About two years ago, in May of 2012, I sat down and penned what turned out to be the inaugural article for Frostededucation.com. The piece, which I had originally entitled “Paul Bennett: The Worm in the Apple” had been born out of the frustration of hearing Bennett comment upon education, seemingly every time I turned on the radio. In the piece, I called into question Mr. Bennett’s understanding of the issues, and called on Nova Scotians to consider his actual motivation for being so critical of public education, and of teachers in general. If you are interested, you may read the piece here.
I had not started out to write a blog. I had, instead, written a letter and sent it off to The Chronicle Herald. Low and behold, they actually published it as an Op-ed piece, much to my surprise. What else caught me by surprise was the massive response the piece generated. I received handshakes and “Thank yous” from teachers to whom I had barely spoken. In fact, I found out the piece was actually in the paper the morning it was published by receiving an appreciative 7:30-in-the-morning phone call from a teacher who lived in New Glasgow. It was this outpouring of support that encouraged me to start this page, and indicated that, when it came to having little use for Mr. Bennett’s views on education, I was not alone.
Over the next two years, I would write about many issues, often calling Bennett to task for questionable conclusions and a decidedly “anti-teacher” stance. Yet, despite my constant rebuttals, it seemed that Bennett never lost steam. He continued to be featured on local talk shows and in the paper, touted and feted as an “education expert”. I often pointed out that, seeing as how he had never set foot in a public school classroom in Nova Scotia, and had not taught in any public school in quite some time, he could not possibly be considered an expert in Nova Scotia education. But, that didn’t appear to matter to the media. Bennett seemed to know what he was talking about and he was decidedly anti-teacher and anti-union. Both these played well in local media markets, and, for whatever reason, few editors seemed concerned about the validity of his claims or the accuracy of his research.
The last time I wrote about Bennett was in June of 2013. In that month, Bennett penned a review paper for AIMS on the SchoolsPlus program. In his report and ensuing newspaper articles and on-air interviews, Bennett was quite critical of the program. However, when I read his review, I realized the report was full of errors and omissions, and several claims that, well, were simply not true. Bennett had published the piece anyway, and despite the fact that he used what appeared to me to be unsubstantiated claims and questionable research techniques, his piece was still taken as gospel by the local media.
I took some time to speak to several folks involved in SchoolsPlus initiative, and then wrote a rebuttal, to which Bennett replied. Calling me, at one point “The NSTU’s faithful spinner”, Bennett attempted to, paragraph by paragraph, show that it was I, not he, who did not know what I was talking about. Even when I published a letter from Kay Crinean, the independent consultant who had reviewed SchoolsPlus, supporting my views, Bennett remained unmoved. He insisted that he was right, despite the evidence to the contrary.
So, I gave up on debunking Bennett for awhile. He was obviously going to say and print what he wanted, ethics be damned, and the local media was going to continue to lap up every word, either not bothering to or not caring about checking his facts.
So that is why, when a friend of mine sent me Bennett’s latest report for AIMS, this one on standards in the teaching profession released last week, I almost didn’t read it. I didn’t need someone who I felt had such obviously low professional standards lecturing me on mine. But, of course, I am now glad I did.
The report, as we have all heard by now, is again full of errors and omissions, and several claims that, well, are, again, simply not true. And this time, these errors are so fundamental, so glaringly obvious, that even Bennett will have little room for spin.
For example, in the report, in an attempt to undermine teachers, Bennett states “Professional development of teachers in Nova Scotia remains the exclusive preserve of the NSTU”, which is, of course, not true. Most of that responsibility lies with the school boards. Elsewhere in the report, in a cry for higher standards for teachers, Bennett calls for the introduction of regular teacher assessments every five to seven years. Again, a fairly glaring mistake, as teachers here in HRSB, at least, are assessed every three years. Most obvious of all, he calls for the re-assigning of the responsibility for teacher discipline from the NSTU to the DOE, apparently unaware that the responsibility for teacher discipline lies with schools boards, not the NSTU. Even the Minister of Education had to weigh in on that one.
Now, in typical Bennett fashion, when confronted with his own ignorance of the system, he told The Chronicle Herald:
“There’s confusion about who does what. At every level, there’s confusion…We couldn’t get a straight answer from anybody…”
Well, someone’s confused, I’ll give you that.
You know, of further interest in all of this is that AIMS, the organization who bankrolled this report, has at least three University Presidents on their various boards and councils. I wonder how they are feeling right now, knowing that the organization they support proudly is fronted in the public by someone who can’t figure out that it is probably not a great idea to publish a policy paper on a topic about which you can find no “straight” answers.
Even more interesting is how the parents of the kids who attend those Universities are feeling about the whole thing. If this is the type of work that is endorsed by the University President, parents may do well to consider what else is allowed to pass under the name of Academic Research.
Bennett has shown himself to be remarkably slick at deflecting criticism, and his career, both as a professor and a commentator may actually survive this. One way or the other, however, I am done with him. I suspect that the NSTU is as well. Although not sitting particularly well with some teachers, the NSTU has remained silent, refusing to comment on the issue. And, really, it’s hard to find fault with that stance. I mean, why would the NSTU reply to a report that, for the most part, the author seems to have simply made up?
Yes, Bennett may survive, but I will tell you this much. I certainly will pay him no more heed. If he appears on a radio show, I will turn it off. If his commentary appears in a paper, I will put it down. And I would encourage others to take a similar approach.
Because, seriously, any media outlet that considers someone who authors a piece like this deserving of the title “expert in education” is not worth my attention.
As far as education in Nova Scotia is concerned, it is time for Paul Bennett to take his final bow.