Tag Archives: children

What New Brunswick needs now

As the sun swims down below the horizon faster as every day passes, the temptation is to believe that so do we all. Perhaps, that’s a natural, if not entirely reasonable, conclusion.

Time passes, the foundations of our youthful ambitions crack, we swell in the middle of our lives (and, by the way, in our midriffs), our tongues lash when our ears should listen.

In late August, New Yorker Editor David Remnick, ruminated on U.S. President Donald Trump’s absurd rise to power: He wrote:

“(The) ascent was hardly the first sign that Americans had not uniformly regarded Obama’s election as an inspiring chapter in the country’s fitful progress toward equality. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, had branded him the ‘food-stamp President.’ In the right-wing and white-nationalist media, Obama was, variously, a socialist, a Muslim, the Antichrist, a ‘liberal fascist,’ who was assembling his own Hitler Youth. A high-speed train from Las Vegas to Anaheim that was part of the economic-stimulus package was a secret effort to connect the brothels of Nevada to the innocents at Disneyland. He was, by nature, suspect. ‘You just look at the body language, and there’s something going on,’ Trump said, last summer. In the meantime, beginning on the day of Obama’s first inaugural, the Secret Service fielded an unprecedented number of threats against the President’s person.

“And so, speeding toward yet another airport last November, Obama seemed like a weary man who harbored a burning seed of apprehension. ‘We’ve seen this coming,’ he said. ‘Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years. What surprised me was the degree to which those tactics and rhetoric completely jumped the rails.’”

Do we all become what we fear and loathe, regardless of our various demographic and geographic locations? Do we all sink below the horizons of our better, finer natures?

In this era of political insanity, what New Brunswick needs is clarity, policy innovation that actually leads to practicable solutions and, above all, sanity.

Specifically, it needs early childhood education that’s universal, accessible to all, and publically funded. It needs remedial literacy programs designed to reverse the pernicious trends, which threaten the foundation of education in this province, and the underpinnings of informed, democratic consent. It needs immigration settlement services that will truly integrate newcomers linguistically and culturally without compromising their personal and national stories of origin.

What we don’t need are more roads that lead to absurd amounts of public debt. What we don’t need are more state-of-the-art schools that run next to empty simply because the population base has dwindled or aged into extinction. What we don’t need is venality and absurdity masquerading as justifiable policy making in government.

The project is both simple and complicated (which human endeavour is anything but?). It starts with political transparency and accountability. It moves to social equity and ends with economic diversity. What are required are the voices, the ideas, and a fulsome degree of respect for one another.

Two years ago, the national, public broadcaster’s Julie Ireton reported, “Canada’s Public Policy Forum published a report authored by a group of business executives and former political leaders from across the country. Kevin Lynch, a former Clerk of the Privy Council and one of the report’s authors, agreed the public service must be allowed to provide analytic-based policy options.”

New Brunswick is a jewel of a province. Let us polish it before the sun also sets on us.

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What’s wrong with Gen Y? Their parents

 

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Wrapped in caution tape and kept far away from even the least consequential threats mankind invents on a quotidian basis, our children are forever doomed to lives of neurotic self-absorption. Forget saving the planet from the depredations their parents and grandparents have bequeathed.

At least, that’s the thinking, these days, among certain leftish-leaning editors, writers and, presumably, readers who bemoan the softening of youthful spines across these vast and trust-fund-encumbered lands.

Funny that – the thinking, I mean; as it seems so down-to-earth, not at all like the vaulted prose the bloody-minded right wing assumes progressives embrace with relish (and sometimes dijon). 

But there it was, in all its small-l liberal glory: An article brimming with genuinely fretful observations about lost childhood in sea of otherwise confident, consumer-driven print journalism for upwardly mobile adults.

“Hey parents, leave those kids alone” demands the display copy in Hanna Rosin’s cover story in April edition of The Atlantic. “In the past generation, the rising preoccupation with children’s safety has transformed childhood, stripping it of independence, risk-taking, and discovery. What’s been gained is unclear: rates of injury have remained fairly stead since the 1970s, and abduction by strangers was as rare then as it is now. What’s been lost is creativity, passion and courage. Now a countermovement is arising, based on mounting evidence that today’s parenting norms do children more harm than good.”

So, let me get this straight. The generation of parents who think that offering youngsters metal-spiked lawn darts and the opportunity to play helmut-less hockey is tantamount to child abuse is, nevertheless, reconsidering its position on the subject of juvenile risk-taking – as in, maybe it’s not such a bad idea to let junior remove the training wheels from his trike. 

In other words, this generation of parents is suddenly worrying too much about worrying too much. Does anything say “baby-boomer” better than that?

“It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation,” Ms. Rosin writes. “Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ‘70s walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap – are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting. One very thorough study of ‘children’s independent mobility,’ conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 per cent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to nine per cent, and now it’s even lower.” 

Another piece in the same issue of the magazine quotes from a “ground-breaking study” that recently found parents to be responsible for their kids’ lousy performance in school: “Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire – regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education. . .Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down, an effect Robinson says could be caused by the fact that many parents may have forgotten, or never truly understood, the material their children learn in school.”

How much of this actually rings true for most people, and how much is actually phantasmagoria fueled by an increasingly rarified combination of generational guilt and healthy disposable incomes is hard to say. 

But we of the chattering classes do like to see perils and trends (indeed, perilous trends are among our favorite preoccupations) where none actually exist, or, at least, manifest themselves much in the general population.

Looking out my office window onto my residential neighbourhood, heavily peopled with rug rats of various shapes and sizes, I see games of tag, war, hide and seek; occasional punching, slapping and kicking. I see scraped elbows, skinned knees and bruised foreheads.

     I don’t see pampered darlings under escort to various play-dates. I don’t see adult authority figures brokering cease fires on the battlefields of childhood dreams. 

All of which is to say that “the overprotected kid” might be more myth than reality. On the other hand, “the anxiety-riddled adult” is all too common, indeed.

 

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Stupid is what stupid does

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John Manley, the former federal cabinet minister and current president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, does not overstate the problem of falling math scores in this country by likening it to a national emergency.

In fact, he’s utterly correct when he tells The Globe and Mail, “we need skills, we need knowledge-workers to really improve our prosperity and build our society (because) having the skills becomes a very important element to attracting investment and creating jobs.”

But apart from sounding the alarm bell (again), there’s not much he or anyone else is doing about what is clearly becoming a structurally deficient system of public education – one that routinely emphasizes social integration over actual learning.

These days, schools are virtual trauma centers. Teachers are overwhelmed patching up kids who are injured by exposure to all the rank perfidies this linked-in, hooked-up, texting, sexting world has to offer, 24 hours a day, every day. They’re too busy wondering whether little Johnny had a bagel or bupkis for breakfast.

The stark fact is that, relative to their peers in other developed countries, Canadian children are falling behind in every subject that matters to a so-called knowledge-loving global marketplace, especially math.

The most recent results are in and they are not encouraging. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), Canadian 15-year-olds plunged to 13th place, overall, in the global rankings of math proficiency. That was down from 10th in 2009 and seventh in 2006. If this trend holds up, three years from now, Vanuatu will be wiping the floor with us.

Why is this troubling?

“Nearly all adults, not just those with technical or scientific careers, now need to have adequate proficiency in mathematics – as well as reading and science – for personal fulfillment, employment and full participation in society,” the PISA executive summary states. “Literacy in mathematics . . .is not an attribute that an individual has or does not have; rather, it is a skill that can be acquired and used, to a greater or lesser extent, throughout a lifetime.”

Despite these rather obvious facts, however, we continue to enlist teachers with liberal arts backgrounds to instruct their charges on functions, fractions and decimals, because, we have been told, actual expertise scares kids silly. Indeed, the problem, many experts say, is cultural.

“Parents with school-aged children will be familiar with the rhetoric surrounding math education today,” observed Anna Stokke, an Associate Professor of Mathematics at the University of Winnipeg, in a piece she penned for The Globe in October. (The good professor is also co-founder of the non-profit organization Archimedes Math Schools and of WISE Math).

“Children are to discover their own techniques, pencil and paper math and extended practice are kept at a minimum and conventional math techniques are discouraged in favour of using objects like blocks and fraction strips. Teachers are told to encourage children to create their own math questions instead of assigning prescribed problems. It is argued that children will then feel successful even if their math skills are lacking. Much time is devoted to projects intended to keep children engaged in math, such as building gardens or creating posters that list examples of uses of math. Parents are told that these teaching methods have been well researched and will benefit their children in the long run.”

That’s the theory, at any rate. But if this approach works, then why, asks Prof. Stokke “are parents across Canada concerned about their children being unable to carry out the simplest mathematical calculations? Why are business owners, tradespeople, university and college professors and scientists concerned about the lack of skills in high school graduates? Why could only 28 per cent of eighth graders in one of our highest performing province – Alberta – correctly subtract two simple fractions on the 2011 international TIMSS exam, compared with 86 per cent in Korea?”

John Manley shrewdly alludes to Canada’s natural resource sector as key to the country’s competitiveness. It “pays the rent,” he says, “but that just keeps us in the house.”

What will keep us in the global game of productivity and innovation are strategic investments in that other, far more necessary, natural resource: the human intellect.

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