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Um… maybe they should be taking…

… a remedial course instead…

Seen in the Saturday G & M in a feature article on students who would rather go to school to better their grades than frolic through the meadows.


The Ontario Liberal…

… anti bullying legislation has brought out of the woodwork some prime examples of how narrow-minded self-interest can trump common sense and compassion.

Essenatially, the proposed legislation puts into place mechanisms that will mandate schools to act aggressively against those who bully. It also lays out some ground rules for those Boards who have students who wish to set up a club or organisation that supports alternative lifestyles. For the record, this is what the Bill – The Accepting Schools Act says to this:

   303.1  Every board shall support pupils who want to establish and lead,

  (a)  activities or organizations that promote gender equity;

  (b)  activities or organizations that promote anti-racism;

   (c)  activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people with disabilities; or

  (d)  activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.

And that last clause is what has certain (though not all) religious folks all in a slather.

The religious leaders say that agenda is driven by gay activists (snicker suppressed). Yup. The gays are behind everything evil, I guess.

“When you are forcing teachers, Christian teachers, Jewish teachers, Muslim teachers, to teach things that are contrary to the values that they hold, to teach that there are six genders and that you are not attached to the gender of your anatomy, do you not find that that may be an offence to a lot of Ontarians?” asked McVety.

Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of Chabad Flamingo Synagogue in Toronto said he also believes that parts of the anti-bullying bill aimed at making schools inclusive and tolerant of gay lifestyles are offensive to many families.

“This legislation proposes that children be indoctrinated to reject their parents’ faith and their parents’ family values, and that’s an affront,” said Kaplan.

“What nobody here in good conscience can support is a law that calls on people of faith to abandon the beliefs that we consider sacred, all in the name of political correctness.”

Other religious activists say there will be a mass exodus of kids from public and separate schools if the anti-bullying bill with its sexual accommodation provisions is not amended.

But there is nothing in the text whatsoever about Boards and schools being “forced” to set up these groups which scare them so… only that they shall not get in the way of a student or students who do want to set up and lead such an organisation. This will prevent backwards Boards like the Halton Catholic Board from banning such groups in the name that such groups run counter to their philosophies. There are some vague words in the Bill like requiring boards to develop and implement an equity and inclusive education policy, but I don’t see how this can be twisted to mean that all Boards will be required to teach about alternative lifestyles.

Of course, these so-called “religious leaders” will jump at any opportunity to frame progressive legislation as anti-tradition, anti-family and anti-freedom. What is really a set of strict rules intended to deter bullying targeted at any individual regardless of the motivation for the act is twisted into an “example” of how the government is infringing upon the religious rights of certain groups. Clearly, there is no such thing happening in this instance.

And yes, Charles McVetty, of the Institute for “Canadian Values” is the same guy who led a “successful” campaign against the reworking of Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum (successful is in quotes because I wonder how a positive slant can be given to a result that will inevitably result in more teen pregnancies, STDs, etc.).

Look – I guess the bottom line is that if you want to bury your head in the sand and seek education programs that reflect your values – that’s your business. And if you want to somehow twist this much-needed anti-bullying Bill to support your narrow-minded beliefs, well that’s your business too.

But it is my business when I, as a taxpayer of Ontario, have to indirectly support these values that I do not at all support. There are private faith-based schools out there who are waiting with open arms for people like you! Go for it! Please! Let the mass exodus of kids from public and separate schools begin!





Play-based learning

Good article in the Glob and Spew this morning described play-based learning and its benefits for young children.

Essentially, this is a progressive approach to learning that posits that children will learn life tools and skills more happily and readily if presented to them as a part of their “play”, and they will be retained longer and integrated deeper. It also argues that these types of tools and skills are very bit as important as numeracy and literacy. One of these skills is called self-regulation – the ability to control your instinctive reaction to a situation, contemplate your next action and then act in a manner that is socially acceptable and beneficial to you in the long run.

About 40 years ago, researchers at Stanford University developed of way of testing aspects of self-regulation through something called the Marshmallow Test. A group of 4-year-olds were left alone in a room with a marshmallow, and instructed that if they managed not too eat the fluffy treat they’d be given a second one at the end of their wait. About 30 per cent of the kids were able to resist 15 or more minutes of temptation, and held out for a second marshmallow. The researchers followed up with the children as teenagers and adults, and found that those who were able to control their impulses were better adjusted as high school students, scored hundreds of points higher on their SATs, were less likely to be overweight or have drug problems.

These adaptive skills are critical, and as a parent of three children – all of whom attended an institutional daycare at one time of another – I have seen this for myself. By and large, through the approaches taken by their daycares – as well as at home – they have all learned valuable adaptive social skills that have or are paying dividends. And they learned them eagerly because it was fun! I have never been a “flash card” kind of parent and hold that it is more important to discover those hidden social and self-learning skills through playing and exploring as it is to be able to count to 20 by the time they are 18 months old.

Some parents will strongly disagree with this approach.

Even we as adults will absorb knowledge and acquire skills more readily if it is an enjoyable experience. Who among us didn’t have at least one course in our scholastic or professional lives where, after the conclusion of the course, we scratched our head while thinking “good topic, but I would have gotten much more from it if it was presented in a better way…”

“There is a long history of understanding that children learn through play, but one of the things that has tended to happen, it comes particularly from the United States … is this push to do things sooner, harder, to shove academics down to younger and younger children,” said Marilyn Chapman, an early learning expert at the University of British Columbia and lead writer of B.C.’s new kindergarten program.

The reason the American approach doesn’t work? If children are pushed to read, for example, they might learn at an earlier age but research suggests they’re also more likely to become disinterested in reading by the age of eight.

“At the end of the day they don’t like reading and writing and then they don’t want to do it unless they’re forced to; what’s the point?” asked Prof. Chapman.

Exactly. Sure, learning can be forced down their proverbial throats, but are they going to retain it?

Play-based learning is a central pillar of Ontario’s new full day kindergarten program. Good daycares have been doing this for years and now that Boards of Education are assuming the functions of the 3.8 years and older educators, they would do well to speak to these daycares to find out what works and does not work. They will learn much.


A favourite sport of some social conservatives…

… is to bash and slash pretty much any opinion, line of work, profession, whatever, that does not line up with their narrow philosophies.

The teaching profession is often the target of these self-styled critics. I follow a guy on Twitter who goes on and on about the inadequacies of our public school system and how the private sector can offer better alternatives. Teachers and their unions are often the target of his vitriol. Teachers are seen as largely lazy and unmotivating opportunists who are sheltered from criticism by their culture and especially their unions.

Kelly Egan composed a touching and illustrative piece in the Citizen the other day about teachers and teaching. You should read it. There are teachers out there who are the stars of their professions. They exemplify what educators should strive to be.

I was fortunate to have a few of these teachers during my years in the public education system. I would like to thank them for helping to form what I became today.  They gave a damn.

Audrey Tournay – my Grade 11 grammar/creative writing –  she taught me how to write and to appreciate the importance of grammar and structure.

Dick Facer. My Grade 11 English Drama teacher.  Sadly, he passed away just last week. He had a kick-ass sense of humour, treated students with a great deal of respect and  managed to engage students who were otherwise hard to reach.

Judy Cardwell. Another English teacher. I know many of my contemporaries could not stand her as she was sometimes aloof and was a very hard marker. But she listened to my sometimes irreverent take on modern novels and graded me according to the strength of my argument and not on whether or not she agreed with it. I still remember the look on her face when I handed in an essay entitled “Stone Angel: a glorified Harlequin romance novel”! But she gave me an “A”.

Finally, the one teacher who above all others turned me into the monster I am today was Paul Gray – my Grade 13 Canadian History teacher.  My love for politics – and Canadian politics in particular – can be 90% credited to him (the other 10% to my Mom and Dad). He listened. He debated. And he wouldn’t put up with any BS in his class.

Paul was most famous for his annual Grade 13 field trips to Ottawa. On his own time and much of his own dime, I suspect. We were put up at the Y on Catherine Street and Paul organised two full days of meetings and activities with political-types. He was quite active with the parry Sound Liberals at the time plus he had a brother who was a Parliamentary reporter – so he had some connections. We met with Roméo LeBlanc, Jean-Luc Pépin and one other Cabinet Minister… I think it was John Munro.

And of course we sat in the Gallery of the HoC and listened to Trudeau, Broadbent and Joe Clark yell at each other! If I recall, the debate of the day was the NEP – which still brings a flutter to the Albertan heart, I’m sure…

The “thing” is that educators like Paul Gray, Judy Cardwell, Dick Facer and Audrey Tournay – each in their own way- gave a more than just a damn about their chosen profession. They were cognizant of the fact that what they did and said on a daily business would influence the lives of the young and the impressionable. Sure, we can all rhyme off those teachers with whom the experience was somewhat less than positive. But for me, those were the exceptions to the rule – and not the rule itself.

Thanks to you all.





School system choices: one parent sums it up nicely

I have often lamented Ontario’s wasteful 4 track education system – especially the non linguistic based dualities of the Public and Catholic Boards of Education. I firmly believe that most if not all of the financial ills that face our system of publicly-funded education could be cured not by first looking to private sector alternatives like Charter Schools, but by eliminating religion-based education.

And I would dearly love it if a high level politico at the Provincial level would have the guts to make this a ballot box issue. But I am not so naïve to believe that this will happen any time soon.

But it will happen eventually. It must.


Megan Cornell runs a nice blog where she opines on a number of things, but many are education or childcare related.  She, like my wife and I, will be seeing her child enter JK this fall. And she, like my wife and I, considers this to be an important step in the development of her child.

In Megan’s latest entry she talks about having to choose a school and school system. This was not ever an issue for me. Because of my wife’s upbringing, we could have sent either of our children to one of the four Boards in Ottawa. But for us, it was really a no-brainer – the OCDSB was the only choice possible.

Here’s how Megan described her decision:

Next up: the Catholic Board.  Here’s the thing: I fundamentally do not believe that our publicly funded schools are the place for religion of any type to be taught.  I was raised going to Church and our family currently are members of a Church and attend regularly.  I believe that religious education should be delivered by family and religious institution, not the state.  Full stop.  I also believe that there are compelling financial reasons for there to not be four school boards in Ottawa.

Well put, Megan. It is good to hear a community leader like yourself making strong and accurate statements like these. It will take a groundswell of opinions like these to make a difference and bring about real education reform in Ontario. Religious education should NOT be delivered by the state.

Hopefully, someone is listening.


Friday miscellany

Been a while since I did a “sum up the week” post, but there’s enough going on in Canada and elsewhere to merit a return.

First up, WikiLeaks.

I’m starting to get suspicious about the motives behind the massive attacks on WikiLeaks and its founder. The Americans accuse him of treason even though he is a foreign national. Financial institutions like MasterCard and PayPal are pressured by the U.S. government to shut down WikiLeak’s access to its accounts. Frontier mentality gunslingers everywhere (but mostly American, it seems) are saying that Julian Assard should get a bullet in the head… if you doubt me, check out the discussion forum on Facebook.

But why? Why has this been whipped into such a religious fervour?

I know some disagree with me, but I don’t see this who thing as much more than a leak of some pseudo-important information (at best) that may cause some embarrassment to some governments and individuals. I noted in an earlier post that governments are loath to give up their control of information access and spin, but the more I think about it, the more I have to wonder if there isn’t something bigger behind this (what I consider to be) over reaction.

OK, Squid-dude – I know you’re going to comment on this! Fair enough to call him a criminal (I don’t quite agree – but it is a legitimate position) but you have to admit that there is much being made of this tempest in a teapot!

Next, the perimeter security agreement between Canada and the U.S.

This could be an issue that has some legs. Although the Harperites will do their best to spin it as a national security matter and that Canadians had better just shut up and do as we are told.

The Department of Public Safety communications strategy for the “perimeter security” deal amounts to a blueprint for selling the agreement to Canadians.

It also provides a rare insight into how the government regards Canadians: as a nation ignorant of the true scale of the security threat it faces and more concerned with privacy rights.

The communications strategy for the perimeter security declaration – which the document says will be unveiled in January, 2011 – predicts one of the biggest potential critics will be the federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart. That’s because the deal is expected to increase the amount of data exchanged between law enforcement and other government authorities in both countries.

This is important, folks! A foreign government is about to get access to your personal information and the Harperites think that this is just jim-dandy. We need to pay attention to this as it develops and ensure that our Privacy Commish’s concerns – when they are expressed – are addressed.

And how about that brand spanking new Ottawa city Council?

One of the first decisions to be made was to establish a transit commission. This, in my view, is a positive development as a pseudo arm’s length decision-making body will be able to make the hard choices that are sometimes necessary when dealing with transit issues – and especially the ATU – without a fear of political backlash.

On the other hand, all of the first decisions made by this Council involved spending more money… hopefully THAT is out of their systems!

Stevo sings and dances!

Two words: spring election.

Riots hit London. Royal couple imperilled!

Demonstrators spotted the royal couple in their purple Rolls-Royce as they were riding through London’s theater district surrounded by a cordon of motorcycles. A mob of around 50 demonstrators, many wearing full-face balaclavas, managed to shove through their police escort, which included armed royal security guards. They then hurled paint bombs at the car, kicked dents into its doors and smashed its rear window — all the while chanting “off with their heads!” and “Tory scum!”
And folks, if the economy in Great Britain and elsewhere continues to tank, expect to see more of this. People may get into desperate straits and this begets desperate measures. And if THAT happens, expect to live in more of a police state than we already do.
Lastly, about that student performance thing again…
I take it back. Yes, we could do better, but as Jeffery Simpson correctly points out, we aren’t doing too shabby either. Plus, as the Squid noted, the OECD figure showed only two Chinese cities – Shanghai and Hong Kong – and not the country as a whole. If the whole of China were assessed, I suspect the rankings would be different just as if only one high-performed city in Canada was ranked instead of the country as a whole.


I don’t think this is good enough, do you?

Read the article in the National Post here.