I have recently written a book entitled “The Attack on Nova Scotia Schools”, which should (finally) be available for purchase in March.
Now, in the name of full disclosure, I didn’t have much choice in the title. That particular pleasure is apparently the purview of the publisher, a fact of which I was unaware when I started the process and one which, I must admit, was a point of some contention. In fact, the title I was originally presented with, “Attack on Nova Scotia Schools!” immediately called to mind the cult classic, “Mars Attacks!”, and resulted in a so much personal consternation that the publisher, somewhat reluctantly I think, agreed to inserting “The” simply to keep me quiet.
As with most things, time has a way of giving one some perspective, and on the eve of publication, I find myself somewhat regretting not allowing my publisher to have his way. Indeed, the more front page grabbing education headlines that emerge from across our great land, the more I become convinced that what is happening to our public education system nationally is much closer to an alien invasion than any of us should be comfortable with.
Let’s begin in British Columbia, where teachers are embroiled in a labour dispute with the reigning NDP government, and have been working without a contract since June of 2019. Then there is Alberta, where the newly elected UCP has just passed a motion at its AGM to allow for the expansion of the charter school system, which will have a tremendously negative impact on their public system. Their rationale was that the public schools were failing and that “…students are entering adulthood unemployable and increasingly radicalized by extremist ideologies”. What that group seems to consider extremist ideologies gives this author some pause, to be sure.
In Saskatchewan, we see a similar stand off to the one in British Columbia, where teachers and that province’s Saskatchewan Party are also locked in a dispute, this one about class size. Essentially, the teachers want guaranteed class sizes in the contract, and the government does not. In Manitoba, teachers are holding their collective breath as Avis Glaze reviews that province’s system for the governing Conservatives. If history is any indication, that will probably not end well, and citizens there may soon be taking to the streets to protest the abolition of school boards and the removal of principals from their bargaining unit.
Then, there is Ontario, where teachers have been forced into taking strike action by the Conservative government’s insistence that they need larger class sizes and more on-line courses to make fiscal ends meet. The teachers there seem to have tremendous support, bolstered by a revelation that the government was looking to make on line courses mandatory so they could be monetized, as opposed to say, helping the kids.
In New Brunswick, that province’s education minister is also calling for some rather radical changes to the system, although not quite to the extent of Fordnation. However, inherent in such calls is an implicit messaging of failure. If things were going well, radical changes would be unnecessary. Last, but not least, the Nova Scotia Liberal government and the NSTU seem to be heading towards yet another stand off. At issue here is the government’s forcible removal of specialists from the union’s ranks. Although the union has an arbitrators decision on its side, the government seems content to force the matter before the courts , in a move that seems much less about the kids than it does about our premier’s seemingly strong dislike of teachers.
The most maddening thing of all this for me is that there is little in the way of evidence to show that our schools are not already doing an exceptional job of educating young Canadians. As recently as 2017, Canada’s system was the toast of the international education community for its excellent showing in the 2015 Programme for International Student Achievement Test (PISA). That test, (if one buys into such things) showed that Canadian schools were top ten in the world when it came to teaching kids about Science. More recently, results of the 2018 PISA showed that we were top ten in teaching reading. Even our slightly lower than normal 2012 math scores, which set off national alarm bells, saw Canadian schools missing the top ten in the world by less than half a percentage point.
Not only has Canada shown to be able to score well in these tests, but more importantly, we have placed consistently high when it comes to how equitably our system educates our children. Time and again, the results of these test show that here in Canada we do an exceptional job of educating everyone who comes through our doors.
Nationwide, our schools have been shown, by every measure we know of, to be doing an excellent job of educating our kids. There is no evidence of a crisis in our schools. There is no evidence that Canada is “falling behind” our global competition. (Indeed, in all my years I have yet to determine what, precisely, we would find ourselves behind, should that reality ever come to pass.) Finally, if schools were actually not preparing our young people for the future, the last thirty years of relative prosperity and innovation in our country could not have been possible.
Yet, from coast to coast, regardless of province or political affiliation, our public education system is in turmoil, driven by a strikingly similar “Our schools are failing” rhetoric.
I have a theory as to what is behind all this, of course, or else I probably would not have written a book. The overall gist can be found in that consternation inducing title. The very entity that is public education in our country is not actually under performing; it is under attack.
Consternation and movie references aside, it is darned difficult for me to not take everything that is currently happening in our county as a sign that I am absolutely, abjectly, and frighteningly right. Our public education system, from coast to coast, is embroiled in a fight for its very life.
It may be time to consider calling on our federal government to have a serious look at why, precisely, this is happening.