Monday, September 27, 2010

A day in Moncton

Today has been provincial election day. The front page - at least three-quarters of it - was a big picture of a football game. The election barely made the bottom of the page. It's been much like that for a week. And I talk to Monctonians who think the whole world is watching them now.

No, it isn't. And be grateful it's not. To anyone in a real city, the front pages of this week's Moncton Times scream "yokel". Be grateful nobody outside the province ever sees it.

Had a problem today.Back on Friday, a kid stole my son's bike. I got his name. Today, I called the house. His mother was quiet, polite - and obviously didn't give a damn about her son. She advised me to call the police. (He already has a record.) So I asked to speak to the son.

There was a very similar tone - neither defiant nor apologetic - just dead to anything.

I remembered kids I had taught in grade seven, especially two. They talked like that. They had mothers like that. Both were shot to death while still in their teens. I suppose if the Moncton Times knew about it, they'd write another editorial blaming the teachers.

I really don't know what to do. I wish I could help the kid. It may already be too late. But I wish I could help him.

I get a sense of this city that a lot of people just  drift through life in that dead way. There's fear in New Brunswick. That's why the politics run so deep in the society and so shallow in thought. That's why so many people have that deadness in their voice - and they settle for a life of sitting to watch others play in a new rink or football field while they drink beer from plastic cups.

Busy week for looking to the future.

The big news in the T and T for the past week has been a football game, an exhibition game at that. I have never before seen a newspaper so fully ignore the last week of a general election in its own province. But I guess that's the T and T style. And I guess that's the parties get away with such a kitty litter box campaign.

Okay. The football game is important - because Moncton is being set up again.

Last time, it was an $84 million dollar stadium ( our tax money at work) whose greatest benefit will be to the owner of the team. This time, it will be a new football team so Moncton can, maybe, join the CFL.

Well, folks, Ottawa couldn't do it. And Ottawa is ten times the size of Moncton. Evey city in the CFL is far larger than Moncton. Of course - it could be done - if - Ottawa and Fredericton and Moncton were to come up with a sizable chunk of money to build a stadium (at taxpayers' expense). And then, why it's just possible a very wealthy New Brunswicker would be generous enough to purchase a team - if the stadium could be leased at a reasonablle (subsidized) price, and there were generous tax breaks (which would have to be made up out of our taxes).

Boy, then the whole world will know Moncton (pop. 160,000) is right up there with Toronto, New York, Mexico City and Beijing. And I'll bet the owner will have a franchise on the beer stand with its beer in big cups just like real big cities do.

It's a fair guess the fix is already in. It just depends on Harper staying in power long enough to start the ball rolling.

Meanwhile, who will win today's election. It really doesn't matter because both parties are unprincipled and incompetent and obedient. My guess would be low turnout due to disillusionment with all parties - and that would give it to the Conservatives.

And who's fault is that sorry performance. It's the fault of the voters. They will not discuss politics in any serious way. They will not bother to learn what's going on. They accept a dreadful local news service.

And they'd rather sit in the stands with plastic cups of beer and think, "Wow! we're real big time now."

Friday, September 24, 2010

when Norbert Cunningham is on, he is....

damn good. His column on the election (TandT, Sept. 24) is excellent. He examines the apathy about voting in the NB provincial election, and uses it to suggest reform is necessary because a democracy in which people either don't vote or vote for the least worst is not a democracy at all.

He's made a point worth starting from. What kind of reform. I would suggest two.
1. You cannot have a functioning democracy in which most party funds come from corporations.Inevitably, that produces governments which govern to meet the demands of corporations rather than those of the voters.
2. Just as school teachers are not to be blamed for low scores in reading, politicians are not to be blamed for being such twerps. The blame lies with those who elect them, the adults of New Brunswick.
This is a population that can't be bothered to keep itself informed, that refuses to discuss public issues or, when it does, simply rants because it is almost completely ignorant of what government is and what is happening.

New Brunswickers don't get involved. They don't take the trouble to learn about issues.They don't discuss them. They don't demand news media that keeps them informed. On the last weekend of the election campaign,the only interest the local population has is a football game, and the thrill of seeing pom pom girls whilc drinking beer in plastic cups.

While they rant about what's wrong with the schools and the teachers, they ignore the reality that what's wrong with the schools is the parents. They are what is wrong with the politics, too.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Untold Story of the Scandal in New Brunswick Public Schools

The first Thursday of each month, I meet with a current events group at the Moncton Library. It's at 2 pm.

For October, one of the topics will be The Untold Story of the Scandal in New Brunswick Public Schools.

Monday, September 20, 2010

election time

The local Liberal candidate dropped off an election flier with me. It listed the platform of the party. Lord, what a rare collection of Do-Dos they must be. Mind you, the Liberals might be the best; (I haven't had any other fliers yet to make comparisons).

It seems the Liberals feel our schools have to teach children how to live in the global economy. What a bunch of maroons! "Global economy" certainly sounds trendy. In fact, though, we have always lived in a global economy. Canada was settled by the French, then by the English as part of their efforts to control a global economy. The native Mohawks of the Montreal region were exporting ginseng on a large scale to China 300 years ago.

Atlantic fishermen carried on a busy trade from the start with Britain and the West Indies. That's why rum still sells so well in the Atlantic provinces. The outport sailors of the eighteenth and nineteenth century knew the streets of Cadiz and London and Singapore - probably better than they knew the woodland trails just a few miles from  home port. When the CPR finished building track over a hundred and twenty years ago, the next thing it did was to open a shipping line with Hong Kong a major port of call. That's why so many of the Canadian-Chinese up to the 1980s or so were from southern China. (In fact, the CPR had an office in Hong Kong BEFORE the railway was complete..)

This really is quite an election for impressive sounding terms like "education for a global economy" from people who don't know what the terms mean, and are ignorant of their own history.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

education and the election

We in the closing stages of an election campaign. It just occured to me that in the more than three years I have lived in New Brunswick, no minister of education has ever defended the public schools or the teachers that he/she is responsible for. - not even in the face of some of the most malicious attacks by the Moncton TandT that I have ever seen in a newspaper.

Nor have I ever heard a member of the opposition say a word.

Now, we're in the middle of an election campaign -and the biggest issue should be what the hell is being done to our schools and our children? And why?

But there's not a peep. Not from anybody.

I like the New Brunswickers I've met. The politicians are pretty tacky and lacking in integrity (and brains) by any standard. But I like the people.

I just can't understand how they can take such abuse - and still stand around with their faces hanging out. I think that if all the politicians, journalists, and staff of AIMS were to take turns spitting in their faces, they would apologize for letting their faces get in the way.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The last brushstroke on a portraint of the Moncton Times

When I first noticed the tone of Tand T editorials, I thought the editorial writers were simply ignorant about education.

Then I saw the one not long ago that made the (I thought) exciting story that the dropout rate in NB is the lowest Canada - well, the writer made it look as though this was some terrible failure of the NB public schools. That made me realize that the Moncton TandT, may not be ignorant- but lying.

Then came the most recent one -the malicious and contemptible attack on school part time aides.

A proposal for a contract settlement was made. The part timers rejected it. That's they're right. They could have gone on strike. They didn't. They said they would work to rule.

The editor says this was cynical. Why? Cynicism is something that happens within a person's mind. Can the editor read the minds of people he's never seen?  The writer also accused the support people of putting children in danger. Can he or she give us a single example of that happening? The whole editorial stank of ignorance, lying and another fault - gutlessness.

Have you ever known the Moncton Tand T ever to write an article critical of people with power? People like, for example, the corporate powers in this province? Would they dare to  use the word cynical in describing any of them?

We all know the answer to that. But it will quite viciously attack some of the most useful and underpaid people in the province, people who have no means of replying.
So that give us ignorant, lying and cowardly. I retract contemptible because the Moncton T and T is beneath contempt.

What's more worrisome is that the people of New Brunswick are scared to speak out on any issues dealing with those who have real power in this province. (And that does not mean that sandbox gang called liberals and conservatives.) I wondered why the universities were so quiet on this issue. Now I understand. I wondered why the people of Moncton would agree that what this city needs most of all is a supersized hockey rink. Now I understand.

Do you want to know why NB children have such a problem with reading? It's because their parents either can't read or don't give a damn about it. Do you want to know why they have such low expectations of themselves? It's because their parents have low expectations.
Do you want to know why they stay in school when kids in other provinces are dropping out? It's because you have damn good schools and good teachers.

And do you want to do know why you don't know any of this? It's because you read a newspaper that carries trivial and moronic headlines like "Argo Pros are just Good Joes".

You rhink having a pro football game here makes you a world class city? Forget it. Having a paper like the Moncton T and T tells the world you're in Hicksville.

Friday, September 17, 2010

school parents' questionnaire

Last year, the NB department of education circulated a questionnaire to parents of all students from K to 8.
I was suspicious of it at first because it was so badly worded, it looked like an attempt to raise parents' doubts about public schools. But then something else happened.

The NB papers did no publish the results of the questionnaire.

Now, if you're read the NB papers at all, you know that if they find something critical or damaging about the schools, they're run it front page -and editorial. And it it isn't bad, they'll make it look bad.

However, they didn't touch with this one - so I was anxious to see the results. Finally got them. And now I see why the NB papers never ran the story. The results are phenomenally in favour of the schools and the teachers. With a stunningly high response (over 99%), approval of the schools and the teachers usually rated in the 80s and 90s. I've never seen such favorable results. No wonder the NB papers never ran it. Now wonder we never saw an editorial about it. AIMS would not like that.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Language War in New Brunswick?

The following item is one I wrote for a bilingual Montreal paper called Le Metropolitain. It appeared today (Monday, Friday 13).



There is a flag flying at house down the street from my home in Moncton, New Brunswick. At first, I took its red, diagonal cross on a white background as the old flag of St. Patrick. But a closer look showed a red and white maple leaf at the centre; and I don't think St. Pat was ever big on maple leaves No. This was the official flag of anglophone New Brunswick.




And I think New Brunswickers, both francophone and anglophone, are being conned into a language war that can only hurt all of them.



In 1969, Canada adopted the official languages act, requiring equality of French and English for purposes of federal government. New Brunswick adopted similar provincial legislation shortly after, the only province to do so. I was impressed with the results when I moved here.



The Acadians (French) are a delightful and friendly people. So are the anglos. I can use either language pretty freely without being made to feel I am imposing on anyone, or anyone imposing on me. Any visitor to the two hospitals (one Acadian and one English) might understandably be puzzled about which was which. It seemed to be a model for all of Canada.



Acadians have reason to dislike the English majority (about two thirds.) For over two hundred years, Acadians were either ignored or discriminated against by the English. But things have been changing rapidly for a good fifty years. Or so I thought.



Then I began to find a resentment among some anglos. They particularly resented the Acadian presence in the civil service. (Well, of course Aadians are rising in the civil service. They are among the most bilingual people in all of Canada.) The angry anglos seemed so few as not to be a factor.



Then, a man in suburban Dieppe (80% francophone) organized a petition to demand a bylaw requiring bilingual commercial signs in Dieppe. (Of course, it requires French on top.) He is now pressing for a similar bylaw in Moncton, majority anglo.



All that happened just before I saw the anglo flag, the flag of a group that demands its flag be flown at public buildings. Subsequently, a noisy public at a meeting of Moncton city council required police intervention. See the pattern?



Provoke. Provocation creates provocation in return which creates.... That's how it happened in Quebec.



The difference is that no-one can win such a war in New Brunswick; neither side has enough numbers. All that can happen is to create hatreds and fears and damage to the province. Both Acadians and anglos actually need each other.



What binds the Acadians together is a mixture of shared values in history, music, literature, social life...

It's often called a culture, though that is an oversimplification. It's a part of a culture. When people live together, their culture, most of it, is a shared culture. People who think they are a hundred percent Acadian culture don't understand the meaning of culture.



The reality is that all people, from Moncton to Beijing have more culture in common than that part they call their own. To try to make everyone conform to some narrow definition of culture can only fragment the province. It also distracts attention from some very serious problems that have nothing to do with culture.



Acadians have a flag. It represents a part of their culture. What hinders anglo New Brunswickers is they have no sense of any anglo New Brunswick culture at all. And a borrowed flag doesn't make a culture. All they have is an anger that can only be destructive – for themselves.



So why are both groups launching a war that neither can win?



I'm not sure. But did I mention that Martin Leblanc Rioux, the man who started the petition and is now demanding a bylaw for Moncton, has been studying law in Quebec? (At McGill). Did I mention that there is now a Bloc Quebecois student club at Universite d”Ottawa?



Is there anything that some people in Quebec could gain from a language war in New Brunswick or Ontario? Are New Brunswickers, French and English, being reeled in like fish on a hook?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The TandT's long interview roused my curiosity about /the CEO and head of the education research project for AIMS, Charles Cirtwill.  He seems a community-minded soul. He has, like thousands of others in Canada, a BA in political science. Nice. But not overwhelming. And he has an  undergraduate degree in law. Very useful. And a master's degree in public administration. Think about that.

The man who has enormous influence over our schools and, in practical terms, control of the whole curriculum through the standardized tests, seems to have no experience in teaching and no credentials in it. In fact, he would not be permitted to teach our children in any of the schools he has been given power over.

What the hell was the Minister of Education thinking about when he turned to AIMS to remodel our schools?  Did even the Minister know nothing whatever about education?

There's no need to answer than one.

What story is told in school statistics

The June 11, 2005 editorial in the Times&Transcript mut have had a different writer from the ranter who did the back to school eidtoral that attacked everybody but parents for the performance of New Brunswick schools.  At least, so I would guess from a writing style that didn't involve foaming at the mouth. This time, we got to see a worm wriggling on a hook.

The editorial takes a a piece of news that was surely a superbly good piece of news that NB high schools have the lowest  drop-out rate in Canada.  (Canada as a whole has a lower drop-out rate than the US). Then the editoralist says "well, yeah,  but, uh, like, what if, maybe, you know, it could be the kids are just sitting there, like, you know,,,,,,I mean, it just shows how much we have to change our schools, like....

The summary next to the editorial - it's ititled "We Say" - thunders "Rather than worry about statistics that make them look good, our schools need to focus more on the needs of all students." It would be hard to match that statement for sheer blandness, incomprehensibility, contradicttion and near-idiocy.

Why would any school "worry" about statistics that make it look good? Why take good news and treat it as though our schools have publicly wet their pants?

Why say statistics don't matter when the T&T has been supporting the  standardized testing and public ranking imposed by AIMS which is based entirely on statistics? Worse, AIMS depends on entirely statstical work while disregarding all other research that has been done on education.

The CEO and President of AIMS,and the man in charge of its education project is Charles Cirtwill. He's primarily a statistician with no trainiing or significant experience (if any at all) in education. Letting him set the standards for public education is like calling in the guy who shovels your snow to do brain surgery on your child.

Alll of this rasises a bigger question. Is there a problem in our journalism schools?

The Front Page

The front page of a newspaper is for attention-grabbiing news, major stories about disasters, triumphs, unexpected news. The story that political parties seldom put price tags on their promises is scarcely news. In fact, it's common knowledge in any bar classy enough to serve its beer in glasses. So why was it front page in the September 11, 2010 Times&Transcript - with a further half-page on A12? That's a lot of expensive space for a story announcing the equivalent of "rain is wet".

The answer is in the sub-heading of the story. "And when they they do, costs are often underestimated, SAYS THINK-TANK".  (capital letters are mine.)

That point ot the story is to advertise the wisdom and insight of the Atlantic Institute of Marketing Studies. Most if consists of quotations from Charles Cirtwill, President and CEO of AIMS, whose bio on the AIMS website would place him well ahead oftAristotle, Socrates and Platoeven if the brains of the latter trio were all combined and they had a good tailwind.

The only important mesage in the whole story is in those three words, "says think-tank". The purpose of the story and the reason it's on front page  is to get us used to thinking of AIMS as a fount of wisdom and insights.

That's not news. That's propaganda. And it's propaganda for a propaganda agency.

Friday, September 10, 2010

part 2

From the front page, we move to the editorial page of the T&T for September 10, 2010. Surely, this is opportune moment to say some nice things about the teachers and schools who have been denigrated and even abused for so long in these pages. No such luck.

What we get, instead, is another dyspeptic column byNorbert Cunnigham (whose grouchy old fart writing style closely remembles that of the person who worte the appallingly bad editorial of the return to school of Sept. 7.

It's fads. That's what  it is. Them there schools is all fads.

Well, yes, if you consider that tryiing a new idea out, seeing if it will work, and then discardiing it is a fad, then all of us are involved with fads all our lives. Check out newspapers and magazines. A current fad in the T&T every day is the list of celebrities most of us have never heard of who are having birthdays today. Another fad is lavishing praise on any organization sponosred by the rich. (AIMS springs to mind0. Remember tail fins on cars? Remember flare pants? Fads are a normal part of the process of experimenting and changing and growing up in general.).

When I was younger, I had a beard and long hair. Some people prefer moustaches that look like caterpillars with dietary problems crawling out of their nostrils.

If anything is a fad, it siurely Mr. Cuuningham's favourite project of standardized testing and public school ranking. Their is already scientific proof it is a bad idea. First, the US which has been using it on a wide scale for 25 years is still in the basement of educational success among developed countries.

Secondly, the approach to standarized testing and ranking in the US has been scientifically discredited on two grounds.  The first is that such tests do not test students, teachers, or schools. Secondly, while education has somewhat improved after the introduction of such testing, it was improving FASTER BEFORE such methods were introduced.

The caterpillers wiggle again as Mr. Cunningham goes on to present another attack on an area of education he knows nothing about. He accuses universities of encouraging fads. Well, so they do. And so they are supposed to do. A fad is a new approach to a problem. Universities are constantly looking for new approaches. That's part of their job. The same is true of engineers, doctors, chemists, business organizations and journalists (with the possible exception of Norbert Cunningham).

Some fads are dropped - for various reasons -moral, electronic, damage to sales, inconsistent results. Others show by experience they are desirable and are kept. That's called progress.

As well, humans cannot scientifically test everything. You can produce scientific statitistics on anything - including teaching. But if you don't know what teaching is about, those "scientific" statistics are worthless.

 Us humans do not understand things only by scientific testing. If we did, we could scientifically test religions to see which, if any, of them is right.  But we are humans. Out judgements are based on science, sometimes, but far more on values, greed, hatreds,envy, Weating a necktie, reading a novel, skipping certain parts of a newpaper.'... none of this is a scientific decision. Science deals with what can be measured and repeated without fail. It produces pedictable results. Life doesn't. That's why universities are divided into at least two faculties of study - science and arts.

I have taught in universities. I have many criticisms of them because I know them.

 I have never raised obese caterpillers in my nostrils. I know know nothing of the subject. So I do not write derogatory comments about those who do. Mr. Cunninghman's look very nice.

The T@T does it again - twice in one day. part 1

The front page headline tells of a story that surely says somethng good about our schools. Statsistics Canada says province has the lowest drop out rate of any province in the country. (The makes it considerably superior to US, though the US is the country that has, over the past 25 years, become the most standarized tested and ranked school system in the world.). You'd think this night be occasion to say a few nice words about New Brunswick teachers.

In fact, they are mentioned only once in a lengthy news item - and toward the end. At that, the only compliment to them in the whole article comes for an aducatiom administrator.

I have to admit that though Times&Transcript my be crap, it's consistent crap.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Collector's item on June 7 editorial page of Moncton Times

It's the good, old type of editorial in which the editor raves and foams at the mouth with vague denunciations and demands on a subhect he/she obviously knows nothing about. Then it ends with fist-thumping roar to the effect that "something must be done."

Right.

It's about schools. The editorial writer says they must be improved, and blames students, teachers administrators, politicians for all the perceived shortcomings of the schools. Trouble is, you know, when you blame everybody, you have't blamed anybody.

Curiously, the writer doesn't blame one group at all. Despite sixty years of research proving that the major factor in education success in school is the parent, the writer doesn't even mention the parents.

Wow! What a success story! A person who is a good sixty behind the rest of the world has made it to editorial writer.

This reality is this.

Don't blame the politicians. They just do whatever their corporate sponsors tell them to do.
Don't blame the department of education. It has to do whatever the minister of education tells it to do.
Don't blame the minister of education. He/she has to do whatever the party bagman (fundraiser) tells him or her to do.
Don't blame the administrators. They have to do whatever the minister tells them to do.
Don't blame the teachers. They have to do whatever the administrators tell them to do.
Don't blame the students. They will follow whatever expectations, examples, and values their parents set for them.

Yes. That's where it starts. With the parrents; the only group the editorial didn't mention, though it is the group with years of research is the most important influence in a child's learning.

And the parents who set the worst example are the ones who believe editorials in the Moncton Times and Transcript.

Oh - and don't blame the editorial writers. We all know who tells them what to write.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fighting the Wrong War in New Brunswick

There is a flag flying at house down the street from my home in Moncton, New Brunswick. At first, I took its red, diagonal cross on a white background as the old flag of St. Patrick. But a closer look showed a red and white maple leaf at the centre; and I don't think St. Pat was ever big on maple leaves No. This was the official flag of anglophone New Brunswick.




And I think New Brunswickers, both francophone and anglophone, are being conned into a war that can only hurt all of them.



In 1969, Canada adopted the official languages act, requiring equality of French and English for purposes of federal government. New Brunswick adopted similar provincial legislation shortly after, the only province to do so. I was impressed with the results when I moved here.



The Acadians (French) are a delightful and friendly people. So are the anglos. I can use either language pretty freely without being made to feel I am imposing on anyone, or anyone imposing on me. Any visitor to the two hospitals (one Acadian and one English) might understandably be puzzled about which was which. It seemed to be a model for all of Canada.



I knew enough of New Brunswick history to know Acadians have reason to dislike the English majority (about two thirds.) For a good three hundred years, Acadians were either ignored or discriminated against by the English. But things have been changing rapidly for a good fifty years. Or so I thought.



Then I began to find a resentment among some anglos. They particularly resented the Acadian presence in the civil service. (Well, of course they're rising in the civil service. Acadians are probably the most bilingual people in all of Canada.) The angry anglos seemed so few as not to be a factor.



Then, a man in suburban Dieppe (80% francophone) agitated; and he organized a petition to demand a bylaw requiring bilingual commercial signs in Dieppe. (Of course, it requires French on top.) He is now pressing for a similar bylaw in Moncton, majority anglo.



All that happened just before I saw the anglo flag, the flag of a group that demands the flag be flown at public buildings. Moncton city council meetings now need police protection. See the pattern?



Provoke. Provocation creates provocation in return which creates.... That's how it happened in Quebec.



The difference is that no-one can win such a war in New Brunswick; neither side has enough numbers. All that can happen is to create hatreds and fears and damage to the province. Both Acadians and anglos actually need each other.



What binds the Acadians together is a mixture of shared values in history, music, literature, social life...

It's often called a culture, though that is an oversimplification. It's a part of a culture. When people live together, their culture, most of it, is a shared culture. People who think they are a hundred percent Acadian culture don't understand the meaning of culture. The reality is that all people have more culture in common than that they call their own. To try to make everyone conform to some narrow definition of culture can only fragment the province. It also disracts atention from some very serious problems in New Brunswick that have nothing to do with culture.



Acadians have a flag. It represents a part of their culture. What hinders anglo New Brunswickers is they have no sense of any anglo New Brunswick culture at all. And a borrowed flag doesn't make a culture. All they have is an anger that can only be destructive – for themselves.



So why are both groups launching a war that neither can win?



I'm not sure. But did I mention that Martin Leblanc Rioux, the man who started the petition and is now demanding a bylaw for Moncton, has been studying law in Quebec? (At McGill). Did I mention that there is now a Bloc Quebecois student club at Universite d”Ottawa?



Is there anything that some people in Quebec could gain from a language war in New Brunswick or Ontario? Are New Brunswickers, French and English, being reeled in like fish on a hook?