Education set back 2,500 years (Editorial, Sept. 23, 2002)

Science, literature, philosophy, the arts, athletics. The ancient Greeks pursued all of these in their approach to education. Nourishing the intellect, the artistic soul and the body were educational principles evident in the flowering of Athenian culture around 500 BC. And yet today, as Canada looks to prepare children for the future, cost-cutting provincial politicians find little value in the ideals that came to epitomize the birth of western civilization.

From British Columbia to the Atlantic provinces, education reforms have jeopardized anything that falls outside a narrowly defined view of the school system as a place to learn practical skills that lead directly to jobs in accounting/finance, computer systems and engineering. (With trades and apprenticeship programs for students with other aptitudes.) Music, sports and extra-curricular activities have become frills — nice-to-haves but not essential at budget time.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Ontario in the last few months, where Premier Ernie Eves and his Progressive Conservative government have stripped rebellious elected public school boards in Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton of their powers, handing decision-making authority to provincially appointed supervisors. The supervisors will do what elected trustees refused to — balance the books by cutting tens of millions of dollars in programs and spending.

Putting aside the principles of democracy — another ancient Greek mainstay the citizens of Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton will be doing without in school system governance – an accountants’ approach to childhood development leaves little room for anything but the one-dimensional cramming of facts and figures into young minds.

Eves himself has lambasted Toronto trustees for spending money on chlorine for pools — pools built with local taxpayers’ dollars and put into schools decades ago in the belief these institutions were the best places to meet community recreational needs. The Conservatives, and the accountants sent to audit the books in three of Canada’s largest cities, have continually referred to the provincial government’s “definition of education,” using the term “classroom spending.”

Eves’ definition of education is a far cry from the ideals that established western civilization some 2,500 years ago.

It’s a case of too many politicians, bureaucrats and accountants and not enough teachers and philosophers. As for the term “education reform” itself, that too has been compromised like the principles of balanced childhood development. Reform suggests improvement, but in political doublespeak it has come to mean devaluation and cost-cutting.

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