Telling tales out of school used to be frowned upon in education. Just as “tattle-tales” were not welcome on the playground, grumbling about the system has always tended to occur in around the coffee machine, in the parking lot, or inside local donut shops.
Now Nova Scotia’s official “education partners” are out to change all that by redefining what “Telling Tales” really means. With the launch of their cheery and attractive new website, “Get Educated,” public school parents are invited to tell “true stories about the positive impact of the P -12 education system in Nova Scotia.” (www.nstalesoutofschool.ca)
At first glance, it looks as if the key stakeholders are open to comment and feedback from parents and taxpayers. Upon closer scrutiny, that is not exactly what the promoters of the system have in mind. You are invited to “register” and then asked to submit only personal anecdotes about what a great system we have here in Nova Scotia.
Happy talk is the currency of education officialdom. What’s new about this initiative is that the “team” of cheerleaders has expanded. In 2009-10, the Nova Scotia coalition that launched the infamous “Save Grade 2” public relations exercise included the organized voices of school boards, teacher’s unions, and senior administrators. This time around, the Nova Scotia Federation of Home and School Associations is on board.
When Nova Scotia’s common school system was founded by Sir Charles Tupper in 1864-65, it was to provide “education for all” and to implant the sturdy values of honest effort and industriousness. Some idealists believed that the system was also capable of inculcating democratic values and good citizenship.
Nova Scotia’s “telling tales” PR exercise demonstrates just how far we have drifted from those founding ideals. Openness and public participation are now viewed as terribly threatening. Only those parents who pass a “loyalty test” are welcome to register their opinions.
School systems under stress tend to block out not only unpleasant messages, but also constructive criticism. Three years ago, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Public Affairs, based in Halifax, sponsored a public lecture series on “trust in education.” That ground-breaking series pointed out how supporters of public education could restore “public trust” in the system.
The “telling tales” gambit flies completely in the face of the centre’s findings and recommendations. Telling the unvarnished truth and admitting your mistakes and shortcomings was identified by former McGill University president Dr. Bernard Shapiro and others as the fundamental starting point in recovering public confidences.
Since the “powers that be” in Nova Scotia education only welcome happy talk, we have decided to give Nova Scotian parents and citizens a real opportunity to be heard and an outlet for their views, good, bad, or ugly (within reason).
On Monday, March 28, we have combined our efforts to host a public forum on “putting students first and fixing our schools” to be held at the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts, 6199 Chebucto Road, Halifax. After an introductory session, the floor will be open for a wide-open discussion. You can register online at www.aims.ca.
We suspect that Nova Scotians have real stories to tell about our schools and here is your chance to voice them. It’s not new. That’s what public education is supposed to be all about. It’s high time we put students first in Nova Scotia education.
Paul W. Bennett is director, Schoolhouse Institute, Halifax, and Charles Cirtwill is president, Atlantic Institute for Market Studies (AIMS). The upcoming public forum on “Putting Students First in Education” on March 28 in Halifax is jointly sponsored by AIMS and the Schoolhouse Institute.