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Open Letter from an Anonymous Ontario Teacher
I've never written a blog or thought about sharing my views in an online article before. However, an Ontario court recently determined it is now 'unconstitutional' to require teacher candidates to test for math proficiency. This was a wake-up call for me. This latest example of judicial activism has inspired me to pen this open letter about the sector I am committed to improving.
Cautious of the Expert
American architect, writer, and educator Frank Lloyd Wright warned us of the expert when he wrote, "An expert is a man who has stopped thinking. Why should he think? He is an Expert". I share these thoughts not as an expert but rather, as a public-school educator who has not succumbed to the collectivist commitment to mediocrity in Ontario schools.
This blog is organized around themes related to three pervasive ideologies within Ontario's education system. These include the myth of academic integrity, the false prophet of equity, and the teacher quality fable.
The Myth of Academic Integrity
Speak with any educator and all will proclaim their commitment to academic integrity. Yet, evidence of waning academic integrity manifests itself daily. As one example, students who copy, plagiarize, or cheat are no longer punished. Rather, teachers are to inform the student’s parents of this minor transgression, and reverently advise them that the instance will be ignored, and the assignment or test will be omitted in calculating the final grade.
Aside from snubbing a basic educational value, there are consequences to ignoring cheaters. In fact, Ontario’s education system incentivizes cheaters by allowing them to bypass difficult assignments or tests if they cheat by simply not calculating the grade. The message heard by students? Cheat and we will ensure the assignment never really existed.
The deterioration of academic integrity is not new but has been exacerbated in the Covid era. Well beyond the myth of quality online learning for all, another good example is reflected in the cancellation of high school exams since the pandemic began. We have removed an important tool to measure student learning and in doing so, the system is perpetuating the need to develop students with resilience while eroding academic integrity further.
A high school education was once a demanding road to travel. Today, the journey is one that we graduate high school imposters while camouflaging our inadequacies by awarding the much expected participation ribbon for all.
You're not perfect just the way you are. You could be better.
— Jordan B Peterson
The False Prophet of Equity
A long-standing principle of equality of opportunity is no longer good enough in Ontario. The current commitment towards collectivism is reflected in the desire to achieve equity in outcomes by pretending every person is the same. Ontario’s equality of outcome is a mental prison for a society that appears enamoured by discredited Marxism principles.
In Lukianoff and Haidt's best seller, "The Coddling of the American Mind", the authors suggest educational institutions are dominated by left-oriented political homogeneity. This belief is buttressed by The Higher Education Research Institute which suggests only 20% of incoming students identify as conservative. The outcome of this reality can be framed as Ontario’s Durkheimian problem.
The Durkheimian problem states, "Politically homogeneous communities are more susceptible to witch hunts, particularly when they feel threatened from outside." Where does this leave those that oppose “equality of outcome” ideologues? Clearly, they are on the outside with barely a window to look in.
Our educational institutions must return to the practice of demonstrating intellectual humility. This means left-leaning views can be correct, yet so too can right-leaning beliefs. The false prophet of equity negatively impacts basic academic tenants of freedom of speech and anti-censorship. Debates among students who approach problems from differing perspectives allow them to get closer to the truth. Unfortunately, in Ontario, apparently the truth can sometimes be too painful to some and the left-leaning prophet in our classrooms perpetuate the narrow view of some.
The Teacher Quality Fable
If we were to write a story about teacher quality, we would likely want to tell a story of academically qualified teachers who were prepared and able to deliver the most relevant curricula to our students. This would make sense if we truly believe education matters. Further, it is only logical that those teaching basic math would be required to understand basic math! Unfortunately, in Ontario, the courts disagree.
Let’s think further about our Teacher Quality story. Here, we must select one of four storyline plots. Using math as an example, we require the very best math teacher. Therefore we can select a teacher who:
Passed a mathematics proficiency test.
Failed a mathematics proficiency test.
Failed a mathematics proficiency test, showed resilience/perseverance, retook the test, and passed a mathematics proficiency test; or,
Was not required to take a math proficiency test.
With the support of the judicial system, plot number four has been selected for the Ontario Teacher Quality Fable. It was selected because the social activists on the Ontario Superior Court of Justice concluded math proficiency tests were unconstitutional due to racial disparities. Imagine at the very moment when we are competing against global superpowers for engineers, scientists, doctors, computer technology experts et al., Ontario is writing a teacher quality fable where anyone can teach math regardless of academic preparation. Sadly, this fable applies to all Ontario course areas including science, business, technology et cetera. The sad fact is that too many teachers are educational imposters. We call ourselves professionals but too often lack the fundamental qualifications and proficiencies to do the job at the highest levels.
Math scores in Ontario have been dropping. Rather than commit to having great math teachers in our classrooms, Ontario hired new-math gurus to convince us to change the way we taught math. Meanwhile, competitor countries continue to emphasize traditional, rote-like teaching and learning methodologies when it comes to math. This has contributed to extreme scoring discrepancies between Ontario and countries like Japan and Singapore. Ontario didn't like the results, and instead of addressing the system's inadequacies, they decided to manipulate the test itself.
Perhaps Canadian Malcolm Gladwell captured it best when he said, “Take a random group of 8-year old American and Japanese kids, give them all a really, really hard math problem, and start a stopwatch. The American kids will give up after 30, 40 seconds. If you let the test run for 15 minutes, the Japanese kids will not have given up. You have to take it away.”
The entire premise for the changes to the math curriculum and the recent news from Ontario's court is reflective of Karl Marx's Conflict theory. That somehow, society functions from conflict between the rich and the poor.
I see hard working teachers daily. Many are dedicated and masterful in their craft. I honour them by writing this blog. Yet too often, we are ignoring too many problems for anyone committed to a high-quality education system. The challenges before us are significant and in many ways, the myth of academic integrity, the false prophet of equity, and the teacher quality fable are just three of the examples where we are failing our students. We need to shift the powers of public education from the left-leaning ideologues in government and in the courts. If we do not, expect further increases in private schools and homeschooling and a failure to provide the best hope to students we are paid to serve.