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The Birds and the Bees’ Stinger

October 31, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 04:36 AM

Ontario is revising its sex ed curriculum, and it's really hard to write about my misgivings without coming across as an antidiluvian right-wing religious whack-job. 

But I do think that a loving parent can do a better job one-on-one, in response to and in step with his or her child's own growth and development and curiosity, than a teacher - perhaps even an itinerant teacher who doesn't know the children - who in any case can't personalize the timing or the message because he or she is addressing 25 students of both genders. I have also observed that many of the teachers who are drawn to teaching sex ed are jerks - certainy not people I want discussing sensitive matters with my child.

To your rejoinder that too many parents don't teach their children about sexuality: I suspect that - to the extent that it is true - parents' silence regarding sexual matters is partly the result of an expectation that the school will take care of it. In any case, I have to wonder which is worse - no sex ed of any kind, at home or at school - or bad sex ed at school. Myself, I'd choose no sex ed.

What exactly do school board trustees bring to the table?

October 30, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:44 AM

There are those of us who think that school trustees are a waste of space, along with the whole school board apparatus. Apparently, Kathleen Wynne agrees with us, at least partly, in that she has extended the freeze on trustee compensation. more  In fact, it seems to me that the only reason the government is keeping the trustees and school boards in place is to have a convenient buffer in place when it comes to unpopular decisions like closing schools. 

In Peel, where trustees earn about $27,000 a year, the chair says that "the government's move to freeze the honorariums was discouraging, because it appears the province does not think trustees are worth even cost-of-living increases". 

It’s all Asian to me

October 29, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 04:23 AM

This report from the Brookings Institute documents the extent of the domination of foreign students in US universities, especially in STEM and business fields. To confirm that it is the same in Canada, just walk through any Canadian university (or look at the ethnic restaurants adjacent to the campus). 

This phenomenon may be one of the consequences of inadequately preparing native-born Canadians and Americans, especially in math and science. Oh well, our kids can always get jobs in the service industry....although, of course that is not where the money is.  H/T JE & TB

Who’s in charge here?

October 28, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:59 AM

Yesterday, municipal elections were held across Ontario, including for school board trustees. In Toronto, the high school teachers' union arranged for teachers to get time off from work if they would canvass for the union's preferred candidates. more

It would be very interesting to see how many of the union slate actually got elected. Because if the teachers' union succeeded in assisting their preferred candidates to office, it means that they are controlling both sides of the table come contract negotiation time.

The school isn’t doing it

October 27, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 04:43 AM

As promised, here is the reaction to Matthew Wagner's Facebook posting.

CHRIS  Good rant, Matt. I agree with most of it. The education system needs help. In general, I would say that MOST of the teachers I know are great and they care immensely (my 80-10-10 rule applies - 80% of people are awesome, 10% are a$$holes, and 10% are clueless). However, teachers are limited in what they can do as they usually have to move as slowly as the slowest buffalo in the herd. You are correct that parents can do more. I used to get ticked off that the "good" kids' parents always came to parent/teacher interviews. Then one of my teacher buddies let me know that they are "good" students because their parents are involved. So now I look forward to those parents. I also ask the other parents to come and talk - but they seldom do. Not that they don't care, but they are sometimes limited by time, education, or other factors.

MATT  So, as you say, teachers "have to move as slowly as the slowest buffalo in the herd", so this means that even if you as a parent are ensuring your child is succeeding in school, your child is learning whole numbers in grade 6 instead of factoring. On the other hand, how is this working out for children whose parents are less involved? Teachers have little time or authority to discipline children - especially young boys - in any meaningful way, and anecdotally it sounds as if administrators are usually more interested in keeping parents off their back then resolving any issues that these children present in the classroom. Is this working out for them? Does the system give a boost to disadvantaged kids? 

I'm too lazy to look for a source right now, but I thinkI heard the other day that schools in affluent areas show higher levels of academic success than schools in poorer areas. Not surprising. But these schools use the same curriculum, do they not? So the current system seems to do little to educate disadvantaged children.

This is where we're at. Parents are really on their own if they want their children to have anything more than a rudimentary education, but I think most parents are simply unaware of this.

Years ago, I was talking to someone about how I was teaching my three-year-old how to read. She looked puzzled and asked me why I would do that, as it's the school's job. Her reply stunned me at the time. What I'd say to her now is "What if the school doesn't do it?"

The school isn't doing it.

Sunday at the Movies (Social Media)

October 26, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 04:31 AM

And now for something completely different. This YouTube clip ought to open your eyes about the growing role of social media in framing the debate. A bit hard to make Time Magazine care about the teachers' unions' boycott when social media are already eating Time's lunch. H/T JE

It’s not rocket science

October 25, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:06 AM


My son Aidan is 11 years old and in grade 6. The first picture here is his recent math test and it looks like he got 100% ... so why am I so annoyed right now?

Look at the second picture. That's Aidan's Kumon. He just started level J, which I'm told roughly corresponds to grade 10 math. I haven't marked it yet, so it could be right or wrong, and please disregard his almost-illegible printing - he comes by that naturally. Maybe Aidan is some kind of math genius, but I don't think so. As far as I can tell, he's a pretty average 11-year-old boy. In fact, all three of my boys seem pretty average to me.

I'm annoyed because I believe that most children are capable of this, and yet our public education system caters to the lowest common denominator in a way that is unhelpful to all children, regardless of their ability. I don't say this to disparage teachers. I believe some teachers are amazing, some are terrible, but that the vast majority go to work each day and do the job they're paid to do just like the rest of us. The problem is they're not paid to educate, not really. 

Take a look at your children's last report card. Perhaps you're satisfied that they got enough E's, G's, and S's and, if you're able to wade through the mind-numbing edu-babble that is the comments section of a modern report card, maybe you have some idea of where they are succeeding and where they need to improve. But so what? Even if your children are straight-E students, what have they actually learned?

No doubt they've had their awareness raised about any number of issues from climate change to bullying, they've learned the importance of fund-raising, and of course all the correct social values as approved by the Ministry of Education. When all those things are covered, I guess they make a little time for some reading and math. Too bad, because these are the basic skills required for all other subjects except for maybe phys ed.

So I've put my children in Kumon. I'm not here to promote them specifically, but it does seem to work, and when you understand how low-effort Kumon is (they barely "teach" anything), you start to realize how worthless our public education system really is.

The school system is incapable of change. The bureaucrats and the unions are too invested in maintaining the status quo. As long as the public has the perception that their children are receiving a quality education, there is no need to change or adapt.

Since the school system can't and won't help, you have a few options.

  • If you can afford it, put your children into some kind of extra-curricular education program. It's expensive, and for me putting my children into Kumon has forced me to make a lot of personal sacrifices.
  • You can do it yourself. Teaching kids to read is easy. Really easy. Start when they're three years old, and by the time they're four they will be able to read pretty much anything you put in front of them. There are a lot of great workbooks out there for math that you can do at home on your own time. It takes a little more discipline but if you can't afford some form of tutoring, this is a good option.
  • Or you can do nothing and hope for the best. Understand, however, that the meat grinder that is public education will push your chidlren through to high school graduation regardless of whether or not they have learned anything.


Anti-Social Promotion

October 24, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 06:39 AM

Common-sense educator Michael Zwaagstra says that most students shouldn't be promoted to the next grade if they haven't mastered the work of the present grade. more

As a high school teacher himself, Mr. Zwaagstra knows up close and personal how difficult it is for the teacher in the next grade to help lagging students catch up. If the teacher teaches a remedial curriculum, then the rest of the class is denied grade-level learning and the whole class gets behind. If the teacher teaches grade-level curriculum, the lagging students can't hope to keep up. And education leaders who say teachers should individualize their lessons are dreaming in Technicolor.

Adding context to this theoretical issue is the fact that only about half of Ontario students have mastered the provincial math curriculum, according to the provincial tests. Because of its sequential nature, math is especially problematic when it comes to social promotion. It's no wonder we have a shortage of students able to envisage careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

How to make your kids smarter

October 23, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 05:41 AM

Here is a research-based article about what you can do to help your kids do well at school (and in life).

And here is the Reader's Digest version.

  • The Dumb Jock Is A Myth
  • Don’t Read To Your Kids, Read With Them
  • Sleep Deprivation Makes Kids Stupid
  • IQ Isn’t Worth Much Without Self-Discipline
  • Learning Is An Active Process
  • Treats Can Be a Good Thing — At The Right Time
  • Happy Kids = Successful Kids
  • Peer Group Matters
  • Believe In Them

One final note: Intelligence isn’t everything. Without ethics and empathy, really smart people can be scary.

There’s a simple solution to the public schools crisis

October 22, 2014 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) at 04:58 AM

Here's a well-expressed argument in favour of a total ban on private schools. It argues that the ability to send their own children to private schools takes the pressure off political and educational decision-makers to improve public schools - and that the existence of private schools is unfair to poor families who can't afford them.

Of course, another possible solution is to make it possible for poor families to send their children to private schools too....

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