An Interview with Barry Wright: Betrayal of Trust

Mar 19, 2013 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1. Please outline your education and past experiences.

With degrees in mathematics and education, I have worked in industry, business and education. I co-authored (along with their accompanying workbooks) the first mathematics textbook series in Canada for Prentice-Hall, “Mathscope,” and validated a number of mathematics workbooks for the Independent Learning Centre, Ministry of Education.

I left teaching for a while to work as a real estate appraiser; later returning to teach adults in a retraining program through Seneca College. During that period, I co-authored A Guide for Public Involvement for industry through the Canadian Standards Association and assisted an environmental group, Future Builders, in a consulting role. When I finally returned to teaching full time, I taught at a nearby secondary school.

Before beginning my writing career, I studied under the tutelage of Canadian author Sandra Birdsell at Humber College’s School for Writers.

Retired, my time is now divided between my home in Brampton and my farm in Priceville.

2. Now what is “Betrayal of Trust” all about? Why did you write it?

Betrayal of Trust: an adventure, suspense, romance (naughty bits and all), intrigue, pathos, hateful and loveable characters, sharp turns of plot with lots of betrayal.

Edward Slocum (executive vice-president of Kemkor Pharmaceuticals) begins to learn that everything he believed was a lie when he sees armed men at Building 3C on the Company premises. Now distrustful of the organization’s operation, it isn’t long before he finds himself propelled on a dangerous roller-coaster ride of events that irrevocably changes his own life and endangers the future of his community. Fraught with guilt over his wife’s death, he struggles with his rekindled attraction to his teenage sweetheart, Charlottle Bradley, and with his growing misgivings about his friend, John Elkhart.

Still in love with Edward, Charlotte—a strong independent person—joins forces with him along with their friend Janet Thompson to discover the secret of KemKor’s Building 3C.

They quickly learn that nothing is what it appears to be as they attempt to expose the corrupt, greed-infested CEO of KemKor, William Rattray, and garner support in their community to take down the local drug cartel headed by the charismatic and ruthless Garcia Urquiza who will stop at nothing—including murder—to protect his cartel’s unique method of smuggling cocaine into the United States from Canada.

Unable to turn back, Edward, Charlotte and Janet learn much more than they ever wanted about: their community, the death of Edward’s wife, KemKor’s real agenda, corruption at the highest levels within government and business and the strength of their moral resolve.

Betrayal of Trust is a fast-paced, action-packed thriller that keeps both genders—teen to adult—guessing at every twist and turn.

Betrayal of Trust not only provided the kind of challenge that I was looking for but, it nourished my enjoyment for writing and storytelling. It also helped to answer my question: “What will be my legacy?” As I reflected on that question, I quickly came to realize that writing was the best way I knew of to express my act of gratitude to the books and people who had shaped my life.

Why I chose to be a published author is more involved.

I had spent 6-8 years learning about point of view, character development, how to establish setting, develop plot, design structure, and how to connect all the pieces while trying to discover my literary voice.

For me, not being published would have been a betrayal to not only myself but to all the people who had supported me along the way. Sure, I’d like to be successful at it and make some money. Who doesn’t? But, for me, the over-riding factor that drove me was the writing—pure and simple. And, it still does. According to Patricia Cornwell, “You don’t become a writer—you are one. And, if you really are a writer, it’s like telling a songbird to shut up—you can’t.”

Publication affords me greater feedback and an opportunity to have impact and to provide enjoyment to a wider and varied audience. It is a catalyst which demands an uncompromising honesty and dedication to my responsibility to dig deeper within me to achieve the highest standards I can for both my art and my audience. When your manuscript never leaves the drawer to see the light of day, it is difficult to achieve the level of standard and recognition that it so rightly deserves. I would rather know that I gave it my best ‘shot’ than to never have tried at all. Right or wrong, that’s just my point of view. I’m driven to be better than I was the day before.

Writing provides that lifelong learning experience that I have always wanted. Retired now, I fill my time with writing and embracing the opportunities that awaits a published author.

3. Helping students to find their way, to find the road they want to walk—to become the person they could best be—how did these issues come about?

I can tell you exactly when it all began. When I was 12 years old I became very ill and was hospitalized several times throughout that year. The local school board assigned me a teacher, Miss Helen Richardson, who tutored me in mathematics and language studies. As we worked together, I soon realized that she was a special person who was not only a gifted and genuinely caring teacher but she was able to inspire me through her gentle encouragement to reach beyond the minimum learning expectations.

Miss Richardson must be paired with another important person in my life, Mrs. Bell. I met Mrs. Bell while a patient (for 3 months) in a research hospital in Toronto. She and her husband opened my mind to the ‘world’ of possibility and books. They taught me the importance of believing in myself, setting realistic goals, daily reflection and correction, and to never give up. By allowing me into their family, they forever changed my life; they set me along a path to follow my dreams and to reach my potential by striving to be a little better each day.

Each of their lives irrevocably changed mine and I know within my heart I would never have reached this point in my life without them. The subtle gifts in lessons taught me by each of them is—whenever the opportunity arises—freely shared with anyone who would listen..

4. How did you help your students become better than when you first met them?

RESPECT, APPROACHABILITY, AVAILABILITY, UNDERSTANDING, TRUST, SUPPORT formed the base upon which I worked from with my students.

Phobias and negative attitudes associated with mathematics on the part of most students formed the barrier that I often, as a mathematics teacher, expended the greatest energy trying to overcome.

Effective learning is an empowered partnership in which both student and teacher are accountable to each other through ongoing dialogue; there should never be a power struggle between the two. I continuously used their feedback to tweak my course and encouraged the students to do likewise.

Students must be an integral part of their learning experience, not outside of it. The best way I knew how to do that was staying connected with them through constant dialogue and, most importantly, acting on it in a tangible way. They had to see that I listened to them. Once students believed that I did indeed ‘walk the talk,’ the classroom took on a whole new meaningful learning experience.

A simple gesture like standing at the entrance to a classroom and welcoming each student goes a long way toward changing attitudes toward learning in that classroom. Posting full solutions to tests and assignments and allowing time for students to check them and ask questions establishes a level of accountability for both teacher and student.

Students have a right to understand where and why they went wrong and how to correct it. Anything less, in my opinion, cheats the student.

I could never have imagined teaching the same course the same way year in and year out. If I had taught that way I know I would have gone flat and so would have the learning experience in my class. Each class taught me something different which was incorporated into the next class and so on. When I considered the variety of learners in each class, how would it be any other way? As a result, a variety of learning experiences were built in to each week’s set of lessons reflecting the new information I had learned the previous week.

Teaching can never been done in isolation. If a particular student had difficulties, I went to the different departments on the student’s timetable to speak to their teacher. Often, much was learned by doing that.

I remember a student who had failed his entire first semester courses. An ADHD student, I learned that he had not only a high absenteeism rate but had not been taking his Ritalin. I took on the responsibility of setting up a meeting with his parents and teachers to work out a daily report that the student picked up in the morning and carried with him throughout the day to each class for his teacher’s comment and signature. At the end of each day the student brought me that report to sign before it went home. When the report was returned next day, signed by the parents, a new report cycle began. Throughout each week I remained in touch with the parents by phone. That student went on to pass every course that semester with high marks. Obviously, it doesn’t always work that well but the results, in this case, were very satisfying. Later, I learned that that student went on to graduate with honors.

Incorporating into the classroom my experiences inside and outside of education whenever it made sense, using new technologies whenever it was feasible, inviting guest speakers, taking students off campus to learn (e.g. car dealership, trucking firm, stock exchange, veterinary) along with everything else I mentioned went a long way to opening the students’ horizons and to making them better learners. Whether the students were better after being in my classroom, only they can answer that. I would hope, for the most part, their answer would be yes.

5. Standardized testing—what does it do to the average student?

If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.

-Margaret Mead

 

This quote by Margaret Mead is the foundation upon which my views as an educator were built; it is the lens (or bias) through which I will attempt to answer (as succinctly as possible) this deceivingly complex question.

Like an onion, the expression ‘average student’ consists of many layers of interpretation beyond the statistic of mean, median and mode especially when it comes to assessing the marvelous elasticity and growth potential of the human brain.

For example, who would be the average student and the below average student in these examples?

 

John wrote down the following in his notebook:

10+7=17, 9+6=15, 11+5=16, 8+11=19;

While Leanne wrote the following in her notebook:

10+7=5, 9+6=3, 11+5=4, 8+11=7

Leanne was also correct. How could that be?

 

I think most would say that John was at least average and Leanne was below average. John’s answers are the obvious traditional replies we would expect and, therefore, he would have been credited with a correct response.

Unfortunately for Leanne, the logical path she chose would probably have been dismissed outright. Yet, I would argue that she is—in all likelihood—a more actively engaged learner than John and what we should encourage in our system. Why? She used higher level thinking skills to construct a different mathematical system while he regurgitated ‘superficial’ skills. In other words, she set a new standard of opportunity: opportunity to examine how she had applied what she had learned in a new and unique way.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do believe that the basics must be mastered and are an ingredient for success in our competitive world; but, like all recipes, success depends on all of the ingredients being proportioned correctly. Imagine ranking a cake in a baking contest by only tasting its baking powder? Yet, I wonder if that isn’t what’s happening when a diploma is denied on account of failing an exit exam.

A student’s initiatives, creativity, imagination, curiosity, effort, judgment—just to mention a few—are invaluable assets that must not be ignored just because it cannot be measured on a standardized test; these assets can and are evaluated every day by our teachers. The following quote says it all:

Every person passing through this life will unknowingly leave something and take something away. Most of this “something” cannot be seen or heard or numbered. It does not show up in a census. But nothing counts without it. –Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

Our schools and teachers are well placed to develop and to deliver meaningful programs throughout a school day that not only recognize and engage the uniqueness of each student but allows for expression, awareness, and development of the multiple intelligences present in their classrooms. If we want all our students (irrespective of ability levels and socio-economic factors) to be lifelong learners in the 21st century, then the intelligences of intrapersonal, interpersonal, musical, spatial, and kinesthetic must be treated with equal importance alongside verbal/linguistic and logical/mathematical. To do otherwise not only cheats students from feeling successful and discovering their potential and the opportunities that await them, but may also deny the community the richness of their contribution.

The goal within our educational systems should always be about enhancing the quality of our students and the schools they learn in: not just about ranking them. The world we live in demands much more of our students than a shallow approach to learning that stresses storage of information in their heads. Higher scores (though laudable) on standardized tests should not be the gauge by which time and money are judged well spent; especially, if dropout rates continue to rise and our placement in the global community is deemed unsatisfactory.

Our choices must always profit our students. Stakeholders must collaboratively work together to find a way to encourage a willingness on the part of the student to trump factors that may impede their success and to find ways to empower our students to reach their educational goals.

Standardized testing has a place but, like the baking soda mentioned earlier in our cake, it is only one ingredient and, as such, must never (by itself) be accorded legitimacy when determining a valid measure of a good education.

An overemphasis on standardized testing impacts negatively on attitudes towards education and what learning is all about at a time when we want students and teachers engaged in a meaningful dialogue of discovery within their classrooms.

Living in a global community demands a broader, more informed perspective and application of a mixture of new learning ‘tools’ well beyond the regurgitation of facts. Standardized tests emphasize an outmoded emphasis that only hurts our students’ learning if it is allowed a disproportionate part in their educational experience. Twenty-first century education must have an all-encompassing and broader view that emphasizes commitment to fairness, equity, accuracy and quality for all.

How was Leanne right? This is my humble view on this problem.

If she let 10+7=5 (it really doesn’t matter what it is equal to because she always applies the same logic) then

9+6 = (10-1) + (7-1) = 5-2 =3

11+5 = (10+1) + (7-2) =5-1 =4

8+11= (10-2) + (7+4) =5+2 =7

 

6. Who has impacted you, and who has mentored you?

My dad impacted me the most. His steadfast perseverance, intelligence, fair play, honesty, foresight, courage, sacrifice and unconditional love for his family set the standard by which I measure my life each day.

Each stage in my life—often, when I needed help the most—has had a mentor to guide me through it before s/he handed me off to the next. This is a blessing that visits so few of us and I will always be grateful for their wisdom, patience and understanding.

One mentor, if for no other reason than the longevity of his contribution, stands out: Dr. H. L. Ridge, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto. He was my mathematics instructor at the Faculty of Education, University of Toronto. He not only challenged me to think differently and apply my learning in a creative way but, he was the model of commitment and professional standard that I became as a teacher. Like him, I encouraged my students to do better and be better than they were because I understood the benefits of that attitude to not only myself as a teacher but for my students.

My greatest growth as a teacher occurred five years into my career when Dr. Ridge asked me to co-author the first mathematics textbook series in Canada for Prentice-Hall: “Mathscope.” That opportunity to work with him was nothing short of “awesome.” His patience as he taught and guided me through each stage propelled me to levels of expectation, achievement, knowledge and personal-growth that—to this day—fill my life.

When Dr. Ridge learned that I had written my first novel Betrayal of Trust he was the first to critically read it and to provide his encomium on the back cover. His life and mentorship have given me immeasurable gifts. Nothing would have counted without them.

7. In your mind does the educational system betray the trust of parents?

No, I do not believe it is the educational system that is betraying the parents.

As long as the decision making is top-down and void of real meaningful collaboration with stakeholders (schools, teachers, students, etc.), the educational system is doomed to failure. Equity must be applied across all students so that they have access to the same opportunities and their assessments are based on individual differences and not differentiated opportunities otherwise a number of school districts will suffer. If the disciplines of algebra, geometry, physics and chemistry (if it hasn’t already occurred) have not shifted to a more formal presentation in middle school and therefore inline with the rest of the world then our students will lose their competitive edge. When a top-down authority arbitrarily decides to ‘raise the bar’ on our students, it demeans the principles of the educational system and demoralizes both teachers and students; it is an action void of lofty thought that inadvertently punishes the very people it heralds to want to help.

The following quote sums up how I think about our teachers and the need for all stakeholders to be actively involved in shaping a better future. Deflecting blame for our failures only hurts the ones we love; accountability means taking ownership and that must include all of us.

At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to lay off thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance. Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies — just to make a difference. Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn. That’s a bargain worth making. —President Obama

8. Do you have a web site? What would we find there?

My website is found at http://www.bbwrightauthor.com

At that website you will find links to my Blog, Facebook, Twitter and GoodReads sites as well as general information about my book, me, where to buy my book and interviews.

If you want to find all the platforms I am on Google: b.b.wright, betrayal of trust.

9. What have I neglected to ask?

a) What’s next for you?

The second novel begins this spring, continuing from where Betrayal of Trust left off. Though the base will still be the Grey-Bruce region of Ontario, it will take the reader further afield through Quebec, Vancouver and into Northern Canada. At the moment, I do not have a working title.

Also, there is a historical novel tugging at me to write that follows a woman’s rise to wealth and power during the latter part of the 19th Century and early 20th Century. Presently, I am an on-line student studying history to help prepare me. There is much to learn and do before I begin tackling this very challenging project.

A collection of short stories and a few novellas are certainly in the works. I have folders and binders filled with story possibilities just ‘itching’ to be told; every imaginative day allowed to me will be spent discovering each story’s inherent magic and to capturing it in print.

Every time I sit in front of a blank screen and ready myself to create, it is a revelation, a ‘throwing of my hat in the ring’ so-to-speak.

b) Do you have any words of inspiration for aspiring writers?

Try to remember the first time you walked, went to school, played a musical instrument, danced, played a sport, swam, downhill skied, learned arithmetic, learned a language, drove a car, your first real job and the first time you went to the bathroom without needing help. The list of firsts is endless. What do you remember? That’s right! For most of us, we weren’t a smashing success at first try. There were a lot of warm ups, frustrations, and awkwardness. In other words, there were lots of bumps in the road. Writing is no different. The key: never give up in yourself.

Quitting must never be an option. Set your goals; make sure they are reasonable; turn those negative thoughts in your head to positive ones; learn, learn, learn from those who have been successful; then set aside a time that is yours everyday to practice, practice, practice; always learn from your failures, never ever let them define you; you must always, always define them; don’t be afraid of criticism just make sure you understand where it’s coming from and what it is really saying; step outside your comfort zone, it will broaden your perspective and enrich you; get as much real experience as you can so that your writing bubbles over with it. Most of all never quit; never use an excuse not to follow your dream no matter how daunting the task may look ahead. Like the small child who learns how to walk, it began one step at a time. Be patient! Before you know it you’ll be up and running.

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