughter said.

Last November, Lightfoot reached out to Island ConnectEd, a distributed learning school on Vancouver Island. Deebank enrolled in B.C.’s “Adult Dogwood” program, which is tailored to older students who want to earn their high school diploma.

Island ConnectEd teachers designed her curriculum and gave assignments to Lightfoot, who broke them down into manageable chunks. They’d work on projects together until Deebank was tired, then pick it up again another day. They kept at it until Deebank finished this spring.

The 92-year-old walked the stage with her class on Tuesday, collecting her diploma to a standing ovation. (CBC British Columbia)

Canada Revenue Agency’s ethnography of homeless citizens’ access to tax filing

Excellent post by Suzanne Smythe about the Canada Revenue Agency’s ethnography on homeless citizens’ access to tax filing.

Adult Basic Education is a Basic Right

Yes, you read that right. The CRA has carried out an ethnographic study to better understand barriers to income tax filing among those who experience homelessness and insecure housing. Thanks to Christine Pinsent-Johnson for drawing my attention to this fascinating research!

The CRA study began with the premise that homeless citizens may be foregoing crucial access to income and benefits due to barriers they experience filing their taxes. Researchers interviewed 50 people in shelters and social service agencies about their tax filing experiences. The honesty and insight in this study refreshing. Among the barriers that people described (and that many frontline service workers and homeless citizens will recognize):

  1. Government communication cultures can be intimidating. (see section 5.33, para. 1)

“CRA communication, whether online, over the phone, or by mail, can pose a barrier to some homeless and housing-insecure individuals who may struggle to understand the CRA’s technical communication style, or…

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how to teach STEM so students will learn

This article from Nautilus about STEM teaching is called The Case Against Lectures, but it’s worth a read even if you read the title and think, “Well, obviously.”

Project-based learning, or designed thinking, doesn’t just help students “get” the material in time for a good grade on the test; it also helps deepen their appreciation for what they learn. “There is an enormous amount of work that has demonstrated that these (student-centered) strategies improve students’ learning and attitudes toward science,” said Marilyne Stains, the lead author of the Science study and an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Nebraska. “It’s not just that they understand it better, but they also appreciate science more. They’re not as scared of it, and they engage more easily with it. When you see that kind of effect, it makes you say, ‘Why are we still doing it the other way?’

The fourth cottage

Ita Straz, a young woman of nineteen, was pulled by Lithuanian policemen to a long pit in the Ponary Forest. She had heard the firing of the guns and now could see the rows of corpses. ‘This is the end,’ she thought. ‘And what have I seen of life?’ She stood with others naked at the edge of the trench as the bullets flew past her head and body. She fell straight backward, not feigning death, simply from fright. She remained motionless as one body after another fell on top of her. When the pit was full, someone walked on top of the final layer of corpses, firing downward into the heap. A bullet passed through Ita’s hand, but she made no sound. Earth was thrown over the pit. She waited for as long as she could, and then pushed her way through the bodies and dug through the soil. Without clothing, covered only in mud and in the blood of herself and others, she sought help. She visited one cottage and was turned away, and then a second, and then a third. In the fourth cottage she found help, and she survived.

Who lives in the fourth cottage? Who acts without the support of normals or institutions, representing no government, no army, no church? What happens when the encounters in grey, of Jews needing help contacting people with some connection to an institution, give way to simple meetings of strangers, encounters in black? Most Jews most of the time were turned away, and died. When the outside world offered threats but no promises, the few people who acted to rescue Jews often did so because they could imagine how their own lives might be different. The risk to self was compensated by a vision of love, of marriage, of children, of enduring the war into peace and into some more tranquil future

– Tim Snyder, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

Digital literacy, digital equity and housing precarity in Vancouver

Suzanne Smythe writes about LinkVan, a digital equity project in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver.

Adult Basic Education is a Basic Right

LinkVan is a digital equity project led by the Downtown Eastside Literacy Roundtable and the UBC Learning Exchange. LinkVan is a local, literacy-friendly online service directory designed to respond to the service needs and contexts of community members in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. With doctoral students Sherry Breshears and Matthias Sturm I have been researching how people use the LinkVan site, and their experiences of Vancouver’s digital landscape. We have learned that social, income and digital inequality are entangled. People who are homeless or or on-the-edge-of homelessness experience particular literacy, learning and digital access needs. The LinkVan project responds to this by offering digital literacy outreach in local parks, shelters, housing associations, drop in and community settings. Local libraries and learning centres at Vancouver Community College, the Women’s Information and Safe House (WISH) and the Carnegie Learning Centre and the UBC Learning Exchange, all  strive to meet the learning needs of…

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