Tuesday, October 26, 2010

illiteracy - the reason why

People make a good deal of noise about the poor reading skills of children in the schools of New Brunswick. It's more important, though, to look at the reading skills of their parents. After all, students cannot learn to love reading only in school. Reading books takes time and concentration. The child has to live in an environment that encourages reading. The atmosphere created by home and parents is essential to developing reading skills. I was lucky.

Though we lived in a cramped, two-room flat, we always had room for books and magazines. My father was an enthusiastic reader. My mother was devoted to detective magazines. It wasn't great literature. But it was reading. Reading was a normal thing in our house for hours at a time.

As well, we were blessed with no television or video games. On rainy days, I could listen to radio. But daytime radio was mostly for adults. So I read. And read. It wasn't great literature. But I read children's books, and then pirate books, and then cowboy books and Kipling and Service. It wasn't great literature. But I did learn to concentrate, to imagine, to reason, and to open all that books and newspapers and magazines had for me by the time I had finished elementary school. It was by reading that I also learned the sounds and meanings of words and the structure and rhyttm of sentences. I learned to write and to think by reading.

Almost half the adults in New Brunswick are functionally illiterate. They can handle only the simplest of reading tasks, only for a short time, and cannot read well enough to follow even newspaper. Statisticians urging school reform as the answer to our reading problem are sending us off an a false trail.

It's not the schools that are the problem. One major problem is in  the parents and the atmosphere of the home. Reading of any sort simply does not happen in half of New Brunswick's homes. At that, the statistics are still misleading because the differences across Canada are not great. Most differences between New Brunswick and the rest of Canada are small, and well within any survey's margin of error. (Yes, statisticians who present you with rankings as though they were reporting a horse race are, in effect, lying.)

Canada, with the US, ranks 21st in the world in literacy. (The first are Georgia and Cuba. Then Kyrsgnistan.) About half the adults in Canada's major cities are really non-readers. The average American reads about the same level as the average Canadian, about grade seven. In the US, 42% of graduatiing BAs will never read another book in their lives. There is no evidence that we can expect any change over the next twenty years,at least. Standardized testing will not change that. Humiliating teachers will not change that.

In a good half of the homes across Canada, reading is not a normal activity.Normal activities are watching TV and playing computer games. Even in its serious moments, TV is the least effective way to communicate anything. TV, including the news, is just colours and pictures moving (that's why most camera angles are held only for seconds.) Radio is far more effective than TV in encouraging thought, ideas and imagination. But the radio audience disappears off a cliff when the 6 pm news comes on TV. And computer games are almost as passive as TV.

Nor are newspapers much help. Partly, that's because most North American newspapers are trivial or heavily biased or lying by omission - or, like The Moncton Times and Transcript, all three. Our children are not growing up in a world conducive to reading. Perhaps if the whole school day were spent in compulsory reading, it might help - a little. But putting teachers and schools into public competition with each other certainly won't change anything. The US has been using this, along with other forms of privatization, since 1984. And to no measurable effect.

Not only is our economy unsustainable if this continues, the very idea of democracy becomes absurd. How can any people have a democracy when half of them don't even have to capacity or will to gather basic information? (Let alone the basic reasoning skills to make judgements.)

The government has to get serious advice (not from a marketing institute) on how to improve literacy at both adult and child levels. As a modest start, I have offered a monthly current events at the Moncton Library. The idea is to get people interested in something so they see some point in reading about it. For that reason, I offer news that never makes most newspapers in North America. (Do you know that President Clinton, about 1998, publicly apologized for the murders of 200,000 Maya in Guatemala? Google New York Times Guatemala Clinton Apology.)

I inject differences of opinion about what is happening in the world - because there are differences - and I suggest where people can look news up on newspapers all over the world. It's a modest start. But you start by getting people interested in something they WANT to read, something they can talk about.

That's why I think schools are making a mistake in not making current events available as an extra-curricular activity. (Not as a school course. If you go that route, you might just as well make their minds go blank through compulsory reading the The Moncton Times.)

I offered to run such an activity at a local high school. Unfortunately, they are interested only in activity leaders who wear skates.

We don't have a school problem or a teacher problem in reading. We have a society problem.

Standardized testing is a North American movement to benefit private business. Statistics are being manipulated to encourage it. Within a year, we will be hearing about the next step, charter schools. Those will do even greater damage than standardized has. The effect of them in the US is proof of that as, after twenty five years of it, US scores have not risen any faster than Canadian ones - which means they have scarcely risen at ll.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A newspaper that hides the news - and the invisible professors

If you google  Information Clearing House Newsletter for today, Oct. 26, you will read gruesome news from aound the world about our friends who are carrying on atrocities beyond the imagination of Russel Williams. In comparison, Williams is a sweet guy. Most of it contains secret military information from Wikkileaks. The Moncton Times didn't have space for the story. They must have needed the space for a host of unknown celebrities whose birthdays are today.

I was on CBC Radionoon today to talk about standardized testing. The format is terrible to try to make any sense out. It was me plus the CEO of AIMS plus a gaggle of phone calls. That's just blip-blip-blip.  It reminded me why I gave up long ago on the news media to make any point.

Puzzling, though. New Brunswick is undergoing the biggest change in education since the seventeenth century. There has been almost no public debate about - or even information. Most puzzling - where the hell are all the professors of education in this province? There must be at least seventy of them. I have yet to hear one of them say a word in public either for or against this fundamental change. Aren't they the ones we pay millions in tax dollars to be authorities on education?

Most university professors are far too busy, it's true, tryiing to find their belly buttons with only one hand, to have time for us ordinary folks. But just this once, it would be nice to hear from a professor - if only as an indication they actually live and breathe.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

an advertisement for me.

I have just started a second series of blogs. This one will be very short stories (truth and fiction), current events - Canadian and foreign, maybe children's stories, whatever I'm thinking about. You can read it by googling   Graeme the Chatterer

The first one is a story that is true. Mostly. All the important parts are true.

Conservative "economies"

So, the Conservative government of New Brunswick has decided to take a bold step in slashing the budget by dropping programmes for children who need them. They're going so save us taxpayers $800,000 (or, rather, they're going to pay back 800,000 to banks.)

They haven't quite called it a cutback. They've called it a new philosophy of teaching. (Parents already have a note about it from the schools.) The new philosophy is teaching directly for student needs, with teachers having the flexibility to to deal differently in curriculum and methods for those who need it. Well, it's not actually new. I mean, it's the way teachers have been taught to teach for at least a century, and it's the way most have done it.

But it really doesn't matter. The teachers won't be able to teach in that new way, anyway. They can't. Standardized testing and school ranking can only be done (however falsely) with a standard curriculum, and with a standard approach of teaching for the test rather than for the needs of the students.

That means the letter all you parents got from the ministry of education is a blend of impossibility, lying and, in the end, gutting the schools to save $800,000.  However -

Rest assured, they will continue to pay unreported millions for standardized tests that are worthless and damaging, but good for millionaires who get the contracts for them.

Now,they could have savee a lot more by scrapping those useless standardized tests. In fact,that would have given them enough money to pay the banks even more, while still keeping their special programmes.

Congratulations New Brunswick voters, you have just voted out a dishonest and corrupt government to vote in a dishonest and corrupt government. How many centuries will it take to learn that the Liberals and the Conservatives are the same dogs with the same masters?

Oh, congratulations to The Times for its courageous attack on U de Moncton for its reluctance to allow the city to build sewers under its property. And I'm sure the Times would have been just as courageous if U de Moncton had been Irving's headquarters building, and the Irvings had been reluctant.

Oh, re U do Moncton and its football stadium. How many have figured out the scam that's going on there? Like the hockey rink, it's going to cost you - big. And The Times will think it's wonderful. (Hint - think bread and circusses.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

A report The Moncton Times Didn't Report

A Request to District 2 DEC regarding standardized testing and public ranking

Accountability in Our Public Schools: The Whole Truth...... p. 1

Appendices.............................................................................pp.10 to 41

Please forgive the handwritten parts. I failed writing in grade four. It was the teacher's fault.

Below is a report The Moncton Times had access to, but didn't mention. So I thought I'd include the ten page report here. It's the one I have to the DEC of district 2 - whith one, possibly two, Times reporters sitting in front of me. It's about the changes our schools are being put through - the biggest changes in three centuries of education. They are based on pure greed. And the Moncton Times is a cheerleader.

In the report it did make of the meeting, it spent all of its time blowing up a minor protest, and making it look like a parent revolt. Of some two thousand parents, 20 (that's one-tenth of one percent) showed up for a protest about the closing of Moncton High. That suggests to any reasonable onlooker that 99.9%  of the parents either agree with the superintendant who closed Moncton High or don't give a damn.

But those 20 odds and ends became the whole story for the Times. That's what's called using a newspaper to create a crisis. And, in real journalistic circles, that's considered unethical.

Anyway, here's the report. I covers the origins of the pressure for standardized testing, what it's really all about, who's behind it, and why. It also shows how it damages children - and why it is of no scientific merit at all. In short, it does NOT measure schools or teachers. It's a fraud.  I had to leave out 40 pages of appendices with statistics and sources because I gave away all the copies I had to the DEC. A useful one, though, in on the web - google UNICEF public school ratings. Note also that UNICEF in one of those reports says that standardized tests are invalid for ranking schools or teachers.

Accountability in Our Public Schools: The Whole Truth

Facts And Questions

Let us begin with important news stories of this year you may not have seen in the New Brunswick press – or in most of Canada's press.

1. UNICEF ranks Canada among the top four countries in the developed world for the quality of public education. (The US, including Jeb Bush's home state of Florida ranked 18th of 21.)

2. UNICEF ranks Canada the most educated nation in the world.

3. In making its rankings, UNICEF draws partly on standardized tests. But in doing so, it cautions readers that standardized tests do NOT evaluate the quality of schools or teachers. (In fact, this has been recognized by virtually all social scientists for the last 50 years.) The major factor in a child's success in school exams is the parents – their social class, education, expectations. What standardized tests do, then, is to test the quality of the parents. Are you sure you want to go there?

4. Canada leads the US in completion of secondary schooling.

5. UNICEF research is carried out by leading scholars in education and social sciences from all over the world.

6. UNICEF rates Canadian public schools the second best in the world for science. It rates the US twenty-second.

7. The Atlantic Institute of Marketing Studies is not dedicated to helping children. Read the whole AIMS website. It has all the puffery of a brochure for a new toothpaste. The CEO and director of their teaching project, the man who now effectively controls curriculum throughout the Atlantic provinces, lacks the qualifications to get a teaching job at even the lowest level anywhere in Canada.

That raises questions for the DEC. Why, in seeking advice, did the government of New Brunswick ignore the seventy or so scholars of education in New Brunswick universities? The more than a thousand scholars in Canada? The more than ten thousand in the US? The many tens of thousands all over the world? Why did it go to a marketing institute for advice on education? Why did it act on advice that was proven false over a half century ago? Why is AIMS pushing for an education system designed to deal with a US racial problem – and which hasn't worked even in the US? Why has the New Brunswick press encouraged doubt about the New Brunswick school system and its teacher, when both are among the best in the world? (And ranked there by an organization far bigger and far, far more skilled than AIMS? Why did AIMS, with access to thousands of scholars, invite Jeb Bush – who has never taught, has no training in the field, and who comes from an educational backwater – to speak at an education conference in Moncton? Why was a conference on education attended largely by corporate heavyweights?

Why didn't a single reporter in the whole province ask any of the above questions?

Who Am I to Criticize Anybody?

Well, I'm a tax payer with three children in the District 2 schools.

I am a registered teacher in both New Brunswick and Quebec. I taught for some six years in Montreal public schools. Then I completed a doctorate n history, and taught some 35 years at Concordia University. In most of that period, I was twice daily on radio, hundreds of times interviewed for TV news in Canada, Britain, and the US, and wrote hundreds of newspaper and magazine columns. My major fields of commentary were politics, foreign affairs, and education. I was also a professional speaker who was keynoter at many international and Canadian conferences – including visiting members of the European parliament, Canadian university presidents and senior administrators, a conference of specialists in international law, of private school headmasters,and of the Quebec Teachers' Association. Along the way I won several national and regional awards for best commentary of the year (both in print and on radio).

I was three times listed in MacLean's University ranking as one of the five most popular teachers at Concordia. Like all of MacLean's rankings (and all of AIMS rankings), that means nothing. I was, however, proud when Quebec public school teachers voted me the province's social studies teacher of the year about 2003.

With my experience of journalism, I know a deliberate smear campaign when I see one. And I have closely followed the very sophisticated smear campaign to discredit New Brunswick public schools and teachers. I also see its similarities to a campaign across Canada and the US.

Private Business and Public Schooling – A Brief History

Public schooling in Canada owes a great deal to Scots Presbyterians. .The Scottish public education was designed for all children, rich and poor. The rich then, who commonly controlled school boards, had an incentive to make sure the schools were good. This became the model for most of Canada.

The exception was Quebec where Catholics maintained a system of private schools, accessible to the financially comfortable, unattainable for most.. The rich still controlled them by sitting on boards and dominating government. But there was no incentive to make sure the public schools were even minimally adequate. (Historically, Quebec Catholic school taxes were far lower than Protestant ones.) The result was to maintain power in the hands of the elite. For example, every premier but one in the history of Quebec has been a private school graduate. (And the one exception attended private school, but failed.)

By the 1960s, it was obvious the Quebec Catholic school system was a social, educational, and economic disaster. That's why it was remodelled after the Protestant system in the Quiet Revolution. However, private schools remained the schools for the rich, and were able to continue getting substantial subsidies.

With the rapid industrialization of the 1850s, schools were adapted to produce reliable labour, with each class modelled on the demands and schedules of the factory floor. That's why lateness became a serious offence, often punished with staying after school, with suspension, and even with strapping. The factory demanded promptness, order, structure, obedience. So began a century and more of classrooms with six rows, each row straight, the teacher's desk in the command position, and bells to change functions. Learning was based heavily on rote learning (memorization) of standardized texts, with exams based on the rote learning. Only gradually, as teachers became more highly trained and as educational research expanded, was it understood that such a system robotized more than it educated.

By the 1950s, social scientists around the world had come to general agreement. Rote learning was a waste of time. It was a shallow form of learning that did nothing to develop judgement or critical powers; and it was usually forgotten soon after the test.

They, and teachers, came to general agreement on another point at about the same time. A student's success in school was only partly determined by the school or the teacher. It was more, much more, determined by the social status, education, and expectations of the parents. A standardized test is worthless as a test of schools or teachers. It is really a test of parents. Rich kids do well on standardized tests. Poor ones don't.

Children in most provinces read better than children in New Brunswick. Naturally. That's because New Brunswick parents don't read much, In fact, they have a stunningly high rate of functional illiteracy.

Children are not simply parts on an assembly line. Parts on an assembly line are standard in every respect. One steering wheel on an assembly line is exactly like all the other steering wheels. But children are humans. They don't come in standardized shapes or types or values. Standardized tests, then, tell us more about the parents than they do about the teachers. I learned that by my own public school experience.

I grew up in a Montreal district then rated one of the five, poorest districts in Canada. I still remember all eighteen children in my first grade class. Not one, including me, would finish high school. We weren't stupid. Finishing high school simply wasn't on the radar of poor families. University was a word that meant something that was not of our world, and could not be of our world.

When I went to high school, it was to a school that drew in children from a wide social range. (Two of my predecessors were the working class Oscar Peterson and the very upper class Christopher Plummer). I was lucky enough to make it into the A class, the smart kids. There, I was astonished to meet classmates who thought of a BA as a minimal goal, with most already thinking of graduate degrees. Some were rich kids. They came from families which accepted university as normal. Others were a poor as me, but Jewish.

They came from a Judaic tradition that placed a high value on learning. Years later, I became friendly with Mordecai Richler; and I mentioned this to him. He grinned. “When I began kindergarten”, he said, “My mother walked me to school every day. I didn't know it; but in her mind, this was pre-med school.”.

Alas! It was too late for me. I failed grade 10, and was failing grade 11when the principal advised me to leave. I got a job as an office boy for Bell Telephone, pitied by the friends I had known at school. But I was a success story in my home neighbourhood. I had a job, a steady job. And I wore clean clothes to work. And came home with clean hands.

The future would show I had one advantage. I read well and often. That advantage came from my parents. There were always books in the house. My father visited the used book store, and brought me home a book or two every Saturday. Because I could read, I could understand, and I could write. In the end, I would catch up because of the example set by my parents. It's the parents who are the most important factor in educational success.

The Origins and Importance of Public Schools

In the seventeenth century, Presbyterianism, unlike Anglicanism or Catholicism of the time, required its adherents to read The Bible themselves rather than to rely on church dogma. Having read it, they were expected to discuss it, and come to their own conclusions about its meaning. This meant all children had to be able to attend school to learn how to read and make judgements.

Scotland, though a small country and a poor one, soon produced a rich stream of scholars, scientists, economists, business leaders and political leaders – far out of proportion to its size. Modern capitalism was developed largely by Scots. It is no accident that Scots were the prime minsters of Canada from1867 to 1891. The first bank in Canada was founded by Scots. The first president of the CPR was a Scot. The Scottish presence in both Canada and the US has been powerfully influential.

They brought with them their faith in public schooling with the rich, in keeping with Scottish practice, sending their own children to the same school system as the poor. That was notable in Montreal in the days of its economic dominance of Canada. Since the Scots were a high proportion of the businessmen, since the businessmen were prominent in Protestant school boards, and had their own children in public schools, they had a stake in making sure the Protestant public schools were good.

Democracy rapidly developed in the years following public schooling. That's because literacy, judgement, awareness of events are essential to democracy.

Indeed, public schooling in modern history has been the foundation of virtually all progress, political and economic, in the world. So why do we feel it imperative to change a system which has been arguably the most effective institution of the last three centuries?

An Impact of Depression and War on Government and Business

The 1930s depression made it essential for governments to intervene far more than they ever had in the economy and in social services. Canada's pioneering prime minister in this regard was the Conservative, R.B.Bennett whose platform of 1935 was notable for its proposed expansion of the role of govenment.

Mackenzie King's Liberals who succeeded Bennet were not so enthusiastic. Then came 1939.

The The First World War had proved and an uncontrolled economy in wartime was a disaster – creating shortages, inefficiencies, soaring inflation, poverty and enormous national debt. Like it or not, King was forced to initiate government conttrol even down to how much sugar I could have on my stale bread cereal.

To everyone's surprise, controls were widely popular as the average Canadian was better off than at any time in history. In the first Canadian gallup poll, taken in the middle of the war, King was shocked to see the social democratic CCF party up to the old parties in support. That's why the Liberals continued (as slowly as possible) to develop social programmes after the war.

Even civil servants rose to admiration for their skill in handing the war economy. Well into the 1950s, major corporations were sending promising executives to Ottawa to study civil service methods. (How soon some people forget!)


Business enthusiasm for government soon vanished as it saw government spending being diverted from private profit to public need. The spread of medicare in Canada, and the highly organized resistance to it in the US are prime examples. But education, growing so rapidly at all levels after 1945, soon took its place as a target for business anxiety.

The problem for private business, especially for very large corporations, was to find a way to influence public opinion, particularly through the news media. The answer was the think tank.

It was not a new idea. .A think tank is simply a group of people doing research to offer advice on a problem. Think tanks have existed since the beginning of human existence. Monasteries were think tanks. So were courtiers. Universities are think tanks, with more think tanks within them. Think tank was a word that sounded could. It created an impression of knowledge and expertize. Such emotive words were to become a staple of the new think tanks.

They gave themselves impressive sounding names, usually including the word “institute”. Hired hands were tarted up with titles like “Senior Fellow of Education Studies”. They established prestigious sounding awards to give to each other. They even adopted a new morality.

The writing of Ayn Rand, such as “Atlas Shrugged”, invented the new morality, a morality that turned every major religion in the world on its head. Do not do unto others as you want them to do unto you. Forget the poor and the sick. Helping them just causes more problems. Forget your responsibility to society. Don't give to others. Think only of yourself. Be greedy. Greed is good. Everyone would be better off if each person did everything out of self-interest.

At last, there was a philosophy that made being rich and greedy moral. That sat well with the new think tanks that wanted to denigrate government, social concerns, and social programmes of all kinds. And wanted to elevate the abilities of private interests to solve all problems.

The combination of opposition to government power (except, of course, when it was diverted to private interests, like bailing out banks) combined with the new morality is what gave birth to something called neo-conservatism (though it was not new, and had nothing to do with conservatism.) American neo-conservatism attached itself to American patriotism, largely though association with highly fictitious ideas about the American Revolution and American history.

In keeping with that, and with an instinct for emotionally evocative words like “free”, instead of the greedy sounding “private”, the think tanks needed only to find a demand for their ideas. They found it, curiously enough, in the American civil rights movement.

Blacks, seemingly victorious in their struggle for equality in the 1960s, were almost immediately disillusioned by the results, especially in education. Lower achievement for Black students remained the norm..Parents blamed the schools, demanding changes and accountability to the community.

Neo-conservatives immediately recognized the emotive value of “accountabilty to the community”, and added it to their jargon. As well, they launched a campaign to organize schools efficiently, as “free” enterprise would do it – in contrast to all those inefficient civil servants. It would, as all their reports did, advocate contracting the school system out to private (oops, sorry) free contractors.

Almost all news media in Canada and the US swallowed the bait. Any “research report” released by a think tank was readily given prominent space on the op ed page, and often with an approving editorial opposite it. I remember a gem from the Montreal Economic Institute denouncing climate change warnings. It got lavish praise from The Montreal Gazette. Shortly after, I met the author, and asked him whether he had done all the research himself, and what research material he had used.

He had done it all by himself. His research was reading one book by a Danish scientist who is one of a small minority who don't believe climate change is happening. He also read one book on economics – published a hundred and fifty years ago. Oh, he had no training in either science or economics.

This is the man the Gazette hailed for disproving the work of thousands of scientists all over the world. And he did it in less than 800 words.(In this context, it is suggestive to read the gushing home page about the world status of AIMS, and the amazing abilities of its members. The CEO (and chief of the education project) is also an expert on government structure, inter-goverment relations as well as debt reduction and taxation. Move over, Plato and Aristotle.

He seems to have no training or experience at all in education. His own education, while decent enough, would scarcely place him in the company of scholars or scientists. Essentially, he appears to be trained in public administration, perhaps with a couple of statistics courses tossed in. Very nice. But how can one make statistical evaluations of a field of which one knows nothing? This is really a case of the blind men arguing over the shape of an elephant.

There was also a subtle campaign to discredit public schools and teachers. This might consist of the prominent display of stories about laxness of a teacher (in a school hundreds of miles away), rumours of how unions were taking over schools. It didn't matter that the incident might be one in a million. It didn't even matter if it was true. The net effect of publishing these stories as news did the job of alarming parents about their public schools, and denigrating the schools and the teachers. (Stories about paedophiles in private residential schools get much less attention than a public school teacher in Montana who didn't let a little girl go to the bathroom.)

Newspaper and other media owners were important agents in this campaign. Of course. They were often the same people who financed the think tanks.

So it was that the movement spread across the border in the form of Atlantic Institute of Marketing Studies and The Fraser Institute, and dozens of others. Given the wealth and connections of their backers who provide much of the funding for political parties of the right sort, and given their news media entree to the public, it is scarcely surprising that they exert enormous influence on governments.

AIMS now effectively controls the curriculum of New Brunswick public schools. It both sets and evaluates the standardized testing and ranking. That standardizing means standardized curriculum, just as if our children were being put together with identical parts along an assembly line. Teachers have become unskilled workers, all their training and value thrown away.

Does Standardized Testing, Ranking and Education Competition Work Anywhere?

It depends on what you mean by “work”

It works, sort of, in parts of Asia. I taught for some time in Hong Kong where education is highly competitive, right from kindergarten. Showing promise in kindergarten means getting into a more prestigious elementary school,, probably a private one. Doing well there can get you into an even more prestigious high school, almost certainly a private one. That can very well get you into a prestigious university like U of Hong Kong.

Actually, the teaching in any of those schools is not much different from the teaching in any other. The “prestige” is largely a matter of rumour and smart advertising. But prestige is important in Hong Kong. A degree from U of Hong Kong is a guarantee of a high paying job with the assurance of permanence no matter how incompetent one proves to be. A degree from a North American university commands polite respect, but carries the suggestion its holder might not have been good enough to get in to U of Hong Kong.

Why does it work?

It works because the social pressure on the student is enormous. It comes from parents, siblings,and from relatives all the way out to the most distant ones. To do less than superior work is to bring down the most crushing sand permanent shame on the whole family – even its very name.

It short, it works there but not here because the environment and values here are different.

But couldn't we adapt it to our environment?

No. It works in producing grades. But it does not work in learning. I leaned that with my first class in Hong Kong.

The students were like none I had ever had before. All were hard working and attentive. Nobody whispered to a neighbour. Nobody was ever absent or late. No assignment was ever late. Once, I casually mentioned I had found a certain article interesting. The next day, I discovered the whole class had read it. We discussed it. So I decided to assign it as their first critical review. That is, they were to write a short essay on the meaning of the article, then make reasoned judgements about the validity of it. A dead silence fell on the room.

Chan Ho Man stood up to speak for all. “Sir, we cannot criticize this article. It was written by a great and respected man. We must study it and memorize it.”

There it was. Standardized test and rankings and competition produce rote learning, useless because it will soon be forgotten. The greater loss is the lack of any useful learning about logic and judgement and understanding. Luckily, with time and patience, I was able to teach them how to make judgements, and a dozen or so of them followed me back to Montreal to do well at Concordia.

The Asian family values and the rote learning had produced harder workers than most of my Canadian students. On the other hand, there was never a Canadian student with a C grade that I had to spend days looking for so I could talk him out of suicide and into a hospital.

Can competition in education work in Canada to at least produce good memorizers?

No. A school of 500 students with an intensive training programme in running might produce ten good runners in a year. Most of t he other 490, sensibly knowing (or thinking) that they cannot be the best as runners, will drop out. That's what happened to me, and most of the kids I began school with.

Standardized testing, ranking,and competition in education will find no support in any serious reseach on education. Indeed, one cannot find even common sense and experience in them. The testing, ranking and competition – and privatization – have nothing to do with research or common sense. They have to do with the destructive philosophy of Ayn Rand, and the self-interest of her adherents.

Summary of the Case Against Standardized Testing and Ranking

Standardized testing is wrong because it is being used to test teachers and schools. That is wrong because it ignores parenting and environment as the major factors in school performance.

Standardized testing is wrong because it encourages rote learning, the lowest and least useful form of learning.

Standardized testing is wrong because it makes teachers into unskilled factory hands, throwing away all the value of their training, experience, and flexibility.

Standardized testing is wrong it makes for a a boring classroom, almost guaranteeing children will conclude, rightly, that school is a waste of time.

Standardized testing is wrong because it is using and harming our children's education simply for private profit. That's as low as child pornography.

Public ranking of schools is wrong because the ranking is, scientifically, a fraud.

Public ranking of schools is wrong because it brings down public humiliation on the students and teachers of the majority of schools who don't make the top level. It's the equivalent of pointing at a poor child and laughing at him in public because his clothes are old and torn. Anyone who has ever been poor will understand that.

Public school ranking is wrong because, under a career hungry administrator, it places impossible demands on teachers to improve grades when many children come from environments that make higher grades impossible.

Public ranking of school is wrong because its using our children as a PR gimmick to promote an ideology based on self-interest and greed. That is worse than wrong. It is immoral. (Sorry, I'm old-fashioned, and didn't like Ayn Rand's books. I think there is a value to morality.)

Why You? Why Me?

Most teachers and administrators know that standardized testing and public ranking are both invalid and damaging. But to publicly oppose them would be professional suicide for anyone employed in the Department of Education. All of us know, too, that most of the news media will be of no help whatever.

We also know that New Brunswick is weak on the concept of public debate. That's why City Council voted to spend 84 million dollars for the city's most urgent need - a hockey rink. When finished, it will become, per capita, the world's most expensive hockey rink. It passed with barely a comment. That's why political campaigns in New Brunswick are essentially contests to see who can produce the cutest slogans.

Those opposed to what AIMS wants have to be in a position to be independent, and with a public presence related to education. Only two such groups spring to mind. One is made up of the DECs. The other is Home and School. I suspect the latter is pretty highly politicized. I'm hoping the former is not.

These are our children. They are being damaged for the private profit of a handful of wealthy people. I am damned if I will allow that to happen to my children. The DEC is my first port of call in this attempt to protect our children from abuse. It will not by any means be my last. But it certainly would be a powerful and honorable gesture for the DEC to take a public position in favour of our children and against their abusers.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

stray thoghts on The Times, the protesting parents,and the reporter who wasn't? there.

It'a suprising enough that a newspaper for a city of 160,000 would devote so much space as The Times did in its issue of Oct. 20, 2010. The protestors numbered only 20. That's not anywhere close to the over a thousand people involved in the MHS problem. The reporter excuses it by Monctonians are too polite to protest.

Well, they are polite. But they had a bigger turnout at city hall for a protest of less importance. You can get more than twenty people to watch a barefoot tap dancer on Main Street. When the teacher's aids and support people deomonstrated at every school, they must have numbered over a hundred. Where was the big coverage of that?  Most of the coverage was an ignorant and abusive editorial aimed at the work-to-rule demonstrators. It was The Times playing it's usual role, sucking up to the rich by attacking some of the lowest paid workers in Canada.

So why the big writeup about 20 demonstrators?

Because the Moncton Times is creating a crisis, that's why. And if it's creating a crisis, it's because the boss wants a crisis. Think hard about the Atlantic Insistute of Marketing Studies. It wants to get a piece of the education budget for the rich (which will make maintenance all the worse.) It's been on a campaign, ably assisted by The Moncton Times, to denigrate the public schools and their teachers. Isn't this playing up to a handful of protestors as though they represent everybody - isn't that playing right into the Hands of AIMS? Can you see the coming Moncton editorial about how public schooling has failed?

What contemptible newspapers New Brunswick has! What a contemptible and greedy lot of corporate leaders New Bunswick has!

There's another strange thing. The only Moncton Times reporter I picked out at the meeting was Brian Cormier, who is a member of the DEC. And he is listed as a member who expressed his support for the DEC and for the superintendent. I didn't see Brent Mazerolle there.

The audience that I saw wasn't large enough to applaud anything. They were three people. They shook hands with me and thanked me when I left (after devotiing a considerable part of my speech to defending the DEC and the superintendent - so they certainly weren't protesters.)

There was another person, a shy, young woman who simply nodded at me as I left. She had a large notebook and  a pen. I had noticed her writing while I spoke. Is it possible that she was a junior reporter at The Times? Is it possible that Brent Mazerolle got his information - (half of his article was on the DEC meeting) - from a junior reporter? That he wasn't there? If so, that's pretty unethical. It's not quite in league with his final paragraph for lack of ethics. But it's pretty bad.

Interesting to see Picone-Ford (a failed Liberal candidate) speaking to the press and emphasizing that she was not being partisan. I'm sure she wasn't. Why would she be? Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have the same masters. 

Picone-Ford is also the "expert" on education who said our children need to be trained in for a global economy. She gave no indication she knows what "global economy" means (we've been living in one for centuries); and no idea of exactly what it is one teaches for a global economy. So our "informed" source turns out to be a typical politician who knows only buzz words.

In any case, it is possible - close to certain,  I'm afraid - that we shall soon be living in an economy that is less global than it has been since before Columbus.

Oh - a little fun time for our politicians. Ask you local Liberal exactly what the word liberal means. As your local Progressive-Conservative what that label means. I'd be happy to feature their answers in a blog.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why the Chistian churches are sinking

I have to start this by saying I'm religious. I'm not all that big on clapping hands and calling on the spirit. But I think the Judaic and Christian teachings in The Bible are basic to understanding the world, and how to act in it. I belong to the United Church of Canada. I've often led services - you know - giving the sermon, the whole spiel. I was born into the United Church, became an atheist at the fashionable age of 19, and discovered much later, as a news commentator, that my view of political affairs was shaped by Judaeo/Christian teaching - and, without realizing it, I was still religious.

I say this to help explain why I won't soon be going to a church.

As I watched the spread of privatization of education, the attack on public schools beginning with standardized tests and school ranking (all contracted out to private business), and as I saw the greater privatization that is soon to come, I realized it was all based on private greed. It was and is private greed that wants to use our children for its own profit. In the process, it does serious damage to them. I saw that as a Christian and moral problem.

So I phoned a United Church minister in Moncton to see if he thought his church might be interested in discussing it as a moral issue. The minister sounded bored, obviously so, and said he had to rush off to a church ladies' afternoon tea. I sent e mails, quite brief ones, to fifteen Moncton clergy, putting the same question. Not one even acknowledged receipt of it.

A Catholic priest (contacted by phone) was the only one who showed understanding and interest. That didn't surprise me. I had learned in Montreal that the Catholic churches tend to be more active in putting their faith into social service than the Protestant ones are. For all their love of ritual (which I find really boring), Catholic churches seem to be far more active in playing a practical role in society. Protestant churches tend to "jump for Jesus" a lot, but to avoid Christian action as if it were something that would soil the cloth.

Christianity is an eminently practical religion. Jesus gave eminently practical advice. Forgiving is not just a goody-goody thing. It's practical. If we don't forgive, we can never understand why people act as they do. To understand the middle east, you have first to forgive BOTH sides. If we don't forgive,  then we can't understand why they act as they do; and we can only hate and all join into a mutual dance of destruction. If the chuyrches are not about everyday life and how to deal with it, they are about nothing at all. And they deserve to sink. That will give real Christianity a chance to start over.

I like Moncton. It's an attractive city. The people are friendly and remarkably courteous. I get frustrated at the pettiness of the politics and at the fear of engaging in any serious discussion. The universities are out to lunch so far as the community is concerned. But one can find that in many places. The only disappointment I have had, and it's a crashing one, is the irrelevance of the churches.

Who is to blame for the MHS crisis?

The closing of Moncton High School as structurally unsafe has angered parents of students at MHS, and at the elementary school the high school is moving to. The Moncton Times is encouraging the anger to be directed at the elected district education committee, and at the superintendent of education in the district. However, government practice in Canada points elsewhere. (The Times is not ignorant of government practice - I don't think - at least, not entirely - almost.)  What usually happens happen to The Times is the owners of all the New Brunswick papers sends a command, and the New Brunwick papers wag their collective tail.)

Anyway, under our system of government, the person responsible for the maintenance of safe schools is the Minister of Education. The District Education Committee and the superintendent cannot be held reponsible. They don't control the money.  In fact, even the minister doesn't. It's all controlled by the governing party.

Everybody in Moncton has known for years of serious defiencies in the maintenance of schools of New Brunswick, especially in the case of MHS. The premiers and the ministers of education were the ones who had the power and the knowledge to act. They didn't. They're responsible. This failure covers the years of both Liberals and Conservatives (and both as government and as opposition.) But it's not as simple as that.

Both Liberals and Conservatives get the bulk of their funding from corporations and wealthy individuals. These are not people who give money out of civic responsibility. For generations, New Brunswick has had government owned and, in fact, run by the province's economic leaders. And they don't give a damn about the condition of public schools. All they want is tax cuts for themselves, and any other goodies they can get from government. They're to blame. But it's not as simple as that, either.

When New Brunswickers got mad at Shawn Graham's Liberal party, they said, "We'll show him. We'll vote Conservative.)  It was just like the election before it when they got mad at the Conservatives and said, "We'll show them. We'll vote Liberal."  Duh. New Brunswickers have been talking and voting like that for over a century - and they still haven't caught on. Both parties are the same. Both are dogs with the same master.

But New Brunswi\ckers go through this farce every election year. Admittedly, they have lousy newspapers which are really no more than propaganda sheets. But, come on, fellas, 1867 was a long time ago.

Who is to blame for the MHS crisis. The voters are - all those parents, for example, who are screaming their anger at the DEC and the superintendent. They're too lazy who make up their own minds about their children's safety, too lazy to make an effort to understand what's going on...We are the same people who wouldn't spend a cent on a school, but were eager to spend 84 million dollars on a  hockey rink.

We just had a provincial election - and no party had a serious education platform or any mention of MHS - though eveybody knew and  had known for years about the problem. Who's to blame?

We all are - for being to stupid or to lazy or too irresponsible to make MHS an issue or to lift a finger to do anything about it.

We;re just lucky we have a superintendent with the brains and the courage to do what had to be done for the safety of our children.

She'll probably suffer for it. And we'll let it happen. And that puts us beneath contempt.

coming next

I should have added that the story of  the Moncton High School crisis reminds me of two more blogs I should write.
1. The real story of who is to blame for the crisis. It's a longer list than you might think. (And you won't read about it in The Moncton Times.)
2.My greatest disappointment in the matter of the sacking and looting of hte public schools by private business.

I'll try to get down to those soon.

To a (I hope) Very Young Reporter

There's a great deal to learn about journalism. There's the world of the ethics of journalism, for example. At the invitation of the Hong Kong government (before amalgamation with China), I taught journalism to working journalists in Hong Kong. Ethics, honest and considerate reporting, was an important part of what I taught -as well as eidtorializing, etc. Most journalists learn all this stuff on the job. Your problem is that the Moncton Times and Tribune is one hell of a place to learn anything about any part of journalism, especially ethics.

You wrote a major story on the front page that ended on A11.

(Actually, it wasn't a major story. Instead of looking at the causes of a school in dangerous disrepair, your editor chose to concentrate on the anger of the parents - because the T and T is a propaganda sheet, and it wants to divert attention from who is really responsible for Moncton High School crisis. That's another of those things you have to learn on the job.)

In your last paragraph, you do something quite unethical. A young reporter might not realize it. But an editor should. That's his job. The job of a reporter is to report. It is not to offer opinion - because that would mislead the reader. All misleading is the preserve of the editor on his page. You page offers the news, not your innuendo about it.

Take a look at the last paragraph in your story. It is full of loaded language implying that the DEC was pretty limp in addressing the issue. That is unethical.

Were you at the meeting you're reporting on? I spoke for fifteen minutes at that meeting, based on a forty page report I had drawn up. I think I pointed to some very tough questions about who was to blame. If you weren't there, Brian Cormier was, and he could tell you what I said. I mentioned the Moncton Times quite often.

Of course, I know the Moncton Times doesn't like to mention my name. That's why they regularly delete it in the list of weekly events at the library. (I have a current events discussion group that meets the first Thursday of every month.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tomorrow and the District Education Committee

Tomorrow evening, Oct. 19, I get to give a fifteen minute talk to the DEC for district 2. It will be difficult. I feel sorry for the DEC and for the superintendant because its obvious now that both Liberals and Conservatives are laying the blame on them for the problem of Moncton High. In fact, the blame goes to incompetent ministers of education over the years in both parties.

Eveybody knew about MHS problems, and has known for years. I've taught in some of the schools, quite a few of them. Almost all of them were excellently run schools - but obviously lacking in maintenance because of tight education budgets.
(I saw only one, badly run school - outside Moncton - which had the misfortune of two bad principals in a row. I hope it's better off now.)

Ther reason for the tight education budgets is that the coporations who fund the Liberals and the Conservatives don't give a damn about our children. Vote Liberal or Conservative. In either case, you're voting for wealthy people of stunning greed who want whatevet they can take from us. Now, they want our children.

They want us, through AIMS, to copy one of the worst education systems in the developed world, the privatized system of the US.  Of course. Why should they give a damn about our children? They send their own to private schools.

In the end, though, the real blame goes to NB adults. Children in NB don't read - because their parents don't. Children in NB have no concept of serious discussion - because their parents don't. Liberals and Conservatives can talk nonsense, and The Moncton Times can spit vitriol because the parents will soak it up. These are the same parents who have watched MHS collapse, while deciding Moncton's top priority was another hockey rink.

New Brunswick doesn't have a public school problem or a teacher problem. In fact, it has some of the best schools in the world. That's a miracle, considering it does it in spite of having a dangerous parent problem, an inept politicians  problem, and greedy business leaders problem.


It was this morning. I was looking over the school ranking for NB based on standardized tests. That was when I noticed something odd.

There was no private school in the rankings. That's surely odd.

The people who fund the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies are probably much the same people who send their own children to private schools. If standardized testing and ranking are good, and if they produce results with public competition, why aren't the rich demanding standardized testing for their kids?

The only standardized test they have is an entrance exam. And that's designed to keep out kids whose learning problems could drag down the school average.

Gee! You'ld think the private schools themselves would be in the lead demanding they be included in statndardized testing .....if they really thought it were worth a damn.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

don't depend on the NB conservatives

A few days ago, my children came home from school with a note from the ministry of education. It was one page of gobbledegook, twisted information, confusing writing and bad writing. I am not at all sure I understand it. I have read heavily all my life, have a doctorate in  history, and have taught most of my life. I can't understand the letter sent by the ministry to all parents in the province. Consider this:

1. New Brunswick has the highest proportion of illiterate adults of any province in Canada. Almost half the parents that note was written for are illiterate. It a safe bet that most of the rest cannot understand it any better than I can. What does this tell us about the ministry under the Conservatives? They seem at least as inept as the Liberals were.

2. I think it says it is going to introduce a new approach to teaching.  (In fact, if so, it is one that was common stuff at teachers' colleges and in schools at least seventy years ago.)

3. Whatever it might be it is hopelessly incompatible with the standardized testing and ranking of public schools.It calls for the teacher to respond to individual differences and needs - the very approach impossible with standardized testing.

4. I think it might really be an awkward and misleading way of telling us they are cutting out a programme, and disguising this as a new approach. Or maybe the ministry itself has no idea what it's saying.

Friday, October 15, 2010

a double-header for the tandt at its intellectual and ethical worst

Thursday, Oct. 14. Remember it as the day The Moncton Times and Transcript hit new lows as a propaganda sheet. Bless you, Norrbert Cunningham. Your owners will love you.

But let's start with the editorial. It foams at the mouth blaming, in particular, the District Education Council for the confusion and inaction concerning Moncton High. Well, just for openers, governments organize groups like DEC and Home and School and Parents/School committees to make sure they have no muscle. Since governments know not many voters bother to vote in such elections, and even fewer know anything about the issues (they get all their local news from the TandT), it's easy to plant a few insiders to make sure none of these groups does anything. But why is the T and T coming down so hard on the DEC in this case? I thought they'd play their usual game, put the blame on teachers' aides. Or perhaps the union.

Haven't  you heard about serious problems at MHS for at least two  years now? Do you figure maybe our ministers of education read the T and T? (Given the quality of ministers of education, it is possible they just look at the pictures.) But somebody, you know, sharing a bus ride, must have mentioned MHS and its structure. It's hard to believe a minister of education, the only one with the power and responsibility to make money available for repairs, would be ignorant of the problem.

But that would mean blaming the politicians who are lap dogs for AIMS and for corporate New Brunswick. Normally, the T and T wouldn't dream of blaming the DEC. So who's really to blame for this mess? 

Well, the real blame goes to previous governments both Liberal and Conservative. And there's no way the editor is going to blame the people that the T and T is devoted to kissing up to. So, we have to dump on the DEC.

Of course, we should also take a look at all those people who didn't care enough to vote or even to keep informed on what is going on in education.

Then came the masterstroke. Same page. Norbert Cunninghan should stick to writing about words, and stop rolling over to have his belly scratched by neo-conservatives. His ignorance of economics, government, and private business is crashing.

He writes about the fiscal hard times we're facing -and blames it all on us greedy poor people and on inefficient governments - in contrast to the self-discipline, efficiency and and general goodness of private business.

Hasnn't he noticed the inefficiency, greed, and fraud all over the world that has caused these deficits and this recession?  Does he know what the banks did and what happened? Has he noticed the role that free trade (demanded by private business) has played in this?

Is he, perhaps, aware that the Liberals and Conservatives both get the greater part of their funding from large and wealthy corporations? Has it never occured to him that perhaps corporations and wealthy people get favaours for this?  You know, things like Easter eggs from the great bunny? Maybe tax breaks? Possibly cheaper electricity? Maybe something like what Moncton needs most of all in the whole, wide, world - the most expensive per capita ice rink in history? High prices paid to AIMS to administer, mark and report on what a wonderful success standardized tests are?

As for efficiency, has he looked lately at the US costs for private health care? And has he looked at the US life expectancy and infant mortality rates? And has he compared them to countries which have to suffer from ineffecient government plans?

And that's not even counting the trillions the US has spent on wars to help out honest business people in oil, mining and fruit growing. Ever wonder how come so many Latin American countries had dictators wearinig the American Medal of Freedom? Much of the cause of this recession - which is certainnly goint to get worse - has been the corruption and greed of American business and of its mirror reflection corruption and greed in this province.

Please, Norbert. Stay with words. Don't make yourself look like a kiss-up.