George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” We all agree progress is good, unless suggested reforms in the name of progress result in regression. The latest Provincial Task Force in Alberta has made several recommendations that are being lambasted as anything but progress. Especially if we consider progress as “the development of an individual or society in a direction considered more beneficial than and superior to the previous level.” This all under the leadership of Jeff Johnson the Minister of Education who recently got a thumbs down from the ATA with a vote of no confidence at their annual meeting in Calgary.
All this is happening just as I am writing my first essay titled, “Outline the ideology that you think most exemplifies the attitude toward education portrayed by your own provincial department of education. To what extent can you identify a shift toward a more neo-conservative perspective?” So I’m all read up on ideology, neo-liberalism, neo-conservationism and what this means to educators. I should say getting my head around these concepts is taking a lot of work and I’m not entirely there yet. But one of the main ideas that drive the neo-liberal agenda is that of ‘Human Capital.” The subject of Human Capital is a complex subject, (just check out the London School of Economic papers on the subject), but put simply, it is where people are thought of as products needed for economic success. Therefore, schools need to produce people who are able to work effectively in business and industry which allows them, the businesses, to compete globally. There is a much more eloquent explanation here on Joe Bowers ‘for the love of learning blog.’
Possibly one of the reasons there is such an outcry from the teaching profession about the proposed reforms, is that they are taking the neo-liberal agenda too far. If implemented the changes will continue along the path of turning education from something that is about developing ‘the whole’ person into something that produces another product, ‘educated people,’ necessary for the economic success of the province.
Of course, I am all for being in a position at the end of your schooling to find meaningful employment if that’s what you want. But education should be more than just that. How tedious would it be for education to be just about getting a job. A healthy society needs artists, poets, dissenters, philosophers, dreamers, people who won’t necessarily be adding to the GDP of the province, but who are necessary non the less.
The cynic in me thinks that these reforms are an assault on democracy. A democracy that fully engages the population needs people who are educated, can think for themselves and are participants. I’m not sure that the current crop of conservatives currently ruling our country think that is necessarily a good thing. They seem to be hellbent on changing education, among other things, to suit their vision of what ‘good’ democracy is.
What does it mean to me? I just want to be in a classroom and teach to the best of my ability. But I do want to be allowed to try and develop ‘the whole’ person, so that means being able to teach, and for children to be exposed to; drama, art, history, geography, music and PE alongside language, math, technology and Science. As a parent, I know a broad curriculum is what I want for our little guy at school. The sad fact is unless parents make some noise about current reforms, I’m afraid that our children will miss out on the education that they are entitled to.