So I guess I can’t really call myself a “blogger”….. yet. I have a gazillion excuses for why I didn’t write after my first post but generally, they are summarized as:
- My kid got more fun to be around
- I had some anxiety about having something worthwhile to say
- It got harder and harder to sit down and write, as more time passed by.
Luckily for me, our Education Minister (and my Stonebridge-Dakota MLA) Bronwyn Eyre’s recent comments (yes, I’m posting a link to the actual Hansard – it starts on p. 2754) in the legislature and our STF advocacy campaign to get education issues on the political agenda have me too revved up to avoid writing for another minute.
Minister Eyre spoke in the legislature on November 1st and what she said IS alarming for anyone with an interest in teaching and learning in our province.
After a brief statement about the government’s plans to use the notwithstanding clause to circumvent the recent Catholic school ruling, she moved on to discuss math education. In a not so veiled push for more provincial standardized testing, she lamented that the only way we can determine how our students are doing in math is to rely on international testing. She said her government will move to “set things right” by making sure each student had a textbook (read it: I’m not making this up) and looking to more “reinforcement and workbook based” programs like France and the UK. (Fun fact – neither of those countries scored higher than Canada in the PISA testing that is causing such a ruckus).
Minister Eyre takes aim at Michelle Naidu, the president of the Mathematics Teachers’ Society (one of the best math teachers you will ever encounter and someone who has built her professional life around learning how kids learn math and how adults can learn how to teach kids math – ok, also an old university buddy, so I’m biased) Minister Eyre claims that Naidu has “admonished parents not to use flashcards” and “reject[s] common sense models”. Michelle certainly doesn’t need my defending but with all due respect, Eyre and Naidu may differ in their opinions about what constitutes common sense when it comes to teaching math. The difference is that Michelle has the education, experience and expertise to back her claims up. Our government would do well to spend a little more time actually listening to and learning from teachers like Michelle instead of trying to denigrate the craft of teaching down to a bunch of textbooks.
Perhaps my favourite part of this speech is when Eyre laments about the lack of teachers trained to teach Computer Science 20 and 30 and blames this on the fact that University training programs do not offer specialized computer methods. Bah!!! The Computer Science 20/30 curriculum hasn’t been updated since 1999!!!! Why is that, you ask? Because the current government put a freeze on curriculum development partway through their term and has a chronically under-resourced department that also hasn’t managed to update the History 20: World Issues curricula since 1994 – that’s 7 years before 9/11 and 16 years before the introduction of the Ipad. I can’t even.
But we’re not done yet. She talks about the difficulty retaining qualified French teachers and then, in a shockingly ignorant move (and I mean that in a sense of political astuteness and general understanding of the world) began to share her personal thoughts on the “infusion” of treaty education into Saskatchewan schools. I can’t speak to the fundamental danger of this line of thinking any better than Tammy Roberts, Tracy Laverty, Liz James and many others. I will say that the Minister of Education’s job is not to inadvertently change the direction and goals of a sector based on her own personal experiences (is she seriously hinting at broad policy shifts based on a 13 year old’s version of one assignment in one classroom?). It is to advance the goals developed by democratic processes, community based collaboration and extensive consultation. To quote Thunderchild First Nation Chief Delbert Wapass: “As the Minister of Education, she must uphold a higher standard of understanding our history, of modelling a future of tolerance and of righting the wrongs of the past. “
Minister Eyre seems to have an alarmingly deficient understanding of the foundations of her own government’s curricula and the specific goals the ministry has set for First Nations and Metis graduation rates. One can’t help but question her commitment to (or familiarity with?) the TRC recommendations or even the action steps identified for the Ministry goals she is supposed to be leading us towards. Here’s one of them:
Brad Wall recently sent a letter to Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, telling her that “recent comments you have made did not meet the standard of conduct that comes with your position.” (I’ll save my thoughts about that one for a blog post called “Climate Change: Why the Hell Are We Still Debating This?) It would be appropriate for Minister Eyre to receive a similar message.
Certainly, the notion that treaty education is too “infused” in the broader curriculum demands aggressive contesting but there are still a few tidbits in her speech that are worth mentioning. She advocates designing a system based on the “broad bases of classical education – history, geography, grammar and basic writing skills”, which is hopelessly outdated and dangerous thinking.
Can you imagine what this might look like if we adopted Eyre’s musings as policy? We could develop successful students… if they were working in a widget factory 200 years ago. The world we are preparing our students for demands much more. It demands that they learn how to contribute to their complex communities, engage as citizens and always, always learn. This graphic is helpful to understand the foundations of Saskatchewan curricula:
If we regressed to having the “basics” (a term fondly used by people who have little understanding of the craft of teaching and the science of learning – people who think they know because they attended school and who think that school should look more like it did 100 years ago) as the foundation of learning in Saskatchewan, students would be well prepared for a world that no longer exists.
So the fact that we have an Education Minister who is alarmingly misinformed about the critical foundations of education in Saskatchewan coincides nicely with the recently launched STF advocacy campaign. For the first time in decades, both major political parties will be electing a new leader within months of each other. The person who is elected for the Sask Party will be the premier of Saskatchewan until our next general election in 2020. The #pickapremier campaign encourages teachers (and all people) to buy a party membership (for one or both of the parties) and make it known to candidates that education funding and responsible policy needs to be a priority in our province. It is not about supporting any one candidate or any party in particular. The campaign is simply designed to get us all talking about how to best support students in our schools. All you have to do is buy a membership (or two!)
So. Ryan (wisely) tells me that it can’t be a great idea to post something so political. He’s probably right. But sometimes, it just matters that much and this is one of those times. I will not not contribute actively to the advocacy of the teaching profession and the future of our kids. If you’re thinking that you don’t like politics and just want to stay out of it, know that doing nothing, given the current direction of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, is setting us on a dangerous, divisive and regressive path.