Education suffering from agenda of mediocrity

by Ken MacDougall

This column was supposed to be my last commentary respecting the smokescreen issues of school and hospital “closures” that the Descendants of Devine Party (DoD), alias the Saskatchewan Party, have been using to cover up their fiscally weak policy agenda for the next four years. This has only highlighted the fact that they have wed themselves to a base that once were rural soulmates, but in actuality now consist mostly of the disaffected roiling at the collapse of non-renewable resource sector employment opportunities, particularly in Alberta’s Oil Patch.

These folks don’t have the faintest clue how to interpret this reality, so they look for bogeymen such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his carbon tax initiative to blame for their economic plight.

Let’s face reality for a change; Devine’s decadents and their DoD offspring, despite adhering to outdated doctrinaire and a seemingly unshakeable belief in the tenets of unfettered capitalism, are incapable of balancing a budget, and have yet to propose any economic initiative that would eventually provide some fiscal relief. Ronald Reagan, B-grade actor, former president of the United States and saint of a seriously drifting Republican party, once claimed that the real enemy of democracy was government itself; with the Moe government now embarking on a set of directions wherein the province is being allowed to be exploited by Alberta carpetbaggers contributing to the Saskatchewan Party’s campaign coffers and get-rich-quick “entrepreneurs” from England and France, no truer descriptor could describe our government’s behaviour. In effect, we’re being “managed” about as well as a failing Trump enterprise.

Were it not for the fact that the 2020 campaign was conducted while a pandemic raged in the province, Premier Moe’s “yuk-yuk” for the third campaign in a row about closed hospitals and schools should have been sarcastically reacted to as though one were watching Boss Hogg chasing the General Lee in The Dukes of Hazzard. Premier Moe, his driving ability and similarity of management notwithstanding, might just as well be Boss Hogg soothing public concerns over health care by proclaiming Daisy Duke as the new town’s gastroenterologist, or “former” Sheriff Coltrane, having finally found a forger willing to “doctor” the blank medical certificate he found when he and Clint Eastwood were busy chasing fifty Cuban soldiers around Grenada, now specializes in surgically repairing deep flesh wounds with the aid of gunpowder recycled from the shells of his former service revolver.

I really have to ask this question: what IS the “difference” between Boss Hogg extolling the virtues of medical practice in fictional Hazzard county, or Boss Hogg – sorry, Premier Moe, laying on the schtick by trying to convince his rural constituency that they could still get a triple bypass or spinal surgery had hospitals in Aberdeen or Meath Park not been “closed” by those “tax and spend” NDP socialists?

I’ll wait for your response…

I’ve been writing this column off and on for about five years now, and the only time I’ve ever garnered “Letters to the Editor” commentary was when I focused my critique upon local politicians trumpeting the delivery of sound “business” decision-making processes such as the cancellation of STC service by local SP MLA Joe Hargrave. However, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find out that the Editor of the Herald receives far more calls from frothing DoD supporters proclaiming me to be nothing more than a “left-wing extremist, NDP supporting armchair blowhard” who’s too cowardly to put his name on a ballot.

When it comes to education, however, I do have people occasionally calling me at home or stopping to talk outside Safeway whenever I offer an opinion on health, and more particularly education.

As a teacher, I have often expressed concern about the deteriorating state of educational delivery in rural Saskatchewan, a view having recently been expounded upon by Glenn Wright (M.Eng.), soon to be lawyer, graduate of Saskatoon Bedford Collegiate’s ACTEL (academically talented) program, and former NDP candidate in Eston – Elrose.

Wright’s concerns focused upon the budgetary constraints of having returned to the curriculum such programs as Music that years ago would have been available to his own children, and of the efforts required by parents to have such options returned as high school offerings. As a father who has seen his youngest two children travel through the same ACTEL journey, I can truly empathize with his sentiments. However, there’s a problem, not only here, but in urban schools as well, in that so-called “gifted” students can fend for themselves, and so there is no need for “special education” budgets to be burdened with the expense of a school providing “enriched” instruction, especially when the public seems to believe that teachers are already devoting less time to the 3-R traditions in “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic”.

In rural Saskatchewan, SARM reeves, almost always elected for their views on petty slights and fiscal restraint, only embellish such anti-intellectual contempt by, say, listening to corporate agribusinesses claiming that it’s “unfair” for their firms to pay educational levies in the first place. Equally jaded are the rural residents who, having seen the size of their educational divisions grow while their voices provide less influence upon school policies, now hold the view that our schools are either “failing” in their delivery of educational product or becoming “political and left-leaning” factories breeding future social upheaval.

When I came back to my home province in 1979, interest rates were at 20% or higher, and already school boards were feeling the need to restrain their budgets. Things only got worse during the Devine years; I can remember being interviewed by school boards who challenged the very premise of education that a course’s curriculum is a good “start” towards children receiving a complete education.

One principal from North Battleford even laughed at my having even taken mathematics methodology classes, claiming that his school had “survived for years” by hiring Physical Education teachers to teach mathematics, with the advice that they simply keep their lesson plans at least a chapter or two ahead of student progress.

Other boards went further, finding some pretense to lay off teachers with seniority and larger salaries, then replacing them with first year graduates who could show “flexibility” in the number of courses they could teach on demand. The Saskatchewan Teachers Federation, more of a guild than a union and at the time principally staffed by ex-administrators, sympathized with the school boards, claiming that such fiscal “necessity” could only bring about a better educational process where budgeting was no longer front-and-centre to the Boards.

In the meantime, university professors watched as a steady stream of less well-prepared students entered their programs, only to either fail outright or find themselves in need of preparatory class that had been previously offered at the high school level. Finally, in what seemed at the time an almost desperate move, University of Saskatchewan mathematics professors called the STF’s bluff, and in 1997 gave the same final examination to all of the over 1,100 students enrolled in the Calculus 100 program. Just over 100 students passed that test.

Outraged, the STF took up parents’ requests and demanded that the university not only investigate as to how this test was administered and marked, but that certain members of faculty be disciplined for this academic “outrage”.

Faculty, having anticipated such a feedback, immediately released a copy of the test to the media and STF officials.

A friend on faculty also provided me with a copy, and I’m happy to say that it took me only six minutes to complete, resulting in a 100% grade – probably because it was only an old Department of Education provincial examination from 1936…

For Grade 10 students…

Right now, also as a result of cut-backs, a majority of high school administrators are having to explain why they are telling students and parents alike that they can still get into college or university by obtaining the 24 minimum credits needed to graduate with a Grade 12 diploma.

Equally embarrassing, a considerable number of boards do not demand their high schools offer the two-tiered mathematics curriculum starting in Grade 10, while in Science the only program found consistently in all schools is Biology 20, with Chemistry and Physics only given second or tertiary consideration as course offerings.

In the past three years I have witnessed sweeping changes provincial governments have made in order for the educational process to re-stabilize. In next week’s column, I will attempt to outline in what direction places like British Columbia are moving, even as our own Department of Education remains rudderless and leader-less.

Jokes about “closed” hospitals and schools are no longer punch lines the electorate should have to listen to coming from the Saskatchewan Party.

I just wonder who’s actually now prepared to listen to such reason, even as Premier Moe and Cabinet are quietly saying, “Who cares?”

Guess we’ll see in 2024…