||Volume 22, Number 7, May/June 2010
Let’s take a stand for public education
By Susan Duncan
The Daily News (Kamloops), March 26, 2010, “On the Run” column
Education is a topic that can make people hate those with opposing views. I'm expecting to make a lot of enemies with this column.
Watching the goings on in the Kamloops-Thompson School District, in fact around the province, over the past few months was disturbing to say the least. It was an example of school boards lost in the valley of trying to be all things to all people.
It’s a process that began many years ago across Canada. Parents started demanding special treatment for their children—and good on them for being advocates for their youngsters. The problem occurred when governments of all levels responded without considering the long-term impact.
Their solutions were OK when lots of children filled schools and the demands were small. Soon, though, more and more parents adopted the mindset that their children would die on the vine if they were thrown in with the masses and forced to endure what millions of children before them survived.
From this belief, private schools began to spring up across the country. Then government saw an opportunity to help its bottom line by subsidizing those schools. That devious plan drew children from the public schools where government provides full funding into private schools where only some government funding is allotted per pupil.
Before all the students in private schools in Kamloops take up their pens to extol the virtues of their schools, relax. We know you love your school.
As the exercise of public meetings in the district between November and February revealed, both students and parents have deep loyalties to their particular schools. That’s a good thing.
This is a column about practicalities and a personal opinion that there is only one question to be asked when government considers education: What is best for the greater good?
Some of you will go apoplectic about that “socialist” term. But really it’s just a matter of common sense.
Government has a duty to provide education for its children. That mandate should mean education officials put all the students and all the money into one pot and then develop a plan based strictly on what would work best for the most children.
That doesn’t mean every family would be forced to send their child to public school. Private schools should be free to operate as they choose, with parents covering the full cost.
And, yes, everyone pays school taxes, but that doesn’t mean individual taxpayers get to decide where that money goes.
No one person gets to dictate where his or her taxes go in any other ministry. Why education?
The public school system is for all students. Families who decide it’s not right for their child should have to do what we all do when we want something more than what is being offered. Pay for it.
That means government would have to pay more for public education because of additional students, but it will mean a better system for the greater number of students.
It would also have meant some neighbourhood schools would not have had to close. Their student numbers would have been sufficient to stay afloat.
Added to the already chaotic problems within the education system are schools of choice. Governments that allowed parents to force specialty schools upon districts seriously weakened the public system.
No school should get first dibs on fine arts or science or math. That dilutes schools of talented students, teachers, and strong programs in those areas. Those courses and that style of teaching should be part of every school.
And really, how healthy is it for students to be immersed in only one aspect of society? They go to school only with students who share the same interests? Somehow that does not instil confidence that they will emerge as well-rounded people.
Of course, some students will not succeed in the public school system that I envision. They don't anyway. There will also be failures at Beattie School of the Arts, Bert Edwards Science and Technology School, St. Ann’s Academy, Kamloops Christian School, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help School.
Nothing is perfect, but when it comes to education, providing the best education possible will save more children. That will only happen when governments ask that one question—what will work best for the greater number of students.
Parents who have, or think they have, gifted children don’t need to worry. Gifted students succeed wherever they study.
But if those parents believe their brilliant youngster needs more attention in physics or drama outside what the public school offers, they will, sadly, have to pay for it outside of class.
Government cannot be all things to all people of all religious beliefs, of all talents, and all strengths. When they try to do that, more children lose out so fewer numbers can get what they want.
How is that fair? A strong society should be judged partly on its public education system. This province should stop following the paths of other provinces that are watering down public education.
BC could be a leader if politicians would only stand up for public education.
Susan Duncan is city editor of The Daily News. Her column “On the Run” appears Fridays.
Reprinted with permission.