By Craig Funston
Dear Honourable Education Minister: Congratulations on your new appointment. You have both a significant portfolio and a very difficult challenge ahead of you. I wish you and your cabal of colleagues well. You will need it.
You don’t know me, so perhaps my two-bits’ worth doesn’t really matter to you. Maybe that would stop any normal person, but you know me…well, actually, that just it, you don’t.
Let me introduce myself briefly: I am a man of many hats. The patient folks who read this column religiously have heard this line before, but I’m counting on a fresh audience (of one) to hear me out. My “hat collection” includes that of a family man, taxpayer, common citizen, and last (and possibly least), an educator.
Let me simply make three (3) simple suggestions to you; and they are suggestions, not demands or rants, not calling you out or calling you down. We all need to be reasonable for the common good—agreed? And the common good in this case is the current and future welfare of our children.
1. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Many folks have a vested interest in the success of education, and for the most part, I suggest we’re all prepared to maintain the status quo. While I can’t honestly speak for all the players, there’s a common sense assumption here: whatever we’re doing is working fine.
And you do understand the use of the term “we,” don’t you? I am speaking of the public, private, home, charter, separate, and alternate education models.
We all have our preferences and perspectives, and I don’t think there should be any thought of any one model trumping another. In other words, there’s room for us all.
“Choice” has been the big word in Alberta education circles for years, and I think we should maintain the same choice(s) we have all been enjoying.
2. Deal with facts, not opinions. Opinions do have their place, and I’m not suggesting we give them up. However, when you are looking objectively (versus subjectively—there’s that fact-versus-opinion tension again) at the educational landscape, base your decisions on facts–not biases, not polls, not hearsay.
And make sure you ask yourself and your team a lot of questions to get the facts straight.
Questions like: What are we producing? What’s (not) working? Where can we improve? How can we compete? Are we preparing our students adequately for the real world? Is this fair—or better, is this just? Is there another way to do this? Are we using our money wisely?
Just for the record, when I apply the questions from the above paragraph to my world of private schools and home schools, I get giddy.
And I think you should get giddy, too, especially when you see what is coming down the pike in those educational communities. That is, when you see the academic, moral, and vocational successes that these types of schools are achieving.
Please don’t let biases, polls, or hearsay tell you otherwise. And based on the last question you would get really giddy when you discover the millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars that are being saved through these particular choices.
Oh, did I mention that the “millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars” were just for last year alone? Multiply that amount by the few decades that we’ve been operating, and you will see the value (pun intended) in allowing for the role of private institutions.
3. Listen to the stakeholders, not just politicians. I’ve been to a plethora of Alberta Education workshops and seminars (eg., Inspiring Education) over the past few years. Intriguing times, indeed. Not sure if private schools and home schools were proportionately represented, but at least we had a seat at the table. Keep providing a chair for us, Honourable Educational Minister: We’re deeply, actively, and rationally concerned about education.
Let public school stakeholders weigh in on public school matters, private school stakeholders weigh in on private school matters, and home school stakeholders, well, you get my point. We’re down here in the trenches and have a real grasp of the issues. Listening to us would be to your advantage.
So, please, “Honour Roll” Education Minister, do the right thing for all Albertans, not just for a select, er, class.