As school systems appear to drift away from an exclusive focus on the 3 Rs, we are left with the question, “what really are the basics of our contemporary education system?” It may seem a rather trite question, but the most recent survey published in our city suggests that, right at the top of voters’ priorities, is to “get back to basics.” That phrase never has had a precise and immutable definition. It has evolved as our education needs have evolved, and what one person defines as a basic may be irrelevant to another.
One consistent element of our education, whether we are adolescent, teenaged, young adult or aging adult, is that education is not confined to four walls and a clanging school bell. Yet, we sometimes turn to the traditional schoolroom as the panacea for all our youths’ learning needs, and point the finger when that institution fails to meet our demands and expectations. Still, school divisions and the provincial education department should bear responsibility for a sizeable majority of the formal education of our young people, which, in turn, requires that our educators and all of our elected officials have a clear idea and solid plan to provide that structured learning platform.
Interestingly, while many voters still insist on a focus on the basics, those same people recognize a need to anticipate the future, respond to emerging needs and provide the proper environment for learning. It may be that, concealed in the obvious definition of basics is the belief that basics are far more than the 3 Rs, after all.
Recently, merging problems have included the issue of bullying, the need to adapt to changing demographics in our community and within our schools, the need for (or perceived lack thereof) expanded extra-curricular offerings, the catchment areas of schools, whether homework should be assigned to certain grades and the misperceptions surrounding “No fail” policies. All of these concerns are valid, and are dealt with as part of the regular business of school systems across the province, even though many of the items fall partially or fully within the jurisdiction of the provincial government. No education concern, however, is the exclusive domain of the province, the school division or even the parent. It is an issue important to the community at large, or, at least, it should be.
Seven Oaks, like many school divisions, has specific policies to address local issues, and more general policies to address generic concerns. Our anti-bullying policy states in part “that harassing, abusive or bullying behaviour, whether physical, sexual, psychological or electronic will not be tolerated.” The policy is a blend of unique responses to unique situations and comprehensive responses to more universal aspects. We recognize that bullying, and the very definition of bullying is not only a sensitive topic, but a complex one, with the behaviours in question having myriad origins. Bullying, as well as being addressed specifically, is dealt with as part of a strategy to encourage – no, demand – that each of us, from educator to student, behave in ways that are respectful, considerate and safe. To play up the topic of bullying as an election issue would be inappropriate, since all of us, regardless of the methodology we choose, desire to change such negative behaviours into positive ones. There is no one correct solution, but there definitely are appropriate solutions (many of which are correct) to each particular situation. Similarly, foresight and progress toward meeting our education goals requires cooperative effort.
In Seven Oaks, we have invested heavily in professional development programs for all our educators and administrators, including our school board members. That is not a cost of education: it is a savings plan, and it has paid huge dividends over the past few decades, as we continue to improve the end result of our efforts (well educated, productive and responsible young adults) over many other divisions in Manitoba and across the country.
One of the most effective strategies that we have adopted in our planning is to recognize that our schools are more than bricks and mortar, and that our youth need more than “what was good enough for my great grandfather.” We need "what will be good enough for our great grandchildren," today! Basics never have been the core subjects. Whether it was the one-room schoolhouse administering to the needs of twelve grades and an enrolment of thirty students, or satellite classrooms and online learning for those without easy access to a bricks-and-mortar building, Manitoba’s education system is built on the understanding that we need to deliver core subjects, but we need to deliver core values and core opportunities for every individual. Most often, those basics are not deliverable by one institution, but by a cooperative effort, from parents to community to school systems. It is the effective delivery of those opportunities that needs to be at the core of our planning, and effective use of the resources that we have available.
In other blogs, I have discussed extra-curricular programming, funding issues, responsibilities of our educators and administrators and unique challenges of Seven Oaks. But, at the heart of the election on October 22 is the question, “what do I, the voter, want from my trustees and school system?”
I agree that the basics are important. I disagree, however, that the 3 Rs are the only basics that we need to focus upon. We need to prepare our youth for the very rapidly changing job market, in a way that will benefit them and benefit our community the most. That is a basic demand. We need to prepare our youth to be moral, contributing respectful members of the family that is Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and the world at large. That is a basic criterion. We need to allow each individual to be just that: an individual, with unique talents that we help them to explore, and unique frailties that we help them to overcome. That is a basic. We need to allow our students – the future of our neighbourhoods – to fit into the world around them in the most positive manner. That is a basic.
But there is one basic that governs and guides all the rest of the basics. That is the need to deal with learning, not as a job, a chore or a punishment, but as a never-ending source of pleasure, by instilling into the minds of our students more than the basic facts and figures. We need to instil in them the love of learning, and the opportunity to be the best each person can be. That is my most basic education requirement!