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Monday, December 12, 2016

Toronto's schools need better teachers and a better curriculum, not indoctrination and forced attendance

One of the Toronto Star's resident hysterics, Heather Mallick, wrote an article this past weekend bemoaning the closing of some Toronto schools with very low attendance thresholds. The reason that these schools are underpopulated is that many parents choose to send their kids to better schools in other districts. It is the marketplace in action. Given the choice between a good product and a bad one, most people will choose the good product.

The fact that parents can act like consumers in a free market and that they're allowed to make choices that benefit their kids' education upsets Mallick. She thinks kids should be forced to go to the school in their district, no matter how substandard it may be.

That may suit Mallick's ideological prejudices, but it's bad for the kids who would be subject to her ideological experimentation and no intelligent parent would pay any attention to her. As a parent, the main objective is to provide the best possible outcome for your child in a competitive world, not to become a cog in the vast 'social justice' machine that cares more about ideology than people.

From what she wrote, it appears Mallick really doesn't have much understanding of what goes on in Toronto's public education system. I do. My son has been in Toronto's public system for his entire scholastic education. I've been involved with the School Council of every school he attended, including being Co-Chair of the School Council for his first year of high school.

Parent involvement is a huge factor in the varying quality of education kids receive at different Toronto schools. For a child's education to be successful, parents have to act as advocates, not only for their individual child, but for the school as a whole. The available resources mean that parents have to contribute their expertise, time, and sometimes funds to improve the school's quality. It also means that schools with involved, informed parents are less likely to tolerate substandard education being delivered to their children than schools where that isn't the case.

But unfortunately, a handful of parents in a particular school can't do it alone. It requires a critical mass of involvement to apply suitable pressure on local politicians and the school board to make a difference. So quite naturally, informed parents will gravitate towards sending their kids to schools where that is in place, or those that have established, high-quality programs that will lead to success in life.

Conversely, Mallick's idea of education is a type of political indoctrination which won't benefit students but will produce adults who think like Heather Mallick. Does that sound absurd? It may, but no more absurd than Mallick's assertion:
"...abandoned public education ceases to be a pillar of democracy. It no longer protects against the election of tyrants like Trump. A well-taught person will think logically, will not believe fake news and will understand the concept of the common good. He will not vote for the Trumps. "
Get that? Good public education means you wouldn't vote for someone who Mallick doesn't approve, such as Donald Trump, and instead would vote for someone she does approve, such as a venal, corrupt candidate who doesn't relate to common people, like Hillary Clinton.

Except that's the opposite of what education is supposed to do. Education is supposed to provide students with facts and objective knowledge and teach them to present and organize such facts and knowledge. Education isn't supposed to turn out indoctrinated adults who all reach the same, Heather Mallick-sanctioned conclusions. It's supposed to produce people with different ideas but who can back those ideas with rational arguments.

Ironically, one of the sources Mallick used to support her preposterous assertions is Jason Kunin, a teacher at Vaughan Road Academy, one of the schools closing due to low enrollment. When my son was entering high school, Vaughan Road Academy was among the closest schools to where we lived, and I chose to send him to a better school that was further away, specifically so he wouldn't be subjected to people like Jason Kunin.

The type of indoctrination that Mallick wants is what Kunin has used his classroom to promote. Kunin has tried to use his position as a teacher to ram anti-Israel activism down the school system's collective throat. He is someone who wants a fellow teacher who endorses child-murdering terrorists to be able to influence children in a public school classroom. While that may flatter his self-worth as an "activist," that's not the type of education that produces well-informed students nor good citizens. It is, in fact, a type of education that Harvard University Professor Aurel Braun has described as a form of child abuse that he compares to methods used for indoctrination in the Soviet Union.

If we genuinely want to improve Toronto's schools, we don't need to take choices away from parents, but rather provide them with better choices, better resources, better teaching methods, and better teachers. One way to start would be to promote teachers based on assessing their skills rather than to do it on union mandates of seniority. Just because a teacher has been in a class for a long time doesn't mean that they are particularly good at their job.

There are lots of great teachers in the Toronto District School Board. But not all of them are as good at teaching as they are at "activism." And some don't understand or care what the difference is between the two. Once teachers understand they have to be good at what they do to stay employed, they'll be consistently better at what they do. And the bad ones will be weeded out. That would be a good outcome for students and for anyone who cares about the type of citizens our public education system produces.

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