Back to school, back to rou­tine

The Gananoque Reporter - - COMMENT - MICHELLE HAUSER Michelle Hauser is a free­lance writer who lives in Na­pa­nee with her hus­band, Mark, their son, Joseph, and Gramma Har­riet. She can be reached at mhauser@hot­mail.ca.

If you spend any time on the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion web­site you will quickly be­come fa­mil­iar with a par­tic­u­larly telling pic­ture: a word cloud graphic in the shape of the Province of On­tario that is used on nu­mer­ous doc­u­ments, dis­cus­sion pa­pers and land­ing pages.

Striv­ing nouns such as “skills, crit­i­cal, ac­cess, team, in­spire, cre­ativ­ity” etc. ap­pear in dif­fer­ent colours and font sizes and taken to­gether the word bl­iz­zard tells the story of ev­ery­thing that’s right and ev­ery­thing that’s wrong with ed­u­ca­tion in On­tario to­day.

It’s hard to ar­gue with the laud­able goals and the utopian vi­sion: the clos­ing of so­cioe­co­nomic gaps so that no child slips through, the de­liv­ery to so­ci­ety of phys­i­cally fit (not obese), men­tally and emo­tion­ally wellad­justed (not sui­ci­dal), nat­u­rally cu­ri­ous life­long learn­ers and cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tors (ver­sus, say, grades-mo­ti­vated so­cial climbers who have been taught to please teach­ers and pass tests), and chil­dren and youth trained to be fan­tas­ti­cally flex­i­ble (like no gen­er­a­tion be­fore, in fact) in a fu­ture em­ploy­ment mar­ket that is any­body’s guess.

But as a par­ent, of­ten brought to the gov­ern­ment web site in a mo­ment of frus­tra­tion—try­ing to equip my­self with good in­for­ma­tion be­cause I se­cretly sus­pect the province doesn’t trust me to raise my son well—the word cloud af­firms my fear that the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion is in­deed try­ing to boil the ocean and they don’t care if they cook me, my kid, andmy fam­ily cul­ture in the process.

The­p­rovince’s var­i­ous ex­er­cises in pri­or­ity-set­ting have done lit­tle to rein in an overly am­bi­tious agenda where pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion is in­creas­ingly pre­scribed as the chief rem­edy for the great so­cial ills of our time. Those of us who be­lieve in op­er­a­tionally re­al­is­tic gov­ern­ment have been scream­ing for years that some­body needs to choose a plot line. And yet those screams have con­sis­tently fallen on deaf ears.

Ev­ery Septem­ber par­ents buy new shoes and pen­cil cases, the news out­lets pub­lish sur­vival tips on weath­er­ing the lunch box blues, and the gov­ern­ment’s ed­u­ca­tional as­pi­ra­tions get big­ger and big­ger—in re­sponse to both in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal pres­sures— and the shift to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion as the venue for pro­mot­ing cul­tural uni­for­mity be­comes that­much more in­grained.

This is the merry-go-round, folks. There’s no stop­ping it, the best you can do is find a com­fort­able spot and strap on a seat­belt.

In­ter­est­ingly, youwill not see the word “math” on the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion’s word cloud even though par­ents talk about de­clin­ing math scores per­haps more than any­thing else th­ese days.

And some of the words that you do see are big­ger and more prob­lem­atic than oth­ers. Note­wor­thy is the term “well-be­ing.” It’s big, it’s broad, it’s hard to de­fine and it’s the foun­da­tion for­many of the ide­o­log­i­cal bat­tles be­tween par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors to­day.

In ad­di­tion to achiev­ing ex­cel­lence, which is where aca­demic per­for­mance comes in, en­sur­ing eq­uity, and en­hanc­ing pub­lic con­fi­dence, pro­mot­ing well-be­ing is one of the four key goals of the province of On­tario’s re­newed and ex­panded vi­sion for ed­u­ca­tion.

On pa­per it says, “All chil­dren and stu­dents will de­velop en­hanced men­tal and phys­i­cal health, a pos­i­tive sense of self and be­long­ing, and the skills tomake pos­i­tive choices.”

In prac­tice, though, it’s the back story about how banana bread can get po­lit­i­cal, fast. Throw some choco­late chips in the bat­ter and watch peo­ple go berz­erk about what is or is not “healthy.” More trou­bling than any­thing, though, it’s about the unique­ness of fam­ily cul­ture be­ing swal­lowed up by the mono­cul­ture the state seeks to pro­mote through ed­u­ca­tion.

Where well-be­ing, as a key ed­u­ca­tion pri­or­ity, in­cludes peerto-peer re­la­tion­ship de­vel­op­ment, fos­ter­ing a sense of be­long­ing at school, and of be­ing en­gaged and ex­cited about learn­ing in an en­vi­ron­ment that is phys­i­cally and emo­tional safe it is fair game.

When well-be­ing veers into ide­o­log­i­cal ter­ri­tory, mak­ing too many value judg­ments about the choices par­ents make on be­half of their chil­dren, that’s when the sit­u­a­tion gets dan­ger­ous.

Last year I re­belled against a meat­less Mon­day di­rec­tive fromthe school not be­cause I don’t be­lieve in eat­ing less meat—our house­hold con­sumes about 50 per cent less meat nowthan we once did—but be­cause we were hav­ing left­overs that in­cluded meat, food that would have oth­er­wise gone to waste.

It was then I taught my son a les­son about the fam­ily needs tak­ing pri­or­ity over the school’s de­sires. “Wewill be meat­less on Tues­day” I said even though he was con­vinced we were go­ing to get “in trou­ble.”

When well-be­ing in­cludes a branch of the gov­ern­ment tak­ing on the “self/spirit re­flected in [a child’s] sense of per­sonal iden­tity and self­worth, and an op­ti­mistic and hope­ful view about life” that sounds like the stuff of per­son­hood for­ma­tion which is to most ra­tio­nal ob­servers still the purview of fam­i­lies.

An­other school year is upon us. My son’s go­ing into fifth grade and I feel like I’m fi­nally start­ing to get good at sort­ing through the mine ver­sus theirs of lines of re­spon­si­bil­ity so I say “Let the memo-send­ing and blue sky word cloud­ing be­gin!”

My seat on the merry-go-round is, once again, as­sured.

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