Friday, January 07, 2011



"Handled carefully, merit pay for teachers might work."

A profoundly silly statement, Gary Mason.

First, when did school boards or public schools ever handle anything carefully?

If you can cite a significant instance, you will earn a footnote in history.

Our school boards are run by teachers who no longer want to be teachers.

And who are our teachers?

Generally, they start teaching right out of teachers' college, young people with no experience of the world, aware of none of the complexities of dealing in the real world of business.

At the grade school level, they are mostly not well educated, being generalists having taken a lot of easy-to-pass courses, specialists in nothing, and then they spend a year in that most anti-intellectual, anti-academic, and anti-real world of institutions, the teachers' college.

The atmosphere in public schools and in school boards is one somewhere between a monastery and the post office.

Just read the language of the education establishment, and you will read, not so much the jargon that goes with any profession, but a lot of puffed-up language saying almost nothing and high-sounding euphemisms for avoiding problems or making hard decisions.

Further, there is an almost suffocating sense of cloistered society in our school bureaucracies, of "ins" and "outs" and favoritism and "hush, you musn't say that." It is not an atmosphere conducive to fair and open evaluation of anything.

This includes a kind of prevailing bureaucratic dishonesty. For example, the subject of bullying is talked about endlessly and expensive materials are purchased for presentations. Yet the real solution to bullying is never, never touched: that is, every teacher's taking responsibility for the acts which occur before his or her eyes.

Another example of this institutionalized dishonesty is the effort to deal with genuine problems by inventing some new temporary nostrum rather than dealing directly with a problem which requires sleeves rolled up and hard effort. The examples are countless.

There is the fraud of Afro-centric or other forms of segregated schools as a solution to poor academic performance. Essentially, if these succeed - as measured by grades - it will be because of reduced demands and high marks for projects which are of little value to a good education, all conducted in the “safe” atmosphere of a place with no genuine scrutiny.

There is the fraud of social promotion: a way to make no extra effort for difficult students and a way to kiss your problem good-bye at the end of term.

Ontario has report cards that are almost a joke from a Monty Python skit. Pre-written, bureaucratic phrases are pasted into each kid’s report from a list. Their actual performance is not even properly graded.

Ontario has literacy tests - created and graded by teachers themselves - rather than grappling with teaching kids to read in the first place. As they exist in Ontario, and I have both read them and experienced a foreign student’s exposure to them, they are a complete fraud, accomplishing nothing.

Literacy closets – things filled with costly special-purpose, forgettable, throwaway books created just to the purpose - rather than attending to libraries and seeing that there is good literature kids will enjoy and learn from and teachers who help introduce them to it.

The teacher-librarian - a bizarre creation which is neither a qualified librarian nor a teacher with expertise in anything, but a body sitting around to fill in holes for various teachers away for one reason or another, spending their remaining hours supposedly taking care of the library. One good look at the state of these libraries will tell you how effective they are at their job.

Now, on top of all this, add the teachers’ union, defender of dead-wood, hero organization of the non-performer.

Finally, add a school system under direct political control, whose politicians are concerned only with getting re-elected and avoiding any serious conflict, no matter what their rhetoric.

So this is an environment in which conscientious, impartial evaluations of performance can occur? Only in your dreams.