An education agenda, please! (part one)

On November 5th-6th, 2012, I attended a provincial forum of the Learning Initiative, held at the Crowne Plaza in Fredericton. Those attending the forum were mandated to analyze “Learn: For Life!”, a document developed over, approximately, the preceding two years. More specifically the document stated “as a member of the Provincial Forum of the Learning Initiative, your role is to review this document, provide your insight and ideas, and be an active participant in the Provincial Forum.” (p 5) It later states “it will be up to you and other members of the provincial Forum to endorse the Vision and Guiding Principles proposed in this document.” (p 6)

Am I alone in finding that a curious directive? Wouldn’t a more appropriate task be to analyze and to challenge any elements of the document with which you might disagree or regarding which you might have some questions? The document itself purports to provide a number of “actionable” items. The specific task of the breakout sessions on the second day was to look at each specific item and determine how “stakeholders” could implement these actions and, by doing so, help achieve the ultimate goal of New Brunswick being regarded throughout the country as “The Learning Province”.

While I agree entirely with the underlying issue of the importance – indeed, the profound and absolute necessity – of developing a better educated and skilled population, I do not believe that either this document or the general approach that created it (and continues to animate those committed to its precepts) provide the “path forward” that is so essential to each of us and to society as a whole.

This event provides a clear example of the prevailing trend both in thinking and in organization when it comes to “education”. Sadly, it is my deeply felt belief that the supposed path outlined throughout the sessions I attended (and in the supporting document) is no path at all. At best, it is the expression of a laudable aspiration; in reality, it is an expensive and time-consuming exercise in societal distraction. It allows us to believe we are pursuing a grand outcome while also permitting us to gloss over the anomalies of day-to-day reality in classrooms as aberrations, departures from the ever-advancing march toward ever greater actualization of the ideal we have embraced.

While I fear many will take great umbrage at the comparison, I am reminded of the doublethink of George Orwell’s 1984. Doublethink allows people to ignore the evidence of their senses – which, in Orwell’s world, tell them that living conditions are bad and getting worse – and celebrate, instead, how wonderful things are becoming. The triumphal tone evident in this meeting and in so many other meetings of a similar type replaces real achievement. As long as we can produce reports and agendas and other artifacts as evidence of good intentions, we need not confront the tangible reality.

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