Author: Eric Demore

Eric is an essayist and educator in Toronto.

A Question of Quality

(cross-posted by Eric Démoré at The Learner Sherpa)

My dad likes to say:

I’m a classy guy. It’s all low class — but I’ve got lots of it.

He’s just being a goof, of course, but his joke carries some philosophical weight. It begs a question that every self-respecting pedagogue must ask at some point:

What should we aim for: QUALITY or QUANTITY?

Q-words are worth a lot.

‘Quality!’ I hear you scream. Why aim for anything less? And you’d be making a valid point. We expect quality in schools, just as we expect quality from the things that we buy and from the relationships that we forge. Quality is valuable. Quality is rare and beautiful.

But quality might not be everything. In fact, sometimes quality is not possible, nor should it be desired.

I love chocolate. So when I get a craving, I know exactly where to go: Soma in Toronto, where chocolatiers make everything in-store from cocoa pods they purchase directly from their South American farmers. Soma’s chocolate bars are exquisite. Heaven in your mouth. But also $8 from your wallet.

Much as I love making kids happy on Halloween, there’s no way I’m giving out a hundred bars of premium-grade Peruvian organic chocolate. Because for $8 I can buy a mega-box of assorted Nestle garbage chocolate which, in addition to saving me a lot of money (OK, I’m cheap), ensures I have enough to go around. Kids get treats, I save money. Win-win.

Cheap? Low-quality? Absolutely. But sometimes the moment calls for lots of something — not just a really good something.

Writing coach Deanna Mascle recently tweeted:

Writing teachers expect quality writing from young writers. But we’ve come to understand that quality writing is impossible without having practiced writing, a lot. The same goes for reading. Unless you’ve put in the flight hours, you will not be a quality reader. A quality commercial pilot has tens of thousands of hours under her belt. That’s quantity.

You might even say that, when it comes to learning, quality is only possible through quantity. Want to make something good? Make a lot of it.

In the coming week on #SlowChatED, I’d like to hear what you think. Let’s do this!

Q1: In your own learning, which Q-word do you value more?


Q2: What’s the best-quality result you’ve ever worked toward?

Q3: Outside of school hours, into what have you sunk the greatest amount of hours?

Q4: Is it possible to teach someone Quality?

Q5: What place does Quantity have in learning?

Q6: Share an example, be it in or out of school, of when less was more, and/or when more was more.

REPORT: Rebels Surface on #SlowChatED (June 23-28, 2014)

cross-posted on The Constant Happiness by Eric Démoré



The S.Q.U.A.W.K. (Status Quo United Against Wayward Knowledge) is keeping an eye on the situation.

Particular scrutiny is being placed on the following individuals, whose contributions to the forum referred to as #SlowChatED appear to have left an impression on their moderator (street name @EricDemore), an unkempt fellow with an unhealthy obsession with the arbitrariness of life.

 In no particular order, they are:



Street name: @dannywoo15

AKA Danny Woo

Spotted raising hell in: California

Mumblings from his manifesto:



Street name: @FarleyJeffrey

AKA Jeffrey Farley

Spotted raising hell in: Beaumont, Texas

Mumblings from his manifesto:



Street name: @MrLeBrun

AKA Ross LeBrun

Spotted raising hell in: New Jersey

Mumblings from his manifesto:



Street name: @SeenaRich

AKA Seena Rich

Spotted raising hell in: California

Mumblings from her manifesto:



Street name: @musicmom99

AKA Jennifer Chobotiuk

Spotted raising hell in: Vancouver, British Columbia

Mumblings from her manifesto:



Street name: @paulpichursky

AKA Paul Pichursky

Spotted raising hell in: Crowsnest Pass, Alberta

Mumblings from his manifesto:



Street name: @SLOlifeKevin

AKA Kevin Ashworth

Spotted raising hell in: Morro Bay, California

Mumblings from his manifesto:



Street name: @morgetron

AKA Jodie Morgenson

Spotted raising hell in: Springfield, Nebraska

Mumblings from her manifesto:



Street name: @KeithFavre

AKA Keith Favre (AKA Cool Youth Anarchist)

Spotted raising hell in: Beaumont, Texas

Mumblings from his manifesto:



Street name: @mrsmikesell

AKA Kelly Mikesell

Spotted raising hell in: Florida

Mumblings from her manifesto:



Street name: @tritonkory

AKA Kory Graham

Spotted raising hell in: Minnesota

Mumblings from her manifesto:



Street name: @barblarochelle

AKA Barb Larochelle

Spotted raising hell in: Parts Unknown

Mumblings from her manifesto:



Street name: @rwoconn

AKA Ryan O’Connor

Spotted raising hell in: Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Mumblings from his manifesto:



Street name: @sjsbates

AKA Samantha Bates

Spotted raising hell in: Brentwood, Tennessee

Mumblings from her manifesto:



Street name: @mssackstein

AKA Starr Sackstein

Spotted raising hell in: New York

Mumblings from her manifesto:



Street name: @SeanHCole

AKA Sean H Cole

Spotted raising hell in: Johannesburg, South Africa

Mumblings from his manifesto:



Street name: @TheWeirdTeacher

AKA Doug Robertson

Spotted raising hell in: Oregon

Mumblings from his manifesto:



Street name: @ecsaibel

AKA Eric Saibel

Spotted raising hell in: Marin County, California

Mumblings from his manifesto:




AKA Kit Luce

Spotted raising hell in: Barrie, Ontario

Mumblings from her manifesto:




AKA Lauren Taylor

Mumblings from her manifesto:




AKA Luis Lucero

Mumblings from his manifesto:




AKA Brian Costello

Spotted raising hell in: U.S.A.

Mumblings from his manifesto:




AKA Steve Mouldey

Spotted raising hell in: Aukland, New Zealand

Mumblings from his manifesto:




AKA Ryan Bradford

Spotted raising hell in: Los Angeles

Mumblings from his manifesto:




AKA Tony Borash

Spotted raising hell in: Charlottesville, Virginia

Mumblings from his manifesto:



Street name: @p_kopp

AKA Paul Kopp

Spotted raising hell in: Mentor, Ohio

Mumblings from his manifesto:


The aforementioned rebel learners are at large and presumed dangerous for their ability to light fires and stand up for students.

Week 7: “Curiosity: The Constant UNhappiness?”

The following is a reflection by Eric Démoré (@EricDemore) on Week 6 of #SlowChatEd and is cross-posted on his blog here.

Consider for a moment what brought you to be reading these words. Either:

1) You were asked you to do it. Someone (kindly) made you to click on the link that brought you here. You started reading this post because you felt you should. Or,

2) You asked yourself to do it. You were attracted by what this link promised and decided to open the door it presented to you.

And that, it seems, is what the art of curiosity — our topic for Week 6 of #SlowChatEd — is all about. It’s about following that innate desire to have a question answered. Wait: innate? Mr Barro, could you please clarify?

Questions reside indeed in the soul. So here’s the argument: the right questions are not always the ones handed to us. They’re not always in the textbook. They’re not always the ones on the whiteboard.

So, what then? Teachers can’t ask questions of their learners? Of course we can. But having acknowledged that we are no longer (never have been?) the sole purveyors of knowledge for our students, we find ourselves heeding a call to be more than experts.

We need to be models of curiosity. Lighters of sparks. Sherpas on our students’ quest to have their natural curiosity sated.

Our instinct is to engage the learner’s mind, and this is valid. But let’s not neglect the empirical doors to knowledge: the senses.

Not only might curiosity be a natural tendency, but its ‘sparks’ can come from the natural world, too. A classroom can be an ideal space for fostering inquiry; but so too can a park or an art gallery or a theatre or a neighbourhood. They alight the senses toward questions.

Thanks, @ecsaibel, for that pure bit of poetry. How about reading *that* on your son’s report card:

While Eric has demonstrated a cursory understanding of the periodic table this term, he has begun to exhibit a deeper presence in this world.

Consider what can happen when a student is shown how to ask her own questions, what can emerge if we allow this instinct to follow its natural course. This is the tricky part, of course, because we’re not used to forging ahead without a distinct plan. Teachers are master-planners. We’re prepared; we work well with structure.

But allowing a student to follow the course of her own curiosity — let alone asking ourselves to monitor that of 30 other learners in the same room — can get pretty messy pretty fast. And a bit scary.

I fear not knowing how to deal with chaos. Not to mention adjusting to a drastic shift in our traditional job description. Admission: I fear risk.

But if only we could find a way to structure this type of learning, I’m convinced that what you’ll get is a room full of happy people. After all, as Nobel laureate Alice Munro once said,

The constant happiness is curiosity.

But then also:

Wait, hold up. So which is it?

Does being curious mean being happy or unhappy?

This little gem of paradox came out of Week 6 of #SlowChatEd and I’m grateful for it, because it has placed a whole new set of questions in my hands like a good book, and I find myself not being able to put them down.

Is it possible that I wish to spend my days in classrooms where students are not happy? Not happy with veneer? Not satisfied with injustice? Not content with hypocrisy? Not happy with the immediately unanswerable?

Holy cow. Do I need to change the title of my own blog to ‘The Constant UNhappiness’?

I’ll end with a true story. (Still with me? Still curious?)

(Disclaimer: The following is an update of a post shared last fall. I share it here because it was really the inspiration behind the topic for Week 6 of #SlowChatEd).

As a boy I often found myself staring at a map of Canada that hung above my bed. I could look at the thing for a half-hour, analyzing its contours, focusing on one strange detail or another.

One night, my eye fell upon this shape in the far reaches of northern Quebec:


Is that a circle?, I thought. It looks too perfect a circle not to be some sort of ancient crater. But if a crater, why is it called a reservoir, and not Something crater? Why haven’t I heard about this before?

I was struck by an innate desire to inquire. For whatever reason, I didn’t pursue my question any further. Had it been 2013, I’d have Googled it and had an answer as fast as my thumbs could type ‘crater lake in quebec’. The tools weren’t as readily at hand, I guess (our encyclopedia set from 1981 lived at my grandmother’s).

But here’s the point: I had a question to ask. A good question. Given the right environment and encouragement, I could have set upon a quest to arrive at the answer — and who knows what other answers?

So, what we’re talking about here is a need to find something out — the ability to ask questions that we feel compelled to try to answer.

This was curiosity.

What if all of school were an act of finding the right questions to ask and the journey to answer them?

Imagine a sort of Big Book of Questions from which learners can choose the question that will set them on a path of discovery.

What does it take for a rocket to fly?

What makes banks so powerful?

How do empires fall?

Is war justifiable?

What makes something ‘beautiful’?

What would it have been like to see that crater strike in northern Quebec?

As it so happens, my quest was rekindled recently when Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield tweeted this image from his recent stint as commander of the ISS:


The Manicouagan Crater in Québec. 19 years later, my question is answered.

But now I’ve got more of them.