Archive for the 'Education Reform' Category

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“Indoctrination” Laws and Guidelines for Schools

The Gore Global Warming controversies re: truth or otherwise of his film, books, speeches, etc. has at least exposed a lot more food for thought.  To me, the most important outcome so far has been the revealing of the existence of anti-indoctrination legislation in the English School Act, 1996.  How many of our School Acts in the states, provinces, countries have similar sections, and if not, why not — given present politics in schools?

Section 406 of the Education Act says that local education authorities, school governing bodies and head teachers "shall forbid…the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in the school".

And if political issues are brought to the attention of pupils, the authority, the governors and the head are required by Section 407 to take "such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that…they are offered a balanced presentation of opposing views".

The High Court Judge, Mr. Justice Burton, stated that "there would have been a breach of sections 406 and 407 ….but for the bringing of these proceedings… ". He awarded two-thirds costs against the Government.  At least one can be grateful that in England there was an Act and courts to provide some remedy to the parent who brought this case forward (Mr Stewart Dimmock) however costly it was to him.  Society benefits when captive audiences of students in schools are presented balanced pictures of controversial issues.

The Judge did NOT forbid the showing of the film ( as was hoped ) but did required amended guidelines to apply:
1.  The Film is a political work and promotes only one side of the argument.
2.  If teachers present the Film without making this plain they may be in breach of section 406 of the Education Act 1996 and guilty of political indoctrination.
3.  Nine inaccuracies have to be specifically drawn to the attention of school children.

I will try and determine how many of our 10 provinces and 3 territories in Canada have "indoctrination" laws and guidelines.
Can we try and get a world picture?

Education Choice #1 Parental Right

As we hear and read about school choice being the the answer to reforming education performance and satisfaction we need to be aware of some basics.

1. It has always been, except in totalitarian states, the duty of parents to educate their children.

    England: It shall be the duty of the parent of every child of compulsory school age to cause him to receive efficient full-time education suitable to his age, ability, and aptitude, either by regular attendance at school or otherwise. (Education Act, 1944)

    United States: The first School Laws in America (1642) underlie the system to this day: “Universal education of youth is essential to the well-being of the State. The obligation to furnish this education rests primarily upon the parents.”

    Canada: “The responsibility is placed by law upon the parents or guardian to educate their children.” (You and the Law, 1973)

    The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959) support this parental duty.

    2. The public schools do have a statutory duty to provide a free education to all students whose parents choose to register them. However, it is made clear in all school law that parents are to be kept informed of the progress of the child. This information must be accurate and understandable to the parents so that they in turn can exercise their duty by supporting, augmenting, intervening or withdrawing from that school.

    3. Public schools serve a two-fold purpose: to assist parents in meeting their parental obligation in the education of their children and to serve the broader public interest in seeing that citizens are educated to a certain standard.

    4.School Acts should clearly reflect this intent and support parental duty.

    5.School Boards in private schools and in the past were representatives of the parents who had enrolled their children in a particular school. Now, that school boards have grown large and supervise immense numbers of children in many schools, are elected from a broad population and often represent vested interest groups, we can see how far they have strayed from their original mandate.

    6.Bureaucracies and complex channels of communication have grown to the point that the basic parent-child-teacher relationship has been so compromised that frustrated people are looking ever more seriously for alternatives.

    The above points start to explain the ever growing movements for choice, for vouchers, for parent involvement, for charter schools, for home education, for separation of school and state, etc.

    After Hurricane Katrina threw into disarray most of New Orleans’ school system, authorities decided to start rebuilding school opportunities with a clean slate. The January/February issue of “The Atlantic” has a 12 page article: by Amy Waldman that is worth reading:

    Katrina washed the slate clean, providing a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvent public education.” The result was the fastest makeover of an urban school system in American history. …the neighborhood school had been banished–parents would have total freedom to choose which school their children would attend, no matter where they lived. Introducing school choice and weakening teachers’ unions had both long been goals of many educational reformers.

    Leslie Jacobs, a member of the state Board of Education, said:

    This is huge. What’s happening in New Orleans is turning into a national model on choice.”

    School Board president Phyllis Landrieu said:

    This is a cause for celebration. Students and parents have a very wide choice of options for selecting schools this year.”

International Education Consumers Talk

I have recently joined, on a free trial basis, a group which involves consumers in education. Their site is: Education Consumers Clearinghouse.

My latest conversation was today with Mona in England, see below:

From Canada, just joining the ECC conversations. Mona’s posting today reminds me of conversations we had at CIDOC, Ivan Illich’s center in Cuernavaca, Mexico in the 70’s (he of deschooling fame).

1) Yes, I believe we can date the “crippling” to have started around 50 years ago (Mona’s words: half a century). Let’s pin this down as to the factors that contributed to making of parents and children as dependent clients.

2) At CIDOC we talked about the “iatrogenic” results of schooling. As in medicine, unintended illness or symptoms generated from medical treatment (Mona’s words: in school…at public expense…by hard-working, well-meaning but MIStrained teachers).

3) Yes, I too as a parent was told “not to interfere” with education. It was some kind of catechism handed down from the teacher unions, as I generally heard this first at school board meetings when parents dared to question methods (as new math, sight vs phonics, ita, etc.).

I am recording, for the historical record, my own experiences of the last half century in my blog.

I am hoping to produce an essay on the issues raised by Mona and hope others can contribute research and effort to establishing more genuine parent involvement in education, not less.

In another recent communication with Tom, he had said:

if education remains a socialist enterprise, all of our gains will eventually be swept away by the sort of creep who inevitably rises to the top in organisations which are not subject to the disciplines of the marketplace

I sent him the following note:

Reminds me of the Peter Principle:

The theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent.”

[After Laurence Johnston Peter (1919–1990).] Please remember or be acquainted with the origins of those insights of Mr. Peter’s. He was a long time employee in the Vancouver School Board system here in British Columbia, Canada.

I hope to shortly produce a d-r-a-f-t essay on the issues discussed plus bring forth a solutions-based approach to the problems of “hierarchism” as so ably articulated by Mr. Peter who probably should have received a Nobel Prize in Economics before he died.

The solution proposed will be the libertarian notion of subsidiarity:

Subsidiarity From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Subsidiarity is the principle which states that matters ought to be handled by the smallest (or, the lowest) competent authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level…

From Catholic social teaching:

The principle of subsidiarity holds that government should undertake only those initiatives which exceed the capacity of individuals or private groups acting independently. The principle is based upon the autonomy and dignity of the human individual, and holds that all other forms of society, from the family to the state and the international order, should be in the service of the human person…

Education: Let technology do the teaching?


Education Advisory, the service providing 'consumer advice' to parents, sponsored 5 Home Learning Fairs in the 80's to show how technology and parents could prepare students for the future. The following newspaper article was published in the Vancouver Province, Nov 03, 1985. From this article you will see how Education Advisory was involved in the climate of ferment seeking improvements and alternatives to the existing system of education.
Frank Ogden is a Vancouver futurist.
Education: Let technology do the Teaching (Vancouver Province, Nov 03, 1985)
Underneath the technological tidal wave that is dominating our society are changes in public opinion. For, along with the outward changes that technology is bringing to us, are the first stirrings of great social changes to come.
Perhaps the greatest of these is the groundswell for change in our educational system. All over the world many forces are eroding the professional monopoly of teaching.
We are discovering, for example, that most information can be acquired via satellite, computer link or information utility at a cost of at least 10 per cent of current educational costs.
And it isn't just the 'information elite' that knows this is so.
A case in point: For the past 12 years a West Vancouver woman named Tunya Audain has been researching just what is the matter with our educational system. (The original goal of education was to provide employability. Well, we now know that isn't working.) She isn't doing it the old way. She is closer to her word processor than are most institutional teachers.
Three years ago she started the Home Learning Fair, subsidizing the costs out of her own relatively meager funds. The first year she called a meeting, 500 parents hungry for a better way showed up. Last year her bugle call drew more than 2,000 parents who wanted to explore alternatives to traditional schooling.
On Monday, Nov 11, she will hold her third annual meeting at the McPherson Convention Centre in Burnaby. And this time, more than the crowd will have increased.
Exhibits of computers, home education courses, educational games, books and toys will be displayed. Alternative schools and counseling services will also be exhibiting themselves.
Workshops showing how to start independent schools, how to design your own home curriculum, how to develop cottage industries or handle the special needs of the gifted or the disabled will be held. Flowery academic language will not be used to mask the tasks.
I love the titles of some of the lectures:
Beyond Schooling to Real Education
Why we Need a Voucher System
Preserving Freedom of Choice
Education Malpractice
Education in the Future
The process of non-institutionalized education is nothing new and it has been proven beneficial. In fact, B.C. is leading the country in educating students at home. The Open Learning Institute alone has 16,000 course registrations representing 9,300 individuals, says Ron. Jessels, Principal. This covers university courses, career, vocational, technical and adult education.
In addition to that, ministry of education correspondence courses are reaching 1,040 elementary school students and 17,419 secondary.


The Fiction of Education Reform

[This review is basically a re-write of a review done in the 80’s. I expect to re-read this book in the future and expect to make further comments. TA]

Book Review

Beyond Public Education, Myron Lieberman, 1986, Praeger

Fact and Fiction of Education Reform

Lieberman’s book could be the starting point for anyone concerned with our public schools. He says that all the reform efforts of the last few decades are unrealistic and even “harmful” to education. His book largely refers to the American scene, but from what I’ve read most of the insights apply to the Canadian scene as well.

If you’ve ever been frustrated by the system, the following insights from a long-time “insider” since the 50’s are revealing. The major obstacles to educational reform include:

  • The structure governing public education
  • Teacher unions
  • Tenure laws
  • Insulation from competition or alternatives
  • Leadership gap

Even as reform efforts may point to desirable new directions, their major flaw is failing to acknowledge the above obstacles which are too real to ignore. The symbolic gestures at reform produce the illusion of concern and serve to perpetuate the status quo with its vested interests.

Media gullibility obscures the political, educational and intellectual bankruptcy of the reform movement. Educational reform is taking place in newspaper articles and television broadcasts, not in classrooms.

Educational deterioration is real enough, though understated, says Dr. Lieberman.

  • Illiteracy is a major problem
  • Many remedial courses in colleges/universities are needed to bring students up to speed
  • Avoidance of testing contributes to grade inflation and covers up decline in achievement
  • Increase in high school programs lacking any defensible academic purposes

Audience for Whom the Message is Addressed

The price of the book ($67.00 in 1986) meant that not many parents would read the book, even though they are one of the major intended audiences of the author.

“One of my major objectives is to help parents reject cosmetic changes in education that leave the status quo essentially unchanged. My analysis is intended to explain how and why parent participation in school affairs is usually futile…”

Of course, all the myriad policy-makers and players are enjoined to read the book: unions, school boards, legislators, media, business people, etc. From my experience, the analysis in the book equips the status quo for greater resistance to parents than to assist parents. Now, 20 years after the publication of that book and after my first reading of it I think that is true. The status quo persists. (Example: 7 of the 9 trustees at the Vancouver School Board are teachers, ex-teachers, or in the education system one way or another and one member is an ex teacher union official. Isn’t that conflict of interest? One board member has been there for over 20 years! Now that is status quo! Should there be term limits? How effective can parent voice be before such a body?)

What’s to Be Done?

Lieberman states repeatedly that the purpose of the whole effort is an educated citizenry, not the apparatus that has grown up around the effort. He makes two suggestions for real improvement in education:

  1. Improve Family Choice Since parents have no voice in educational governance or quality control, at least if they had a choice of schools, their “consumer” activity would trigger competition, improvement, etc. The vehicle for this would be tuition tax credits or vouchers.
  2. Entrepreneurial Schools Either founded by businesses or educator entrepreneurs, these schools would be more efficient, relevant, innovative and responsive to their constituents (parents and students). Their emphasis would be on results, marketable skills, jobs, and personal pride.

For the first time ever, a complete un-masking of the education industry by an ex teacher, ex teacher union negotiator and a university professor and now chairman of the Education Policy Institute.