Western Standard

The Shotgun Blog

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

In defense of Bill 44

It’s good to know that Halifax News Net blogger Kim Kinrade is frightened by Alberta’s Bill 44. His article starts with quote from an Albertan parent that clearly opposes Bill 44 stating that the bill limits exposure to diversity (run for your life!), followed by this gem:

Some people in Canada think “Progressive Conservative” is an oxymoron, like “military intelligence.” And nowhere is this more evident than in the Progressive Conservative government of Alberta Premier Ed Stelmack, who rammed Bill 44 through the provincial legislature two weeks ago.

Hm, I never heard that one before! Then again, I would never expect the Nova Scotia media to support such a thing as originality or change. The new bill enables parents to legally opt their children out of class when certain subjects are “taught”. These subjects are things like sexual orientation, sexuality, and religion – the subjects that happen to be those few that have historically been the responsibility of parents in the first place. As a reaction, the “progressives” are hysterical about such a notion as parents being more competent at parenting and the state. Maybe it’s true that today’s parenting isn’t as great as it used to be, but the idea that we can’t fix ourselves and need the government to be the knight in whining armor yields a white flag in my eyes. Conservatives are not ones to surrender, and I’m no exception. I say more provinces should adopt the bill and see what happens. Surely our public schools cannot get any worse (knock on wood!). Unless I’m shown evidence that what we’re currently doing is working, I propose we consider history and examine what has generally worked and what hasn’t. Bill 44 is a small but solid step towards that. Unfortunately with the new provincial NDP majority in Nova Scotia, Bill 44 is about as unlikely as the possibility of the NDP doing well in office.

[Cross-posted at The Right Coast]

Posted by Dane Richard on July 8, 2009 in School Choice | Permalink | Comments (11)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Is social innovation necessary?

It is my belief that once the state initiates a program of political correctness, it grows and rarely stops. This notion sits badly with me, because I can remember my own elementary school days where political correctness was ever-present. This was over a decade ago, and so I wonder what today's impressionable children are taught in school. It's understandable for the institution now responsible for raising children (it used to be parents, believe it or not) to teach basic decency, manners, and anti-racism. However, if my hypothesis is correct, it would have evolved to a point where people are led to believe in such an extreme politically correct mindset that it's actually detrimental.

To paraphrase Paul Martin of all people, the flip-side of innovation is the large risk of going too far. In other words, the total freedom of innovation is great, until that freedom is abused. When the government abuses it's power with social innovation, the result is more or less as expected. In this case, there is one aspect of excess political correctness that sticks out among the rest: that all and any judgment is bad and should be replaced with the total acceptance of all people. At first glance this may seem ideal, but what has been considered normal for the majority of modern civilization hasn't been so nice - and for good reason. The ability to assume every being should be treated as pure as snow is certainly impressive, but it's hardly healthy.

In the business world, it is common sense to be cautious when it comes to dealing with other companies. Most even prepare the financial statements in the "worst case scenario." That's to say unless there is solid proof to show something great for the company is coming, the company will simply assume it won't. Even with proof, a fiscally responsible company will set aside allowances to cover the remaining risk. The many reasons for this general mentality called "conservatism" (even in the business world) are obvious: the responsibility to shareholders, the risks and movements within the marketplace, and the fact that businesses exist for themselves, not for you.

So why are these principles overlooked when it comes to society? Commerce is more mechanic to be sure, but individuals are as fully capable of error and greed as businesses, if not more so. Companies normally do everything they can to eliminate error, corrupt behavior, and dishonest business within the organization. Not only are these negative aspects hard on productivity, but it's simply bad business for keeping customers, investors, and affiliations with other companies. There are also regulations and laws that restrict such behavior, just as there are for individuals.

However, humans are not mechanic and only have their own brain to restrict negative behavior. There are laws regarding individuals, but besides deterring some, they are mostly only enforced after the crime has already been committed; rarely are there laws that actually prevent crime from happening. One thing humans do better than any species is to solve problems using reason and logic. We may be flawed like all species, but fortunately we have the tools and resources to overcome those flaws. One of these tools is the ability to compare the past with the present to determine if someone or something is apt to behave in a particular way. For example, the chances of someone with a record committing a crime is much greater than one without a record. It's not always foolproof, but it's basic probability. Unfortunately when it comes to personal interaction, this tool is overlooked and under-rated. There are reasons why companies use statistics and probability to make decisions on uncertain items of business: it generally works, especially compared to guessing or treating every new interaction never happened before.

Yet it appears that to today's generation, assuming everyone's an angel is the norm. People are shocked when they find out a friend that has a criminal record, cheats on their spouse, and does business in the black market has stolen from another friend. This shock can easily turn people away from trusting anyone again, which is just as detrimental as trusting everyone unconditionally. The skill of appropriate judgment is what makes surprises like that seem not so surprising.

Of course, there are many things one should rarely judge - ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, etc. - but the advocacy of total non-judgment in public institutions, particularly involving the sponge-like brains of children defies the common sense of human reasoning. Social innovation can only work if the history of Man is considered, not ignored.

[Cross-posted at The Right Coast]

Posted by Dane Richard on June 17, 2009 in School Choice | Permalink | Comments (9)

Radically Bad

How not to improve education in five easy steps:

Raise the age of compulsory education. Twenty-six states require children to attend school until age 16, the rest until 17 or 18, but we should ensure that all children stay in school until age 19. Simply completing high school no longer provides students with an education sufficient for them to compete in the 21st-century economy. So every child should receive a year of post-secondary education.

Which begs the question, does every child have the capacity, motivation or need to receive a year of post-secondary education?  A drive toward universal tertiary education would merely transform college and university degrees, like high school diplomas before them, into de facto certificates of attendance. Nor is schooling the same thing as education. Some learn better outside of academic settings. Some learn only when properly motivated, after getting a taste of the real world of menial jobs.  Some simply don't have the capacity.  Trying to leave no child behind often holds back the rest of the class.  All this seems a very high price to pay for providing more employment for unionized teachers.

But truant officers can borrow a page from salesmen, who have developed high-pressure tactics so effective they can overwhelm the consumer’s will. Making repeated home visits and early morning phone calls, securing written commitments and eliciting oral commitments in front of witnesses might be egregious tactics when used by, say, a credit card company. But these could be valuable ways to compel parents to ensure that their children go to school every day.

I ask, knowing the answer, do these truant children have parents? When public education was established, the early truant officers spent a good chunk of their time trying to convince parents to send their children to school.  The parents were a little skeptical, wondering if their children needed all that fancy book learning.  That's probably not the problem today.  The problem is a lack of stable two parent families, something truant officers can do precious little about.

Advertise creatively and aggressively to encourage college enrollment. The University of Phoenix, a private, for-profit institution, spent $278 million on advertising, most of it online, in 2007. 

The author of those words is Harold O. Levy, the New York City schools chancellor from 2000 to 2002. It's not often that you see a public school educrat calling for the emulation of the private sector.  Here's a radical leap, if the University of Phoenix is doing such a great job, why don't you start privatizing America's public elementary, middle and high schools?  Outrage in 5,4,3,2....

Unseal college accreditation reports so that the Department of Education can take over the business of ranking colleges and universities. Accreditation reports — rigorous evaluations, prepared by representatives of peer institutions — include everything students need to know when making decisions about schools, yet the specifics of most reports remain secret.

Because a government run ranking systems would be fairer, more transparent and...heck I can't even finish that sentence sarcastically.  We can just see some second tier state school mysteriously beating out Princeton in the first annual survey, proving that education in a government university is just as good as those expensive private Ivy League schools.  Then again...

The biggest improvement we can make in higher education is to produce more qualified applicants. Half of the freshmen at community colleges and a third of freshmen at four-year colleges matriculate with academic skills in at least one subject too weak to allow them to do college work. Unsurprisingly, the average college graduation rates even at four-year institutions are less than 60 percent.

One could not agree more.  However....

President Obama has again led the way [Cue the Beethoven - Publius] : “As fathers and parents, we’ve got to spend more time with them, and help them with their homework, and replace the video game or the remote control with a book once in a while.” Better teachers, smaller classes and more modern schools are all part of the solution. But improving parenting skills and providing struggling parents with assistance are part of the solution too.

Right. It's the parents. When the car breaks-down, the mechanic doesn't say we need better drivers. When the electrical wiring wears out, the electrician doesn't demand better switch flipping techniques be taught to consumers - though I'm sure there's a government grant application waiting to be written. What exactly are parents paying - via the state -  teachers to do if not teach? The teachers often spend more time, and have more time, with their children than the parents do. If Johnny Can't Read, might it not be the responsibility of the teacher of reading?  


Posted by Richard Anderson on June 17, 2009 in School Choice | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Does inclusive education sacrifice the best students to egalitarianism?

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” is a communist slogan made famous by Karl Marx, the author of The Communist Manifesto and architect of the bloodiest ideology in history.

While communism might be a discredited political system, the ethics of collectivism and altruism, on which this system rests, remain resilient. We expect the wealthiest in society to pay more through progressive taxation, for instance, simply because they have more. We also generally accept that need alone is a reasonable claim on the time and wealth of those more fortunate. So it is fair to conclude that "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is the moral foundation of the Canadian welfare state.

This moral foundation, the ethics of collectivism and altruism, was fiercely opposed by individualist philosopher/novelist Ayn Rand who wrote:

Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: “No.” Altruism says: “Yes.”

This brings me to the TV and radio campaign being waged by the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), a 50-year-old organization “striving for the full inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.” The “No Excuses” campaign for inclusive education is “working for more kids with intellectual disabilities getting into regular classrooms.”

Here are the two TV commercials the organization is currently running:

The arguments for inclusive education rest primarily on the advantages inclusion brings to the mentally disabled. According to the CACL, children with mental disabilities do better in regular classrooms, inclusive education environments, than they do in special education classrooms. But how does this arrangement benefit children with normal or exceptional intelligence -- and should this even be a consideration in a culture that values collectivism and altruism?

In the past, I’ve worked extensively with the mentally and physically disabled as a volunteer. I am also a teacher by profession, and familiar with at least some of the literature on the subject of inclusive education and the practical challenges of this approach. And I’m also a brother to a sibling with a serious handicap who benefited tremendously from an inclusive education and who is now an excellent parent with an accomplished career. So I'm familiar with the unique needs of the intellectually disabled, familiar with the arguments for inclusion as well as the practical, classroom challenges, and intimately familiar with the benefits inclusive education can bring to someone with a disability. But none of this changes the fact that children with special needs do demand disproportionately more time from teachers. These intellectually disabled students also demand more from their intellectually superior peers, who are often thrust into the role of substitute teacher, tutor and counselor, arguably at the expense of traditional academic pursuits.

Parents look for the most academically and socially rich educational environment possible for their children, often turning to the private sector, an exclusive environment where high standards for both academics and behaviour are promised and expected. Some parents go so far as to home school their children, the least inclusive education option. Is it fair to ask these parents to sacrifice what they believe is best for their children to notions of social justice and equality? I would argue "no."

Since the Western Standard has a libertarian editorial mission, what does the libertarian philosophy demand of public education institutions as long as such institutions exist? Certain public schools, responding to demands for choice, already exist to cater to students of a particular language, religion, race, gender and, of course, academic prowess. Do these options violate the spirit of public education? Perhaps, but the spirit of public education may be worth violating in the pursuit of more choice, even if it comes at the expense of inclusion.

Posted by Matthew Johnston

Posted by westernstandard on April 28, 2009 in School Choice | Permalink | Comments (8)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Take note of August 23rd.

According to an article in New Europe, "the European Parliament has proposed August 23 as a common remembrance day of the victims of totalitarian regimes in a Resolution on European conscience and totalitarianism which was adopted by a large majority". For those of us who have lost friends and family members to the crimes of communism, such a date is long overdue.

It is also long overdue for all the young American and Canadian students who espouse socialist doctrines while fumbling with their iphones and wearing the latest in dictator t-shirts. As long as public education continues to emphasize the horrors of slavery with only brief references to the crimes of communism, I will keep my kids at home.There is no excuse for the growing ignorance about the human costs of communism in the former Soviet Union and Eastern bloc states. Sending children to schools that do not provide this information as a critical part of their historical education is both irresponsible and negligent.

Posted by Alina on April 6, 2009 in School Choice | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Why school choice?

An issue that has become unfortunately taboo in Ontario (as the PCPO is too petrified to have a repeat of their faith-based-funding debacle and the NDP is on the wrong side of the issue) is school choice.

The Institute for Justice has, by far, the best PR people in the movement. In their newest video they show that school choice isn't scary - it's a policy that helps parents make the right decisions for their children's education and avoids the failures and personal tragedies that come from allowing only the bureaucracy to make choices about childrens' education.

(Ed. Luckily, we have Children First: School Choice Trust in Alberta and Ontario. At least a few Ontario and Alberta children will get to go to a school of their families choice, rather than to a school of some bureaucrat's choice).

Posted by Janet Neilson on December 9, 2008 in School Choice | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack