Thursday, August 23, 2012

Half Capacity: Zero Problems

Usually, standing on the median between the northbound/southbound lanes of Cootes Drive would be an unnerving experience, due to the high speed traffic clocking in at 80km/hour and more.

But during road construction, the closure of the southbound lane of Cootes Drive has calmed traffic speeds and made the road quieter and safer.

With Spencer Creek and ponds to the left of the road, and Cootes Paradise Nature Sanctuary wetlands to the right, the inhabitants of the natural environment fare poorly when forced to interact with traffic. The huge distance between the shoulders of the road are a major barrier for amphibian and other wetland species, including species at risk like Cootes Paradise's turtle population.

When the road was built in 1936-37, it was built as an example of the new modern highway design: divided lanes with a grassy median, easy curves and low grades. These innovations were achieved in this instance by removing hills and then using the soil to fill in the marshy low ground, creating a dead-zone for wildlife. We have been paying the environmental cost ever since.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Radio Free School

This is a warning: there will be late nights, struggle, challenges missed and met. There will be satisfaction and joy, but no money for your efforts.

Creating a weekly half hour radio program on campus/community radio is like running down a train track with your pants around your ankles and a locomotive on your heels. It requires focus and energy and a dose of humility. It’s like raising children, like most things important, actually.

I can’t really complain, since I suggested combining our educational pursuits for our never been to school daughters-three with my love of campus radio: the adventure truly picked up steam the moment we were welcomed to the airwaves on 93.3fm at McMaster’s CFMU, and for the next six years Radio Free School was our learning juggernaut.

We touched fossilized mammoth excrement in the office of a world-renowned geneticist researcher, hiked forest trails with loving ecologists, belly-danced, scuba dived and searched the galaxies with a range of experts and doers who shared their knowledge and passion. Week after week, the shows we created were guided from the outset by our children’s - and our own -  interests. There were no boundaries about what we would study, the only constant was constant learning; that, and the weekly deadline to complete the show. 

We would take our video camera everywhere, recording field interviews then using the audio mixed and edited with music at home to produce the show, with a heavy dose of children’s voices, voices so rarely heard on radio. Not just heard, but in control, both of content, and simultaneously, their own learning. 

Using digital audio editing software meant we could prepare our half hour shows and then upload it from the comfort of home. Posting our shows to the very useful and alive where we were quickly picked up, to our astonishment, by an internet station in Japan, a pirate radio station in Santa Cruz California, then Fredricton, New Brunswick’s campus station CHSR 97.9 FM, and several other stations around the world over the show’s tenure from May 2002 until we folded shop in June 2008 with a last show on one of our favourite and oft repeated topics: Math!

We didn’t really stop there though, but gone were the weekly midnight editing sessions the night before the show aired. We kept our web presence, and of course our interest and growing experience with alternatives to what has become the standardized education system. In the process we had advanced our understanding and knowledge, and shared our progress weekly with our listeners and friends. We had, along the way, spoken to some of the best minds and commentators on the topic of learning outside of regular school.

Since we sidestepped schools for a different model of learning, we were conscious that we were not separate, not above, just different. We were trying our best to find out how to allow our children, and ourselves, to experience our own worlds, with our own unique minds and talents. It is in this spirit that we come to you now. 

Armed with over 200 shows - almost 7,000 minutes of material, we want to bring together some of our most challenging and insightful guests in book form. To bring the airwaves to your library.

Randy Kay
May 2012