Saturday, February 23, 2008



It's not just flunking, children no longer have to do much of anything in our public schools.

The words "social promotion" sum up the public-education establishment: they come up with a term which sounds like a policy when in fact they are justifying their inactivity.

I've tutored a fair number of kids in recent years, brought to me by parents deeply concerned about the children's future.

And they were right to be concerned. In math, I found every kid - ranging from grades 4 to 6 had not learned the times tables. These are something we learned 50 years ago in grade 2 or 3, and they are indispensable to any person's understanding for work as a sales clerk or a carpenter's assistant.

More importantly, they are the foundation of much that follows. Imagine the absurdity of trying to teach double-digit division or elementary probability concepts when kids don't even know their times tables?

Yet this is what is going on in Ontario schools today.

It is the same with language skills. I laugh every time I hear McGuinty say how much progress they've made in literacy. What used to be definitive courses in high school English have been dumbed-down so that anyone can pass.

They are the courses that should provide the real literacy test. Indeed, the silly literacy test we have is not objective and provides no genuine information about students at all.

It is subject to easy manipulation for improved apparent results. And it can be passed, even when failed, by taking a silly bird course the next term. It is quite meaningless.

The same goes for general discipline and values. All the propaganda about bullying is just a substitute for teachers and administrators doing the jobs of responsible adults. The kids have no one to turn to, so McGuinty gives them an 800-number to a call center in Bangalore, India.

Three teachers have spoken out about the horrible problems at the school where the young man was shot in the hall, but nothing was done.


That is the problem, it is a production-line model. Graduating numbers has become the product.

All students are falsely looked at as of equal academic potential. Generalized resources are then wasted in attempting to treat them all the same. For the most part, trade schools have disappeared so that everyone feels they are being treated the same way.

As just one example, teachers would have more time for students who want to learn something if the thugs were placed where they belong, in specialized schools staffed with people who can handle them.

But that won't happen in today's education environment.

The school authorities have just dispensed with "zero tolerance" for violence owing to a fatuous argument that more of a certain group are given the expulsions, it apparently never occurring to anyone that certain groups may in fact produce inordinate problems.

"Mainstreaming" and the politics of education effectively load the schools with students who shouldn't be there, everything from highly disturbed kids and kids with very low academic potential to psychotics.

Then we blur it all under "special needs" and "special education." And then we pass them all, just so long as they attend with some regularity.

The teachers' union is just as complicit in all this as the school authorities. No one wants to rock the boat. In effect, despite all the sappy-sounding education-speak, few show evidence of really caring about the kids' needs.

All McGuinty has done for education is hand over more money to teachers without any real conditions placed on it. What his education minister should be doing is going to schools, unannounced, and sitting in on classes, unannounced, to learn what really is happening. That just will not happen, of course.

This rot, by the way, is spreading to our colleges and universities now. There are faculties and specific institutions that award degrees for doing very little. I won't mention any, but some cases are just shabby.


To Dave T,

Broken homes the education establishment can do nothing about, but low standards in the schools are the education establishment's job.

Coming as I did from a broken home in the 1950s, a very rare thing indeed then, I cannot accept this notion as much but an additional excuse.

It's often, in fact, a disguised form of American Christian Fundamentalism's "family values."

Nature is not kind in her varying endowments of helpful parents, privileges, and abilities. She's often downright cruel.

The curriculum sounds more challenging, and I don't doubt in specifics that it is, but kids still don't know their times tables in grade 6 and their reading sometimes resembles grade 2.

Everything is in the application, not the forms.


John Tory, a man who seemed in many ways the most qualified and admirable Ontario Conservative in many years, has just brought out a policy paper that returns to a previous Conservative proposal, supporting private religious schools.

With just that, John Tory has disqualified himself from removing the smug, promise-breaking McGuinty.

As the many posts here document, our public schools already have many problems, the kind of serious problems McGuinty has scrupulously avoided dealing with.

Our public schools need resources applied to their problems. School libraries are in a poor state. There are not enough computers. Arts programs are downgraded. Buildings need repair. And now we are facing up to a security problem, at least in Toronto.

We also desperately need a new group of specialized schools for the
those destroying the learning environment of schools, the sickos that threaten other students and teachers, even carrying guns to school, and who any teacher involved knows are learning nothing themselves.

If anything, we need the existing (Catholic) board merged into the public system to rationalize and improve things. After so long a period of public support, it is no longer a private religious system by any measure. The last thing we need is more religious schools added to the dole.

People choose to educate their children in a religious environment. They must then pay for it. They do not earn the right to be excused effectively from taxes already supporting the public schools.

Tory's proposal is a terribly un-thought-through one. And new issues like this only distract focus from our many existing ones.


Proud Canadian,

No one will work for Wal-Mart for 40 years.

The days of life-long employment anywhere are over. Full stop.

This is one of the important arguments for sharpening-up our schools.

Children are facing a ferociously competitive world, a world in which a smarter or better educated person in another part of the world is in direct competition with them for jobs, a first in human history.

In the past, our non-academic kids have been able to secure reasonable employment in unionized factory jobs. This is already disappearing, and it won't be terribly long until it has almost completely disappeared.

The answer is not to pretend that our least-able children should follow an academic stream. That just does not work.

But we need schools that develop the skills they have, getting them trained in trades and arts.

It is no different for our more gifted students. They are facing competition from a huge pool of very gifted students in China and India - a population of more than two billion whom every international test shows has a larger endowment of people gifted with mathematical and engineering talent.

Their education in academic subjects must become more demanding if they are to compete. Computers must be everywhere. Teachers must know something, not just a set of somewhat imaginary professional teaching skills. Reading crib notes at the chapter ends of teacher editions of texts in order to teach a class must become obsolete.