Archive for the ‘Politics’ category

Catholic values vs students’ rights

March 17, 2011

Yet another clash between religion and freedom has occurred at a Catholic high school in Ontario. This time things went down at St. Patrick High School in Thunder Bay on March 10, 2011.

Alexandria Szeglet, a Grade 10 student, attached to her school uniform a piece of green tape with the word “CHOICE” written on it. This was her response to a  number of other students who wore a red piece of tape with “LIFE” printed on it and choose not to speak for the day to as part of an anti-abortion/pro-life event.

Not only did Szeglet wear her green tape pro-choice message, she handed out pieces of the green tape to many other students as well. Szeglet as well as another dozen students were sent home for their actions. The principal of the school, John de Faveri, stated that “the pro-choice students were not appropriate in the context of a Catholic school.”

To read more about the situation, read this article or this one.

Many of my colleagues have speculated about the longevity of the separate school system in Ontario. Those who believe its days are numbered seem to think that it will be an economic reality that will eventually lead to its demise. They believe that during some provincial election far in the future, some party will bravely put forth the issue of the amalgamation of the school systems as a cost-saving measure.

I disagree. While there is certainly some duplication in the administration of the two systems, coterminous school boards are already sharing many resources and have combined for purchase power to the point that much of the savings have already been obtained.

What I believe will be the downfall of the Catholic school system in Ontario will be their individual board’s inability to afford students their basic rights while adhering to the ancient tenets of Roman Catholicism. I don’t see our province’s human rights regressing and I doubt the Catholic church is set to become more progressive in its social views. As this gap continues to widen, Catholic schools are going to struggle to remain relevant and viable in the eyes of the public.

It will be the public’s disgust with the positions and actions of Catholic School Boards that will lead voters to dismiss the separate school system and demand a single, unified one. It won’t be this provincial election, or probably even the next, but the clock is ticking.

Partisan Politics, Education, and the Ivory Tower

July 7, 2010

There was a time, as a young teacher, when I believed that academics working in the field of Education based their politics on their personal experience within the Education system.  That is, I thought that after working in and studying Education, those looking down at us lowly teachers from their ivory tower came to their academic conclusions based on their observations and then sided with a political perspective which supported their findings.  I realize now that politics is their initial point of reference for such so-called experts and that Education is merely subject of their gaze.

Case and point: How long have we in Canada heard about how we need to move to a more privatized and competitive schooling system, like the United States?  Charter schools, private schools, voucher systems – these were all supposed to give American kids an advantage over the students on this side of the border.  And – as a bonus – these privatized systems would, incidentally, lower taxes.

But recent results of international testing show Canadian students performing much higher than their American counterparts.  The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), ranked 15 year-old Canadian students fifth out of 57 participating countries when tested for math and science, while American students lagged behind in 32nd place.  Canadian students also proved superior in reading literacy skills.  All this while Canada only spends 3.4% of its GDP on education ($8,169 per student) while the U.S. spends 3.9% ($10,692).

So how do the right-wing edu-pundits respond to this?  In a recent National Post article, they have done an about-face saying that the achievement of Canadian students is due to our country’s competitive and somewhat privatized Education systems.  What???  Suddenly Canada’s Education system is competitive?  Nowhere in the article are there any arguments or explanations demonstrating that our system is truly more privatized or competitive than the American one or that pitting educational systems against one another is good for students.  This is certainly a clear case of right-wing spin.  Not surprising to find in the National Post, but depressing to see nonetheless.

Remembering a powerful activist from Attawapiskat

June 20, 2010

I should have posted this much earlier, but sometimes when you hear bad news you expect that everyone else must have heard it too and that they all feel the loss as you did.

It seems that this story has been either missed or certainly under-reported by the major media outlets outside of Northern Ontario.  I find this surprising as young activists are rare and successful young activists perhaps even more so.  So when I heard that Shannen Koostachin from Attawapiskat was killed in a car accident earlier this month, I thought it would make headlines.

For those of you who have never heard of Attawapiskat, it is a tiny community near the uppermost limits of Ontario, situated just upriver from James Bay.  In 1979 a toxic oil spill seeped under the community’s only school and was never properly cleaned up.  Students were forced to use the contaminated school for over 20 years while successive federal government’s ignored pleas for help.  The school was finally closed when parents no longer allowed their children to attend and teachers refused to work there.  For the past 10 years, students were educated in a mish-mash of portable buildings and shelters.  The community launched a campaign to have a proper new school built and Shannen Koostachin, barely in her teens, emerged as an unlikely but persuasive activist.  Hearing Shannen speak was a humbling, yet invigorating experience.  She spoke simply and directly enough to hush a room and inspire respect.

Shannen lived to hear the federal government formally promise the funding of a new school for Attawpaiskat, scheduled to open in 2012.  What a shame that she will not be there see it.  A sad story, but perhaps her legacy will encourage others to realize the power of one voice — even the voice of a single child.

Canadian Education Press Association

June 17, 2010

I was away from the blog for the past week as I attended the 50th annual meeting of the Canadian Educational Press Association.

Although it is always great to get together in this relatively exclusive club of communication specialists from the professional education community, for me the highlight of the event was our keynote speaker Jesse Hirsh.  Many of you will probably have heard of Jesse as he is a regular contributor to CBC radio where he discusses issues of emerging technology and culture.  The man is very bright and brings a sharp and philosophical perspective to how technology affects us.  I think Jesse defines what he does best when he contrasts himself against other tech-commentators: “They tend to idolize new technology and gadgets rather than analyzing their political and cultural impact.” (I am paraphrasing here).

Aside from his intelligence and his ability to critically analyze technology, Jesse is an amazing speaker whose voice captures the attention of everyone within earshot.  So, in the spirit of Plato’s Republic, I nominate Jesse Hirsh for King of the Internet — a position I am sure he would refuse because he seems so content to analyze our digital world that I doubt that, even if given the chance, he would want to rule it.

I found a great clip of Jesse waxing philosophical on anarchy on the internet.  Enjoy!

Who decides how much to spend on public schools?

June 9, 2010

Thing aren’t looking so good over at the Vancouver school board.

It’s a story that it’s been told many times over.  The Ministry of Education tells a board how much they can spend while the board tells the Ministry how much they need to spend.  Who wins?  Put your money on the Ministry every time.  They will send in a bean counter who, with no real interest or understanding of the needs of the schools, slash budgets and make cuts.  And then, “Hurray!  The budget will be balanced!”

Historically, schools (and then school boards) were locally run.  Taxes were raised locally and decisions were based on the specific and often unique needs of the area.  By having a province or state collect taxes for education certain leveled the playing field allowing rural regions to enjoy the same funding as urban and industrial ones.  Ministries also provided homogeneous standards ensuring that all students received education of a similar quality.  But somewhere along the line the important role of local boards to address the specific needs or local schools?  Surely the funding of an inner-city school in a metropolis is very different than the funding of a rural school.  In Ontario, the government has promised for years to fix the admittedly flawed funding formula.

In the meantime, I suggest holding bake sales.  That’s what schools have been doing for decades.  This recipe looks good:

Et tu, Nipissing?

June 8, 2010

Okay, this post is dedicated to Bill H who is has nudged me to return as the Banderblogger and who has given me a great tip on news story breaking up in North Bay.

It seems that Nipissing University is planning on conferring an honorary degree on former Ontario Premiere Mike Harris.  And yes, this is the same Nipissing University that is rumoured to be planning on naming its new $25 million library after Mike Harris and, yes, this is the same Mike Harris that gutted the Ontario public education system ten years ago.

Now, in Nipissing’s defence, it has an excellent teacher education faculty whose reputation is growing.  Why it would tarnish this reputation by associating itself with the man responsible for dismantling and hamstringing the school system is anybody’s guess.  Sure, Mike is a hometown boy, but why not honour some other local resident who is deserving of the honour, say, I don’t know . . . Michael J. Fox who publically campaigns on behalf of Parkinsons research or Scott Thompson of Kids in the Hall fame.  Hell, even North Bay-born Troy Hurtubise whose quest for grizzly-proof armour was documented in the NFB documentary Project Grizzly has more respect in Ontario than Mike Harris.

C’mon Nip U, give your head a shake.

And if you can’t get enough Mike Harris bashing, check out this great article in the Globe and Mail that compares present Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty with Harris.

Meaningful Lessons on Media Literacy

May 20, 2010

All teachers know that finding material for lesson plans on social issues can be very difficult.  Finding relevant, up-to-date research on such topic such as media literacy is hard enough, but creating meaningful lessons from it can be harder still.  The Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women and Children promotes the development of community- centered, action research on violence against women and children.  One of the projects that the centre has coordinated is a series of lessons on critical media literacy.  These lessons can be perused and downloaded for free here.  Lessons for both elementary and secondary school classes are available.

These are well-written lesson plans geared for specific levels and courses, however the can easily be tweaked to fit a wide range of educational uses.

The Centre’s role is to facilitate the cooperation of individuals, groups and institutions representing the diversity of the community to pursue research questions and training opportunities to understand and prevent abuse.

It serves local, national and international communities by producing useful information and tools to assist in the daily work against violence toward women and children.