The School Board Trustee race is on!

magnifyI would like to welcome our candidates for the school trustee position, Dr. Bob Maton and Greg Van Geffen. This position is especially close to my heart. For 30 years, I have worked as a full-time and fully qualified teacher, first in Poland, then in Unionville-Markham area, and finally in Dundas and Hamilton. While working in Ontario, I have personally witnessed the deliberate destruction of public education and experienced first-hand, as an insider, the effects of so-called “reforms” introduced by Mike Harris and his high-school-dropout Minister of Education John Snobelen, who is on record bragging about the conflict he had purposely inflicted on the system. By the way, Mr. Snobelen’s expertise was in trucking. I am not sure what Mike Harris’s background was, but I’ve heard some rumors about the North Bay – Sundridge – Parry Sound motorcycle gang.

I will start with the flyer of Greg Van Geffen. It shows that Greg has the support of some community leaders, a couple of Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board Trustees, and the Hamilton District Labour Council.

Greg’s priorities are:

  1. Moving forward with strong leadership and transparency;
  2. Promoting equity and diversity to raise student achievement; and…
  3. Building partnerships and engaging the community.

I am not sure if I understand the practical benefits of point #1. It sounds like a cliché.

Point #2 shows luck of experience in the field of education. I don’t understand how equity and diversity raise students’ achievement – it sounds like another cliché. This is a relatively new trend that didn’t exist in schools when I was a student because the problems associated with it did not exist. Teachers and principals did not need a “policy” to make sure that students respected each other differences. It has always been a part of the job and a part of the school rules. As to the bullying, we are yet to see, to what extend the “new and improved” policies are going to change the reality on the ground. Especially, with the new tendency to eliminate punishment and apply positive reinforcement. Sounds like utopia to me. We have been there many times. The Boards used to hire psychologists to deal with these cases, and it has never worked. At the old, good Tweedsmuir School, the police was at the office every other day to deal with some serious offenses. Principal Barry Morlog has spent most of his time dealing with behaviour, attitude, school rules, and discipline. Board’s psychologists were actively engaged. And here we are, 12 years later, talking about policies, again. It would be more useful to force all principals to deal with discipline. Many refuse to do this, although it is part of their duties and responsibilities established by the Education Act.  And it would be helpful to apply punishment consequently, so that students know that they are not going to get away with bullying or breaking other school rules.

Point #3 is a code language for something that was originally introduced by Bob Ray and his Minister of Education, Dave Cooke as part of the Social Contract agenda. It means that the Board and the schools are looking for corporate and private donors in the community to raise funds as a substitute for budget cuts. This, of course, allows the Ministry to cut more funds the following year and the government to further reduce corporate income tax. This also creates strings with which corporations gain power to influence education policies and programs.

Bob Maton’s brochure contains more specific goals, some relevant, some not so relevant to the teaching-learning process that takes place in the classroom. I agree with Bob that small community schools, for a variety of reasons, result in better teaching and learning outcomes.

However, I would be cautious with empowering parents by  letting them decide what and how their children should be taught at school. I understand that parents hold votes that the trustees desperately need, but I would not recommend bribing parents with special powers in order to get re-elected. Teaching is a professional activity that requires both specific knowledge and experience. People specialize in different areas and it is not wise to start crossing boundaries of specialization for political ends. As Mike Levy, a teacher I worked with in York Region, once said, “Soon they will make parents tell the doctors how to operate on their children.” I doubt that wise parents would want to do that.

I would like to bring to the attention of both candidates my 2006-2007 article on some of the problems in elementary education in Ontario, at that time. It shows the insider’s view of this highly camouflaged topic. It is a long read but you can skip the lengthy introduction and read the last part under the subtitle “Education” only. Have fun!

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