Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Feb. 12: legal abuse of children in the US, destruction of democracy in Canada, abandonment of Native Peoples....

These are three, major stories that cry out for editorial comment - or some sort of comment. I've been waiting. But only one  story has appeared at all in the Irving press, and the story only as a news item.   And, apparently, the Irving press doesn't have a writer with the knowledge to interpret them - or even to follow a simple process to get the necessary information off the web.

1. The first is a story that's been around for several years - but, so far as I've seen, has never made the Tand T. In the US, 3,000 children, many of them innocent and without anything that could be called a trial, have been sent off to spend their childhood in juvenile detentions centres. That is - 3,0000 that we know of. The real number is almost certainly far higher. The reason?

Much of the prison system has been privatized in the US. That attracted investors since the government payments were high, and there was almost no regulation or any demand to  help the criminals.  As soon as that happened, entrepreneurs (a favourite word of the TandT) began bribing judges to sentence convicted criminals to longer terms.

As a result the US has not only the biggest prison system in the world, but the most expensive one, and the least effective one.

Then, even brighter entrepreneurs went into the business of imprisoning children, especially children of the poor. Commonly, these were from families that couldn't afford legal help - so they were easy meat.  Many of them, perhaps most, had never done anything wrong at all. But they were wide open to abuse.

The "entrepreneurs" in this case bribed two judges who, in a matter of months, convicted 3,000 children, and sentenced them to long terms.

Could be lots of columns here - how all systems designed by humans are prone to abuse, corruption and destructiveness - how entrepreneurs, however nice the word might sound are, well, humans. Some are to be admired. Some are as cruel and as greedy and as corrupting as they come.

Harper has made it clear he likes privatized prisons and long sentences, though both have proved to be expensive and ineffective. There might be an idea for an oped column there.

Is there any  hope we might see such a column? Or are we condemned to forever reading cutesie stories by Brent Mazerolle and Rod Allen, and the others?

Then there's Harper's 'Free Elections Bill' which has been reported on, but without the comment people need understand it.

The Chief of Canada Elections, someone with a record of impartiality and judgement has called the bill a disaster for democracy. And so it is.

In effect, this bill takes the lid off spending on elections. That, of course, gives a huge edge to the party that can be the biggest kisser of the rear ends of big business (oops. Sorry. I meant entrepreneurs.)

Harper's good at spending big money on campaigns - but he's had to rely on taxpayer money.  For example, who do you think paid for a holiday for 300 people - all costs covered - for a trip to Israel? Why was it necessary to have 300 people?  Because this is a big lead up to the election campaign. And we paid every cent of it.

Now, he can simply step up his spending because his party is the one that get the greatest part, by far, of donor money from very, very rich people. (Our taxes still pay for it, of course - but it won't be so obvious.)

Remember the robocalls? These were calls to discourage non-conservatives from voting. Typically, the calls gave false information about the polling stations. That takes a lot of research and time; and it was clear in the last election that the Conservatives were the big spenders in that. But Harper has fixed it. From now on, people accused of making robocalls don't have to answer any questions about it. In effect, election law has been make unenforceable.

Oh, and the Chief Electoral Officer is not permitted to make any public statements about the system.

All of  that is a direct attack on democracy. I wonder if Mr. Goguen would like to hold a public meeting on that. He could bring his smirk with him. Then he can explain how this bill helps the people of this riding that he is supposed to represent - and how it affects multi-billionaire 'entrepreneurs' that he was not elected to represent.

Then there's Harper's overhaul of Native Education. Harper has made it clear he has nothing but contempt for Native Peoples. So, he decided to maintain and even intensify a federal control of Native Education, a system that has already proven an educational disaster for generations.

He will strengthen that federal control, making it even worse. He will continue to underfund Native Schools, covering his unattractive rear end by spreading rumours that them there Native leaders is all crooked. (Unlike Mr. Harper and the toadies - like Goguen -who surround him.)

To hell with treaties. To hell with obligations we assumed in return for all this fortunate land. Harper will treat Native Peoples as if he were a barbarian conqueror rounding up his victims to be cheap labour, and forever to stay there.

An intelligent move would be to give jurisdiction over education to Native Peoples who have a far better idea than we do of what they need. And he should give them funding at the least equal to that other children get. Without that, they are condemned to ever-worsening social decay and poverty.

For Christ's sake, Harper, get over your ego and your arrogance, your obsession with power, and unstick your lips from the rear ends of the rich. That's what the press should be telling you. But Canada has a pretty wimpy press - and here in New Brunswick, it's both wimpy and crashingly ignorant. Well - and servile.

In yesterday's TandT, NDP leader Dominic Cardy was critical of the schools for not failing students who had failing grades. Today, A8 has a story that premier Alward says the schools do NOT have a "no fail' policy".

So far, so good. But then the dean of UNB's faculty of education says there is a policy of promoting children 'socially', that is keeping them moving along with their social group. Then, just to keep the gobbledygook rolling, the education minister says - well - what she says is such gobblygook that even I with a lifetime of experience in education cannot make any sense out of it.

The Liberal education critic says they are held back.  But that's not the same as being failed. So that's okay.

In fact, this province appears to be run entirely by people who cannot say anything clearly and accurately.

On the idea that it's good for children to be kept in the same class as their social group, I know that's nonsense. There is nothing necessarily desirable in keeping a child with the same social group year after year.

My elementary school was very working class with almost all of the students leaving around grade 9 for manual labour for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile, I had been streamed into a class with the type of kids I had never met before, ones who thought of going to university as the most natural thing in the world.

It threw my grades off a bit. But I passed with decent grades into grade 10. This time the move was to a very metropolitan school that drew children from all over Montreal. For the first time, I met large numbers of Jews and Orientals, most of them working class like me, but from cultural traditions of respect for learning. They not only knew where they would go for BAs, but also for MAs and PhDs.

I was a heavy reader. But they moved me  from cowboy stories to playwrights, political writers, novelists.  I didn't know it. But that experience was going to change my life.

However, the cultural shift had a price. I failed grade 10, repeated with good grades, but by Easter was obviously flunking grade 11. The principal called me to his office. I can still see him there, and can still hear his thick, Yorkshire accident.

"Let's face it, Decarie. You have no brains at all. It's time to go out and look for a job."

The next day, I had a job as a mail clerk at Bell Telephone. I was already the success story of my neighbourhood, the first kid to get as far as grade 11, and the first to get a job with clean hands.

I was there for four years. But the change had happened. I had been exposed to a whole new world through mixing with a different social group. And things would never be the same again.

Schools are supposed to stimulate change in us, to see things we have never seen before, to think as we have never thought. It is not entirely a place of social coziness and friendships with people just like us.

And it's not a place to produce people who speak the bafflegab that I see in this news story.

In any case, I'm not at all sure New Brunswick will solve its education problem through the schools.
The fact is that New Brunswick is a place of high levels of illiteracy at EVERY AGE group. It is a province in which the newspapers actively encourage ignorance and pettiness. It is a province in which major 'entrepreneurs' spread such an aura of public fear that few will engage in serious debate in public. It's a province whose idea of a great performing artist is someone who can play a guitar while singing through his nose.

This is an intellectually lazy province.

That's the world that surrounds these children - naive, fearful, close to brain dead, manipulated - a province whose only leadership comes from those who want to abuse it and make profit out of it.

That is the "social group" our educational leadership (the premier, the minister of education, etc.) thinks it important to keep our children in.

It's not our schools we have to change. It's us.
Oh, how could I have forgotten the banner headline on the front page, "Moncton eyes major downtown redesign".

Anything we can be conned into doing that the right people will make money out of is a headline. This time, the scheme is to extend Downing St. to the river. Yes, yes... And 30 stakeholders (sorry, entrepreneurs who want to get their fingers into some tax money)  gathered last night to "brainstorm" about "a completely new  way to see downtown Moncton".

And it will "reconnect" the community with the river.

The stringer of all these words that really mean nothing is, of course, Brent Mazerolle.

The origin of all this is the story that (maybe) we can get money out of Ottawa (which, incidentally, is money that we taxpayers will have to help pay back) in recognition of the city's 125th birthday.

How very, very generous of these  'entrepreneurs' who stand to make money out of the deal to give their time to public service and decide for us the best way spend that money if we can get it.

This is an obvious con job dreamed up by promoters to make a buck or two for themselves, all in the guise of   beautifying the city, and all written up in the gushing style of Brent Mazerolle is the sort of thing that encourages low standards of discussion, culture, this city.

It's not the schools. It's not the children. It's the manipulators who run and rob this whole province. And it's us who accept that.
The editorial was written by somebody who knows nothing whatever about education or evaluation of teaching - or of how universities work.

The writer attacks profs at Mount A who do not want administrators to use their course evaluations (filled out by students) to be used by administrators as a basis for giving raises.

Of course not. Course evaluations are a lousy way to evaluate teachers. They are filled out by people who take courses - but who have no experience or training in what good teaching is. Nor, for that matter, do most administrators.

As well, I taught over 40 years, almost all with superior course evaluations - and only one bad one. I cannot recall ever getting a pay raise because of my teaching. For many, many years, I sat on committees that recommended for raises. I cannot recall a single case in which a professor got a raise based on teaching.

Universities know almost nothing about teaching. For all their puffery, they don't care about it. And, to a large degree, they have contempt for it.

As for evaluations leading to the firing of a bad teacher, I have never heard of such a thing in Canada.
I tried to get two fired for dreadfully bad teaching. One was so bad, he frequently had nobody at all registered in his course. The other simply refused to teach the one course he was assigned. His reason was that he preferred to live in Philadelphia. (No. I am not making that up.)

The cases were so bad that the university had to do something, But it would not fire them. Instead, both were offered handsome payoffs. Very handsome payoffs.

As well, there is no clear agreement anywhere on what a good teacher is. And don't believe any statistician who tells you there is.

It's not like the newspaper business wherewe know that a good editorial writer is,  A good editorial writer is one who kisses up to the boss' opinions.
Norbert opens his column with a statement that Harper and Mr. Alward are very different people. I have no idea why - and Norbert doesn't say why. He spends the first part of his column name-calling, and ends that part by denouncing name-calling.

Then he talks about the World Health Organization and how it's silly in its talk about the spread of cancer. Well, yeah. What would the World Health Organization know?

Then he babbles that all over the developed and underdeveloped world, things are brighter than at any time in the life of anyone alive today. And the economics gaps are closing.
What a bizarre statement to make with the western economies all in serious trouble, unemployment high, Africa and Central America deliberately held down in profound poverty, and the whole world suffering record wage gaps...
Norbert - it really isn't possible to reply to such a foolish and/or ignorant statement.

Alec Bruce has an excellent and thought-provoking column on early education.

On Oped, take a good look at Brian Cormier's column. It's well-written; it's amusing; and it definitely has something to say.

1 comment:

  1. Another great set of comments Graeme.
    I most certainly agree with your comments on children in detention centers.
    It's almost as if we are returning to the days of Oliver the Twist and poor houses. perhaps that is actually what id happening around the world..