So it is that we are called to celebrate a system that has shown no significant improvement in real results – the graduation of students who are demonstrably prepared for the challenges of post-secondary education and the workplace – in at least fifty years. In fact, the collective assessment of those who deal directly with today’s graduates – post-secondary instructors and employers – asserts again and again that students coming out of the public school system are, with the exception of a small cohort of top-level students, woefully unprepared for the demands of higher education and/or work.
We are either unable or unwilling to face this reality, at least within the system itself. We attempt to accommodate this failure through adult literacy programs in the larger community and any number of skills enhancement efforts – either voluntary or required – at post-secondary institutions. We celebrate interventions such as UNBSJ’s involvement at Hazen White-St. Francis school (the intervention itself is rightly celebrated) rather than asking why it is that teachers are unable to work effectively to achieve the basic results in literacy and numeracy that the system was supposedly designed to ensure.
My core contention is that if we do not find a way to address the reality of the system as it exists rather than constantly celebrating what we hope and imagine it might become as a result of the latest, greatest initiative (and there have been many throughout the course of my career), we will continue to see a fundamental decline in skills and demonstrable ability among succeeding generations. While inclusion, preventing bullying, ensuring gender equity and other goals are laudable in themselves, these pursuits should not be confused with the core responsibility of the “education” system, namely, ensuring that young people leave high school with a diploma that serves as convincing evidence that they possess those skills and that knowledge that we believe are the essentials if one is to become the “life-long learner” that has become the ideal. What that means in practical terms is itself a big part of the problem but no one would challenge the central place held by two things in particular: literacy and numeracy.