Sunday, February 24, 2013

Feb. 24: Final Act, Scene 1. The NB Revolution

Premier Alward gave two and a half million dollars to Jamie Irving, publisher of the of Bunswick News. Wasn't that sweet of him? Two and a half million dollars of our money.

There's not enough money in the bucket - some thousands of dollars - to provide seriously and even dangerously ill people in the Moncton region with vital medication. But, hey, for Mr. Irving, there's no lock on the bank vault. And what's it all for?

Well, Mr. Irving has a sudden lust to improve elementary literacy is this province. And so he formed Elementary Literacy, Inc. of which he is Chairman of the board, and serves nobly with other businessmen and the usual suspects from the civil service.

Their training in the teaching of elementary literacy? Zip. Zero. Nada. There are thousands of teachers who have training in the field. (Indeed, as a former elementary school teacher, even I have training in this field. But I haven't been offered two and half million dollars by Mr. Alward.) And what  training does Mr. Jamie have?

Well, he has a BA in English which, despite the word English in there, has nothing to do with teaching elementary literacy. And he has a degree in journalism, a degree that, apparently, did not include a course on the ethics of journalism. In short, he, like most of his board, has no credentials whatever in teaching elementary literacy.

In any case, the problem of literacy has less to do with schooling than with television, video games, parents who don't read, and the lack of anything that could be called intellectual life in New Brunswick. And a powerful factor in the lack of literacy is the appalling quality of the newspapers that Jamie Irving publishes.

Whose budget did that two and half million come out of? Education? Was it discussed in the legislature?  Aren't we allowed to know?

And if this is a wonderful idea why wasn't Mr Alward bragging about handing over three and a half mill? And wny wassn't it a major story in the Irving Press?  And, the bigger question, what is this really all about?

In the US, big business has been after a share of the education budget for decades. Very big money is involved. The US spends some 500 billion a year.  So it was we had business-financed "think tanks" pimping for private involvement in education. We saw that same campaign here from Atlantic Institute of Market Studies, complete with bogus scientific studies, and the most vicious editorials I have ever seen in the Brunswick Press, slandering teachers.

It also goes on  in Britain. The technique is for big business to edge its way in with soft sells like "Public/Private/Partnerships" - then schools operated by private business and collecting fees; but also getting lots and lots of tax money for extra profit.

The result in the US has been a disastrous collapse of the quality of education. US education now ranks at the bottom for nations in the developed world. (Canada's public education system usually is in the top ten.) For those parents who opt for the "charter" schools (the public-private ones), the cost of taxes AND fees is crushing, often making the additional cost of university unthinkable. For the purely public schools, their budgets have been cut to the bone. The results are public schools essentially for slum kids, and with classes that can be as big as a hundred.

Of course that has happened. Big business operates for only one thing - profit. It's primary goal is not to serve people or help them in any way. Very nice, of course, if it does so by accident - but serving human and social need is not its purpose. Never confuse Jamie Irving with Florence Nightingale.

The Irvings are sticking their noses into what is none of their business, and none of any sort of business they understand. They, just like us, are perfectly free to express opinions, have a talk with the teacher, form genuinely voluntary service groups (when asked for them.)

They have no bloody right to take our tax money and use it to convert our children into just one more profit asset.

Public education has been perhaps the greatest, single advance in human history. It is public education , not self-serving billionaires, that created the stunning advances in science and prosperity over the past century, advances that far outrank the thousand years before in which education was almost entirely private.

So I shall say here what Mr. Alward lacked the courage, integrity and smarts to say. Mr. Irving, you are arrogant, presumptuous, and bullying. Participate in public life, of course, but do so as a citizen just like the rest of us, not as an aristocrat ruling over that army of intellectual eunuchs we call a government.

Nor is that the whole story. The other story, closely related, concerns something called Sigma Six. This is the sort of faddish and shallow philosophy that sweeps through the business world every couple of generations. It's something like Dale Carnegie's once-popular book "How to Make Friends and Influence People."  Essentially, it's a system designed to minimize costs and maximize profits.

It's been tarted up as a training programme, and made exciting in a pre-adolescent way, by giving its students judo titles, like green belt, yellow belt, black belt, master. (Well, it's better than mistress, hooker, courtesan...or pimp, drug-dealer, hold-up man....)

The learning process can be as short as a week - though the programme requires a grasp of complex ideas, and lots of big words and jargon that nobody understandsn bit even the black belts. It can be longer if it is studied at a university business school. (University business schools can make hookers look shy.)

Does it work? People like the Irvings say it does. People who are more likely to know what they are talking about - scientists, for example - say that the evidence is very, very shaky - and it certainly does not work outside the field of business.

Worse, the adoption of this system, like any other system, really, can put development in a rut, destroying innovation and adaptation to change.

Well, if the Irvings want to adopt this hokum for their own business, that's there business. But when they try to foist it on government and health care, it's our business. (It has to be the Irvings foisting it on these areas. Alward wouldn't change his diaper without the approval of the Irvings.)

The switch to Sigma Six is what lies behind the conflict between health services and favourite hand puppet for the Irvings, Health Minister Flemming. In the same way, I note Black Belts and Yellow Belts blossoming in our civil service.

Look - Even if it works for business (which is doubtful), this pseudo-scientific, jargon-filled scheme with its childish aura of various coloured belts cannot possibly work for government, health or education.

The purpose of Sigma Six is to cut costs and maximize profits. The purpose of health care is to serve patients. They purpose of education is to develop minds. The purpose of government is to serve our whole society as we wish it to be served.

The Irvings can use Sigma Six to cover themselves in coloured belts, if they wish, and to regularize their digestive processes. They have no right to force it on us; their newspapers have no right to not to tell us what is going on. They have no  right to force it on OUR government. Worse, if fully applied to government it would destroy democracy. After all, if our lives are going to governed by black belts talking jargon, how can we possibly have a democracy?

What Mr. Alward has done is to radically advance the takeover of health, education and of government itself by the most arrogant and irresponsible elements of our society. What we are watching is the late stages of a revolution made possible by the wimpiness of a premier, and by the arrogance and ignorance of a class interested only in itself.

There is a profound rot of ethics and morality in this province. It we ever elect another Liberal or Conservative government, it's game over.

Meanwhile, those tough, no-nonsense reporters at the Moncton Times and Transcript seem to  have missed all this. Will they cover it in the coming week? Nah.

The editorial will be about the need for a civic centre. The Rod Allen will write more adolescent humour to show how smart he is. Brent Mazerolle will write something really long - and say nothing.

The only section written with any sense of seriousness will be Sports and Miss Manners and Kate's pregnancy . But that's only because sports and Miss Manners and Kate's pregnancy have no effect on Sigma Six and the gullibility of the Irvings.

1 comment:

  1. This is an old game. Big, powerful corporations create subsidiary charities for better PR.

    Rockefeller saw it as necessary to his survival after the Ludlow Massacre.

    Eventually, many major corps. realized if they were going to manufacture dumbed-down products and/or services thereby fleecing the public, then they also had to create a mechanism by which put themselves in a better light and aid in muffling their critics. So, they create charitable foundations in their name.

    But Elementary Literacy Inc. is a different beast altogether. It is a full frontal incursion by big business here in NB focusing its attack at the most vulnerable of our society; impressionable children.

    Yes, I accept at first glance ELF seems innocuous enough, perhaps even helping K-2 children to better read, but one has to consider these are the first inroads by private, big business to a potentially much larger role in NB's public schools.

    ELF projects itself to be in every school in NB in 5 years.

    You're right, Graeme. This smells of criminal intent considering the Irving's extremely poor track record of substandard journalism and one-sided, biased misinformation in its NB newspapers. An excellent case in point is how you've kept coverage of Irving's consistent non-coverage and even presentation of misinformation of the shale gas fracking fiasco.

    Because of this, it should be self-evident the Irvings do not support any real education in our schools, which includes having critical thinking skills taught. This is something NB is very lacking in. A perfect example is the current Alward government, and the Graham government before.

    During a recessionary time, (actually a depression) when the province is more than a little in debt, a grant of 2.5 million to the province's already wealthiest people is also criminal. This money will aid in carrying out what I can only see as a self-serving agenda for big business, to be used against future NB citizens and their sons and daughters in our schools down the road.