The latest news and views from the Society for Quality Education.  
SQE Newsletter
Vol. 22, No. 1. March 2013.
ISSN-1201-215

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FROM THE PRESIDENT

School choice is on the march in the US (click here for a recent round-up of school choice programs), and it's paying off. In the latest international tests (here here), a very dark horse (Florida) rocketed to close to the top of the rankings. Florida has one of the most robust school choice programs in the US.

We monitor this sort of development closely and provide up-to-date information to Canadian decision-makers. You can help by telling others about the emerging advantages of school choice. As well, please consider making a donation to help us spread the word about what's possible for our kids.

Regards,
Malkin

PS  You can also help us by voting for us here.

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Society for Quality Education is the only group in Canada working to improve education choices for families. 


 
Ask Aunt Malkin
A veteran of the school wars herself, with the scars to prove it, Malkin Dare has had lots of experience dealing with education problems. If you want some been-there-done-that advice, give Malkin a call at 519-884-3166 or e-mail her at mdare@sympatico.ca.

Question
I recently read an article in the National Post that claimed that separating girls and boys in school benefits the girls but not the boys. The study took place at a Windsor school that adopted segregated classes in grades 1 to 3 during the period from 1966 to 1972. Here's the link. I feel intuitively, as the mother of three boys, that this information isn't the whole story. I remember reading some SQE information about the different ways in which boys and girls learn and wondered if you have something to add to this discussion. Debbie, St. George

Answer
Unfortunately, there are very few really black and white rules when it comes to human beings. Let's take breakfast, for example. In most cases, it's usually beneficial to feed kids breakfast, but what about a breakfast of Twinkies and Coke? Is that better than fasting? Or how about serving whole wheat toast to a person with celiac disease? Or serving a hearty breakfast to someone who is morbidly obese? The point is: the benefits of breakfast depend on a number of factors.

In the same way, same-sex classes depend on a number of factors - how old the students are; their characteristics; the teaching methods and materials; the teachers; the culture in which the experiment takes place; the curriculum; the subjects; the grade; and lots of other similar details. The devil lies in these details.

The National Post article references only one very small study, but there has been a great deal of research on the question of same-sex classes. Click here for one Ontario survey of the research (this survey has its own limitations, but it does serve to illustrate how far out the jury still is on this issue). 

It seems very likely that same-sex classes work well for some students for some subjects some of the time. And it seems extremely unlikely that we will ever be able to develop a formula that can predict which students for which subjects when.

The bottom line is - same-sex schools/classes should be made available to interested parents/students. The kids for whom they worked would probably choose to remain in their same-sex setting, while the kids for whom they didn't work would probably opt to move on to something more suitable. And likewise, the kids for whom same-sex classes worked for a while but then stopped working, for whatever reason, could also then move on. One size rarely fits all, and certainly not forever.

Regards, Aunt Malkin
Mail Bag
Teachers' Salaries and Benefits
I read an article in the paper that included an outline of teachers' current salaries and benefits, and had to wonder what it is that exercises teachers to go on strike or work to rule. Apart from the expected increases in salaries since I walked out of the high school door for the last time, benefits which I paid for (and still do) seem to be completely funded by the boards of education. When I retired, they paid me a handsome gratuity for accumulating the maximum number of unused sick days, for which generosity I was somewhat surprised. The present offer of a reduced gratuity does not seem unreasonable, but I am in no position to criticize, having taken the money and run in 1998.  Peterborough, ON
 
Trapped
Both my sons are struggling in school (grade 3 and grade 5). I have asked for help for them, but their teachers don't have time. I would like to transfer my kids to another school, but my school board won't hear of it. I am a single mother and thus cannot home-school or afford private school. Watching my sons' despair is breaking my heart, but I can't do anything to help them. This is so unfair.   

How to Get the Right Education for Your Child
Please tell your readers about Malkin Dare's great book How To Get the Right Education for Your Child. It totally opened my eyes to what is going on at my kids' school and pointed me in the right direction for doing something about it. You can read her book online here or ask the Society for Quality Education to send you a free copy. London 
Food For Thought
The United Nations has twice condemned Ontario for its discriminatory policy of funding schools for Catholics but not for students of other faiths. This is like allowing Catholics to send their kids to Sunday school for free but forcing parents of other religions to pay if they want to send their kids to Sunday school. It’s really appalling.
 
In order to eliminate this discrimination, Ontario has two options.Option 1 is, of course, to stop funding Catholic schools. This option is highly unlikely to be chosen, however – since more than a third of the children in Ontario’s public schools are already choosing Catholic schools.  Furthermore, the percentage is increasing – probably as a result of the superior performance of the province’s Catholic schools. If the government tried to eliminate Catholic schools, Catholic parents would not go quietly – and there are a lot of them. There would also be massive opposition from the Catholic teachers’ union and the Catholic Church.  Option 1 would be political suicide.
 
Option 2 is to start funding schools for other faiths, not just Catholics. This is the option that SQE favours. Here are some of the reasons.
 
1.       An increase in the number of publicly-funded religious schools would increase the availability of school choice in the province.
2.       Religious schools, on average, achieve better outcomes than non-religious schools.
3.       A non-discriminatory policy would ease religious tensions in the province.
4.       Parents should have the right to choose the kind of schools their children attend.
 
Of course, the naysayers will come up with all kinds of reasons why Option 2 won’t work – but they are wrong. Option 2 is already working well in other countries – most notably Holland, where it has existed for almost 100 years. Of course, there will be difficulties. Of course, there will have to be oversight. Of course, there will be a period of transition.
 
However, Ontario’s discriminatory education policy is an international black eye. In view of the magnificent payoff, some inconveniences and hardships are more than justified.
Books of Interest
Bringing Up Bébé:  One American mother discovers the wisdom of French parenting. Pamela Druckerman.

The author is an American who moved to Paris and started a family. Once there, she became convinced that the French handle pregnancy and motherhood better than North American helicopter parents. Basically, she says the French back off and, as a result, their kids are calm, patient and polite. The excerpt (p. 45) deals with a French technique the author labels "the pause", as applied to encouraging young babies to "do their nights" (sleep through the night).

So how does Cohen get the babies of Tribeca to do their nights? 'My first intervention is to say, when our baby is born, don't just jump on your kid at night,' Cohen says. 'Give your baby a chance to self-soothe, don't automatically respond, even from birth.'

Maybe it's the beer (or Cohen's doe eyes), but I get a little jolt when he says this. I realize that I've seen French mothers and nannies pausing exactly this little bit before tending to their babies during the day. It hadn't occurred to me that this was deliberate or that it was at all significant. In fact, it had bothered me. I didn't think that you were supposed to make babies wait. Could this explain why French babies do their nights so early on, supposedly with few tears?...

One reason for pausing is that young babies make a lot of movements and noise while they're sleeping. This is normal and fine. If parents rush in and pick the baby up every time he makes a peep, they'll sometimes wake him up. 

Another reason for pausing is that babies wake up between their sleep cycles, which last about two hours. It's normal for them to cry a bit when they're first learning to connect these cycles. If a parent automatically interprets this cry as a demand for food or a sign of distress and rushes in to soothe the baby, the baby will have a hard time learning to connect the cycles on his own. That is, he'll need an adult to come in and soothe him back to sleep at the end of each cycle.


The Curiosity of School: Education and the Dark Side of Enlightenment.  Zander Sherman

This book was written by someone who was home-schooled as a child. The result is an out-of-the-box look at the history of education. The author reveals all kinds of unexpected information about the people who brought us public schools. Did you know, for example, that Egerton Ryerson (the founder of the Ontario public education system) was also responsible for the Canadian residential school system for Indians? Did you know that both Mussolini and Hitler used their countries' public schools to their own advantage? Did you know that public education was invented in Prussia as a way to mould good soldiers? The bottom line of Zander Sherman's book is that modern public schools kill curiosity and rob learning of enjoyment. After documenting the relentless lowering of standards over the years, the author writes the following (p. 334).

The fact that humans appear to be on this very path speaks to the profound inadequacy of regular, everyday education. The institution we've relied on for this service is clearly not living up to its job. 

Perhaps that's because, for almost two hundred years, the Prussian system has engineered students to be things, not people. At the hands of churches, armies, governments, and corporations, school has sought to turn its students into priests, soldiers, citizens, and workers. With each reformer, and each reform, there has always been an agenda, always a purpose, a point, a motive. No matter the organization, third party, or special interest group, the idea has been to look at which is needed, and then make sure the school manufactures the intended result. The idea has been to focus on what students can do, their end benefit to society, their value as human capital.


Thinking Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman.

The author is a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics and he is writing about his work that won the prize: the two very different ways our minds work. You probably think that you consider everything you do with your logical, analytical mind and make measured, reasoned choices, but this is not at all true. Most of the things you do are governed by an automatic intuitive thinking system, one that you are not even aware of. Dr. Kahneman calls this System 1. The other way of thinking, System 2, is mobilized when we decide to focus on a task, for example divide 458 by 23.  In Dr. Kahneman's words (p. 415):

The attentive System 2 is who we think we are. System 2 articulates judgments and makes choices, but it often endorses or rationalizes ideas and feelings that were generated by System 1. You may not know that you are optimistic about a project because something about its leader reminds you of your beloved sister, or that you dislike a person who looks vaguely like your dentist. If asked for an explanation, however, you will search your memory for presentable reasons and will certainly find some. Moreover, you will believe the story you make up. 

But even the logical and analytical System 2 is sadly vulnerable to many glitches and biases, and Dr. Kahneman lists and explains the many ways we can be led down the garden path by System 2 as well. If you think everything you do is logical and based on rational thinking, you are in for a surprise. 
Here's an excerpt from page 417.

What can be done about biases? How can we improve judgments and decisions, both our own and those of the institutions that we serve and that serve us? The short answer is that little can be achieved without a considerable investment of effort. As I know from experience, System 1 is not readily educable. Except for some effects that I attribute mostly to age, my intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions, and the planning fallacy as it was before I made a study of these issues. I have improved only in my ability to recognize situations in which errors are likely....And I have made much more progress in recognizing the errors of others than my own. 

The bottom line is: if you're disagreeing with someone or if someone says you're wrong, you ought to seriously consider the possibility that the other guy is right.
And Now For Something Completely Different
If you're thinking about taking out life insurance, you might want to consult this longevity calculator. You do have to register your e-mail, but on the other hand you get useful information about what you can do if you want to live longer.

Probably you already know it though:  eat more vegetables and go to the gym more often. You could always just ask your mother instead.... 
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