Category Archives: For my students

Rural fundamentalism

North American society tends to glorify rural life, seeing it as the repository of clean living, family values and community stability. Sociologists used to refer to this as rural fundamentalism.

As a result of these ideas, it’s common, in this country and across the continent, to regard cities as, at best, necessary evils, characterized by noise, dirt, crime and moral degeneracy: pornography, illicit drugs, drunkenness, violence, degenerate art and music – with the conception of what’s degenerate changing from time to time. I’ve seen it go from Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones to the Ramones to hip hop – probably with a few stops in between that I’m forgetting at the moment.

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It started as a sensible idea: workers’ housing shouldn’t be located next to smoke-belching heavy industry. But it has turned into an obsession with separating everything and everyone from everything and everyone else, a denial, on a massive scale, of community and of the bedrock urban reality of mutual interdependence.
Today we find ourselves with, not only separate neighbourhoods for the rich and the poor, but a fetish for spatial segregation that defies rational explanation: One area for $250,000 houses, another one for $350,000 houses, a third for $450,000 houses. Housing for old people where young people aren’t welcome, family neighbourhoods where housing for the elderly isn’t welcome. No housing where there is commerce, no factories (even clean ones) and no offices where there is either housing or retail trade, wide swaths of wasted land to ensure that everything is well and truly separated from everything else.

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“Read not to contradict and confute, not to believe and take for granted, not to find talk and discourse, but to weigh and consider.” Sir Francis Bacon.
A general rule for all note-taking, whether lectures or readings: Listen or read and think. Decide what’s important to you, and summarize it in complete sentences.
Learning is an active process. The only way you learn is by processing the material in question through your own mind, and integrating it with what you know already. That’s what you’re doing when you read or listen and summarize.
Reading or lecture notes that consist of words, phrases and incomplete sentences are limited in their usefulness, because they’re open to interpretation. When you return to them in a month or three months, you will have trouble understanding them, because you won’t remember which interpretation you were placing on them when you wrote them.
Underlining or highlighting text in your readings is useful only if you already have an understanding of the material being covered. In that case, it can remind you where the key points are for the next time you use the text.
Conclusion: The way to learn, and the way to remember are the same: Think, summarize what’s important to you and write it down in complete sentences.

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I’m a professor of politics at the University of Winnipeg. I’ve spent most of my adult life doing research, writing and teaching, first about African politics and, more recently, city politics. Before becoming a professor, I was a journalist, writing for daily newspapers.
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