Teaching as Resisting

There once was a note
Pure and easy
Playing so free, like a breath rippling by

Pure and Easy, The Who

What’s wrong with this picture?

I saw this photo on Twitter today and it made me wonder – what has happened to the art and gift of teaching? When did we forget that one of the roles of the teacher should be to resist the dominant culture of the day?

I read Neil Postman’s Teaching as a Conserving Activity while I was in teacher’s college. There are all sorts of interpretations of this book, but one thing that I took away from this was that educators need to stand in resistance to the dominant ideology. At the very least, we should question the status quo.

Is this still true? Was this ever true? Are we instead here to support the dominant culture and as in the case above, support a political leader who has a very questionable opinion of public education (think Betsy DeVos).

Why are we now afraid to be critics of the system? I have read so often how teachers are satisfied to ‘innovate’ in their own classroom and leave the big questions to others.

Some may say – easy for you  – you are retired now, but there have been times when I questioned the status quo while being actively involved in the education system.

Many years ago, as head of student services at a suburban high school, I was quoted in the city newspaper saying that the schools were the source of drugs for teenagers. Everyone knew this was true, we even knew who the dealers were. I probably should have kept my mouth shut but as a counsellor I saw on a daily basis the negative impact drugs were having on our students. At the time, we as a school board were doing nothing to combat the problem.

The day the article came out the wrath of the school board descended on me. My superintendent was furious and demanded to know if I had been misquoted. I had to explain, no these were my exact words. This did not go over very well with anyone at the school board. The issue of the ravaging impact of drugs on our youth was not something that entered the conversation.

Years later, I was again admonished for being critical of the Canadian Catholic Bishops. I was actually agreeing with a letter that was critical of some stand they were taking (or more likely not taking).

My post had been found on a Facebook Page that had no connection to our school board. A very conservative pressure group found the post and was trying to use it to embarrass the Catholic school board. Again, and not for the last time, I found myself in huge trouble for speaking my mind. The issue of the Canadian Bishops’ lack of leadership in commenting on social injustice was again not part of the discussion.

I bring up these stories in this post not to brag about being a ‘resistor’ but to make the point that I believe it is the role of educators to speak the truth and that in doing so they should not find themselves in the institutional ‘doghouse’.

All educators know they need to keep their opinions to themselves. Resistance and even criticism can be seen as dangerous and even a career stopper.

Is it that we don’t want to offend? Is it that it is seen as our job not to criticize the system? Is it that we simply do not have political opinions?

I really don’t know. I do think we have relegated an important role to others in society.

I don’t think this is good for education and I am sure it is not a sign of a healthy democracy. All I can say now is that in retrospect I am glad I got in trouble and I  hope I would do it again.

Those in the upper echelons of the education system should take pause and consider the importance of resistance as a key role for the educator.

 

 

What are the Key Arguments that keep Ontario Catholic Schools Going?

Are religion and politics really topics that lead to discord and bad blogging? That is hard to say, but it is interesting to read what people say about public schools in Ontario. These are not new arguments, but are these the key points in the debate? Can we take this to a higher level? I have been monitoring a healthy debate on my Facebook page and some key points are coming out. I won’t copy all the comments here, but some of what has been written illustrate some key points in the debate.
I will comment on most of these points, but I don’t profess to have any definitive answers. The debate is sure to continue.

The only way it could save money is to close one system and not educate the kids who are in that system. Funding is on a per pupil basis so the funding would remain the same. It would cost millions extra to do all the administrative changes. So spend millions to save nothing?

 I don’t think this should exclusively be a debate about dollars, but I believe there is a case for rationalizing systems. Here in Ottawa, we have already amalgamated our transportation system and we share resources when it comes to serving some of our neediest students along with the Children’s Hospital of Ontario and the public board. However, we operate parallel systems when it comes to upper management and trustees.
It’s not always about money. There is a message being sent that we are a society divided on religious differences. That message needs to end.
We have to see the truth in this statement. This is a secular society. We are trying to become a more inclusive society in a world that seems to be growing in intolerance for the other. How then can we justify funding a system that keeps us separate as a society?
And it can be about the money… let’s take Stratford as an example. There are 2 public high schools and one Catholic high school. The student population dictates the need for 2 schools. The public board cannot accommodate all its students in one school. If there was only 1 school board, money could be saved by closing one school.
Back to economics. Some schools could be closed if there was one public board. There are many examples now, especially in rural areas of the province where it is no longer feasible to fund schools for more than one system. In my neighbourhood, there are two schools both at 30% capacity – how can we justify this expense?
Parents want choice. Amalgamating boards panders to the lowest common denominator. In Ottawa the public school board has been mismanaged, schools are being closed, kids bused long distances to other schools… Poor management on the part of the public board.
This is the worst type of argument for Catholic schools, but I have heard this for years. There is an underlying bias within the Catholic school system that these schools are simply ‘better’. Somehow, the Catholic system was better managed. I don’t see this. I have been an administrator in the Catholic system and have seen many examples of very poor management. Both systems have their faults. To say that one is inherently better managed than the other shows an embarrassing bias and should not be part of this debate.
Catholic education is protected by the Constitution. We have fought for 150 years for the right to have our schools. We built our own schools, funded them, paid our own teachers, paid to have our students attend, and on top of that, paid public school taxes too. We are not better, just smarter, perhaps because Catholic education was just so important to us. 
The Constitution argument will also not hold water. You can go back to 1791 to find protections for Catholic minorities. Things change a great deal over 200 years. Policies enacted centuries ago do not necessarily have any bearing on what goes on in our society today. Special provisions protecting a Catholic system were designed to sustain minorities in pre-Confederation societies. If we follow along with this logic, we would need to protect a whole host of minorities that did not exist in 1791 or 1867.
Such an important issue to learn and talk about. It is time to look away from the past – what was owed/what used to happen – and look at our schools right now. There is no longer a need for any type of publicly-funded, denominational school. Catholics, formally named, are in decline; active, practicing Catholics even fewer. Our money and our energy should be directed at giving the best, equitable education to all children.
I think this comment speaks for itself.
The conversation is coming to an election soon….. as soon as a party sees it as a winning strategy, they will buy in. I teach in the Catholic system and it has been a positive part of my life for many years – but I have always feared that the end of the system would come from within and not from the outside. Building walls and presenting a message that is not inclusive and welcoming could spell the end….
This is an important point. Every year we witness another story where Catholic schools fail to be inclusive. The most recent example is happening right now in Niagara where Catholic schools are canceling a play designed for elementary students because it explores issues surrounding gender identity. (Niagara Catholic schools nixed play on gender for being ‘not age-appropriate’)

The Silent Topic: Time to Merge School Boards in Ontario?

I listened to a great noon-time discussion on CBC Radio Ottawa on the merger of school boards in Ontario.

Currently, in Ottawa we have four different, publically funded school boards. Two are Catholic, two are public. The origins of this system goes back to 1759 and 1867. The question was brought up during the program why we need to have a system that allows for a faith-based school system?

Originally in Ontario, all education was based on faith. There were Protestant and Catholic school systems. Over time, the Protestant system became public and non-denominational.  I would argue that the same process is happening in the Catholic system that is gradually losing its Catholic character.

Catholic schools now admit students of all faiths – something that I have seen as a very positive step. However, Catholic schools are still allowed to discriminate against teachers who must be Catholic to get a permanent job in this system.

David King, a former Alberta minister of education was the guest during the afternoon show. He made the strong argument that Catholic schools were no longer necessary as the Catholic minority is no longer in a position where their identity is threatened. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, decisions made in 1791, 1846 or 1967 should not guide policy in the 21st Century.

It was interesting to listen to some of the callers during the program. The argument was made by some that Catholics have a right to be taught in a Catholic atmosphere. I am not sure anymore why one group has a special right to an education based on their particular faith. In a secular society, we need to consider how we can combine the strengths of all systems to develop a unified strong public system that caters equally to all families.

In the last school I worked at as a principal, very few students were Catholic. We prided ourselves in being inclusive to all cultures and faiths. We worked hard to support families new to the country. At the same time, another school, also excellent in our neighbourhood supports the same population. Both schools are at approximately at 30% capacity. Why not bring the resources of both schools together to better serve the community?

I hope we in Ontario will have the courage to take on this debate. Public education dollars are scarce, and we have a responsibility to offer our children the best education possible. How are we doing this when so many services in education – especially at the management level are redundant?

Why does this remain – apart from the CBC – the silent topic in Ontario?

 

Should we still have School Boards? A Public Challenge

In today’s education system, in which budgets, curriculum and teaching credentials are handled at the provincial level, school boards are an an anachronism and have few substantive responsibilities. Most of what they do could be transferred to individual school principals, parents’ committees or the province.

Konrad Yakabuski, Globe and Mail, Monday, April 24. The Jig is up for Canada’s school boards

Truer words could not be spoken when it comes to the archaic governance system that controls education in Ontario and I would guess, the rest of the country.

I have worked in the Catholic School system in Ontario as a teacher and administrator for 31 years. I have learned a great deal over these years, but one thing I am now clear on is that we need to totally rework  the governance of schools in Ontario.

The system we have now have is governed by trustees who have little public accountability and in the Catholic system, church leaders who have absolutely no role to play in our children’s education.

Let me be very clear. I worked in this system for 31 years. I also worked at a management level at a Catholic development agency for 6 years. I understand what it is like to work inside Catholic institutions. I understand how they are not agents for innovation and change and should therefore  play no role in the education system.

Yakabuski does not address the urgent need to get rid of the  Catholic School Boards of Ontario. He rightfully goes further and calls for the abolishment of all boards. I believe that one of the greatest impediments to quality education in this province is the needless splitting up of resources between Catholic and Public Boards. This is certainly a taboo subject in Ontario, incredibly taboo, but it must be addressed in a very public forum.

We have schools in the Ottawa area that are at 30% capacity. The two lowest capacity schools are located within 2 kilometres from each other. How is this useful, how does this serve the public?

I have lots of friends in the Catholic system, it has been my home for 31 years. But if we believe in true excellence and the best for our children we really do have to sweep away some of the debilitating bureaucracy that gets in the way. There are other sacred cows that also must fall in Ontario, but better to go one at a time.