Returning to the stated theme of this multi-part post: One of the premises of the Learning Agenda initiative is that, as a province, New Brunswick does not value “learning”. This assessment was offered – in a manner infuriatingly confident – as an evident truth. Hence, we need to enhance that appreciation so that we might create New Brunswick as that rather nebulous entity, “the learning province.”
Looking beyond the difficulty inherent in any definition of such a thing, I question the core assumption that New Brunswickers do not value education (a term I much prefer to “learning”). I believe we, as a province, absolutely value education as an abstract notion. The problem arises when people assess their own experiences with the system that is the centrepiece of our educational efforts: the k-12 public school system. Again, I am forced to depend on my largely anecdotal thirty years of experience in that system.
As a teacher who dealt primarily with students in Grades 11 and 12, I was meeting young people at the end of their journey. Additionally, I was dealing with the parents of a number of those students. Through students and parents both, I became acquainted with “stakeholders” who were largely discouraged and disillusioned as a result of their experiences in the system. It wasn’t that anyone disparaged learning and its value; rather, a common theme was that the system had failed in some indefinable way to provide those skills that one and all seemed to realize were lacking. And yet, because of the obscurity surrounding method and practice in the system, it was difficult if not impossible for the uninitiated parent or student to put a finger on exactly where things had gone wrong.
I hesitate to state with total assurance that this obscurantism is deliberate and planned; nevertheless, I do believe it has proven convenient at the very least. When those with an immediate interest in education (students and parents) are unable to grasp the shape and substance of the system which serves them, it is very difficult to formulate significant critiques. Hence, it is very difficult for clear and coherent criticism to be leveled by those who might be most interested in doing so, namely, those same students and their parents. Once again, I am forced to depend on my personal experience and observations to illustrate this process (tune in tomorrow!)