Tuesday, August 7, 2012

August 7: Education in the news....

It is extremely rare, especially in North America, to find a journalist who a clue of what education is about. There are journalistic experts galore on hockey and baseball and football. And, certainly, no news medium would dream of letting just anybody cover a sports story. Every news medium I ever worked for had at least two, sports experts - and sometimes a dozen or more. That's why the sports section is usually the most professional section of any news medium.

But an education story? Any bozo will do to cover it. In fact, why cover it at all? When our superintendant of English schools left, there was only the briefest announcement of it. Nobody asked why. Nobody asked any questions at all. Heck, nobody even knew which questions to ask.

The new superintendant got a big story - but largely about how he used to be an electrician, and could change lightbulbs - yuk, yuk. (Can you imagine the sports page carrying a story like that about, say, a top draft pick for the NHL?)

The public school may be the single, most important institution in our society. It's crucial to the intellectual and job training, and social development of our children. And what it does is highly complex, often subtle, sometimes seeming just "touchy-freely" to those who don't understand the skill involved and the need for it. It's also a high spending area. That combination of general ignorance of what schools do and how they do it, combined with the lure of profit, is making education an easy target for corporations.

Corporate understanding of education is, to say the least, primitive. Commonly, it's the understanding reflected in "studies"  (actually propaganda pieces) put together by outfits like Atlantic Institude of Marketing Studies.In them, education is much like a factory assembly line, mass-producing identical products. As to the social and intellectal aspects of education, big business couldn't care less.

What's happening across the US and Britain, inspired by corporate bosses, is a plan to take over public schools, to privatize them. It's well advanced in both countries - and with the predictable results. The privatized and partially-privatized schools are more interested in statistical results than in real learning; they apply business methods to education in the apparent belief that business methods are good for everything.   Business methods are not good for everything. The privatized and semi-privatized schools are becoming a heavy expense, even for those who can afford them. They have led to a devaluation and a degrading of the remaining public schools. In the US, where this is most advanced, there has been a stunning drop in national education standards in just one generation.

In their attacks on public schooling, corporate bosses are destroying what is arguably the most important social - and economic - development in two centuries.

It's happening in New Brunswick, too, as private business has an eye on our children. The thin edge of the wedge is the farcical use of standardized tests to rate schools.

I thought of this as I read Alec Bruce's column - especially the last, two paragraphs, and his emphasis on the importance of the "dawn of our careers as human beings". That's what our public schools are about. They are about developing our children, not handing them over to profit-seekers.

But when the Moncton Times and Transcript covered the story of the change of superintendants, no reporter had the wit to ask the only questions that mattered. (I should add that I don't know whether he would agree with what I'm saying. I'm leaning heavily on his closing words.)

Sorry to take so long on Bruce's column. But it's such an important one, and such a little-understood one, I couldn't say anything useful in less space.

Norbert has a silly column about this being the "silly season" in journalism because there's really no news.

No. No news at all.  We could be facing a world war at any time in the next two months. Our children may be entering a school system that faces radical changes we know nothing about. We have a  mass transit strike that imposes severe hardship on large numbers of people. We have a world economic system that's still crashing. We have a US that is shifting its major forces to the Pacific to hem in China (read much about it in the TandT?) We have a shale gas operator in NB that is so distrusted by the US government that it will no longer accept the company's safety reports. Starvation  around the world is at record levels. We have polluted soil under Highfield Square, where the city is planning an "events" centre. But City Council won't tell us what it is or how dangerous it is. We have a major school being moved at huge expense to an odd location - and the the provincial government won't tell us why.

And Norbert tells us this is the silly season which "..requires common sense be left at home before entering the newsroom."  Well, he certainly follows his own advice.

The editorial can be summed up in two words. "Vroom, vroom".

The biggest story (advertised in a yellow square at the top of A1, and covering two pages at A8 and A9) is an interview of complete and utter triviality with the general manager of the casino.

There is the idea of a good story on A6 "Screen time still replaces active play for youths".It's an important topic. But it so quickly wanders away from the decline of active play into other aspects of electronic playthings that it misses a chance to make any point at all. That's bad editing.


  1. "Utter trivialty".......just because tehn reporter didn't ask anything about problem gambling..or how poorly the casino has done relative to expectations or the human rights kerfuffle being considered by former women employees who allege they were fired (by this nerw guy????) because they either refused or were deemed unattractive enough to wear next to nothing while on teh job ..etcetcve tc
    YOu mean that "utter trivality".
    Well it WAS a nice free two page add for the much needed casino. Unfortunately the |"reporter\' forgot to work in how much N.B. needs people to drink more liquor......that aspect is in the "newspaper" just about every day.

  2. Regarding education: (Sorry this is rather long)

    Margaret Thatcher produced 'Thatcherism' - a government and public policy wishing to wash its hands of public services and allowing the open market to compete to be those same service providers; bids, buyers, takeovers, investment stocks,all that good stuff.

    Near the same time, Ronald Reagan and the Republican party made the same proposal for the States.

    Protecting corporate power in America for instance is; 'prosperity preaching' among the right/religious/conservative/republican crowd (Bible belt) who also want to be rich because Jesus wants them to be.

    These are only a couple of ingredients in the overall recipe of what's coming together to create today's corporate controlled plutocracy and oligarchy.

    Is it any wonder today we find ourselves in an era in which money, and personal gain for the executive class and major stockholders trumps ethics or common sense. Or, the fact that politicians are merely puppets hoping to be compensated after their public life is over for their obedience to said executive class.

    The last thing the people who engage in massive profit sharing want is an informed, well educated, and critically thinking public to see through this veneer.

    Of course, we'll never have good journalism or good education when the fox is watching the hen-house.

    And most people don't understand that kids spend too much time during their youth in school for the type of 'education' being offered.

    Schools for the most part have become not much more than meat-rendering plants where kids are slowly lobotomized by sheer, boring rote lesson learning so eventually they are assimilated into the culture at large as non-thinking, obedient slaves.

    No real skills are passed on, and so many become totally dependent on the system after they graduate with little imagination left to do something else on their own.