Back to the Math Basics in Ontario!

While Lilley says rote learning will be back, such as practising the time tables, I wonder about such basics as telling time.

While Lilley says rote learning will be back, such as practising the time tables, I wonder about such basics as telling time.

Check out Brian Lilley’s latest column which does indeed prove that elections have consequences!

According to Lilley, the Doug Ford Conservative Government in Ontario will soon introduce a new math curriculum for all public elementary and secondary grades. It will, allegedly, be curriculum guidelines that bring back the basics, while introducing up-to-date skills that will be needed by today’s students in the future.

This is certainly good news for those of us who have been demanding “bring back the basics” for over a decade now.

I am a curriculum development specialist and understand exactly what it is going to take to implement a change like this. It will involve a massive ideological and practical change that will certainly take the 4 years Lilley says the government will need to get everything in place.

Older teachers with a lot of experience will be fine because they used to teach the basics. Newer teachers, however, will need some retraining and mentoring. And, of course, teacher training institutions will need to find out why the “discovery math” research was so wrong.

In other words, this change will affect just about everyone in the public education system, including parents. Lilley says homework will be easier for parents. Time will tell about that.  Anyway, whatever the challenges ahead, I respect the Ford Government moving forward on this.

I should point out that not every teacher in the public system will be affected — because not every teacher teaches math.  For example, while classroom teachers in the primary and junior grades (1-6) usually teach their own students math. It is subject specialist teachers who teach math at the intermediate (7 and 8) level. Of course, subject specialists and lead teachers are involved in teaching math at the high school level, where there is still streaming.

While Lilley says rote learning will be back, such as practising the time tables, I wonder about such basics as telling time. It may come as a surprise to some, but kids in Grades 4 and 5 today only learn to tell the time digitally. I learned that first hand from a great-grandson who is in Grade 5. A very good student, I asked him one day what time it was. He said I don’t know because I don’t have my watch or tablet with me. I pointed out the clock on the hutch, near where he was standing, and he said something to the effect that I don’t know how to read a clock.

To say I was shocked would be an understatement but he explained that everything computerized was digital. Actually, no, not everything is digital. There are millions of clocks everywhere! Then, there is the 24 hour clock, which we need to know to travel. Anyway, using an analog clock will be one of the topics I will look for when the new curriculum comes out.

The crux of the matter is what the Ontario Government curriculum developers will include in the new curriculum. And, those developers will be made up of teams of curriculum specialists, from school boards to faculties of education, to make those decisions. Contrary to public opinion, politicians and bureaucrats do NOT do that.

In the meantime, let’s get a comment discussion going.

C/P at Jacksnewswatch.

Toronto Star’s Rick Salutin doesn’t believe parents teach

School busesI know I was supposed to get an early start on the Labour Day weekend but after I read Rick Salutin’s column in the Toronto Star entitled “Parents are not their kids primary educators,” I just had to write something.

Wow! Truly, in the 40+ years I have been involved in both public education and teacher education, I have never read anything so subjective and simplistic, particularly from someone who is as esteemed and well-educated as Salutin.

And, I don’t believe it is just a difference of opinion. It is as though Salutin completely overlooks developmental and learning theory. Here, for example, are three quotes from his column:

(1) “You don’t ‘teach’ your kids what to do or how to be, but you play back to them the best in their own impulses and responses to the world and you do it appreciatively and enthusiastically.”

(2) “Yet being directive can work too, in fact almost anything can, depending on the parent. In that way it’s exactly like teaching. In either case there’s no one right way, since both are about relationships, which depend on the unique individuals involved.”

(3) “Let parents parent and teachers teach.”

I mean, Salutin says:”playing back to them” is something parents do. Well, that is what teachers do too. They call it brainstorming and decision-making. They also call it the”ah ha” moment — when a child or youth suddenly understands something.

Yes, I agree when Salutin says no one teaching approach is best. In fact, there is a lot of research on the role of teacher beliefs and attitudes about teaching, often referred to as “curriculum orientations,” in addition to the theories about development and learning I mentioned earlier.

However, Salutin seems to have forgotten that, under the Ontario Education Act, teachers are acting in loco parentis — in place of parents. Not the other way around.

Anyway, in my opinion, the crux of the matter is that it makes no sense at all to say that parents are not their child’s primary educator. Yes, children and youth spend many hours a day at school with their teachers but they spend much longer over their pre-adulthood with their parents and it is the latter, for good or bad, that influence them the most. To me, why anyone would think the opposite is certainly a puzzle.

Manitoba teachers’ union want to stop parents taking kids out of sex-ed

Read this National Post news item (H/T JNW). It is a concrete example of progressive neo-Marxists teachers’ union officials trying to tell parents what to think about sex education.

Social engineering wrapped up in a politically correct agenda.

For example, the Post article states: 

“Sex education in Manitoba’s public school curriculum begins in Grade 5 with an introduction to puberty, the reproductive systems, sexual intercourse and sexually transmitted diseases. There is also an exploration of how factors like family, friends, media, social trends and fashion influence sexuality and gender roles.”

The last grade I taught in elementary school, before I moved to the high school level, were Grade 5s. They are wonderful. Still keen and open to new ideas. They are only ten years old! Still innocents. Some mature earlier than others depending on when they were born. Be a January baby and you are almost eleven. It makes a huge difference at that stage.   

So, by all means, teach them parts of the anatomy but specific details about sexual intercourse, sexually transmitted diseases and gender roles? Leave that to at least Grade 8 when the children are 13 going on 14. Because, while some may be ready in Grade 5, others are not.

All are impressionable! 

But, isn’t that the entire point? 

Look, I have no issue with SSM or anything else about sexuality. But, taking away a parent’s right to how they bring up their children?

Which brings the following questions to mind:

Who gave teacher union officials the right to tell parents how they should bring up their children?  

Who elected teachers’ unions officials to the Manitoba Parliament?

Whatever happened to the parents’ and children’s right under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — to the freedom of religion?

Would the teachers’ unions treat parents of the Muslim faith the same way they are treating the Christians parents?

And, last but not least: 

Whatever happened to childhood?

Sex “ed” or “pornography” exhibit for teens at Ottawa’s Museum of Science

I am sure that Ottawa-Hull and surrounding area parents and teachers will be just tickled pink to learn that opening tomorrow is a once in a lifetime sex “education” exhibit for teens at the Ottawa Museum of Science and Technology.

Here is how the museum’s website describes the show:

“A unique, award-winning, educational exhibition created by the Montréal Science Centre, SEX: A TELL-all EXHIBITION presents information on sexuality in a scientific, engaging and interactive manner….The exhibition is of interest to parents, high school teachers and health professionals who work with adolescents.

Due to the sensitive nature of the exhibition, visitors under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. (Access to this exhibition will be controlled at all times by museum staff.)”

Award winning?  Due to the sensitive nature of the exhibit?  Excuse me? Given what Kris Sims of the Sun News Network says, it is a lot more than sensitive.  Here, for example, is what the Sun News Network is reporting:

“The Museum of Science and Technology is hosting Sex: A Tell-All Exhibition, opening Thursday. Initially aimed at children 12 and up, organizers quickly boosted the admission age to 16 after some parents were aghast at the graphic displays. ‘It very quickly became apparent to myself and my wife that this was revolting,’ parent Patrick Meagher told QMI Agency.'”

What on earth kind of society are we creating with this kind of exhibit? Is it about educating young people or is it simply pornography geared to youth? I mean, we just got AIDS under control and the creators of this show and museum administrators don’t see anything wrong with the explicit nature and subject matter of this exhibit?

Put another way, has political correctness and the LGBT agenda caused people to lose their common sense?


(1) Post edited on Thursday morning May 17th at 7am to correct a link and make other minor revisions.

(2) Museums sex show gets dressing down from feds in LFP (Link).

Can public criticism about education be counter-productive?

First of all,  I am not suggesting that no one say anything against the various education systems throughout Canada. That would be silly. We live in a democracy and free speech and protesting are expected. However, at some point, when the complaining and criticism becomes both all-encompassing and unrealistic, it becomes counter-productive to any type of meaningful reform.

So, as a blogger, am I part of that problem? In the five years I have been blogging, I have written about many of the public’s criticisms and demands of the education system — usually agreeing with them. Sometimes my complaints have been about government policies, such as “no-fail” and “social promotion.”  But, I have also been known to complain about the lack of meaningful parental input on school councils, as well as how teachers are too easily influenced by their unions.

However, what I have never done is criticize the front line workers themselves — the teachers — because as a former teacher myself, as well as a former teacher educator, I know they are just doing what they are told to do! Put another way, teachers go to school each morning thinking about what they are going to do that day to help their students. They do not go to school thinking about how they could reform the system. Why not? Because whether some members of the public or parents like it or not, that is not their role any more than a nurse would openly complain about his or her hospital’s practices. It’s called professionalism.  

So, it was quite an eye-opener when I recently took part in a comment thread at the EduChatter blog where there are some 500+ comments (causing slow uploading of the link), most of which are criticising every aspect of Canadian education, from teachers to school board administrations to faculties of education and researchers — what some of the commenters refer to dismissively as either educrats or part the education blob.

Now, while I have a great deal of respect for EduChatter’s owner, Paul Bennett, who is a retired educator like myself, if you follow the repeat commenters from start to finish, you would swear that schools throughout all of Canada’s territories and provinces, were in immediate danger of collapse.  

Well, public education in Canada is not in free-fall anymore than it was when I taught school or went to school. There have always been complaints about the public education system because there is always a five to ten-year lag.  Could improvements be made? Of course. But, they come after the fact because of the role politics plays in the process. In Canada, for example, political parties govern for either four or eight years. Usually, no longer than that. Therefore, that is usually the pace of educational change.

Now, having experienced the EduChatter thread, which by its sheer numbers of comments, was indicative of the dissatisfaction of many, it occurred to me that two of the reasons the teachers’ unions might be resisting reform was due to unreasonable public/parent expectations or what I will call “responsibility creep.”

Think about it. There are still the same number of hours in a school day as when I taught thirty years ago. There is no magic there. Six and a half hours is the same now as then. Yes, many schools have gone to block scheduling because it allows them to take a few minutes from both the lunch and recess breaks. And, yes, some of that time is for prep time. But, given all the new demands, it is obvious that teachers need that time!

Which perhaps is a round-about way to bring me to the latest example of parent demand and responsibility creep. As the Vancouver Sun’s Janet Steffenhagen writes, a B.C. parent is taking the North Vancouver School District and B.C. Ministry of Child and Family Development to the B.C. Human Rights Commission. Why? Because he wants a teacher or teaching assistant to be taught to give his son regular insulin shots. His case is based on the issue of fairness and equity that because his son is disabled, he should be able to receive the “accommodations” he needs.

Now, diabetes is a horrible disease and it must be awful for the child to have to be subjected to regular blood sugar level checks and insulin shots as required. But, injecting needles should not be a part of a teacher’s job. They are trained in learning and how to implement curricula, not on how to be a health care provider.

What should that parent be doing instead? I would recommend, even now, that the emphasis on the complaint be changed to demand that, as an accommodation of his young son’s diabetes/disability, that B.C. school districts be directed to provide a school nurse in every school for at least part of every day. I mean, that used to be the norm. In fact, most older schools still have a nurse’s room.   

So, yes, while everyone means well when they criticise education, they need to do it in such a way that reform is reasonable and possible within the time available. And, while they are doing that, they need to support the teachers, who are simply front line workers trying to teach children the best they can and in spite of all the interference and armchair quarterbacks.

Lastly, the constant criticism and pessimism against the education system and those involved (particularly those who teach at the university level) is not a question of ideology. Conservatives, liberals and progressives are all involved in making their demands known, albeit for different reasons. However, the crux of the matter is that all that noise can be counter-productive if it is not directed in the right direction — at the politicians!

Ohio mother jailed for sending her kids to a better school

Just when you think Western society cannot get any stranger, you read that an Ohio mother was jailed for ten days and given three years probation because she chose to send her children to a better school than the one in her downtoan Akron neighbourhood — an area that was plagued by drugs and crime.

Obviously,  the local Akron authorities don’t understand the notion of freedom of movement and a parent’s right to try and provide her kids with a way out of the poverty trap.  And, trap it obviously is. What is especially shocking is that this didn’t happen in some Middle East or African dictatorship. It happened in the “land of the free” — in the United States of America where Barack Obama is President.  

Read the whole article. It makes us appreciate the notion of open boundaries and parent choice all that much more. Imagine! The downtown Akron Ohio school district actually hired a private eye to videotape Kelley Williams-Bolar “driving into the predominantly white district to deliver the children to school.”

So, who, I wonder, complained to the authorities and why are they trying to make an example out of this woman? For any Americans reading this post, I would recommend they send a complaint to their Congressman and Senator — no matter where they live. This is 2011 and that type of rigidity and lack of freedom should not be allowed anywhere in what is supposed to be the land of the free — particularly if  you are poor and black and can’t afford to move.

Politics & jobs: Why schools don’t want “parents as partners”

A few days ago, I read a column in the Toronto Sun by Moira MacDonald titled “Schools won’t let parents in” (H/T Catherine). It was about so-called “parent partnerships” and the frustrations many well-educated and experienced parents have when they are invited to be a parent-partner and then expected to do little more than peripheral activities. For example, in talking about parent Uzma Shakir’s experiences, MacDonald writes that even though she has several degrees, including one in English literature, her kids’ school only asked her to bake cookies.

So, why is that attitude so prevalent? For two reasons: politics and jobs based on the assumption that only graduates of teachers college can understand the learning needs of students, a belief that must be maintained if the teachers unions are to ensure parents do not take jobs that should go to teachers.

For example, read what MacDonald writes about Charles Ungerlieder, a former deputy minister of education in the B.C. government and currently Dean in the University of B.C. Teacher Education program. She quotes him as saying that the “parents as partners” is a silly slogan because parents aren’t partners at school and shouldn’t be.  Why not?  Because parents are not trained teachers, and therefore sometimes don’t know what their children’s needs or best interests are — something that should be up to”the professionals to decide.”

Now, how offensive is that? Let’s say your child is being taught by a new, or fairly new, teacher education graduate. They are in their mid twenties and have never had children of their own. Yet, they know what your child’s needs and best interests are? Hogwash! Parents like Shakir have far more education than most teachers and they know their own children better than anyone.I mean, prior to attending school, they somehow managed to teach them to sit up, to walk, to talk and to get along with others. They also likely taught them their numbers and part of the alphabet, if not the whole alphabet. And, once in school, it is they who help their children with their homework.

So, what exactly defines the difference between Shakir’s education and parenting experience against a newly trained teacher?  The difference is the equivalent of a single eight month teacher education program. Yes, I know, some provinces require three and four-year degrees, but when you separate out the courses specifically geared to teaching, it amounts to introductory and survey courses on teaching methods, basic curriculum planning and classroom management, plus ten – sixteen weeks in a classroom under the supervision of a practising teacher.

Now, why do I say “introductory” and “survey” courses?  Because, that is all it is. Everything I know about curriculum I did not learn in teacher’s college. All you learn there is basic unit and day planning. No, what I learned in order to teach pre-service students about curriculum required master’s and doctoral degrees.

So, could parents learn the basics? Absolutely, if the will was there. Why isn’t the will there? Well, imagine the following scenario — how politics influences all this.

New curriculum guidelines for Grade 12 English have just been released. What is the likelihood of a high school teacher going before a microphone to tell the public what they don’t like about the themes in the document? Not likely at all. Now, what might happen if a parent had access to the same document and he or she didn’t like the themes? They would likely have no problem going before a microphone to complain loud and clear. Meaning, that is the political reason the parent as partners is not made workable.

Then, as I also mentioned at the start of this article, there is the issue of teaching jobs. What do parents have to do with that? Well, paranoia aside, if Shakir is qualified to teach Shakespeare, chances are she could teach a whole course. Meaning that hypothetically, if the school board wanted to save money, they could use her to do so. Thus the reason the teachers’ unions will no longer allow that kind of parent partnership. And, that’s a shame because years ago, when I was still teaching at the elementary or secondary levels, parents with specialized skills would frequently spend time in our classrooms and share their knowledge and skills.

So, there you have it. Let’s call a spade a spade. Let’s stop fooling the general voting public into thinking that the governments or school boards really want to have parents as partners. They don’t. And, neither do the teachers’ unions. And, as far as that wall of professionalism separating teachers from parents goes, I have been on both sides of it and most certainly did not like being on the parent side.

Could that “we are the professionals” wall  be torn down? Yes, in a minute if there was the political will to do so. All it would take is providing parents with some seminars or courses on the same subjects pre-service students study.

Will some parent organization take on the role of fighting for real parent-school partnerships? I certainly hope so. Which is why I have risked the political fallout from former colleagues and those currently in my profession by writing this article. My bet, however, is that most teachers would agree with me, at least those who are parents themselves.