THE FRENCH have a saying: The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Call it a rant (as some have said of part 1), government fiddling with Alberta’s public education curriculum, nevertheless, boldly goes where we’ve been before.
Questions on the blackboard:
#1 : What should we do about mobile phones in the classroom?
#2 : What should we do with religion in the classroom?
Raising my hand, a few words on problem #1:
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford is talking tough about restraining smartphone use in the classroom. Lucky for him, 14-year-olds don’t vote!
In Thailand, meantime, the issue was settled over five years ago. At the time, every child was slated to be given a tablet—a digital tablet with preloaded software and courseware; they’re government issue, and pretty much useless to anyone outside the classroom (theft isn’t a problem). The political strategy is to improve the quality of public education, which stubbornly remains poor-to-awful across the nation. It’s a great idea, regardless.
What if tablets were decreed and smartphones banned in Alberta classrooms? The kids are already primed and pumped on digital platforms. It would be a dynamic way to teach, and to learn. Think of it: paper textbooks are frozen in time—typically five years before a refresh; a digital curriculum is dynamic, keeping in step, for instance, with new strides in science.
And in a world racing ahead with AI (artificial intelligence), there’s wirearchy—the how of learning, not just the what— to stay competitive. The very idea of deep learning is getting a make over, say the experts.
“Artificial Intelligence is changing the fundamental structure of every industry from agriculture to cybersecurity to commerce to healthcare, and more.” —CB INSIGHTS
It’s a no brainer: kids + smartphones (ducks & water) = students that can crack open the books on digital tablets. No more dog-eared pages. The cat’s meow in competitive advantage.
Question #2 : What should we do with religion in the classroom?
Two court cases influence my thinking:
First, the Supreme Court of Canada recently decided that law societies in British Columbia, Ontario, and Nova Scotia can refuse membership to any graduate of Trinity Western University’s prospective law school. The Supreme Court agreed the university’s religious prerequisites—no sex outside of marriage; no porn on campus; and marriage (narrowly) defined as the union of one man and one woman—is at odds with the law societies in BC, Ontario, and Nova Scotia’s standards of who gets to be called to the bar.
The second judicial case is closer to home in southern Alberta, and Medicine Hat, where a judge and the Court of Queen’s Bench denied an application from faith-based schools to halt the NDP gay-straight alliance laws. Chalk up one, I suppose, for modernity on the blackboard. But not so fast—it ain’t over until it’s over—look for an appeal or a different legal strategy in the weeks to come.
Rachel Notley’s government believes schools shouldn’t let parents know when their kids join a GSA (Gay Straight Alliance), because as the provincial education minister David Eggen puts it, the students risk being ‘outed’ to families who may not accept their sexuality. Fair enough. But two of the parents included in the litigation say their autistic teenage daughter joined a GSA, was convinced to dress and act like a boy, and became suicidal. Is this what the New Democratic Party intended?
Why do we see such polarizing, antagonistic Community vs Individual Rights debates in places like the classroom?
In a recent New York Times op-ed, David Brooks explains:
“The practical upshot is that conservatives have always placed tremendous emphasis on the sacred space where individuals are formed. This space is populated by institutions like the family, religion, the local community, the local culture, the arts, the schools, literature and the manners that govern everyday life.”
This is sensitive stuff.
Critics of the Trinity Western University decision suggest that yesterday’s majorities are today’s minorities, hence their rights are the ones now at risk and in need of protection. And we should expect new legal strategies and challenges to get the Supreme Court’s attention. But is it a smart use of the Court’s time?
To move beyond polarities, may I suggest an infusion of practical? That’s how we reconcile collective and individual rights in less sacred spaces, the world of commerce as one example.
The Supreme Court of Canada has evoked the word practical. In effect, the Court is saying to Trinity Western University (and other faith based institutions teaching legal principles, for example, Sharia law in the Muslim community; Indigenous law for First Nations), you can educate and graduate students with a legal education. But to practice law, your grads have to be accepted within the legal practice, within the Law Societies where they want to work. That’s just practical.
Is it wise to shut out parents in matters involving their kids? Of course not. When we face critical choices in healthcare, for example, discretion is paramount to evaluate the hazards and make a wise decision. Yes, there is a risk of pressure being applied to educators at religious schools. But professional standards for teachers set clear expectations. And performance can be monitored, externally if needed.
Is a pragmatic approach devoid of soul or any less humane?
You be the judge.