NFB Documentary

Professor Norman Cornett: ‘Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer?’

Professeur Norman Cornett : « Depuis quand ressent-on l’obligation de répondre correctement au lieu de répondre honnêtement?

Now streaming in its entirety at/Maintenant en diffusion dans sa totalité à http://www.nfb.ca/film/professor_norman_cornett/

Please write (in French or English) your reflections on the film below.

s’il vous plaît, faites vos commentaires (en français ou en anglais) sur le film ci-dessous.

105 Responses to NFB Documentary

  1. Bonsoir Professeur Cornett,

    Ce soir, je suis Charlie ! Complètement catastrophée par la tuerie survenue mercredii à Charlie Hebdo. J’ai écouté les nouvelles en boucle depuis … réfléchissant sur la liberté de penser, de créer, la liberté de rire… Cette semaine cependant, le monde rit jaune !

    Néanmoins je tenais à vous écrire sans plus de délai suite à l’écoute de votre entrevue à Radio VM que j’ai trouvée très inspirante. J’en retiendrai quelques idées clés qui en disent long sur votre philosophie et votre vocation d’enseignant. D’abord,votre croyance qu’enseigner est un engagement, une manière de toucher au divin. Puis qu’apprendre à penser par soi-même est essentiel pour devenir un penseur libre. L’importance que vous accordez à la quête identitaire démontre, à n’en point douter, combien vous étiez proche de vos élèves. Intéressante approche aussi, l’exercice d’allier la théorie à la pratique et ce, en tenant compte des besoins affectifs et aussi des forces et faiblesses de l’individu. Votre conviction que l’influence des professeurs est la plus importante après celle des parents m’a rappelé trois professeurs qui m’ont profondément marquée.

    Enfin votre perception sur l’art. D’abord l’importance que vous accordez à la musique pour toucher l’être humain au plus profond de lui-même. La musique que vous utilisiez à McGill – méthode bien démontrée dans le film d’Alanis Obomsawin traitant de votre enseignement. Et la relation que vous faites entre la spiritualité et l’art. Pour moi aussi c’est indissociable. L’art est sacré.

    Enfin à propos de votre paraphrase « l’âme est le pont entre la chair et l’esprit», ceci est très joliment dit. Merci de m’avoir fait suivre cet entretien. Intéressant, informatif et sensible.

    Je vous souhaite une très belle année 2015.

    Lise Gagné,
    Artiste peintre et photographe, représentée par la Galerie Bernard à Montréal.

  2. claude Hazanavicius says:

    C’est à l’occasion d’une exposition de mon travail de sculpteur, à l’espace Notre Dame, que j’ai eu la chance d’entendre, grâce à l’approche dialogique du professeur N. Cornett, des commentaires que provoquait l’observation d’une de mes œuvres. Commentaires dénués de filtres, brutes, sans craindre d’offenser puisque anonymes.
    Un exercice de sincérité et de vérité indispensable tout autant à l’observateur qu’ à “l’observé”.
    Merci Mr Norman Cornett.

  3. L’Âme n’est peut-être pas autre chose que la Lumière et la Chaleur qui passent d’un individu à l’autre. Elle est prisonnière de la matière et c’est à nous de la libérer. Vous Professeur, vous le faites merveilleusement bien … merci!

  4. Reposted on behalf of Annick Gauvreau

    Bon matin Professeur Cornett,

    Vous disiez dans l’entrevue : ‘’Sans l’imaginaire, y a pas de foi’’ et que vous croyez à l’esprit humain, à l’âme bien que vous n’en ayez pas vu encore.

    J’écrivais un jour sur mon blogue : ‘’ Un jeu s’offre à moi, celui des sens et de l’intuition. Le jeu consiste à faire confiance en l’expérience du non-connu, d’autres le nommeront la foi. J’aime jouer. J’allume donc mes lumières intérieures. ’’.

    Par le biais de la créativité et du ressenti j’ai rencontré, je crois, ce que vous nommez l’âme. Mettant de côté les références religieuses ou psychologiques qui me semblaient incomplètes, je l’ai personnifiée et je l’ai nommée, JE-NE-SAIS-QUOI. Depuis lors, il m’accompagne. Je n’ai qu’à suivre sa trace. Les premiers commentaires sur mes œuvres sont habituellement sur ma créativité, mon imaginaire débordant. Les gens sont fascinés par le où je l’ai emmène. Personnellement je ressens que ce n’est pas moi qui mène, que toutes ses œuvres sont la réalisation de tout sauf de mon ego.

    Pour moi, ma personnalité, c’est un atout puisque je me préoccupe moins que la plupart des artistes des résultats : reconnaissance, ventes, statut etc. . Quand je suis (réf : être ou suivre) JE-NE-SAIS-QUOI, j’ai toujours l’impression de faire la bonne chose, de la bonne façon, avec les bonnes personnes et surtout avec beaucoup d’amour. Les résultats ne m’appartiennent pas.

    http://www.annickgauvreau.com/2007/10/lombre-sveille-dans-la-mer.html

    Bonne journée,

    Annick Gauvreau

  5. M. Lavigne says:

    Je reste, après le visionnement de ce film, avec un intense goût de liberté, d’authenticité, et un profond désir d’apprendre, de dialoguer. De transmettre et d’écouter. Je reste aussi avec, en bouche, le goût amer qui accompagne le doute, la désillusion, le cynisme. Jusqu’à ce que revienne l’espoir, au contact d’une oeuvre, d’une musique, d’une phrase.

  6. Who we are is greatly a product of our education, now a 13 to 25 year process that takes place during a time that forms us, as children, as teens, as adults. We participate in this process for such a length and during such a critical part of our formation that not what is taught but HOW it is taught prepares us for how we accept and interpret information for the rest of our lives.

    So what is really happening when we drop the kids at school? Well, literally speaking, we are hurrying them along and getting rid of them so we can hit the traffic as early as possible and make it to our day job. At work we are given a list of assignments that we attempt to complete to the best of our abilities in order to satisfy someone in a position of authority. We watch the clock tick, we earn money instead of marks, we go home, pick the kids up, make dinner, and repeat for our entire working career.

    Thanks to our education, we have been prepared to do this. When I think back to Grade 10 and my social studies teacher introducing the term ‘critical thinking’—which came with a handout instructing us on how critical thinking must be done, and how it must look on paper, with a thesis, a body, a conclusion, evidence. We are instructed on what evidence counts and what doesn’t count. We are instructed that subjectivity does not count. We are paradoxically instructed on how to be objective. What ends up happening is that our interaction with whatever information we are exposed to becomes passive, and to a great extent we lose the ability to express our true reactions. What we really think become suppressed.

    Professor Cornett, within the span of one class at McGill University, managed to flip passive objective learning on its end, asking his students questions like “What do you really think?” Or “How does this make you feel?” and then reassuring us that our subjective answers were not invalid and non-credible. He gave students back a voice that had been educated out of them.
    “Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer?” not only was an excellent window into the educational model that Professor Cornett promotes, it also showed a daunting insight into how this model was received within one of Canada’s foremost universities. Turns out not very well. The documentary leaves many questions unanswered (that remain unanswered by McGill to this day, and likely never will be). The beauty in it is that we no longer need an answer from McGill as to why Dr. Cornett and his manner of teaching was deemed unacceptable. These questions need to be asked of ourselves and especially of our teachers. Passive teaching (ie. Working through a textbook) might avoid having to come up with a lesson plan every night, but it negates the responsibility that every teacher has taken on by choice of their avocation: to inspire, to broaden horizons, to help students find their voice, to allow for students to care about what they are learning, to engage, to question… If Professor Cornett could do this for a 100 students in one semester, so can others.

  7. Bon matin Professeur Cornett,

    Oui, je l’ai regardé avec beaucoup d’intérêt. Je suis en pleine période de production créative et j’avais pensé vous écrire plus tard parce que je suis envahie par l’inspiration qui, vous le savez sans doute, est tyrannique.

    J’ai été très touchée par votre histoire, par le témoignage des étudiants et par l’affection qu’ils vous portent. Je me sens très proche de votre façon d’être et de laisser être, de votre pédagogie sensible et intelligente et de votre parcours outsider. Comme à mon habitude, je vous répondrai avec ce qui suit.

    J’ai eu aussi deux professeurs significatifs au collège et je leur ai rendu hommage sur un blogue :
    http://www.annickgauvreau.com/2007/07/perle-denseignante.html
    http://www.annickgauvreau.com/2007/07/monsieur-poirot_31.html

    J’ai été aussi une élève particulière. À la place d’un QI élevé, j’avais hérité d’un QC (Quotient Créatif) élevé :
    http://www.annickgauvreau.com/2007/08/le-jeu-de-la-cration.html

    ‘’Excellente élève. Peut faire mieux’’ me suivait partout sur mes bulletins. J’ai fini par croire que j’étais paresseuse. Aujourd’hui, je sais que le ‘’Peut faire mieux’’ s’adressait à certains professeurs désireux de suivre à la lettre le code institutionnel, ennuyeux à mourir, et qu’il était normal que je rêvasse par la fenêtre de la classe, faute de mieux.

    Passez une bonne journée toute la journée,

    Annick Gauvreau

    P.-S. D’après moi vous avez hérité d’un QE (Quotient Explorateur) élevé. Hi! Hi!

  8. L’enseignement est devenu une sorte de formatage destiné à produire de bonnes ouvrières pour la fourmilière. Cela demande une vision et du courage pour marcher à contre courant.
    Cher Norman Cornet vous êtes un courageux visionnaire. Je suis personnellement heureux à chaque fois que je constate que «le système» ne peut museler tous ceux qui dérangent par leur réflexion, par leur démarche. Vous avez mon respect et aussi mon soutient.
    Michel gautier, artiste multidisciplinaire.

  9. François says:

    Monsieur Cornett mérite le respect de tous pour ses méthodes d’enseignement novatrices. Pour avoir assisté et participé récemment à une des ses rencontres dialogiques, je peux affirmer avec enthousiasme que j’ai passé un fort bon moment et que les techniques d’appréciation de l’œuvres d’art proposées par ce dernier, furent révélatrices dans ma façon de comprendre une œuvre d’art et ses multiples interprétations.

    François Renaud, chef de division du Centre d’exposition de Repentigny

  10. Cher Norman Cornett,

    Hier, j’ai visionné le court film qu’Alanis Obomsawin a fait sur vous. J’ai été très touchée, profondément, en fait, par ce « theatre of learning » qui est le vôtre et qui rejoint totalement la conviction que j’ai que la passion et la curiosité sont essentielles pour susciter les questions qui pavent la voie à la réflexion et à la transmission. Dès les premières images du film d’Obomsawin, j’ai senti monter des larmes en moi. Ce sont des larmes précieuses (que je désigne comme étant des larmes de vérité) qui n’ont pas à faire avec le chagrin, et qui se manifestent rapidement chaque fois qu’il y a rencontre entre la beauté et la vérité des choses. L’entretien avec Tomson Highway s’est déroulé en partie de cette façon. Je vous aurais volontiers cédé ma place pour ressentir la joie d’assister à vos types de rencontres, d’autant plus que Tomson est à lui seul une sorte de « theatre of learning ».

    Je comprends que désormais vous œuvrez hors institution. Une grande perte pour l’institution, mais surtout pour les étudiants qui la fréquentent. J’aimerais beaucoup que vous me gardiez sur votre liste de diffusion afin de pouvoir prévoir un déplacement vers Montréal qui me permettrait d’assister à l’un de vos séminaires.

    Longue vie à votre pratique,

    Je vous offre un de mes poèmes de résistance à tout ce qui contribue à réduire la liberté d’expression, ou à uniformiser toute réflexion :

    SURTOUT ET CHAQUE FOIS

    Dis-moi dans quel silence m’agenouiller mais
    ne me parle pas d’apprivoiser les chiens du Soleil
    de les mettre au pas
    de les tenir en laisse
    je les veux
    en déboulée sur l’île des Sables
    sauvages je les veux
    comme chevaux d’un autre âge
    piétinant la grève

    je veux les entendre japper la lumière
    hurler la blancheur des neiges
    les voir recracher les aurores boréales
    chaque fois que la parole
    surtout quand la parole
    orpheline du monde marchand
    tombe à l’aveugle
    dans la gueule affamée du pouvoir

    ne me parle pas
    ne me demande pas
    de traduire leurs impénétrables lueurs
    même en cage
    surtout en cage
    je me réclame chaque fois de ces chiens
    qui échappent à la loi des nombres

    sn

  11. Professeur,

    Je suis émue, tant par l’inspiration de votre approche pédagogique, qui en soit serait un sujet de film fascinant, mais aussi par l’ampleur de l’adversité que vous avez à traverser, tant du point de vue personnel que professionnel.

    Je suis bouleversée, outrée, inspirée, attendrie. Voilà, tout ça et plus encore. J’apprends, en lisant les commentaires ci-haut que votre femme est décédée, mes condoléances. Le rituel familial du Grand Canyon, ce rite de purification et d’adieu, fût très touchant. Son amour pour vous est palpable.

    Vous avez toute mon admiration et mon empathie.

  12. Miz Miz says:

    Je viens de visionner le film. Je suis ravie de l’avoir fait! J’étais énormément touchée par, et bien, tant de choses. J’aurai beaucoup aimé vous avoir comme professeur…
    Les sujets sur l’éducation, la spiritualité, l’art et la politique sont des domaines sur lesquels j’adore apprendre.
    Je trouve ça vraiment injuste votre congédiement de Mc Gill. C’est insensé.
    À voir vos anciens élèves cela fait chaud au coeur. Toutes ces petites graines plantées au fil des années germent et feront à leur tour des graines…Grâce à vous c’est magnifique!
    Alors je vais aller voir sur votre site il y a tant d’informations de quoi en apprendre encore et encore!
    Merci de partager tout cela.

  13. Elisabeth Massri says:

    Votre vision de ce qui nous entoure ainsi que votre courage à persévérer dans ce dont vous prônez est ce qui vous rend si authentique. Bien que ce ne soit pas tout le monde qui dispose d’un jugement permettant d’apprécier votre manière d’enseigner, cela ne signifie en aucun cas que vous avez tort d’en faire ainsi. Votre méthodologie d’enseignement est ingénieuse, exigeante mais toutefois très intéressante, éducative et humaine. Obtenir ce qu’on désire s’avère difficile notamment dans la mesure où on refuse de s’aliéner aux exigences de ceux disposant du pouvoir. Votre authenticité, bien qu’elle n’est peut-être pas le plus fameuse internationalement, a touché le coeur de plusieurs, voire d’une société. Vous devez être fier de tous ce dont vous avez accompli, tout ce dont vous avez enseigné et tout ce dont vous avez fait naître chez autrui. Nous avons besoin de plus de revolutionnaires comme vous dans le monde! Stay strong.

  14. sophie quest says:

    Above is an amazing story of gratitude for having been with a good teacher. After seeing the film of Dr. Cornett and McGill, I am thinking of education. My friends here at the University of Vermont believe that universities are a function of the past and will fairly soon die away. Certainly McGill is assisting itself to die by refusing to enter the 21st century. The hope for this new century is that people will be valued, that nature will be valued. That life itself will be our strongest value. Dr. Cornett’s teaching is surely of this century, seeing the strength of each student and giving them the opportunity to grow further. Many of us are questioning all of our present habits and looking forward to having better ways of living together and honoring the earth, our mother. Any teacher today must realize that a new society needs to be created by the young. Even as teachers we are too old to imagine the answers for the future. Look forward, trust the earth and trust the young.

  15. Normand de Bellefeuille says:

    Étrange expérience que de voir ce documentaire sur Norman. Ayant moi-même enseigné pendant 25 ans au niveau collégial, j’avais l’impression d’avoir été cloné, tellement mon approche de l’enseignement et de la communication était semblable à celle de Norman. J’ai eu un plaisir fou pendant ce quart de siècle ! Mais disons que le hasard (ça, le hasard, c’est comme écrivait l’autre « c’est quand Dieu décide de rester anonyme »). Je fus donc recruté, en 1997, par le monde de l’édition… Et 1997 fut l’année de la réforme de la réforme de la contre-réforme (et j’en passe) du programme collégial d’enseignement de la littérature. Notre « liberté » pédagogique était tout à coup mise de côté par des contenus et des exercices « obligés » : dissertation critique, dissertation analytique, obligation d’enseigner avec une anthologie d’extraits plutôt que de privilégier les œuvres dans leur intégralité, etc. Je comprends donc la souriante frustration de Norman devant son congédiement. Tout comme je comprends et appuie sa lutte contre cette injustice honteuse… Norman, mon ami, sois assuré de mon appui indéfectible.

    friend

    normand (avec un d…)

  16. Manon says:

    Nous avons projeté le film dans le cadre d’une association : Cinéma Politica de l’université Laval.
    Ce fût une belle soirée. Le film nous a beaucoup plus, ainsi que la discussion. C’était un sujet très intéressant et nous avons pu débattre et échanger des idées avec deux professeurs en sciences de l’éducation de l’Université Laval.
    Votre approche est vraiment très surprenante et attrayante. Il serait intéressant d’intégrer certaines de vos techniques dans l’enseignement plus conventionnel comme connaître un peu plus les élèves, faire participer la classe pour permettre un meilleur apprentissage,…
    Manon Mazenod

  17. John Bird says:

    It is rare in a lifetime to encounter a teacher like Norman Cornett as portrayed in Alanais Obomsawin’s moving and powerful documentary. As I saw so many students becoming energized, excited and literally “turned on” by Norman’s approach to life and learning, I recalled the few times in my life when encounters with others have left me with similar feelings. I honour and give thanks for that powerful desire to celebrate more fully the mysteries of the world, and to engage in the struggle to birth creativity and justice.

    That’s what we need so much more of in our society, and I am sorry that the powers that be at McGill University seemed somehow unable to grasp that. I rejoice, however, that Mr. Cornett continues to find ways to bring his passion and teaching gifts to the rest of the world, and especially to First Nations Students, who face an even bigger hole to climb out of than most of the rest of us. Bravo Norman. Bravo Alanis.

  18. Vive says:

    The more things change the more they stay the same. Better yet, “I am aware that things change, nothing stays the same”. Professor Cornett a.k.a Destiny’s Child continues to teach us to be aware in marvelous ways. Awareness is probably one of the most important aspects of humanity. The idea is so simple, yet intense in practice. As I watched the documentary it made me reflect back to being in his class. His class was truly God’s gift to a McGill student. I use to encourage all of my friend to enroll knowing that his class was not only an arena to heighten you aptitudes, but also that it was a healing experience. I think what people forget to mention is that Professor Cornett was not just a teacher, he was a healer. My personal reflections grew from a place of confusion, to a place of self council, to a place of prayer in dialogue and finally to a place where I grew confident in my own voice. This happened because I faced many fears and dealt with many issues through his class. It was very much like what I would understand a monestary or seminary to be like. To this day, Destiny’s Child remains alive and in charge and Sir ‘Vive’ stands as one of his disciples. Fantastic. Yes, let’s all try to be terrific everyday!

    Vive

  19. John Lent says:

    I watched Alanis Obamsawin’s documentary last night. It is a beautiful documentary, very powerful & human &, heart-wrenching, too. Your story is a very difficult story to watch, especially from the point of view of another teacher who loves teaching. Your teaching methods are very exciting. I love the intent of your dialogic sessions, the openness of them, and the use of juxtaposition in them—it’s simply something I am fascinated by in teaching and in art, and it has a bit to do with musical structures, too, especially jazz. What I mean is that it seemed to me that you arranged situations for your students, but you didn’t force the connections. Palliative care one day. An art gallery the next. A jazz musician the next. The students had to make the connections, and that’s where the rich, humanness flooded in. Jazz can be like that, too, eh? All this subtle ‘play’ with things that the listener synthesises. (By the way, I have been following the other links you sent me re: your work with jazz musicians)…Anyway, sorry for the tangent, I LOVED the film, but I feel a terrible sadness watching you face the implacable machinery and powerfully closed system of the university hierarchy. Because I taught creative writing for years, as you can imagine, because it was a new discipline, most of my battles had to do with its popularity among students, its openness in terms of new pedagogy, its fun…all dismissed, of course, as flaky & suspicious by colleagues who were even younger but much more conservative than me. Ah well, I hope things are still progressing for you, and more than anything, I guess, I hope you are teaching. It’s obviously what you love to do and are so gifted at.

    All the best to you, and congratulations to Alanis O. for making such a rich fillm. Sincerely, John Lent

  20. Genevieve says:

    J’ai visionné le film d’Alanis Obomsawin avec beaucoup d’intérêt et d’émotion. L’approche du Dr Cornett où se conjuguent curiosité intellectuelle, rigueur, humour et respect est vraiment magnifique et a certainement changé la vie de centaines d’étudiants. Dans un monde où priment le confort et l’indifférence, il “brasse la cage” avec intelligence et compassion. J’aurais bien aimé l’avoir comme prof.

  21. The logic behind this film is similar to Dr. Cornett’s own work as a teacher, and is developed in a manner that appears to be an interpretation of the Socratic method. Here we do not see the Socrates of Plato’s late works, a teacher who knows what answer he will tease out, logically, from his interlocutor, so as to be able to show that ideas already exist inside the mind – and so that his vision is the right one. Rather, this film asks us to think for ourselves about what might be the best way to teach, the best way to interact with students – or the best way to learn and to interact with teachers. Like the exercises in which Dr. Cornett engages us, iIt leaves us free to decide for ourselves how we will enter into the teaching relationship… as long as we have reflected on it.

  22. Quel film inspirant! Je souriais tout le temps. J’ai rencontré le Dr Cornett une seule fois. Le jour du lancement de mon premier roman. Et j’en suis tombée amoureuse instatanément. J’aurais aimé assister à ses cours, j’en suis encore plus persuadée après avoir lu les commentaires ici.

  23. Naomi McIlwraith says:

    Nicholas Howells and I shared a “dialogic” session with Dr. Norman Cornett on Friday, 22 March 2013, and what a powerful event it was. Dr. Cornett met with an audience on the evening of March 21st, where he had audience members read and respond to two poems from my poetry collection kiyâm and to a performance of Nicholas Howells’s musical composition “Crowfoot.” On the afternoon of March 22nd, Dr. Cornett and many of the same audience that had met the night before met with Nicholas Howells, Dr. Milton Schlosser, and me in the Chapel at Augustana Faculty of the University of Alberta in Camrose, Alberta. The gathering was profound, reflective, affirming, and inspiring in every way. My journey in writing the poems that form kiyâm was all of those things and more, and to have audience members read and respond in writing to “Critical Race Theory at Canadian Tire” and “Perfect/Not Perfect” and then to have Dr. Cornett share those written responses with me tells me that my poems are doing what I wanted them to do as I wrote them and what I still want them to do as I write this now: to reach out and foster a peaceful dialogue between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Nicholas Howells’s piece “Crowfoot,” as performed by Dr. Schlosser, perfectly “dialogued” with me and my poems, Dr. Cornett, and the audience. Dr. Cornett’s dialogic method demonstrates a deep engagement on the part of the audience with the material being discussed. To have an audience member ask me to read “Perfect/Not Perfect” a second time and explain what I was doing in the poem and then to see that audience member close his eyes as I read the poem a second time was and remains a deeply moving experience for me because it tells me that the audience member honoured all my efforts in writing the poem by exerting considerable effort into listening to it. To have another audience member tell me that she could see how much effort I had put into “crafting” the poems was just as affirming. And to hear Dr. Schlosser’s performance of Nicholas’s piece “Crowfoot” and Nicholas’s equally thoughtful responses to the audience’s responses demonstrated how much Nicholas and I share in our Métis heritage. Crowfoot’s last words as he lay dying over a century ago are as powerful and relevant today as they were when he spoke them, and how serendipitous it is that before I had even met Nicholas, I had been teaching “What is Life?” to my English students for many semesters. I think it is most appropriate to quote Crowfoot now:

    What is Life?
    It is the flash of a firefly at night.
    It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
    It is the little shadow that runs across the prairie
    and loses itself in the sunset.

    I believe that Crowfoot was right there with us in the Augustana Chapel demonstrating yet again his cross-cultural surefootedness as Dr. Cornett led Nicholas, the audience, and me in an important dialogic session on Treaty Six ground. Many thanks to Dr. Cornett for orchestrating this dialogue and this dance of music and words. I am a better person for having experienced Dr. Cornett’s “dialogic” method and for dialoguing with an audience that reached back to embrace me.

    kinanâskomitinâwâw mistahi pêyak êkwa kahkiyaw!
    Thank you very much one and all!

    Naomi McIlwraith

  24. Nicholas Howells says:

    I was recently given the opportunity to experience Dr. Cornett’s unique teaching methods at the University of Alberta Augustana Campus. What a wonderful moment of exploration both for the audience and myself. To be able to share my music with others is exciting and rewarding but to have someone like Dr. Cornett come in and lead the way, to create an atmosphere of dialogue and openness, is much more than I could ask for. Through his methodology, the audience was given the tools and encouragement to explore my music head on in a way they probably have never done before. What more could a composer ask, than to have the listeners speak truthfully and with opinion. I have learned so much from this happening and am grateful that I have come into contact with Dr. Cornett.

    Carry on Norman!

  25. danielle says:

    Having Dr. Cornett in Edmonton was a privilege. As a student, I know that professors who allow room to think and to find our own truth’s are rare to come by. It is a shame how McGill handled this privilege. I hope that his story starts a conversation that addresses the changes that need to come in the education system. Dr. Cornett- I hope you continue to tell others your story, it will help change the world.

  26. jennifer says:

    After screening the film again, but today in it’s entirety, I went for a long walk with my children to the Belgo building to clear my head and gather my thoughts before commenting on this documentary. One gallery we entered, SBC was exhibiting a piece of work by the Image Factory…Nazi documentation,(propaganda) footage of Jews being herded onto trains off to the good life in a particular camp…inmates performing stage and theatre, music, professionals continuing their sciences, inmates exercising, farm work etc, no starvation….all intercut with text…one section of the film showed a german commander and his dog ….later the text stated that the inmates thought he should be hung…..but with a silk rope for all of his good deeds …I couldn’t help thinking about Dr Cornett and the parallel with McGill…how this institution had really hung him, the cord being the weapon of termination but the silk being even more cruel , a gentler murder.. worse than that of a crude rough cord .. never given the reason…so cruel..punishment..persecution of someone so undeserving……control , oppression, conformity…everything he strived to teach against ….I was envious in the beginning of this film…I wanted to have teachers like that…I want teachers like that for my primary school age children who are struggling in the system and I constantly tell them it is not a measure of their worth, they still are in the system and have to conform to fit in, to make it, to succeed because unless they get that paper, the odds are so against them to succeed…but success is happiness…I want them to be happy…I want them to feel empowered as were the students of Dr Cornett…I want them to have the opportunity to flourish in a system that always tries to make one conform…just like this film proves, there will be no room for that in our society..15 years of the good then it is thrown away, leaving a wake of disbelief, sorrow, disgust, sympathy …all knowing that no matter how much you want it, it is too big, you will never conquer…you will die trying…but Dr Cornett has huge accomplishments, apart from his academic intellect, he has 15 years worth of students who have been so enlightend , so changed, that his teachings will not be forgotten, they refuse to be forgotten, his method has produced roots like the Cottonwood that reach so deep they will always remain there, perhaps hidden down deep but just try to rip them out, they will hold on, the children of these students will be taught things and methods that Dr Cornett had passed to their parents…..the roots will go so much farther than the original tree.
    But there is change. There is injustice. For those who have faith, how does one hold on in times of such turbulence? Sickness, financial woes, …how does faith play here especially to one who has studied it so much? Where is God when he is needed most? Was He there in the camps? Was He there at the chemo sessions? Did He help in your darkest hours? Why can’t we have an answer? Why can’t Dr Cornett have an answer? You didn’t settle, that is so impressive but I”m not surprised…this film reminded me of the times in my life when I hear something so beautiful, or see something so beautiful and moving that you wish you could get the whole world together to share it and if that was actually possible, that the world would be such a better place….but it’s not to be.
    You were told to empty your desk but the brilliance of it all, however difficult , unfair and cruel that was, the students who loved and supported you could not be forced to empty their minds…
    You sir , and all those whos lives have been changed by your methods, have won….

  27. Naomi McIlwraith says:

    Dear Dr. Cornett,

    I am pleased to tell you that I have watched the film on your teaching
    career. Thank you for sending it to me to watch.

    Your story is very moving, and I am glad to have gotten to know your
    family at the end of the documentary. Their support of you must be
    incredible, as is the support of all of your students.

    How not good for McGill to have dismissed you so cruelly. How not
    right for McGill to have dug its heels in and refused to communicate
    with you other than about money. How unjust of higher academia to have
    become so entrenched in itself and to fail to see the gifts of your
    scholarly and humanistic approach to teaching.

    The documentary ends somewhere in the latter half of 2008, and I am
    curious about what you are doing now. Yes, you travel, and I will be
    very honoured to meet with you and “dialogue” with you in March. There
    was a point in the film where you give your students 11 directives I
    believe, all that begin with “Talk about.” And you show your students
    your black and white shoes and say “This is where our feet have taken
    us,” and ask about what is the path that remains ahead.

    “Talk about”; yes, that is a good place to start on the path to what
    remains ahead: What is good. What is just. What is right.

    I am looking forward to talking about a lot of things with you.

    Very kind regards,
    Naomi

  28. James Clarke says:

    Status, power, money
    like straw, feathers, dust
    are insubstantial things,

    but if they all blow one way
    that’s the way the law bends.

    • Lisa Gordon says:

      Systems (for Dr. Cornett)

      Who put canned laughter

      Into my crucifixion scene?

      Charles Simic

      Though days are mirrors,

      you’re at a loss to see yourself

      hunkered down in the blind room

      sorting through the finger food.

      Appetite & the way nothing can satisfy –

      neither cold case dreams coming true

      nor happy Sisyphus a la Camus.

      Another day, another scholar.

      The book of the self seems to leer at times

      with spine cracked, font fuzzy.

      Lunch still on your breath, all last night’s

      vanishing ideals are real time speeded up.

      Now if you try to go back to page one

      there’ll be much that’s become

      intangible to pay –

      head knocked off the valued statuesque,

      70s song sunk by the best chorus ever,

      the young summer you lied, called loneliness

      an anchoring boon, called the boys men

      & almost believed – better, now, to insert

      bookmarks at random, let the light be,

      if only so as to admit how often

      the accidents play the vital bits

      with all the vigour of more substantial

      form, foam & figure let go…

  29. Therese Romer says:

    After two stimulating ‘dialogic’ sessions with Professor Cornett — and watching Ms Obomsawin’s excellent film — I see that what he teaches us, essentially, is… conscience. Conscience, beyond consciousness. He helps us learn the skills of inner validation, empowerment. The ideal of seeking Right more than rectitude. This challenges authority, and power. It leaves room for mistakes — and possibly for heresy, schism. Cornett gives an equal voice to the young, the inexperienced and simple, and doubtless also the weak, the poor, the excluded; and isn’t that at the heart and root of 2000-year-old Christianity ?

    Whereas Universities, and so of course McGill, are about Excellence. Criteria. The need for Authority. Learning as a prime road to power and wealth. Therefore Power-plays. Little room is left for humanity, let alone Love; little room for Caritas, caring. Or for ambiguity that plagues our lives, and societies. While of course rules, regulations, Laws must be clear-cut; and Justice alas often cuts unjust.

    How to reconcile these two opposite approaches ? Often impossible, I think. We see what a miserable mistake McGill committed in its mistreatment of Dr. Cornett — a sorry euphemism that. But Arrogance, alas, is not a crime in Law. Nor is Evil eradicated by punishment, so McGill gets off scot free. Dr. Cornett picks up his pilgrim’s staff, shaking the sand off his sandals, and goes his way, lighthearted, with the support of his loving family. And doesn’t history show us the constant see-saws of tensions between the long building up of Institutions, Doctrines, Powers — and the periodic returns to simplicity and core values, like St-Francis’ in the 13h century, and Luther’s some two hundred years later ?

    So, dear Dr. Cornett, I wish you continued success in your valuable efforts and your important teaching. And I look forward to further dialogic encounters, possibly around our age’s most pressing issue: preserving our blue Planet’s life. Maybe to study the guidelines Professor Peter Brown suggests in his fascinating book: “Right Relationship”, drawing upon some of the sound traditions of the Society of Friends.

    Therese

  30. JP says:

    The “reflecting” certainly makes me reflect. How honest – to get in touch with that raw part of ourselves. I wonder if we arrive at the correct answer sooner or later.

    My own experience has led me in the opposite direction: to be slower, to filter. To filter coffee means to keep the richest flavor of the bean and leave the grit behind. This has a double sense – and I am infinitely grateful my life has taught me to filter, in the best sense of the world. And despite this, and that everything in my life leads me to filter more and more – so that something closer to pure wisdom flows out – I respect and am tremendously fascinated by this teaching method.

    Too bad I missed it while at McGill.

  31. Aruna Srivastava says:

    (Extracted from a longer piece reflecting on this film, the experience of meeting and working with Norman Cornett, and on the possibilities of radical pedagogies.)
    My thoughts on the film are now hopelessly intertwined with my experience of knowing Alanis’s other films, and of having Norm at my university recently, both to screen the film and to engage in a dialogic session with students in classes. There were very positive and some negative responses to an unfamiliar approach but I was impressed by the results Norm got in his brief time with students and by their willingness to go along for the ride (some were concerned about privacy; in our educational culture this doesn’t surprise me: one of the students in my class, Goonaki, challenges the notion of anonymity specifically in her blog comments above).

    As someone who addresses issues of power at the systemic level consistently, I have my doubts about the wholesale valuing of honesty-above-all in the classroom. Where I think the value in Norm’s pedagogy lies, however, is precisely in the fact that students or participants must attach their names to their work-in-process, although their names are not revealed publicly: this distinguishes their “truth-telling” from the kind of vicarious, vicious, often hateful stuff we see on the internet, and which is every bit as uncensored and truthful, but carries no accountability, none of the eye-to-eye.

    In addition, the multiple sensory processes that Norm engages and asks participants to synthesize, as well as the amount of writing they end up doing in a given session is astounding: for students–I would say most–who consistently self-censor in the normal processes of academic writing, as we have trained them to do, this was wonderful to behold, as was his uncanny attentiveness to the detail not only of texts, music and images, but of students themselves, their questions, their body language.

    . . . Perhaps outside of the Montreal and Quebec context, and as we move further west in the country, there are a couple of factors at work in the silence and apparent lack of awareness about Norman Cornett (and others like him, for he is not alone in his experience): first, real apathy about our colleagues who get fired or disciplined for engaging fully their right to academic freedom in the classroom. This often comes from fear about getting involved in advocacy, from a culture of shaming, and reveals that in essence many of us teach a not-so-hidden curriculum we pass on through tests, exams, and systems of marking and disciplinarity–the lesson that we do *not* in fact have the freedom to learn and are suspicious of those with a passion for learning and teaching. The second factor is equally insidious: our continuing marginalization of aboriginal artists and cultural producers, such that a film by one of Canada’s most prolific and respected filmmakers created as a tribute to one of our own (and a rare work for Alanis to undertake on a non-aboriginal subject, which speaks volumes) is not in and of itself a reason for circulation, discussion, debate, time, financial support and, indeed, celebration. Bravo to both of you.

  32. Pingback: Radical Pedagogies – Centre for innovation in Culture and the Arts in Canada

  33. ashok says:

    From Emma Bourassa:
    (this list is part of preliminary thoughts toward our radical pedagogy session at TRU on Oct 31, 2012. Ideas toward teaching in a uni classroom)

    Radical Pedagogy Participant Takeaway

    Snapshot of the item below:
    Some ideas to try which encourage critical thinking, perspective taking, and self reflection on learning:

    At the beginning of the semester,
    1. Do a silent discussion, (for instructions, see below) or other task then ask: why did I ask you to do that?
    2. Take a baseline of writing that captures understanding of a concept and revisit later in the ssemester
    During or after a concept introduction:
    1. Using images ask- how does this relate to ……?
    e.g. 1. using Escher’s two head mobius, ask :how does this relate to intercultural communication?
    e.g. 2. Using a variety of abstract images, ask: choose one or two images and relate them to … (theme, group dynamics, complexity theory, nonverbal communication, the life cycle etc.)
    2. Use the baseline of writing that captures understanding of a concept and have students reflect on what they know/understand now and what questions they have.
    Midterm/prefinal review:
    1. Have students write possible questions for the quiz based on Bloom’s analysis, synthesis and evaluation (needs to be pre-taught)
    2.Have students draw a picture of their learning and then explain in writing or orally depending on preference.
    3. Have students write a letter of advice to the incoming class that includes the challenges and suggestions for success in learning and/or connecting a concept
    Biggest challenge- waiting- give process time!

    (the above post is from Emma Bourassa, an EASL instructor at TRU and one of the co-ordinators of the Radical Pedagogy session on Oct 31, 2012)

  34. ashok says:

    After watching the film, am thinking through the various ways we employ radical (and critical) pedagogies. Many of us engage in techniques similar to what is illustrated here, to various degrees of success depending on content, community, circumstance. Whether following a Freire-ian model, or those fostered by others who are thinking through pedagogy through lenses of race, indigeneity, gender, etcetera, the key seems to be focussing on how students engage. This is at the heart of a liberatory pedagogy. The irony, it seems, is that systems of education are wholly invested in a more capitalist enterprise: to bring students into an ideological ‘fold’ that purports to support change, but is really an illusory practice to maintain systems of hierarchical oppressions. In short, to avoid critical thinking that might lead to radical (and, arguably, sustainable and productive) change.

    It will be interesting to see what Aruna and Norman bring to the exchange when we meet on Oct 31 in Kamloops to think through the possibilities and parameters of radical pedagogy.

    -ashok

  35. Dear Norman,

    Last Wed evening I had a very unusual phone call from my son, Connor Richter, who is in his first year at Bishops. He was literally breathless as he told me he had just heard the best lecture/discussion of his life! He said things like: “this man was amazing, what he said has helped me so much”; “I get things now that I feel I’ve been struggling with for so long!”; “I realize that I’ve been holding back and that I don’t need to”; “I wish I could take a class from him!”; “I told him about you and I think you need to meet him, what he talks about is so related to what you’re doing!”; and with a crack in his voice, “I was on the verge of tears about 5 times during his talk!”

    Norman, from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you!! This kind of life changing experience, this wake up call, is exactly why I wanted him at university this year vs taking a year off to travel (aka chill! Or possibly chillax)

    Connor mentioned that you seemed familiar with the work of Classroom Connections and our Change It Up projects with First Nations. I’m not sure if you’ve seen our 8 min video on the original pilot project with Chipewyan Prairie FN (www.classroomconnections.ca/changeitup ) but we are now working with Samson Cree, just south of Edmonton, and are in the 1st session of a 4 session pilot, CIU-Entrepreneur.

    I’m going to be in the Edmonton/Hobbema area from Nov 5-15 and I’m told you are headed that way as well. If you do believe there might be some synergy it would be wonderful to meet–even if it is just so I can take you for dinner and gush about your impact on my son.

    Whether or not we have an opportunity to meet, I want you to know, you’ve changed a 19 year old boys life and thrilled his mother!

    With gratitude and very warm regards,
    Heather
    Heather MacTaggart Executive Director Classroom Connections

    http://www.changelearning.ca
    http://www.classroomconnections.ca

  36. Pierre LeBel says:

    Ce qui m’étonne dans l’action de l’Université McGill à l’égard du Dr. Cornett est le résultat inattendu de son congédiement. Le geste avait comme but de mettre le Dr. Cornett au silence. Mais voilà que son auditoire a largement dépassé la salle de cours pour devenir enfin un publique à la grandeur du pays et même au-delà. Dans la mort il y eut résurrection. Mais ceci n’enléve pas la grave responsabilité de l’université à son égard.

  37. Shane soop says:

    My entire life I was afraid to ask questions, and participate within any given public forum, it was a simple fear of rejection, until one day after having served at least 3 years wth Corrections Canada (as an officer lol) I was asked by one of the older unit manegers if I had thought of any security issues. As fate would have it I was walking the perimeter that very evening when I did see some major security issues, I told him and he went silent he started making some phone calls and I had to finish my rounds . The next night policy ( which I cant disclose) was changed, I was Livid, all I could think of was another one of these red neck guards was out to make himself look good. When I went to shift exchange meeting, I recieved recognition for policy that would in effect possibly save lives. I immediately went to thank that crusty old guard who turned out to have a heart of stone. He looked at me and simply said in his matter of fact way,” never be afraid to speak your mind, but make sure you take ownership of it, aint nice to be behind the fences where its safe.”I never forgot that man and what he taught me, funny thing is, he was one of the most feared men in Corrections Canada and everyone thought he was racist, I knew better, we need to listen to people with all of our sences. I was at your talk at the University of Calgary, Thank you so much for your wisdom and courage, peace-Shane Soop

  38. Erich says:

    Enthused and thrilled on the highest level to have the privilege of hosting your presence in Lennoxville this month! The green light for the event fills me with a warm hope that making things happen, especially attaining your creative desires is easier than most people think! Lately I’ve been sharing and exploring the seemingly eternal theme of an emergent transcultural evolution inspired by morality, commonality and the quest for collective truth, leading me to align my actions with my intentions to the best of my ability. My brief electronic exchanges with you have positively affirmed my desires and intentions and I feel extremely fortunate to have this opportunity to bring people together around you and your story!
    Onward!

  39. Jennifer May Ksionzena says:

    Dear Dr. Cornett,
    I am also a student in Indigenous Studies 399 at the University of Calgary. I am really looking forward to your visit to our class tomorrow. Learning about your style of teaching in the documentary was truly inspiring. I think that the fear that we have the wrong answer to a question keeps some people silent. Learning to be free to question and express our opinions on a matter is important for both ourselves and the people around us. If we are frozen in fear and don’t allow ourselves the freedom to speak, we lose out and so do others. Thank you for your willingness and passion to embrace and create teaching techniques that assist students to express their honest inner voices. These students will not only be an inspiration to others, but possibly world changers.

  40. Sheri Macaulay (Little Chief) says:

    My initial reaction upon seeing the film was that Dr. Cornell’s style of teaching was quirky and I felt if I was a student in one of his classes was that I would be uncomfortable; however, as the film progressed and filmmaker showed more and more of the class lectures and the students perspective, I felt that what the students received from his teaching style was invaluable. He taught them to think for themselves, to critique; to embrace their own views, to respond to work and art from their heart. I felt his class taught these students to embrace their individuality and creativity. The gift he gave them was to awaken and expand their own minds.

    His teaching style seemed so much different from traditional lectures on theory, history and academics and that was in my opinion possibly the reason the ‘higher ups’ felt threatened by his teaching. Dr Cornell, obviously put a lot of passion and care into his teaching methods and into his students; this was appreciated by the students in the film and a lot of people as evidenced in the petitions and now blog. It was an injustice to for him to be let go from a job he so obviously loved and was and is passionate about.

  41. Cliff A. Manyheads says:

    Oki Dr. Cornett,

    I’m a Siksika member enrolled in INDG 399 at the University of Calgary. I’ve watched the film two times and it was a good experience coming to know of you and your family. I realize that you’re wife has passed on and for this I send my condolences along with all of Strathmore’s congregation of Jehovah’s Witness. When I saw her and her picture of the Lord I knew she would be resurrected in paradise earth (Act 24:15) come what may. Stay strong your a good man and teacher and have done many good things for many students. No one can take these things from you. My the creator of the Universe help you and bless you.

  42. Nicolas Sado says:

    Cher Professeur Cornett,

    j’ai regardé attentivement le documentaire qui vous est consacré. Je dois dire que vos méthodes d’enseignement me rejoignent tout à fait ! C’est une très belle pédagogie dont tout le monde devrait bénéficier. Ce film dit aussi qu’avoir des gens curieux, qui réfléchissent par eux-mêmes et dotés d’un sens critique est toujours dangereux pour certains…

    Bien cordialement

    Nicolas

  43. Kuri Cú says:

    Hello Dr. Cornett,

    I am also a student at the University of Calgary in INDG399. The documentary of you by Alanis Obomsawin endorses a tremendous respect for both of you. For me, the video provoked so many though, however one question was recurrent “How is Mrs. Laura Cornett? After reviewing Andrew M’s. message above, I now know and am saddened by your loss. My family has also felt the loss of a loved one who batted cancer recently. My condolences to you and your family.

    I cannot say that I am as endeared regarding the loss of your job at McGill. I don’t mean to sound callous or insensitive, but if you had not lost your position at McGill, would Alanis have focused her film on you? Would I have ever heard of you and and/or a dialogic classroom? Likely not. However, I do know of you now and new questions have arisen as a result of your story and the video. I will stop by again and post some of those questions. As it stand for now, I am a student with little time and limited typing skills. I look forward to your visit next week and hope to explore some of these questions further.

    Before I go, I would like to say that the character, commitment, and strength you posses is beyond remarkable to me.

    Best regards,
    Too Many Questions

  44. Kuri Cú says:

    Hello Dr. Cornett,

    I am also a student at the University of Calgary in INDG399. The documentary of you by Alanis Obomsawin endorses a tremendous respect for both of you. For me, the video provoked so many though, however one question was recurrent “How is Mrs. Laura Cornett? After reviewing Andrew M’s. message above, I now know and am saddened by your loss. My condolences to you and your family. My family has also felt the loss of a loved one who batted cancer recently.

    I cannot say that I am as endeared regarding the loss of your job at McGill. I don’t mean to sound callous or insensitive, but if you had not lost your position at McGill, would Alanis have focused her film on you? Would I have ever heard of you and and/or a dialogic classroom? Likely not. However, I do know of you now and new questions have arisen as a result of your story and the video. I will stop by again and post some of those questions. As it stand for now, I am a student with little time and limited typing skills. I look forward to your visit next week and hope to explore some of these questions further.

    Before I go, I would like to say that the character, commitment, and strength you posses is beyond remarkable to me.

    Best regards,
    Too Many Questions

  45. Vanessa says:

    Dear Dr. Cornett: upon watching your film I was moved by your unique teaching style and the impact it had on your students. Your style of teaching moves away from traditional techniques that many of us are used to in our post secondary education. It was refreshing to see you implement fun activities into your daily classes that involved blindfolding and trips outside the classroom. I could immediately tell the passion you had for teaching, the dedicated planning you put into creating these events and topics for your students. Also it seemed that in your classroom there was an openness, where students felt safe to share their true feelings due to reading out their pieces of writings without their names. The honesty was refreshing, because in University we are so used to saying the right answer and not what we truly believe for fear of failing.

    I was shocked by your dismissal, and that the University could do so without providing a proper reason for it. This illustrated to me how school systems today work in a hierarchy, to maintain control the people in charge keep others under them doing things in the manner they want. I believe your dismissal was because they feared that you taught differently. However, from seeing the responses of your previous students, it’s obvious that you knew what you were doing because you impacted so many in a positive way.

  46. Suzanne Dzus says:

    Dear Dr. Cornett;
    As part of my Indigenous Studies 399 class at the UofC we were asked to view a documentary about you and your dismissal from mcgill (refusing to capitalize their name) Then we are asked to write a reflection. So, here it is…
    My immediate reaction was emotional and guttural. Raw. Insulted, appalled and disappointed. I had somehow allowed myself to believe that this type of behaviour would never occur at an institute of higher learning, even though I know this not to be the truth. It reminded me a song I heard: Little boxes. The lyrics describe how “they go to the universities and they all come out the same”
    There’s anger for the lack in the dismissal that has been unexplained. Unjust. Despicable. Cowardly. Unethical. Immoral. Unreasonable. Other words that I am not allowed to use in public forum.
    After a bit my reaction began to change. As a First Nations Woman living in Canada I am acutely aware of the process of assimilation. I have always seen it as “a Native experience” We have experienced the deep rooted processes in every aspect of our lives no matter how hard we try to move away from it. Then I started to realize that what you have experienced is an assimilation process. I began to open my mind to assimilation being a wide spread process that is used to keep ALL those that would “work” outside of the box. Denying those in power their “believed right to rule” I am beginning to see how assimilation is not just a tool used against those of color but those that would disrupt the current structure of power. I get to see a picture in a much broader sense, dislike this picture even more! I am not sure yet if that makes it easier to understand this process or harder. I know now its much more widespread.
    This is one of those moments in life where I do a “hmmmmmmmm why did I choose to lie to myself about that when I clearly had all the information”

  47. Carrissa says:

    Personal Reflection: Dr. Cornett

    While watching the film of Dr. Cornett I was amazed to see the response of so many students, and how his dismissal as professor at McGill effected them as students. Many students were upset because they really enjoyed his class and style of teaching. All the positive feed back on Dr. Cornett’s classes, made me question why would McGill dismiss Dr. Cornett from his job as a professor. It was very shocking to hear that he was dismissed, and no reason or explanation was given to him as to why he was fired. This leaves this discussion open for people to make assumptions and ask questions. The first question I asked myself, was it that they did not like his style of teaching? At the end of the movie I still could not answer my own questions because McGill continued to give no reason. In conclusion to my own thought’s I think it is very shocking to know that the court case of Dr. Cornett and McGill is still ongoing to this very day. It makes me wonder and question the education system at the University of McGill, especially if they give no reason for dismissing a well liked professor amongst students at McGill.

    Carrissa

  48. stephanie says:

    I have become accustom to the structured outlines and teaching methods from my university classes. My undergraduate degree will be complete this December and watching the documentary on Dr. Cornett (as well as stepping into Aruna’s class) made me realize how much the academic institution is forcing me to buy into their prescribed package of what quality education should look like. As I sit outside the University of Calgary’s doors typing this, I can now feel it everywhere around me, a dogma almost comparable to some orthodox religious sect – rigid and untouchable.
    I realized that these classes are so infrequently available to students that we (I) freak out when we take a course with a similar teaching structure. This is because they are so rare that we fear the unfamiliarity and ultimately the grading system. How sad is that?
    I realized it is bigger than that though. As much as we might think we may jeopardize a letter grade (or gain one) in courses like this, these professors are putting their careers and credentials on the line – to give us these options and provide alternative approaches for our education.
    It really frightens me to think about this because it seems like if you don’t play the game, as a student (avoiding these unfamiliar classes because the tactics are unknown and grades are #1) or a professor (teaching the conventional methods to maintain your job) you may loose. These unconventional approaches are obviously viewed as less superior to the standard ones. It is apparent in that there are so few classes out, again, which makes students like slightly frightened by them (even though everything about them screams, “Yes, this feels like right.”)
    It is such a brutal reminder of how the standard academic institution has been scarcely reformed since the industrialized revolution. Even with more and more research showing that individuals require diverse learning approaches and techniques to thrive, and that one size does NOT fit all, but the schools are simply ignoring it. So why would someone who is committed to providing students with these modern educational approaches be so disrespected and disregarded without cause or explanation?
    It worries me that the alternative learning approaches will not be made available for future students. What an injustice for students who will have to look outside of the classroom to express and explore their individuality and originality. Now I see how limited my options for learning really are.
    It makes me think who is profiting from this? Someone must be if it is this difficult to provide alternative education methods when it is so apparent that it is of equal stature.

  49. Emily says:

    Dearest Dr. Cornett,

    I am responding to your film as a student of the INDG399 class at the University of Calgary.

    To be frank, upon seeing the nature of your classroom experiences I was horrified. I imagined what it would be like to be in your class and realized it terrifies me to think of interacting and knowing my classmates. To have to actually share my thoughts and feelings. To have to leave my comfort zone. At first I couldn’t think of why. Is it being shy of having attention on me? Not really, in social settings I love the attention. So why do I feel comfortable in that sort of scenario? I think it is because I feel in a social setting like I have worthy contributions to make (in the form of inappropriate humour), and that even if I am laughed or scoffed at, I will bounce back. I’ve been “rejected” enough times to feel it doesn’t matter and doesn’t make me any less of a person.

    It saddens me that I don’t feel the same way in the school environment. I’m not sure I understand the larger structures within the education system that make me feel this way, but here is what I do know:

    I feel that I am “unworthy” and need to be filled with information that others have deemed as being “important”, “worthy” or “useful”. Who are these people to decide? Does this really train me to reach my full potential by teaching me these things? Are students who engage in this kind of learning the types of people who make great contributions to humanity? Or am I just being filled with propaganda which keeps me subdued from rising to question things?
    2. I feel that there certainly is such thing as a “stupid question” in school despite hearing otherwise and that I am not truly invited to make them. I am afraid to say something wrong or to have the spotlight on me because it feels like there is a right answer and that if I can’t provide it I fall short. Why? The grades…? The competition…?

    I bring this up because I would to express how much I respect your way of reconceptualizing academia, Professor Cornett. However, your method feels like a bucket of ice water dumped down my shirt. (Then again, the students interviewed for the film make it sound like something EVERYONE needs to try, so maybe I’m sadly mistaken). I am saddened by what happened to you. Did you deserve it? My concern is that like many great thinkers throughout history, your ideas might just be “too revolutionary” for the time being. I hope I’m terribly wrong. Just as Newton tried to tell us the sun is actually the centre of the solar system, you’re trying to tell us that students should be the centre of the education system. Right now that just sounds absurd to the adamant believers that place knowledge of the powerful at the centre. But what your saying certainly makes sense to me, and as such, must make sense to at least a few other people.
    This being said, I hope that one day our education system will acknowledge that maybe there are different ways of looking at things and that perhaps the idea of engaging in dialogue with the material deemed “knowledge” truly will help us.
    To be frank, it scares the shit out of me to feel the entire responsibility of deciding what I want to know and expressing myself candidly, no editing, no over-thinking, no academically filtered thought processes. But it’s SO COOL. I loved hearing you read the responses of students aloud in the film. You had the uncanny ability to bring what I would self-consciously fear to be mundane, boring reflections alive. The passion you propelled made me able to relate to the students who spoke so highly of you. I certainly enjoyed how the film was able to characterize you as being so much more than a professor. But they didn’t turn you into a superhero. You were accessible. You knew their names, that they were an “economics major,” or that their mother was a lawyer. The way that the film focused on this aspect makes your issue feel much closer to home because I think that University students all wish we could make connections with our professors, the ones who are supposed to be filling us with knowledge and inspiration. It is incredible demotivating to be just a number.
    This being said, I felt the film would have been even better if I could have learned more about the sources of YOUR inspiration. Hearing the inspiration you instill in others was fascinating but also limiting. Lucky as we are going to be to meet you, many people will never have that chance, and I would love to know what sort of environment you were shaped by to come to have your sort of attitude towards learning and life at large. Where did your moral convictions come from? Why is the only right answer an honest answer? Why should I believe that? What knowledge do you trust?
    Being one who graduated also from McGill, where did YOU learn to be the sort of professor you are? I am fascinated to know the psychology that has led to your call to teach and I think that it would be helpful in inspiring others to know what your sources of inspiration were.
    Otherwise I have certainly enjoyed gaining such insight into your life. I will admit that prior to this film I had never heard of you or your story, however the movie was created to be personal, to be interactive, and to lead me to a level of comfort with you that I can send this reflection to you without hesitation. So thanks for portraying that level of openness in the film.

    I wish you the best in the future, truly.

    Sincerely,
    -Hope For A Better World (Emily)

  50. Cindy Weasel Head says:

    Dear Dr. Cornett,

    I have recently watched the documentary : “Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer?” (National Film Board of Canada, 2009). My initial reaction to the first 30 minutes of this documentary was; I really enjoyed, and was fascinated by, your teaching method, and wondered “why can’t I have more instructors like this?” Being a First Nation woman, I grew up within a context of conflicting educational paradigms; on one hand I was schooled in the “formal education system” where I rarely questioned what I was being taught (until of course when I got older and began to realize it’s flaws, especially in the sense of how it portrayed aboriginal people, or failed to). On the other hand, I was fortunate to grow up in an environment where much of my family and community held on to their traditional values, as well as their teaching methods. I therefore had the opportunity to learn of my people, ancestors, spirituality, and the land through stories, ceremonies, and other methods. What remained a constant throughout my educational experience is that these two knowledge systems never mixed. However, watching this film, I appreciate your method of teaching and pursing knowledge. It did not just regurgitate previous methods of the “formal education system” and its epistemology, but attempted to pursue the truth through a different lens. I took notes while watching this film and the things that I wrote down were; “unorthodox, put education in practice (ask the spiritual aspect, investigating the “sacred”), experience art in different ways, sense of self, and taking a stand in the public domain”. As I was watching this, and taking it in, I thought about John Trudell’s quote “I’m just a human being trying to make it in a world that is very rapidly losing it’s understanding of being human”. For me this put into context what the “first 30 minutes” of this documentary was about.
    However, as I finished watching the documentary I began to feel outraged as to what happened to you. As a student, I appreciate the method you utilized for teaching. From what I took from the film, although unorthodox, you were able to produce an environment that is “learnable” and “retainable”, the latter I find to be difficult to achieve, especially in University when all kinds of information is constantly coming at you from every direction. Therefore it is truly something special when a course, not only teaches you, but also encourages and inspires you to go deeper then just a textbook. That is why I really feel like an injustice has been committed, not only against you, but also against learning. And when I say learning, I mean the alternative means of learning, like I mentioned above, I know and appreciate the methods that my community and family uses to pass knowledge on, but whether or not this is considered valid in the academic world is another question. It is also apparent to me how current academic practices tend to be one dimensional, and doesn’t really delve deeper into the topic, or ask question like how do you feel about the topic? Does this matter to you? In other words, in order to do academic work properly we have to take our “self” out of it. In the long run, does this really benefit us? Or humanity?
    Going back to the film…I do find it very valiant by the way in which you have responded to your dismissal (not giving up, and not seeking revenge but wanting to know the truth), as well as the students who stand by their professor. You truly are putting into practice what you’ve been teaching, and that is “seeking the truth”. I admire you for your courage and taking a stand against an injustice, that I believe to be, was clearly uncalled for.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

    Sincerely,

    C.

  51. Nada says:

    Dearest Dr, Cornett:

    I am writing in reference the documentary about your story, so to speak.
    I have watched it 3 times and can’t say that I understand what you are going through, however it has provoked much thought in me.
    I have many ideas of why this all transpired but then I get confused as to why something like this suddenly happens after 15 years. WHAT DID YOU DO?
    I’m certain you have heard it all before however, I believe that in this society we are made to do like everyone else. School is a place where we regurgitate what is being taught and those who are good at it, are commended and praised with wonderful grades that don’t reflect real life knowledge. From a young age this society is made to build workers who behave well and excel at it. Good behavior is rewarded with an eventual raise in pay… maybe not always enough but enough to not question the process. And vice versa bad behavior is punished and sometimes results in a loss of work. My brother has his priorities off right now. He thinks he is right in what he is doing. His job is creating stress and his family is suffering from it. He needs to purchase his self worth somewhere else! Sometimes a job is replaceable and sometimes a job is ones life… good workers! This society enforces this!!!!
    I believe that once people are empowered to feel and think they will want to change the society they are apart of. Maybe after enough people are empowered, one must question why they are empowered and who EXACTLY gives them the right to step out of line. At this point the powers that be step in….
    I admit I cried during the film, I guess for more than one reason.
    I cried at the injustice done, the idea of so many people being changed and through that growing, All the tearing down of walls that society has put up since K-4, it was a bittersweet cry.
    After which I thought without the injustice I would never have heard of this and quite possibly never experienced learning in this style. As we in this society tend to lean towards definite ends and linear thought because we are trained this way.

    I was raised with strict rules from colonized people…. Coming from a residential school survivor, I the offspring am much more colonized then my parents and at a far better standard than any school could have taught. I’m not sure why I have the need to mention this but I think it has a strong importance.
    The struggles you are to face are merely another type of school, as we are really here to learn and face that which needs to be faced. Quite possibly you are here to teach me! And your journey here is the only one you could have made to get to me.

    ***I suppose that would be egotistical of me but in my universe it is to the end, about me and I understand your path is as well only about you. For instance when you close your eyes tonight, how many others will be in your head….
    We must not be selfish but in order to truly help in this world I must think of this shell first.
    I must admit I also cried feeling envious of the person who was able to stand up for himself and ask questions and push for an answer. This very empowered individual must have some sort of privilege to demand answers! I think it has a fair bit to do with my background and the people I come from. I don’t tend to do that, and I know many more who don’t less than I.
    From hearing your students speak about you, the style in which you teach imprints the most important part of you onto their souls, the part which deep down matters the most. I don’t think the creators of workers will ever appreciate and could never appreciate, as it creates thought provoking ideas. Which bring many afraid to fall from their steep towers of spirit breaking and profit making.

    I wonder if they feel….

    This should be anonymous

    Goonaki

  52. Shannon says:

    After watching this film I feel a bit sad. You seemed like the kind of professor that really enjoyed your job, cared about the students and made the class interesting and enjoyable for the students. It also makes me wonder how often this kind of thing happens to teachers at post-secondary institutes, that we just don’t hear about and so we are unaware that this kind of thing happens to them. I know one professor whom I’ve had recently, who was not given any courses to teach this fall. I had not really thought much about it until after watching this film. Now it makes me wonder about the circumstances by which she was not given any classes, or if it was for some unreasonable, or completely unknown reason as well. It also seems like a strange choice that McGill would prefer to pay out money in a settlement than to just reinstate you, since all you wanted was to simply be able to teach again. I was also very impressed with the way that you and your family have reacted to the situation. You seem to have handled the whole upset with dignity, respect, patience, and generally in a very mature fashion.

  53. R. Cottonwood says:

    Reflection and Critique of Alanis Obomsawin’s film ‘Professor Norman Cornett: ‘Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer?’

    I felt many things as I watched this documentary on Dr. Cornett—the most prevalent feeling was something resembling heartache. I saw a man who loves learning, teaching and conversing with students—not a ‘bad’ teacher by any stretch of the imagination. The quote ‘bad things shouldn’t happen to good people’ was a recurrent thought throughout the documentary. You could tell from the in-class recordings and the personal reflections from the students that Dr. Cornett was deeply cared for and respected by those he had a chance to influence. It makes me upset that he was dismissed based on the fact that he treated students like complete beings—not empty shells that need to be filled with knowledge. He respected his students right to speak their minds and express themselves in a non-analytical kind of way. His took his teaching role seriously, in that it was his job to guide student learning and encourage students to better understand themselves and the society in which they live. His learning style was ‘reflexive’, and—to me—that is the best kind of learning. Reflexive learning is important in personal development because it allows you to better understand the emotion behind something that provokes/intellectually stimulates you. Dr. Cornett’s dedication to ‘developing the self’ was one of the characteristics he was praised for by a colleague at McGill—too bad that colleague wasn’t on the board!
    Although Dr. Cornett seemed to be greatly loved by his students, it seems as if McGill’s educational norms were not being met and for that reason he was stigmatized and released. I wonder if the Dean and the other members who supported Dr. Cornett’s dismissal even came to one of his classes, participated, and took his teaching method seriously. I’m going to assume the negativity surrounding Dr. Cornett was somehow related to his subjective, self-reported, participatory-focused school doctrine. Perhaps the administration was in favor of a more analytical, grade focused approach? Someone who is a methodological left-brain thinker may think his dialogical sessions were ‘impractical’, but I wonder if they ever read the reflections submitted by other left-brain thinkers? Additionally, allowing students to write in a ‘stream of consciousness’ style, which is unconcerned with correctness, may have reduced student insecurity and fostered better learning. If the majority of the student’s grade was based on participation, you would have to assume that everyone in the class would have to open up to the experience eventually, thus expanding their capacity to learn. Isn’t that the objective of post-secondary education? It would makes sense that prior to deciding Dr. Cornett’s academic fate, one of the administrators should have done something to this extent to understand what all the ‘fuss’ was about. One large and encompassing critique of the documentary is that we know absolutely nothing about McGill and their motives for dismissing Dr. Cornett. We can make assumptions about why Dr. Cornett was released, but without anyone representing McGill in the film, we are left to formulate our own inferences. It would have been much better to hear the other side of the story, however, it was mentioned in the credits that McGill University was asked to participate in the film and they failed to reply to Obomsawin’s requests. That is obviously their choice, but cinematically, the viewers are left with many questions regarding the circumstances of Dr. Cornett’s dismissal.
    As one of the participants noted during the documentary, Dr. Cornett ‘actually cared’ about his students, and took the time to know each person on an individual level. I have had many teachers who were kind and good teachers, but never took the time to get to know me and what makes me tick. Obviously class size has something to do with the ability of the instructor ‘to get to know’ everyone, but Dr. Cornett was able to remember people’s fake names (as illustrated in the film’s complementation scene) as well as their real names and personal stories. That in itself shows accelerated dedication to student-teacher involvement. Again, I am curious on what grounds Dr. Cornett was dismissed. I enjoyed the film but was left with many questions.. I am looking forward to meeting and seeing Dr. Cornett in action!

  54. Amber Collinge says:

    The film regarding Dr. Cornett’s teaching style and him being removed from McGill University invokes a great amount of thought on what the actual task of a University is in modern academics. I have always had a feeling that Universities weren’t as focused on exploration and pushing the boundaries of knowledge as I had hoped. I sit in some classes with professors that had little excitement for what they are teaching the students, reading off their powerpoints that are copied exactly from the textbook. I feel that at Universities we should be learning new ways to learn and pushing what we know. Dr. Cornett was using a new way of teaching that was allowing the students to feel what they are learning and not just memorize what people higher in the academic world feel is important. The teaching style that Dr. Cornett practiced at McGill went strongly against the teaching style the university encouraged all teachers to use. The film made me feel anger that as a student I do not have control over my education and we are encouraged not to be honest in our work or reach for more knowledge beyond what the teachers can provide.
    If we are going to apply Dr. Cornett’s situation to the situation of Indigenous people across the world I think we should look deeper into the use of the word assimilate that was used throughout the film. McGill wanted to assimilate Dr. Cornett into the mainstream framework that the rest of the school is teaching under. The school thought that Cornett’s teaching is far outside the way of teaching that is used and therefore should change his teaching style to fit into the mainstream style. This is similar to how the mainstream system views that traditional way of knowledge of indigenous people and that because they are so far outside the norm they should assimilate into mainstream society. I think that we must embrace the cultures and people that we marginalize and accept that the mainstream is homogenizing our world.
    Looking at this film in the context of the global community I think it should demonstrate the fear that mainstream society has for those who threaten the ideologies and structures that are currently set up. When we out cast those who are outside the norm we are doing an injustice to academics, we have to embrace those that are pushing the boundaries of what we know and make us uncomfortable with a new way of thinking. The world commonly does not want to take a chance with groups and individuals that make this happen. I wonder when or where a teaching style such as Dr. Cornett’s would be accepted? I think that with the way that the current systems are that very few places could accept this way of teaching. I personally and as well as other students that I go to school with would appreciate his teaching style that no longer focused on what was right and started looking at what was honest and real. I want an education that teaches me how to cultivate my own ideas not the ideas of someone else. How am I suppose to be creative and bring something new to the world when all that I have been taught is what other people think and how I should think to fit into the mainstream.

  55. Anne-Claire says:

    Merci pour le partage de cette vidéo !
    C’est magnifique ! magnifique et tragique… Vous êtes remarquable, j’aurais adoré avoir un enseignant comme vous !!! Tellement !!! Quelle ironie cette fin au bon, au juste, au bien.
    Que faisiez-vous de mal?! Ils sont incapables de citer une seule raison pour ce renvoi car la jalousie, la peur ne sont pas des raisons avouables…Ils n’aiment pas votre méthode, soit, mais elle fonctionne, alors pourquoi pas ?! pourquoi pas !! Je suis révoltée ! Et tellement désolée pour vous.
    En tout cas bravo pour votre courage et merci pour cette foi que vous avez en l’être humain, pour la confiance et le respect que vous lui accordez à travers votre enseignement!

  56. Erich says:

    Touched and inspired to have seen the film as it strikes a chord with my intuition of how the dialogic method/stream of consciousness writing can lead to advanced creativity of which our society is desperately in great need! After watching the film I’ve feel a resurgence to take up a routine of writing more, disregarding rationality and embracing the flow of consciousness especially by recording dreams, and improvising more when I play music. These recognitions are what truly enrich my life with satisfying sensations of presence, which conventional doctrines of rationality and financial/material accumulation can never yield, as they leave one wanting more and more.
    I also feel highly privileged to have been in contact with you Mr. Cornett and eagerly anticipate the arrangement for your visit for a screening and discussion/questioning of your film!
    Best Wishes and All the Power to you !

  57. Bari Miller says:

    Dear Dr. Cornett,
    I found the documentary very refreshing. I think I can summarise my feelings about your teaching style with one long audible sigh of relief. My viewing of this documentary came in a very convenient time in my life as recently I have become more disenchanted with university, namely the teaching and evaluating methods which many instructors (especially in first and second year courses) employ. I am fed up with instructors taking subjects which I have a great interest in, and passion for, and then making it the most insufferable topic I’ve ever had shoved down my throat. Don’t even get me started on multiple choice exams (A.K.A pointless trivia games). Learning about dialogic teaching seemed so obvious to me, I knew there MUST be some sort of alternative to my experience. As a huge fan of Plato and the Great Thinkers, the dialogic method just seems so natural to anyone who really cares about learning and teaching.
    However, I did have some critiques, which are also questions, about the documentary. Firstly, if there was a student who didn’t like the dialogic method or you, why didn’t they get interviewed? Secondly, is it possible that all the field trips and guest appearances in the class were costing McGill a lot of money? Finally, I was curious to know how grading worked within your class. Is it possible that too many students were getting A’s and the department thought it was not academically suitable?

    Respectfully,
    Bari Miller

  58. Snow Wright says:

    I watched the film, and I had the opportunity to witness Dr Cornett’s dialogical methods within the context of a university classroom in Portland, Oregon where he spoke. As an ESL teacher, I can say that Dr Cornett’s approach to teaching clearly shows that he truly cares about each individual student, and for this reason, his approach would naturally foster a higher level of intrinsic motivation in his learners. Teachers are usually very appreciative of methods that foster intrinsic motivation, because motivated students learn, and retain far more of what is being taught. Dr Cornett’s revolutionary dialogical approached is also brain-based since it involves stimulating multiple areas of the brain at once. In turn, this enhances retention, and encourages a more positive experience for both teacher and student. In addition, Dr Cornett’s dialogical approach is truly a Godsend for those of us who have unique visual or kinesthetic learning styles, while it also addresses and validates the dignity and personhood of each student individually. It is great to learn in such a positive and inviting environment, and it is clear that Dr Cornett has left a living legacy for each of his students. As a teacher, I can say that he has inspired me to grow in my own methods of engagement with students, so that my students will also benefit from what I have gleaned from his student centered teaching methods. Though he was unfairly robbed of his long-standing career at McGill University, the seeds that he has planted into the lives of his students will continue to grow and enrich others lives as he has enriched each one of his students. In my opinion, Dr Cornett’s unique teaching methods would be great as the standard- bearer for brain-based teaching everywhere. This dialogical teaching method is not only validating for each individual student, but it encourages the creative thought process, as well as, higher- level learning.

  59. Cassie says:

    This film was able to open up my mind to the positive effects of a teaching style that is much like Dr. Cornett’s. The passion that he has for his students and the subjects at hand is very evident and inspiring. My question now is, how can the education system fit in this type of teaching/learning style to the classroom setting?

  60. Billy says:

    It deeply concerns me that our institutions of higher learning would prefer to turn out rote learners who can parrot ideas, but often have no idea what they really think about subjects, than students who have been taught to think for themselves. Dr. Cornett has given his students a gift, which clearly they recognize and are grateful for. Teachers and independent thinkers like Dr. Cornett are one in a million, we should recognize such contributers to humanity, not silence them…..

  61. De la dignité humaine

    Profondément indigné par le mutisme obstiné de l’administration de l’Université McGill en ce qui a trait aux raisons qui auraient pu justifier le licenciement du professeur Norman Cornett, je questionne, au nom des droits de l’homme et de la justice sociale, l’authenticité et l’intégrité des principes qui président à la mission de cet établissement universitaire.

    La mission de toute université n’est-elle pas de favoriser l’évolution grâce à l’acquisition et à l’intégration d’un savoir-être et d’un savoir-faire? Or évoluer , c’est coévoluer. Coévoluer, c’est créer. La créativité est le moteur de l’histoire. Coévoluer, c’est dialoguer. Quand l’étudiant et l’enseignant s’inspirent l’un de l’autre, alors les deux s’épanouissent ensemble. N’est-ce pas là le but de l’éducation? N’est-ce pas là l’approche pédagogique du professeur Cornett ?

    Grâce à l’éducation, l’espèce humaine évolue vers un mieux-être et un mieux- faire. Mais dans une société où le savoir-faire menant au savoir-avoir précède le savoir-être, et où l’utile précède l’agréable, l’humanisme, fondé sur le respect des libertés sera toujours menacé.

    L’université aurait-elle troqué le processus pour le procédé, l’inné pour l’acquis, l’imagination créatrice pour la logique et la rationalité, l’autorité pour la liberté? Il ne s’agit pas ici de diviser mais d’unifier tous ces paramètres de la connaissance. L’étudiant apprend à apprendre dans le but de mieux comprendre et mieux le monde dans lequel il vit. L’enseignant ne doit-il pas donner à ses étudiants l’opportunité de développer, dans un climat agréable où règne la confiance, une réflexion autonome sur les reflets de ce monde? Et pour ce faire, l’art de la communication authentique, du dialogue ouvert, qui répond au pourquoi des choses n’est-il pas aussi nécessaire que les technologies de l’information qui ne se préoccupent que du où, du quand, du combien et du comment des choses?

    Le manque de respect de l’Université McGill à l’endroit du professeur Norman Cornett ne remet-il pas en cause le fondement de la dignité humaine?

    Raôul Duguay
    Artiste et philosophe

  62. Stephanie Bolster says:

    Having had the privilege of being a guest poet in one of Dr. Cornett’s dialogic sessions, I’ve been marked by that rare opportunity to see my work’s effect on readers in the most raw form possible (short of entering the consciousnesses of these readers). Rewarding and challenging in the best possible ways, it was a transformative experience, one that transcended my belief of what is possible in a classroom, be that classroom housed within a university or a gallery. As both a writer and a teacher, I learned a great deal from Dr. Cornett’s attentive and accepting ear, and I aim to create in my classes the same sense of trust and openness — and also a sense of responsibility to oneself and one’s peers — that I saw during that session. Watching the documentary reminded me of all this, and renewed my sense of frustration and disappointment that, as one student suggested quite eloquently in the film, McGill was not large enough to include a teacher like Dr. Cornett. I feel fortunate to teach in a creative writing program that encourages (indeed, requires) independent thinking, deep-reaching expression, and alert listening, and I only wish that Dr. Cornett had been permitted to continue to offer his students at McGill such an experience. It would be easy to say that it is their loss, but, sadly, such is not the case. The loss to Dr. Cornett and to his students (past, present, future) is incalculable. That the film permits his teachings to reach “students” who have not met him personally is a gift, however, and Montreal is fortunate that he continues to be a dynamic presence, drawing a web of connections, asking questions, and soliciting responses, from which we all benefit.

    • Michael Duggan says:

      I was grateful for the opportunity to sit in on Dr. Cornett’s class in indigenous studies at the University of Calgary. The academy and students are indebted to Dr. Cornett for making learning an existential experience. Dr. Bolster identifies responsibility as an essential effect of Dr. Cornett’s dialogic approach to teaching. As I contemplated the rapport between Dr. Cornett and various students I reflected on my responsibility to let my students come to know my own history so that they would be better able to recognize the importance of knowing theirs. We are shaped by our experiences and the stories of those experiences shape our relationships with everyone in our lives. Teaching is never a communication of information because the human beings are designed to seek transformation, indeed, transformation into the person they are. Dr. Cornett enables students to find their inner life and to cultivate the courage to express that life. Authenticity is the name of the game because only a genuine human being can be creative. The class developed momentum in identifying the societal structures that repress and oppress. However, this class also pointed out that we need to generate environments that make it safe for students to shed the masks that all of us wear even as we defy the current status quo. Every person seeks freedom to be themselves but far too few find it in a classroom. I am grateful that Dr. Cornett has shown us both some pathways and the cost of pursuing such freedom. We can be thankful that he is able to continue teaching in Montreal while regretting that an esteemed university like McGill did not validate his pursuit of freedom for his students. I now focus not only on the answers but more especially on the questions that my students want to raise in our classes. I am grateful for the many ways Dr. Cornett invites us to pursue new pathways of learning.
      With gratitude,
      Michael Duggan

  63. Le documentaire est “une arme au poing”. Comme elle l’avait faite derrière les barricades lors du conflit de Kahnesatake/Oka (1990), la cinéaste abénakise Alanis Obomsawin “déconstruit” une fois de plus un pan de la puissance institutionnelle au service du pouvoir dominant, ici l’élite de l’université McGill. Elle met en lumière l’immense Humanité, au sens de générosité, d’écoute et de mise en valeur de l’Autre, des autres, du professeur Cornett. Sorte de Socrate mais dans les salles de cours contre le pharisianisme des certitudes, le professeur Cornett “ouvre” la pédagogie contre toute démagogie avec une sensibilité à la base de toutes les amitiés et les sciences. Au mutisme de l’étouffement de l’institution qui croyait que “l’affaire allait sombrer dans le silence de l’oubli”, ce film et son contenu porte partout (sur la toile) un dépassement comme art engagé qui, symboliquement et à long terme, terrasse cette part indifférente, parce qu’éloignée de l’humain, de l’élite institutionnelle même dans l’enseignement.

  64. Philippe O'Reilly says:

    Les méthodes d’enseignement du docteur Cornett me semblent mettre en application la proposition des humanistes: “connais-toi toi-même” d’une façon originale. Je crois que M. Cornett a fait preuve de beaucoup de courage en élaborant sa propre méthode d’enseignement, qui, selon les témoignages des étudiants, réussissait à éveiller leur esprit à de nouvelles façons de comprendre le monde. Je ne sais pas si la comparaison est trop audacieuse, mais j’ose quand même rappeler que de grands éducateurs, tels que Socrate dans la grèce antique ou Abélard durant le Moyen-Âge, ont aussi eu recours au dialogue pour éveiller la conscience et l’esprit critique de leurs interlocuteurs ou élèves. Un congédiement sans explications est une réaction très décevante de la part de l’administration de McGill. A mon avis, l’administration aurait au moins pu commenter la pédagogie du docteur Cornett, même si elle n’était pas d’accord avec celle-ci. Cela aurait pu éviter de spéculer sur de fausses raisons. Également, cela aurait pu alimenter un débat sur cette forme de pédagogie et permettre à tous ceux qui ont été inspirés par ce documentaire de mieux comprendre.

    Je souhaite que vous trouviez une façon de poursuivre votre enseignement, même si c’est à l’extérieur du cadre institutionnel.

    Salutations,
    Philippe O’Reilly

  65. Le professeur Cornett est le genre de professeur que tout étudiant rêve d’avoir et que toute université devrait avoir.
    Bonne chance professeur !

  66. Wilfred Buchanan says:

    Thank you, Norm, for drawing out of us our reactions to art – in my case it was the feelings that I needed to discover: feelings that are neither right nor wrong but that simply are. Then, when we heard, in the presence of the artist, what others saw and felt, we were enriched again. Your acceptance of any effort, no matter how hesitating, was very affirming.

    Wilfred Buchanan

  67. carmendoreal says:

    I was so touched by the documentary about Dr. Norman Cornett, a special teacher who promoted the creativity and independent thinking, as much as I was feeling the injustice of his dismissal from Mc. Gill University.
    He will continue to be a big influence in Montreal, because Dr. Cornett is enthusiastic in his academic work, super smart and effective. You get a sense that he not only has a high level of integrity, but he is sincere in helping people to succeed.
    His thoughts and teaching style is brilliant! Please, remember all the students that he has influenced!
    I can’t believe that our institutions do not promote creativity and independent thinking!
    “Dr. Cornett has taken us out of the box and given us reason and a higher order of thinking to consider. His methods are on point, they push us and open us up to possibilities of further understanding history, religion, art and all subjects. He approaches as an artist approaches a blank canvas, searching and challenging, looking at the past to make the future. To think and be awake to how we approach learning and history. He is the refreshing philosophical leader that is needed in higher education. A creative energetic force that needs to be celebrated in this crucial time where disconnect is the norm and deeper understanding of the world around us is lacking.
    I am pleased to have him in my company and be able to share discussion and ideas. Dr. Cornett allows us to remember how valuable process is and as the late sculpture John Chamberlin said,
    <>’’ Thank you for expressing so well our feelings and thoughts, Frank Caracciolo !
    Dr. Cornett is a brilliant and forward thinking professor and art reading strategist. He gives excellent, concrete and cutting-edge solutions to slice through the veil and show us how to deliver our message.
    I have been extremely impressed with his unique ability to unlash our inner self to develop creative ways to monetize ideas and make them easy to implement in our daily life manifestation.

    In academicals field professor Cornett is a game changer.
    His vision is clear and precise and that clarity will provide the foundation for our educational institutions to soar to the next level.
    This type of exploration in an honest, open, and nonjudgmental setting encourages critical thinking and self-analysis through our shared experiences.
    Dr. Cornett changed the face of teaching with new strategy;
    He gives us a great foundation for our bigger vision. His classes rock the world, have changed the face of savor of Religions, Arts, Humanity and Beauty, because Dr. Cornett is an intuitive and fiery visionary!
    That way his class should be a part of every University’s curriculum.
    ’’ It is a shame that McGill University did not hold onto him, because he offered so much.
    Thankfully, there is a wonderful film by the NFB’s Alanis Obamsawin, so that people can catch a glimpse of this brilliant professor in action. It should inspire educational institutions to hire Dr. Cornett so that he can continue to lead his exceptional workshops. Joyce Borenstein
    filmmaker ’’
    We aren’t the same after meeting him.
    Dr. Cornett’s dialogical session was a wonderful learning experience, and” it was a fantastic union of artist, music, and audience in a very honest, no-holds-barred format.” It was a glorious session with everyone fully engaged and loving the process.
    He exposed us to many more prospects building our education and helped us to create a personal platform for our massive growth thorough the free thinking and speech.
    Dr Cornett rapid fire generate ideas that will rock our life.
    He poses a wealth of knowledge that he shares unconditionally tweaks that allowed us to take things to a whole new level.
    He is a philosopher, a religion- history and art pro teacher with a brain that generates brilliant ideas like speed lighting.
    Dr. Cornett is extremely positive, supportive and insightful.
    He shared insightful the freedom ideas on how to articulate the ’’pain point’’ in a way that is enticing and seductive. The suggestions are very doable, very intuitive and gets right to the heart of all the things.
    ’’ Freedom is an inner awareness, a knowing that nothing can touch the truth of who you are’’
    Thank you so much Dr. Cornett for all your insights! You are a Genius!
    Carmen Doreal

  68. Angèle Verret says:

    Cher Professeur Cornett

    Je souhaiterais pouvoir répondre comme vous vous y attendez, mais il m’est toujours tellement difficile de recourir aux mots.
    Je suis bien évidemment sensible à votre bataille et sympathique à votre égard mais je ne souhaite pas consacrer le temps que nécessiterait une telle réponse pour moi. Je suis désolée et comprenez bien que ce n’est d’aucune manière parce que je ne crois pas en votre enseignement, mais tous n’ont pas votre générosité et votre facilité de transmission, malheureusement.
    Par ailleurs, sachez que j’ai fais connaitre ce film sur Facebook et qu’il a voyagé de cette manière à travers le monde et à plusieurs reprises. J’ai également transmis l’adresse de wordpress afin que ceux qui le désiraient ou qui le pouvaient, puissent transmettre à leur tour leur point de vue.

    Je continu de suivre vos activités avec intérêt,

    Mes meilleures salutations
    Angèle Verret

  69. Je suis propriétaire de galeries d’art à Montréal.

    Le travail de Norman Cornett avec les étudiants universitaires mérite toute mes félicitations!

    J’ai pu visionner le vidéo-film documentaire de Madame Alanis Obomsawin sur son œuvre. Ce qu’il fait est très précieux pour notre société car il travaille à sa source : avec nos jeunes gens. Notre future.

    Son œuvre me touche très particulièrement. Il fait connaître aux jeunes la partie oubliée de leur Féminin sacré par la découverte de leur créativité toute personnelle. Par la prise de position et le questionnement, ils apprennent beaucoup sur eux-mêmes, à leur grande surprise! Ils apprennent à s’aimer en apprenant à se connaître. Fantastique!

    Ses élèves apprennent à Vivre, à Sentir et à Aimer les autres qui ne sont pas comme eux, mais qui sont tout aussi aimables qu’eux. Cette façon d’enseigner pourrait éventuellement, si elle était mise en pratique plus souvent, contribuer à enrayer les guerres de notre planète. Admirez comme ils apprécient aussi cette façon de se faire enseigner (voir des commentaires de plusieurs étudiants du Dr. Cornett). Le professeur Cornett vient combler un Manque. Un Grand Manque. Je lui lève mon chapeau!

    Effectivement, nous favorisons la Supériorité de la Raison, la Logique, le Système de notes : notre Masculin sacré dans nos universités. C’est bien. Mais qu’enseigne-t-on sur nos pouvoirs d’Intuition, de Méditation, de Ressenti, de Création : notre Féminin sacré? Et pourquoi? Qu’en est-il de notre responsabilité à enseigner à nos jeunes des Valeurs morales et esthétiques? C’est l’Oubli. Le Deni de notre partie féminine crée ce problème intrinsèque aux grandes sociétés actuelles. C’est pourquoi les statistiques sur le nombre de dépressions – de nos jeunes et de nos moins jeunes – augmentent tant malheureusement comme c’est souligné dans le documentaire.

    Aussi, je vais conserver ses informations précieuses pour moi. Mon but de vie étant de ramener la Vérité sur l’oubli de notre Féminin sacré, par la Beauté, oui, mais aussi par toutes les autres façons d’aborder notre intériorité propre pour pouvoir ” se connecter ” avec le Divin en nous.

  70. Yves says:

    J’ai suivi les cours du Dr Cornett à l’extérieur du contexte académique, et sa méthode consiste à confronter les participants aux textes (principalement). L’écriture sans censure est un moyen d’approfondir la relation à ce texte et à son auteur. On est très loin de la psycho-pop. Il sort de cette expérience une relation profonde et très éclairante, non seulement pour soi, mais aussi en écoutant les réactions des autres membres de la classe. Ceci dit, j’enseigne aussi au cégep et j’enseigne auss de façon magistrale. J’ai utilisé des bribes de la méthode du Dr Cornett pour quelques éléments de mon enseignement, mais il est clair que je ne pourrais pas respecter les devis ministériels en n’utilisant que cette méthode. Je ne suis pas certain non plus que cette méthode puisse être utilisée par quelqu’uin d’autre que le Dr Cornett. Mais c’est quelque chose qui mérite d’être vécu. Et c’est dommage que la structure institutioinnelle soit incapable d’intégrer cette diversité.

  71. Hugues Brouillet says:

    J’enseigne la philosophie au cégep, et mon enseignement est classique, de type magistral. La question du contenu, de la matière d’un cours est pour moi fondamentale, c’est le fond sur lequel repose mon autorité ( au sens arendtien du terme ) pour me présenter devant un groupe d’étudiants. Dans le documentaire sur Norman Cornett, il est plutôt difficile de se faire une opinion à ce sujet, les étudiants évoquent une sorte d’ «expérience existentielle», cela est fort bien, mais il me semble que pour rendre justice à un enseignement comme celui que dispense sûrement Norman Cornett, il aura fallu au moins entrevoir la matière traitée. Au final, est-ce une thérapie de groupe ? Un survol d’aspects de la culture et du monde-vécu ? Le documentaire me laisse perplexe et comme dans la chanson de Pink Floyd, je pense que si le professeur ne doit évidemment pas user du pouvoir et du sarcasme, il a par ailleurs un rôle de passeur de la matière qu’ il connait, une matière que d’autres ne connaissent pas et que cela est peu en lien avec des stages d’écriture automatique.
    Encore une fois, je suis persuadé que la très vive admiration des étudiants à l’égard de Norman Cornett repose sur autre chose qu’une version sophistiquée d’enseignement psycho-pop, mais le documentaire me laisse avec plus de questions que de réponses.

    Hugues Brouillet

  72. Bonjour, Professeur

    Je viens de regarder, de France, le documentaire qui est consacré à vos méthodes !

    Je prends en charge des enfants en difficultés éducatives, scolaires et sociales ! Je suis complètement saisie, depuis que j’ai vu ce film : les méthodes employées… par le haut, en éveillant la conscience, sont au cœur de mes pratiques avec des enfants de primaire et collège en France !
    … J’ai des résultats… qui ne sont pas complètement “reconnus” car je ne suis pas du “sérail” éducatif, bien qu’avec des retours très gratifiants des chefs d’établissements…
    On fait des “commissions” des “rencontres”, etc… mais on n’écoute pas les gens qui, sur le terrain, inventent des méthodes… souvent même avec les enfants…

    Je n’ai pas fait d’études spécialisées – genre sciences de l’éducation, mais je cherche beaucoup et à chaque écueil, j’invente !
    Merci de ce documentaire qui m’a fait un bien fou, même si le sort qui vous a été réservé m’a révoltée : j’ai encore appris !

  73. Mary Lance says:

    I first had the pleasure of meeting Norman Cornett when he led a discussion at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts following a screening of my documentary on Agnes Martin. It was the best discussion of a film I have participated in. Having seen Alanis Obomsawin’s fine documentary, I’ve now had the opportunity to see Professor Cornett’s work in the university classroom– inspired and inspiring, those classes were a great gift to the students and, I’m sure, to the artists and scholars who participated in them.

    It is hard to understand his dismissal and even harder to imagine why McGill has remained silent about it.

    The film is very moving.

  74. Lise Gagné says:

    Dr. Cornett,
    Je suis allée à la CinéRobothèque visionner le documentaire qu’Alanis Obomsawin a consacré à votre histoire professorale à McGill. Une histoire bouleversante qui m’est apparue cruellement injuste ! Quand je vous recroiserai dans les vernissages, je saurai dorénavant mieux qui vous êtes. Un être d’exception et d’une très grande sensibilité !

    Le support et les témoignages de vos étudiants et celui de hautes personnalités est éloquent. Je souhaite que ce touchant documentaire et les nombreux appuis que vous recevez serviront à éveiller les consciences. Quand l’adage des entreprises qui n’ont pas d’âme implique une université c’est assez troublant… Je souhaite que vous rebondissiez et pratiquiez à nouveau votre profession que vous aimez tant. Pour que votre créativité pédagogique et votre expérience fassent évoluer d’autres étudiants.

    Bon vents !

    Lise Gagné, artiste.

  75. EQ says:

    Having followed his classes and seeing where he is now, I believe Dr Cornett has showed us his metal: he is a man of perseverance and dedication. There is something Heroic about this man which goes beyond the somewhat tired narrative of “fighting the system”. I think his true strength is in his love for Truth and persons and if this love means fighting the system or working within the system, so be it. It is his current ability to move on and continue his dialogue with the community at large that I find the most heroic and virtuous aspect of his. Mcgill’s unwise decisions be darned, we cannot force Universities and prospect students to make their decisions according to our will, but at this point I believe many have been made aware of the scandal and maybe this will have a lasting impact.

  76. Yves says:

    J’ai moi-même suivi quelques cours avec le Dr Cornett après sa sortie de McGill et je dois dire que tout devient plus grand. Ceux qu’on étudie, leurs oeuvres, et nous. Étant enseignant moi-même, je dois dire que je suis très fasciné par cette méthode tout à fait unique, et , avouons-le, inimitable.

  77. Eric Simon says:

    Bonjour Dr. Cornett,
    Merci de m’avoir informé de la présence du documentaire d’Alanis Obomsawin sur le site de l’ONF. Ce service est apprécié des gens comme nous qui n’habitons pas Montréal et qui n’avons pas eu la chance de voir ce documentaire sur vos démêlés avec l’Université McGill. Je vais le faire circuler aussi parmi mes étudiants et collègues. J’ai justement lu “Fahrenheit 451” de Ray Bradbury et revu le film de Truffaut cet été en pensant à nos gouvernements provincial et fédéral et à la société que nous construisons tous ensemble et j’ai aimé l’insertion de la scène du film de
    Truffaut dans le documentaire d’Alanis Obomsawin. C’est certainement un film à revoir dans le contexte social actuel. Aussi, j’ai enseigné à ma première année à Concordia en 2008 à une étudiante qui apparaît dans le film. Je crois me souvenir maintenant qu’elle m’avait dit avoir changé d’université à ce moment-là suite à votre non-renouvellement de contrat. Je n’étais pas au courant de votre histoire à cette époque. Je me souviens de la grande ouverture d’esprit et de l’audace de cette étudiante et constate que votre enseignement y avait sûrement contribué. C’est une situation difficile que vous traversez et je vous souhaite, à vous et à votre famille, encore de la force et du courage.
    Cordialement,
    Eric Simon
    Associate Professor/Painting & Drawing
    Université Concordia

  78. Dr. Cornett is such a gifted teacher. His approach to teaching is so creative and original, and humanistic. I was witness to his methods as a guest ‘presenter/filmmaker’ and as an auditing student and was fascinated, stimulated, moved, challenged. It is a shame that McGill University did not hold onto him, because he offered so much.

    Thankfully, there is a wonderful film by the NFB’s Alanis Obamsawin, so that people can catch a glimpse of this brilliant professor in action. It should inspire educational institutions to hire Dr. Cornett so that he can continue to lead his exceptional workshops.

    Joyce Borenstein
    filmmaker

  79. MM says:

    I have been asked from Dr. Cornett for a reflection for this dialogue, so I thought in true the true style of his classroom I would try to write as honestly and from the heart, and not try to edit my response too much.
    The things I’m thinking about right now have to do with the cycles of life and death and of justice and injustice and of grace. I just read an article in the Toronto Star, an interview with Olivia Chow about how she is grieving and moving forward from her husband’s death. I’m thinking about a friend, a fellow past McGill student, who is in the last 2 weeks has discovered she has a brain tumour and gave birth to her child pre-maturely by C-section in order to receive treatment (the baby is doing fantastically). I’m thinking about my own child who is still in my womb and should hopefully be making an appearance in late September, and who we may consider naming after my husband’s grandfather, who passed away hours before we planned to tell him our good news.
    I know, Norm, you too have been dealing with the loss of your wife, and I am so sorry for that.
    So its in the context of thinking about these cycles of life and death that I look at this film. Maybe its overly dramatic, but in a way, ending Dr. Cornett’s classes at McGill was like a little death. What I struggle with is when is it time to move forward with grace, like Olivia Chow, or to fight and rally against injustice. Certainly its not fair, or just, or any of those things, that my friend has a brain tumour, but can we look towards the future in a positive way, build on what IS possible, hope for the best, and focus on recovery and her beautiful daughter?
    I have been involved in social justice activism, so I know what it is to be angry and rally against injustice and try to make change. I guess I also see the life of Dr. Norm Cornett’s classes at McGill as a life well lived, that maybe we could celebrate and move forward from with grace, perhaps even seeing it as an opportunity to try something new, or reach those that may not have had access to his classes. I suppose that’s exactly the tension that Alanis Obamsawin was attempting portray in the way she put together the film and told the story. And I see that this is the work that Dr. Cornett is moving towards focusing on. I think to truly move forward really means to grieve what is lost (the McGill classes) and let it go, with grace.

  80. Frédérick Duchesne says:

    Professor Cornett,
    Votre histoire nous démontre bien que notre société n’encourage pas la jeunesse à explorer les facultés de l’esprit ou la liberté de pensée. Nous sommes encore et toujours obsédés par la performance et l’appât du gain. Nous croyons à tort que l’Université forme des Hommes libres, mais nous oublions surtout son étymologie : universitas, c’est-à-dire corporation. Peut-être que vos années à McGill étaient un accident de parcours ? J’appuie votre détermination.

  81. Mary Ellen Davis says:

    Une grande injustice, qui pourrait être corrigée avec un peu de bonne volonté…
    – Mary Ellen Davis, chargée de cours, Univ. Concordia

  82. Susan Arbit says:

    Thank you for the link to the film. It was well done and I enjoyed it.
    You asked about my reaction as a mother of a jazz musician and I will be honest with you. I think Matt would have enjoyed classes with you, and would have delved into all the subject matter, being stimulated by your teaching. What difference may it have made in his life is harder to say. You see, Matt was always able to stimulate his own thirst for learning and always went beyond assignments when really interested. He was the kind of student who would bring home his math text, for instance, and first go to the challenge problems in the back of the book to figure out how to do them, before even looking at what was assigned. He is a very self motivated person and was even as a child. I think you very well may have helped expand his interests and he would have caught on to your intention in teaching method fairly quickly; I’m just not sure of impact beyond. He wrote some excellent stories when in middle school and high school, and I thought he might go in that direction at one time. But his love of making music overwhelmed all other disciplines. I do believe that all your former students, as well as present and future students, are blessed to have the experience of your teaching. It is clear that your input has made a tremendous difference in a lot of lives. I know Matt enjoys your friendship very much and I am grateful that you have included me in some of your very interesting and enjoyable programs when I have been in Montreal.

  83. Stéphanie de Vanssay says:

    Un grand merci professeur de partager ainsi votre expérience et entendre vos étudiants est vraiment très précieux…

    Je suis actuellement en train de préparer une intervention sur le plaisir d’enseigner avec le numérique et j’ai trouvé des clés et des résonances dans le film avec ce thème. Je trouve que le numérique, quand il est aux mains des élèves, permet de susciter la curiosité par l’incertitude, permet au professeur d’apprendre tout en enseignant, amène les élèves à se forger une opinion en cherchant, triant et validant les informations, en confrontant son point de vue à celui d’autres… Bref, cela nourrit ma réflexion fort utilement.

  84. Luk Côté says:

    Bonjour Monsieur Cornett,
    J’ai enfin pris le temps d’écouter ce fameux documentaire : Professor Norman Cornett: ‘Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer?’ de Alanis Obomsawin. Je suis très touché par votre expérience et d’autant plus ému que je peux également faire un parallèle avec ma situation actuelle.

    Je n’ai qu’un regret, c’est de ne pas avoir répondu à votre invitation pour présenter ce film lorsque j’étais en poste comme agent culturel à NDG. J’étais déjà dans la tourmente et je pressentais la menace de perdre mon emploi…

    Quoiqu’il en soit, je partagerai mon appréciation de cette œuvre — le film, celui de la grande dame Obomsawin, mais aussi et surtout l’œuvre d’une vie, la vôtre! — avec ma famille, mes connaissances, amis(es) et anciens collègues professionnels.

    Vous êtes une inspiration, certainement pour toute une génération et ce film en témoigne de magnifique façon, mais également pour celles à venir, puisque l’Histoire ne retiendra que ce qui est Bon, Juste et Vrai. Votre influence a une répercussion positive à l’heure où la jeunesse (toute génération confondue) québécoise et même à travers le monde, s’indigne du manque de vision des technocrates en place. Plus que jamais le « dialogue » sans complaisance est nécessaire pour une démocratie en devenir.

    Cher Professeur, je vous remercie de votre fidélité, de votre intégrité et de votre grande générosité. En un mot vous êtes un humaniste.
    Votre engagement et votre vitalité sont très encourageants.

    S’il vous plaît, gardons le contacte Dr. Cornet et je vous prie de recevoir l’expression de mes sentiments les plus distingués.

  85. Kevin Mason says:

    I met Dr. Cornett while covering the Montreal Jazz Festival some years ago. It was a blessed meeting. He invited me to observe one of his dialogical session classes at McGill. David Amram and Matt Herskowitz were guests this particular day. To my surprise, David Amram invited me and another photographer, Joe Tuitt, to participate in the class and to discuss our coverage of the Festival. It was a wonderful learning experience, and I thought Dr. Cornett’s dialogical session process was a fantastic union of artist, music, and audience in a very honest, no-holds-barred format. It was a glorious session with everyone fully engaged and loving the process. I left thinking that this class should be a part of every University’s curriculum. This type of exploration in an honest, open, and nonjudgemental setting encourages critical thinking and self-analysis through this shared experience.

    After viewing the film, I could not understand how Dr. Cornett could be dismissed without explanation after so many years of service to McGill. Universities should be the bastion for the expression of free thought. Now, I thought of the movie “Fahrenheit 451,” and began to see McGill as a University that would choose a path that would suppress free thinking and speech. It was frustrating to watch this injustice happen to Dr Cornett, and his students. I could understand how disappointing it was for the students who spoke, because they wanted to think the best of their time at McGill. Now they were left with was a sense of betrayal. The student body and faculty of any University is a family of sorts. How could any family member do such a thing to another family member? This was the feeling I got from some student comments. It seemed McGill had made a decision without a valid case, and had abandoned reason and any sense of fairness, loyalty, or justice of any kind. I left the movie wondering how this could happen in a place like McGill, in a country like Canada. This can’t be the last word on the subject, and a sequel is needed with a better ending.

  86. guillaume says:

    C’est un sujet complexe où le mystère plane encore, semble-t-il, quant à la motivation de l’université.
    J’ai l’impression que le cadre universitaire a été dépassé par la formule du cours et qu’ils n’ont pas su quantifier, mesurer la valeur de ce qui se passait là, académiquement et humainement.
    Est-ce encore un prof ou est-ce un gourou, j’ose le terme. Il me semble que l’adhérence ( et ce que je déduis de par les commentaires de vos ex-etudiants) était plutôt de l’ordre de ce que l’on dit d’un guide spirituel (mind opener, etc, ou du genre). Cela est toujours difficile à gérer. L’aventure humaine dans une salle de classe. Quand est-ce que cela dépasse les bornes? doit-on peindre dans les cours de peinture, doit-on baiser dans les cours de sexualité?
    jusqu’où peut aller un cours universitaire? où est la limite?
    Je crois que qu’il y a eu des questionnements “administratifs”sur cette limite.
    Life is a playground, mais l’université forme les futurs techniciens d’une monde meilleur, pas ses penseurs. Cela appartient à un groupe d’élus.
    guillaume

  87. Nadine Faraj says:

    Dear Professor,

    I was really heartened watching the film and listening to you, along with Alanis Obomsawin and Francois Morelli, speak at Concordia University on March 25th. I was also truly inspired by you all, thank you for sharing your passion and your stories. I also feel disappointed in and disgusted with McGill right now. You know, your teaching style is what Hollywood movies are based on (freedom writers; mr Holland’s opus). I always thought the first purpose of a university education was to learn critical thinking, no matter what other knowlege is acquired there. It seems that you have found a way to surpass that even and actually teach self-confidence and personal engagement. I am completely on your side. 

    here is another who agrees with you: Ken Robinson. You probably know of him already, but just in case, here is a link to one of his talks : http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html

    I am curious about the links between music and environmental care outlined above by Andrew M. This is something I have considered although not so directly. I believe the key word here is care. Why should we care about the environment, other species or even future generations of our own? There are many good answers to this question. What stands out for me is the overwhelming wonder I feel in nature and the absolute fascination I have with human nature and human potential. There is a magical sort of intoxication I get from nature as well as music. These both have the ability to penetrate me completely. This magical intoxication is what makes life worth living and protecting. It also is at the root of my creativity. I draw on music as much as nature for inspiration in my art. These are two powerful sources of energy for me. They make me feel and care. So it comes back to care in the end, and maybe more importantly, staying open to feeling. If we shut off feeling how could we hope to respond to music, nature or life adequately?

    Thank you for continuing your work with inspiring Dialogic Sessions. I am happy to be in your class whenever possible.

    • Susan says:

      nature, music, painting, literature: these are more than inspirations for creativity; these are the experiences that get us through our tasks, obligations, bureaucratic ineptitude, and all the everyday hassles of life. If all we had were the hassles, what would be the point of anything…I agree, care and protect what really matters, the arts, nature and our relationships

  88. Liette Michaud says:

    Another comment, which I originally sent to Prof. Cornett and which I am copying here, at his request:
    Bonsoir!

    I’m back from the north country, or as it is called, “Blue Sky Country”, although it is really le sud du nord, pres de la ville de North Bay.

    So, I’ve viewed the film and written my stream of consciousness response, which is the way I”ve always written. I have a box of my writing stemming from my childhood and adolescence. Now that I’ve retired, one of my plans involves collating everything into an autobiographical anthology of sorts. But of course, I might succumb to procrastination and not do it.

    The director, I hope, has received recognition for this documentary which has a visual quality that reflects the struggle and emotions that you felt and that your family felt. The soundtrack is quite enjoyable, as well and your former students are extremely eloquent and candid. You have received a wonderful gift that few teachers receive and it st is the gift of appreciation. I took the train once, when it was still possible to travel from North Bay to Montreal directly and a tall young man introduced himself to me and told me how much he had appreciated a gift that I had made to him once. I did not recognize him but he reminded me that he was in the Poetry Club that I had started during my first or second year of teaching. At the end of the year, I had given him a book with blank pages and told him that it was up to him to fill it. I had totally forgotten the moment but he said that the gift had inspired him to write and that it had given him great pleasure and satisfaction over the years.

    You also gave your studnets blank pages (recycled!!) and gave them the opportunity, for 15 years, to think and express themselves. And you are continuing in that vein and pursuing your involvement with music and art.

    I was quite touched to learn that your wife had cancer and was so courageous in the face of this adversity and the segment about your children’s hike to the Grand Canyon with her request to toss the stones into the Colorado river was a very spiritual moment. I wonder if a non-native director would have included it as readily in the documentary or whether it would have fallen to the cutting-room floor. I was amazed with your wife’s painting of the cottonwood tree because I’ve recently had an experience involving tree roots which I included in my comments. Visual arts are such a blessing because they do not have the ephemeral quality of music. One can return to them again and again and be captured by them while live performances of music echo away and are gone. (Recorded music is too perfect – multiple takes and retakes, tape splitting or whatever they do now with digital recordings, etc.)

    Au plaisir.

  89. Anne Wolkenstein says:

    I wish your theatre of learning will open again. Have hope. I was so touched by the documentary I am watching, and looked you up. I think your thoughts and teaching style is brilliant. Please remember all the students that you have influenced. And you will continue to be a big influence.
    Sadly, I notice that you have also lost your wife.

    Here is a poem, author unknown, in memory of your wife:

    Do not judge a song by its duration
    Nor by the number of its notes
    Judge it by the richness of its contents
    Sometimes those unfinished are among the most poignant

    Do not judge a song by its duration
    Nor by the number of its notes
    Judge it by the way it touches and lifts the soul
    Sometimes those unfinished are among the most beautiful

    And when something has enriched your life
    And when it’s melody lingers on in your heart
    Is it unfinished?
    Or is it endless?

    (Author Unknown)

    Yes, difficult to see the silver lining at this time.
    Anne Wolkenstein, Molson, Manitoba.

  90. Liette Michaud says:

    After viewing the film, attending the second annual Jazz Liturgy Service at St. James United Church (organized by Dr. Cornett) and participating in a dialogical session after viewing a film which he brought to the church for that purpose (briefly, surrounding the debates that swirled around the “reasonable accomodations” societal dialogic sessions and the Bouchard-Taylor Commission), I think that McGill University did us all a favour. Now that Dr. Cornett has become somewhat of an impassioned freelancer, the general public is benefitting from his pedagogical approach. I recognize that he is a man with a mission but life has happened and he has deviated from his course. He is now employed by the University of Life, or is it the Church of Joyful Epiphanies or maybe, the Faculty of Jazzy Music? He is a Professor of the people, for the people and of the soul. His quest for the good, the right and the just is not directed at windmills but broadcast over the airwaves. (Although I can’t imagine why or how he stood up to Julius Grey’s advice and that man’s impressive eyebrows, intellect and common sense.)
    In the course of my working life, I’ve taught at the high school level and realized, after ten years, that I was on the wrong path. One does have a responsibility, when teaching a second language (or a third or fourth one), to focus on vocabulary, syntax, form and style and yes, one does have a responsibility to grade one’s students, but it doesn’t have to be a daily grind. It is possible to inject fun and laughter into one’s classes, to provide opportunities for empowerment, choice and belonging. The whole issues of evaluation seems to be so cruel and absurd. I would work like mad to memorize all my students’ names, get to know them as individuals within one week of the school year, then work to engage them, to teach them new concepts and then, BAM! hit them with their first report card. Tests, quizzes, etc…The students would then rate themselves based on arithmetical results. What a farce! I would tell them that the numbers did not reflect their worth as persons but I wonder if any believed me, especially since my colleagues told them differently, in no uncertain terms. Especially the math teachers…I no longer teach.
    I can well understand the link between religious studies and music. When I try to describe what it means to me, I sink into cliched thought patterns. Remember what Louis Armstrong said about understanding or defining jazz? When I think about the years I spent at university, my most vivid memory is singing in the choir which performed “Carmina Burana” with percussion and two pianos or singing in the choir which performed Mozart”s Requiem with the NAC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mario Bernardi. Or our performance of the “Missa Criolla” conducted by the composer and accompanied by musicians from South America, one of them playing an instrumet made out of an armadillo. So, freedom is also choosing to be disciplined and focused. And feeling alive and uplifted. I am still singing.
    Last week, I picked over 100 new poplars out of my mother’s front yard. You see, she had 4 mature trees cut down because they were threatening her house but neglected to ask the crew to destroy the stumps. Therefore, the roots are alive and know that the mother trees are imperiled and are shooting out all this new growth. Maybe Dr. Cornett was a tree in another reincarnation…

  91. Andrew M says:

    What a musical trend throughout. I was reading about ethnomusicology practice with respect to world music ensembles and the importance of “Bahkintian Dialogism,” and I came across this from Gage Averill:

    “The dialogical approach to intercultural studies that I advocate privileges the space of the encounter rather than the mastery of the codes. For the world music ensemble to become such a space of encounter, performers are not expected to renounce their musical selves but to bring a set of cultural and invididual experiences to the ensemble as a precursor to the production of genuine understanding of both cultural difference and commonality. The world music ensemble can thus be reconceived as a context in which students engage in dialogue and collision with musical and cultural codes other than their “first-launguage” codes. When this is the goal, students and faculty alike should find it less threatening to “interrogate” the representational politics of world music ensembles even while performing them.”

    I think this kind of exchange was what your classes allowed, metaphorically speaking.

  92. Anna Towers says:

    I was right-brain inspired by this film and would have loved to have taken courses by someone like Dr. Cornett during my own studies at McGill. Shame that our institutions do not promote creativity and independent thinking…. where are we headed as a human species???

  93. J’ai eu un grand plaisir à voir ce film rempli de toutes les qualités humaines qui me touchent. On voudrait avoir eu la chance de vivre une de ces classes où la liberté de penser est au centre. Inspirant, touchant, remarquable.

    Hélène Grandbois

  94. Lynne Noble says:

    I am the parent of a jazz musician who studied at McGill. Always a creative and conscionable thinker, my daughter devoured the opportunities provided by the classes facilitated by Professor Cornett. I believe her university experience would not have been the same without these avenues for personal growth. Now as she makes her way in the world, I see a high-minded woman with a strong sense of self, an appreciation for lifelong learning, a commitment to social responsibility, and a conscientious and humanistic regard for others.
    My daughter asked me to view the NFB documentary about Professor Cornett because she was interested in my reaction to the pedagogy. After watching the film, I too felt that McGill’s actions towards Dr. Cornett were outrageous and unjust. I am grateful that my daughter was able to experience these life lessons before McGill decided to dismiss Dr. Cornett. She was one of the lucky ones.
    Personally, the film rekindled thoughts about my own pedagogical ideas as well as memories of my own father. I shared these thoughts with my daughter:
    ” I had a chance to listen to the Cornett documentary yesterday. He certainly sounds like he is a special teacher. As much as I was left feeling the injustice of his dismissal, I felt just as amazed by his pedagogical creativity.
    When I taught secondary science, I had to stick to the curriculum because the students had to write provincial exams, but whenever I could I tried to give them opportunity to cement the real learning through process and application, such as designing their own experiments. The students loved those days. Your professor takes it to a whole new level by having his students write dialogue and personal reflections. And, he seems to bring such an eclectic curriculum to the course. How much fun that must have been!
    When I coach curling teams and teach coaching courses, one of my objectives is for the students or athletes to gain personal growth. I suppose in my own little curling corner, I am trying to encourage others to “make it real” for themselves! When I started creating the book of curling drills it was because I really needed an outlet for my own personal thoughts and ideas regarding curling development. I’m not content regurgitating CCA drills……I feel a need to create.
    I have always preached that we should be teaching people, not teaching content. My father had an enormous influence on me. He would have been so comfortable with your professor. Dad craved to learn and loved reading and analysis of thoughts and ideas. Although he got argumentative in his old age, he really was a brilliant man……and he always stated that knowledge for its own sake was useless – it had to mean something and it had to affect your being. He used to get so frustrated with people who would not engage in his many convoluted conversations. He told us that no conversation was worthwhile unless it was controversial! My father was passionate about everyone learning the truth and discovering what it meant to them personally. He truly felt the pain of world injustices and problems. Although he was trained in engineering, he was a creative person with a deep appreciation for music and the arts. He read Voltaire and Rousseau, he studied Michelangelo and de Vinci and he loved to listen to classical music – he had an exceptional baritone voice and sang in many choirs when he was younger. Interesting as well, was that Dad had an almost obsession with discussing religion. He believed he was agnostic but he said he was still searching and wanted to examine all religions. He always said that there would never be peace in the world until the religious fences were torn down. Just before he died (and he was not a well man at all) he was madly trying to find a solution to the problem of tanker spills. He tried to convince the minister of the environment (David Anderson at the time), that the government needed to prioritize environmental issues above all else. (This was the late 80’s). Your grandfather told me that he felt a special bond with you. I regret that he didn’t live long enough for the two of you to have meaningful exchanges.
    Now, I’ve gone off track talking about my father, but the documentary so reminded me of him. How lucky you were to have had Professor Cornett…..how lucky I was to have had such an eccentric yet brilliant father!”
    As a graduate of a very traditional eastern Canadian university in the 1970’s, I was unable to benefit from an experience such as that created by Dr. Cornett. Thankfully for me, my own father planted the seed for my personal pedagogy. After teaching and coaching for 35 years, experiencing many different educational trends and bringing up four children, I can appreciate the value of the lessons provided by Dr. Cornett. I am thankful that my daughter doesn’t need 35 years to appreciate this and yet has come to the same conclusions!

  95. Frank Caracciolo says:

    To all those who have taken a moment to listen to this very important message about education and the creative process,
    Dr. Cornett has taken us out of the box and given us reason and a higher order of thinking to consider. His methods are on point, they push us and open us up to possibilities of further understanding history, religion, art and all subjects. He approaches as an artist approaches a blank canvas, searching and challenging, looking at the past to make the future. To think and be awake to how we approach learning and history. He is the refreshing philosophical leader that is needed in higher education. A creative energetic force that needs to be celebrated in this crucial time where disconnect is the norm and deeper understanding of the world around us is lacking. I am pleased to have him in my company and be able to share discussion and ideas. Dr. Cornett allows us to remember how valuable process is and as the late sculpture John Chamberlin said,
    “I don’t need to explain what I do, I do it and let the rest of them catch up.”
    With high regards, to all.
    Frank Caracciolo

  96. Noëlle De Roo says:

    Ci-joint deux exemples de commentaires faits par moi, dans le passé, dans le cadre de mes cours avec le Dr Cornett (cours suivis après sa sortie de Mc Gill). Ils résument, je pense, l’expérience que j’ai vécue avec lui:

    (Rappel, il s’agit ici d’écriture instinctive et non raisonnée)

    “Ouais… je me demande où l’on s’en va avec tout ça. Je fatiguais de plus en plus à la lecture, mais je tenais à ce que quelque chose, au moins le portrait de M, me révèle quelque chose. Là, j’ai lâché. Vide, frustrée. J’ai aussitôt refermé le livre.

    L’an dernier on nous avait donné à lire un autre livre de Z. Je me souviens que jusqu’aux toutes dernières pages je n’avais strictement rien compris, me demandant sans cesse pourquoi je perdais ainsi mon temps. Que font là tous ces personnages? Ce n’est que dans les toutes dernières dix pages (ou était-ce deux?) du livre que j’ai enfin eu la sensation de faire face à de l’humain derrière l’écriture, humain je dois dire qui, dans cet ultime sursaut, m’a profondément séduite. J’ai vécu des moments de bonheur qui ont compensé pour tout le reste. Sans parler de la rencontre avec l’auteure elle même.

    Je me suis longtemps questionnée et me questionne toujours sur ces cours de lecture avec le Dr Cornett. Tout le monde fait un effort surhumain pour déchiffrer les hiéroglyphes d’un auteur (quels choix il fait!). Tout le monde y va de son interprétation. C’est ceci. Non, c’est cela. Mais non ça doit être ça. Mais non…Un jour, dans un de ces cours (était-ce Z que nous lisions? cela aurait pu parfaitement l’être), c’était un samedi de midi à quatorze heures, je n’en pouvais plus. Nous étions en Février. J’ai pris ma voiture en sortant et j’ai foncé, foncé sur l’autoroute jusque chez nous à la campagne, à la recherche d’air, d’air et de simplicité. Je n’en pouvais plus de ces exercices. En arrivant, je me suis précipitée dans ma miellerie pour m’inonder d’odeurs de cire et de simplicité. Enfin un peu de sérénité”.

    J’étais, bien sûr, au rendez-vous du cours suivant que je n’aurais raté pour tout l’or du monde.

    autre exemple:

    “I can’t believe it, Dr. Cornett, you made me write a poem! Et pas même dans ma langue maternelle, ni même dans ma langue seconde. Just because of the method you use and the confidence you inspire! Let’s try to give an example.
    First, you make us comment two very difficult poems (en dehors de tout contexte). At first, I have no reaction. Some parts I understand, some are completely out of comprehension. The whole makes no meaning whatsoever to me. Poetry is boring. I don’t feel like making any effort to get on.
    Then you ask us to buy the book. It is “X” by YZ. Already it starts to make sense. We understand there is a research, a soul behind it. We start to appreciate.
As hours, nights, go by I get really involved: the emphasis on the words put separately here and there attract me; the distribution of the sentences (not in a single line like in prose but in separate lines, putting in evidence every word as well as the sentence as a whole); the place of dots and comas (again attracting your attention to every bit of what is said). I am now in the company of the author. She is my friend, my alter ego.
    When time arrives to write my comments, to my surprise I start to imitate YZ and it comes out in the form of a poem.
There is no self satisfaction on my part for it is not a great poem.
I couldn’t care less. What was important for me was that I instinctively felt like trying a new form of expression in a language strange to me”.

    Je dois à mes parents une excellente éducation. Ouverture maximale à tous les sujets, opinions, liberté d’expérimenter etc. Le Dr Cornett m’a entrainée plus loin encore. Je résume ma pensée d’aujourd’hui:

    -l’art de nous faire extraire du sens jusqu’à la lie
    – l’art de nous faire découvrir nos dons insoupçonnés
    et, sûrement, bien d’autres découvertes encore que je finirai un jour par savoir décrire.

    Il m’a grandie! Merci à lui.

  97. Bastien Tremblay says:

    J’aurais aimé vous avoir eu comme professeur mais ça je le savais avant même d’avoir vu le film. Mon anglais est très sommaire, je n’ai donc pas capté toutes les subtilités mais j’ai été touché par votre histoire. Je ne connais pas la suite (entre 2009 et 2012) mais j’espère sincèrement que vous avez retrouvé le bonheur que vous éprouviez en enseignant. En vous regardant et par les témoignages de vos élèves vous me faites penser à ces maîtres bouddhistes comme Chogyam Trungpa qui, au lieu de parler de spiritualité, essayait d’en faire connaitre l’expérience à ses élèves en déconstruisant la pensée pré-établie. Vous êtes un “mind-opener” si je puis me permettre cette expression.

    Je ne sais pas si McGill a fini par vous donner les raisons pour la cessation de votre contrat où s’ils le feront un jour. Mais, à mon humble avis, le monde à besoin de personnes comme vous qui ont votre capacité à ouvrir les esprits et vous deviez quitter votre salle de cours pour un auditoire encore plus large. Dans ces temps agités où la pensée cueillie sur les réseaux sociaux cause des dommages considérables on a besoin de personnes qui nous encouragent à développer notre propre opinion en accord avec notre conscience et non la masse où les conventions.

    Merci de m’avoir fait connaître ce film.

    Bastien

  98. Thanks for sending me the link with those comments. I have read them, and found them truly inspiring in their perceptions of your work in education, and in their understanding of what you’re contributing. I was very intrigued by your former student Andrew’s comments on “ecomusicology”, how he sees the process of making music as a form of community building and societal cohesion; what a great concept! I agree with him, in the sense that the use of the arts, and specifically music, has been limited in terms of education, in making connections with human behaviour, especially related to how we collectively think of and use/abuse our environment. In this sense, we’ve only scratched the surface. I also try to make broader connections with my music, reach to access some universal truths in it, so it was really interesting to read Andrew’s thoughts on this. His life has clearly been affected by your courses at McGill, and he’s definitely thinking outside the box that “normal” academia defines in its institutions. And now he’s teaching himself, passing on the wisdom: that must be satisfying to see. I love the way he described your classes at McGill and the individual thinking they inspire, he really nailed it! I look forward to reading his full dissertation on this. I’m also very pleased with the reception and attention Ms. Obomsawin’s documentary is receiving. Many people have been touched by your work, it seems, and want you to keep on keepin on, which you do relentlessly! It’s inspiring to everybody, not least of which to myself.

    Looking forward to more jamming with you in the future!

  99. Sheila Horne Mason says:

    I have met Professor Cornett on a number of occasions during our yearly visits to the Montreal Jazz Festival, and I have twice had the pleasure of attending his event, “Jamming at St. James — A Jazz Liturgy. However, until I saw this documentary on July 7, 2012, I was unaware of his history with McGill University. One of the things that stood out the most in the documetary is the lack of communication or response from the officials at McGill. The abruptness of Professor Cornett’s dismissal was harsh enough, seemingly coming with little or no warning. However, even worse was the school’s refusal to give specific reasons for the dismissal.

    From the comments of the various students who were interviewed in the film, it seems that Professor Cornett’s unorthodox teaching methods were a resounding success. While Cornett’s methods might not have fit into the typical expectations McGill has of its professors, it seems that they met the most important aim of any teacher — to get students to think, feel, and learn in a manner that is more than rote.

    Another thing that struck me is the missed opportunity. If the officials at McGill had issues with Professor Cornett’s methods, why didn’t they clearly communicate their concerns well before they decided upon his dismissal? There was an opportunity for compromise and meeting somewhere in the middle, but McGill didn’t even explore that possibility. Couldn’t the school have said to the professor, “Well, we think this part of your approach works, but we’re concerned about some other parts,” in order to foster a dialogue and a meeting of minds? I also wonder if the decision-makers ever examined the results of Cornett’s methods, or if they just rejected them out of hand, simply for being too different from the norm. Aren’t teachers always looking for new ways to effectively get through to students?

    I feel that McGill was narrow and shortsighted in their approach, and therefore, everyone involved lost something important. Future McGill students lost the opportunity to study in an innovative way that they might not have ever experienced before. McGill lost a professor whose approach might have become a cutting-edge example for others, and of course, Professor Cornett lost his position, one to which he showed great dedication. The whole situation is a sad cautionary tale where creativity is clearly not welcome.

  100. Andrew M says:

    Hi Norm,

    I’m writing you because Meredith M. and I watched your film last night. Sam V. mentioned it on the facebooks, and we decided that minute to watch a little before bed. Well, we watched the whole thing in the end. You may remember Meredith and I for raising hell about passports and borders.

    Please, accept our condolences for the loss of your wife. You may remember that Bernard Shapiro came to our class not shortly after loosing his wife, and that was hard. It gives me pleasure to think that you continue to run your sessions in Montreal, and keep on keepin on.

    I’m siting here writing my dissertation proposal. I’m supposed to begin with “The Problem,” metaphorically or literally. I thought you might enjoy my first shot at getting something on paper:

    ———–

    The Problem:

    In environmental studies, and of course, many disciplines, an undergraduate pupil is apt to begin a paper by reminding the reader of the extreme, violent, and even desperate social and environmental times we live in. These introductions sometimes include mentions of justice and debt and balance, or systems euphemisms like sustainability and resiliency. I have even been instructed to pass out rubrics to students that identify these tropes, begging them to avoid the formulation at the risk of penalization. Some of the more creative students use one shocking fact or statistic or point to imply the state of things that allow such possibilities. This technique operates like a gloss, or a gesture, or implied threat…a seventh chord missing the third.

    I recently watched a documentary by Alanis Obomsawin, an activist filmmaker who is perhaps best known for her work covering Kanehsatake and the Oca Crisis. The movie I am speaking of examined the career and the firing of Dr. Norm Cornett, one individual who fundamentally altered the way I saw academia as an undergrad. Norm worked at McGill in religious studies. He focused so hard on his teaching that he never published very much and never received tenure. Believe me, the way his courses were designed (it would take me some time to describe the pedagogy), one can infer that his teaching practice consumed all his working hours. Let me say only that by the end of the class, we all (100+) had Norm’s home phone number, and with two unexcused absences, one would fail without recourse.

    His classes sought to foster original thought by allowing students to actually play with the ideas they had been asked to only regurgitate elsewhere. At McGill, generally we were expected to feedback course histories, ideas, and arguments in exams, two or three times a year. There was a feeling that one’s best bet was to understand the professor’s personal slant and adapt it. Papers were also required, but there were very rigid expectations regarding format.
    In Norm’s class, however, through hundreds of reflections inside and outside of the “theatre of the classroom” as he put it, we found our own voices, perhaps writing creatively for the first time since high school. Norm did not ask for grammar, spelling, concerns for political correctness or his position; he wanted instant unencumbered phenomenological sensation articulated without anxiety. He pushed us to actually engage with the ideas we were learning and reflect on how they made us feel. His approach required a gritty honesty not possible in most rational formal argument. Norm would begin classes and topics by reading aloud (performing really) contributions from students who remained anonymous. The courses were organized around scheduled dialogs with public figures including prime ministers, famous jazz artists, surgeons, palliative care experts, religious figures and the like. This engagement with real people in the classroom inspired in part my interest in ethnography. Attendance at performances, art openings and events was also required.

    All of the above goes to say, if Dr. Norm Cornett can be rejected for doing such work in academia (you’ll have to see the movie), then we must live in a mad mad world. As Peter says, I cannot hope to understand Hornby society, because I can’t even hope to understand my own society.

    Well, as I consider “the problem,” which as we have noted is “my problem” and not Hornby Island’s problem(s), I see part of my own motivation stemming from a desire to redress frustration with the environmental movement, and within environmental academia broadly. I feel I have a sense of what environmental academia has to offer, and I find its efforts and results lacking, though our own institution, an exception, offers undergraduate possibilites I would have embraced if I had come to FES. Broadly though, our inclusivity is wanting and “nothing short of everything will really do” (Huxley, The Island). The problem is that I see how the arts, and specifically music, greatly contribute to engaged critical environmental thought, and yet I find that obvious connection lacking in broad public notions of environmental problems and solutions, government and media treatment of the arts, and academic programming generally. My problem is that I contend that the doing or undoing of music is related to the caring and lack of caring for environment. My problem is that these assertions run a wide gamut of academic literatures, that there are pitfalls for romanticism and essentialism around every corner, and that I am attempting to unify this argument for the purposes of an emerging field known as “ecomusicology” which I fear may dogmatically recapitulate this entire cycle of exclusivity if we are not careful. My problem is that thus far, it appears to me that this field has largely embraced the norms of material environmental concerns with relation to music: fossil fuels for big tours, “green” instruments, protest music, noise pollution, soundscapes, acoustic design, and relationships with landscapes through performance and composition. I do not doubt these things are important, but I believe I am in search of a more universal theory to address the global phenomenon of music practice as it relates to the global phenomenon of conviviality and community self-preservation. I believe that musical participation can contribute to community cohesion, and thereby, a disinterest in community (in the extra-human sense) harm. It is not the music, but the activity of making music that interests me.

    ———

    Anyway, I thought you might enjoy reading this. I can’t promise it will last the grist mill, but it may. I hope you will take the time to publish your pedagogy in some fashion Norm. Perhaps you have hobbled it together from other sources, but I would find your take very useful. I try to use it in the classroom myself. It’s the quickest way to get to know students. I can only think you might have been treated differently in different institutions, but Montreal is such a difficult place to leave.

    Yours,

    Andrew M. (I was in your class…2003 or 4 maybe?)

  101. elisabeth says:

    Il semble que votre approche humaine d’enseignement a allumé le feu sacré chez vos étudiants, le feu qui donne la soif de connaître, de comprendre réellement le sens des choses et d’être des individus authentiques qui se respectent.

    Je trouve inadmissible la façon dont l’Université de McGill a agi envers vous.

    • alain tremblay says:

      M. Cornett,
      Vous êtes un créateur. Un homme éclairé, éclairant, original et audacieux. Dommage que les instances de Mcgill n’aient pas cette lumière!

      Alain Tremblay -Enseignant en Éthique et culture religieuse et collectionneur en art visuel-

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