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Monday, 10 December 2012

Why Are There So Many Private Schools?

I just read an article that there will be three more private schools opening in the Ottawa area.  This has occasioned the usual comments about two tiered learning and schools catering to highly specialized groups.  My response?  So what.  I have news that may come as a shock to some people - rich people have more opportunities than poor.  Is this fair?  No, but it is a fact.

Shouldn't all children have a right to a good education?  Yes, and according to the Education Act, that is precisely what the public school system offers.  However, neither the Act nor most of the public can define a good education.  That is because we all have our own idea of what a good education entails.  Some want what they had.  Others don't want their children to go through what they went through.  Some want strong academics.  Others want applicable, useful skills training.  And the public system is supposed to do its best to accommodate all these different goals and ideas.

But, let's be realistic, can one system meet everyone's needs?  Can one grocery store offer all kinds of food?  Can one hospital specialize in all areas?  No.  So the society compensates by offering options.  And those options are private, because our public system is a huge monopoly that acts more like a big business than a public service.  We need to separate the concepts of  "a strong public system" and the current public system.  I am in support of the former but not the latter. 

I wonder at the people who get upset with the existence of private schools.  Do they really think that these schools will weaken or diminish the public system?  That really doesn't make much sense.  If they are only for the wealthy, then only a few will ever attend. The loss of wealthy parents from the local school will have impact only if the parents were happy with the local school.  In which case, they have no reason to leave.  Unhappy parents do not support that school which is not meeting their needs.  And, just in case you have forgotten, parents of children in private school still pay public school taxes.  Some claim that the private schools are taking the best and brightest.  If this is true, then why aren't the public schools doing something about this?  Why aren't they meeting the needs of the best and brightest? 

Why are there so many private schools?  Because parents are willing to pay for the education they think their children need.  If there weren't unsatisfied parents, there wouldn't be private schools.   As with all sectors of our economy, there is only a supply when there is a demand. 


The increase in number of private schools and homeschooling families should be a wake up call to the public system.  Is the alarm loud enough?  I hope so.  I would love to see my grandchildren get a good education at their local public school. 

Don't believe in private schools?  Then don't send your children to one.  But if you  want something different from what the local school is offering, there are options. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

What do you want to be when you grow up?


Every year thousand (more likely hundreds of thousands!) of teenagers sit down with a parent, or a teacher, or a school counselor, and try to figure out what courses to take the next year.  And these students are asked "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  A few lucky children might actually have an answer but most have no clue.

So what is a student (or parent) to do?  The key is to keep as many doors open as possible.  Take classes that will lead to many opportunities.  If there is really no direction or preferred subject then try a few of these simple tasks.

Without thinking too much, quickly write down three things that you would like to achieve in life.  There are no limits except that you have to stay a human and probably live on Earth, although that is becoming unnecessary.  Then write down three things you would get if you could have anything in the world.  No restrictions. Remember these tasks have nothing to do with reality or being practical.  This is pure fantasy land.  Next, three things you would like to learn right now.  And lastly, three people, living or dead, whom you would like to meet.

Now take your lists and find common factors.  With the achievements: are they solitary or in a team?  Do they require physical skill, mental skill, both?  Are they competitive, collaborative, or a combination?  With the things: what is the appeal of each?  Do they represent a certain lifestyle?  Is that a life based on security (house, family) or adventure (fast car, world trip) or freedom (island holiday)?  For learning: are they hidden passions?  Would they take you somewhere else?  And people to meet: why did you choose them?  What do they represent that you admire?

All of these, particularly if done over and over with no repetitions allowed, will start to show you what you would like to do.  The trick is to take these clues, explore possibilities that lie in this direction, and make this into a viable career.  If you are still wandering, then head in a direction that has a secure future, while keeping your eyes open to other opportunities.  Luck is being open to opportunity combined with the courage to go for it.

So, what courses do you take?  Mathematics, because almost every career out there needs you to be able to do consecutive steps with precision.  English, because communication skills are vital.  The best idea in the world is useless if you can't communicate it to someone else.  History teaches us our place in the world.  How we got to where we are and why others might be in a different place.  And science is crucial to understand and examine everything around us.  A second language opens up huge vistas of understanding our global community.  The words of any language reflect the priorities of that people.  Take a broad spectrum, do your absolute best, and keep those eyes open.  You will be amazed at what lies out there.

And don't worry about what you will be when you grow up.  You'll find out when you get there.


Sunday, 2 December 2012

A Very Tilted History of South America

This week we were studying the Incas.  There was a line in the book which really caught my attention.  "Because the Incas had not yet invented the wheel, the mountain paths did not have to be very wide."  I thought, "Wait a minute, why can't we flip that around?  Because the mountain paths were not very wide, the wheel would not have been very useful to the Incas."

It makes me laugh when I hear anyone talk about an unbiased view.  Do you have an opinion?  Then you have a bias.  Are you breathing?  Then you have an opinion!   And guess what?  That opinion is based on several prejudices of which you may not even be aware.  We all have basic assumptions given to us by our society, but that is fodder for another blog!  Here, just let me clarify that I am not talking about blatantly prejudiced views but more pervasive tiltings which reflect the culture and motivations of the author.

Incan history is particularly fascinating because there are almost no primary sources.  They apparently hired professional memorizers (South American version of minstrels and town criers?) so they had no need for written history.  Of course, like most history, the memorizers only remembered big events involving important people.  After the Spanish arrived it would have taken some time for the Spanish to learn enough language to engage these memorizers, the few that probably were still alive.  And the Spanish had to justify their treatment of the Incas by demonstrating that these people were primitive and barbaric.  So many filters that the history recorded by the Spanish (the only written history that we have) probably had very little to do with reality.

How many of you have heard the story that the natives, having never seen a horse before, thought that the horse and rider were one creature and were the god incarnate?  This was the popular story told to me as a child in school to explain the rapid conquest of the Incan empire.  In truth, this is highly unlikely.  The Incan Empire rivaled Rome in its sophistication and development.  There was a complex bureaucracy, superb road and infrastructure system.  Huge cities and a population estimated at around 12 million.  Books like to point out that they were technologically backwards, having no wheels, or ships, or writing, or metal tools.  The geography  precluded wheeled transportation.  The only water around was an endless ocean.  They could not see islands on the horizon to indicate that there might be purpose to head out to sea.  I have explained perhaps why they didn't need writing.  Necessity is the driver of invention.  If they didn't have metal tools, then they didn't need them.  They certainly were proficient at working gold and other metals.

These were highly intelligent and advanced people.  They could easily separate a man and a horse.  Most likely their isolation and relatively conflict free lifestyle left them vulnerable both to the Spanish weapons and Spanish germs.   The truth is we will never know and that is something that I love to read in a history text.  How refreshing when the author admits that these are merely probable guesses.  Sometimes we can figure out more using our own brains and relying less on the highly coloured accounts of the conquerors.  

My point is that, in any history, unless you can examine the primary source yourself, there is a  tilt in the account.  This is not a bad thing unless it is not acknowledged.  The first thing we always do when reading a text is figure out the slant of the writer.  What is the purpose of the writer?  What world view or paradigm does the writer hold?  Are there other criteria that might be in play?  For whom is the book written?  By any chance, are the publishers trying to make the "Acceptable Curriculum Resource List"?  :)