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Sphinx gets to see Babinsky

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Winnipeg School Division trustee Mike Babinsky is off to Egypt next week, where he plans to scout out the Egyptian school system.

Babinsky’s been doing this stuff since he became a trustee in the mid-90s, combining his vacations with checking into the local school system.

While in Egypt, he’s taking a look at the Heritage International School in Giza, one of the schools in half a dozen or so countries which use the Manitoba curriculum, hire retired administrators as principals and recruit Canadian teachers, and teach kids in English. The idea is that students will be better prepared to attend university and college in North America.

Drew Caldwell got us in on the action when he was education minister. I found that story by reading estimates, and came across the Tories ripping Caldwell for jaunting off to China, only to discover he’d been there building partnerships and synergy among stakeholder communities to develop positive learning outcomes and lots of other edu-jargon stuff.

But Babinsky will also be visiting Egypt’s domestic school system, to see if there are any ideas he can bring back.

Some of these trips go better upon his return than do others.

There was the time he delivered cards and letters from Winnipeg school kids to children in New York City shortly after 9/11. That was pretty nice.

On the other hand, I recall one of Babinsky’s first trips, when he visited Ukraine at a time that there was not a lot of money available for the Ukrainian education system. Some Ukrainian teachers were working without pay, Babinsky reported back to the board, and said that some Ukrainian teachers were helping out by cleaning the school bathrooms at the end of the school day. He suggested teachers here could consider doing likewise.

You can imagine how that went over with the union.

There were hints that when Babinsky visited The Philippines back in the late 90s, that education officials overseas may have picked up the notion somewhere, somehow, that Babinsky was more than just a trustee on one of the city’s boards, and that his delegation may have had more import than it actually had. Wherever do people get off-track like that?

Anyway, Babinsky had lots to report from The Philippines, but he also returned with some gifts to distribute at the board meeting. It was all going fine until he announced that he’d brought back a gift for me, and started strolling over to the press area with a wrapped gift. The audience that night included pretty much the usual, union reps and a spectator or two.

I was aghast, and waved him away, but Babinsky kept coming, and laid the gift before me with a great flourish. I pushed it to the side of the desk, left it there after the meeting, and to this day I don’t have a clue what was in it.

I’m told that then-superintendent Jack Smyth retrieved it after the meeting, returned it to Babinsky, and had a few stern words about how inappropriate it had been.

But the damage was done. The Winnipeg Teacher Association reps reported back to the union executive, and the teacher who was then the president of the WTA soon told me that the union would thenceforth be treating me as someone who was in the trustees’ pocket.

Surely Babinsky hadn’t had something that devious in mind.....surely.......

Switching topics, we’re back to being empty nesters. Child the younger has returned to university, our Couch Surfer is in residence at U of M, and child the elder is in Key West — sigh. Like, I so totally wish.......

Three members of Winnipeg school board have told me they follow his on-line journal, which now has more than 100 daily entries and way beyond 2,000 photos, and I’ve noticed two of his former teachers at Grant Park have posted comments on his guestbook. If you want to check him out — he averages about 700 hits a day, though his daily hits have been running closer to 1,000 lately — just look off to the right there under my bio, where the WFP lists my favourite blogs, and click on Crazy Guy on a Bike.

Change of topic.....

Among my emails today is one from a publisher in New Jersey, which may interest students at the I.H. Asper School of Business at U of M, or prospective students for business courses at U of M or U of W. The publisher wants me to interview a woman who’s a grad of Harvard University business school and now a super-entrepreneur overseas, who’s written a book with oodles of tips about what allegedly goes on in business classes and what’s required on tests in business school and MBA programs.

Glenn, are you thinking of writing a similar book? But I digress......

Maybe the publisher should enrol in a business course that covers off the dangers of relying heavily on spellcheck. The first sentence of the news release is: "There is perhaps nothing as exciting, and as freighting, as the first day of college classes."

The second paragraph starts: "Now business majors and MBA hopefuls can walk in to that moment with a leg-up on the completion with the new, must-read book", whose title I’ve deleted. The people downstairs in our building will be of great assistance should the publisher in New Jersey wish to buy an ad.

Even further down: "this book is the ideal tool to help any student get head in their classes". Excuse me? No, I don’t see any double entendre there, to whatever can you possibly be referring? I was noticing, however, that the subject ‘student’ is singular, yet four words later, you have the plural ‘their’.

No, I haven’t called to request an interview.

And finally.......

School opens Thursday. Watch out for kids walking to school, and for flustered parents double and triple parking around schools and dropping off their kids directly into traffic, and for distracted kids all over the city like the ones walking to Sisler many days who wear earphones and/or are texting and so absorbed that they step into traffic oblivious to the existence of the rest of the world.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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