Category Archives: Education

Follow Up – Education More Important Than Ever

By Marvin Ross

I’ve been contemplating a personal follow up to David’s blog on the importance of public education but I’ve been procrastinating. I decided to write it after having lunch with someone who was complaining that a grandchild was being sent to a private school at a cost of $25,000. His argument was that the local school the child goes to is quite good and he will have to be driven to the new school where he will lose contact with all his friends in the area.

The ability to play with other kids on the block, walk to and from school with them, and to hang out is an invaluable educational tool. I grew up in a Toronto that was just starting to break free of the grip of the Loyal Orange Order – a Protestant fraternal group that celebrated the defeat of the Catholics at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. Most important jobs were reserved for Orangemen who proudly marched on Yonge St every July 12 behind someone outfitted on a white steed playing King Billy to celebrate the victory of William of Orange over Catholics.

Toronto was just beginning to see an influx of immigrants from all over the world at that time. Up to then, the main immigrants were Jews and Italians. The elementary schools were becoming mix of ethnicities and we all mingled and played together (with the occasional fights that were settled easily). As English Protestants ruled, classes began with the Lord’s Prayer and the singing of God Save the Queen. Once a week, some kindly minister conducted a class on religion.

Jews could be excused but I stayed as did most of the others as I recall. This invariably led to our existence being recognized by the holy man who talked about religion in general rather than his own denomination. We learned about and from each other. Groups of kids from different backgrounds would share experiences outside of class. I can still remember our comparing what we ate for Christmas dinner (which I didn’t have) and being intrigued because my best friend was Japanese and they ate octopus.

As I progressed through the years, more diverse people began showing up in class. At this time, most Blacks were descendants of those who came via the underground railroad but we were soon joined by people from the Caribbean. In elementary school, I went to a drop in centre across the street from our house run by the African Episcopal Methodist Church. One year, I was one of the three wise men in their Christmas pageant. Of new arrivals at that time, the most exotic was a new Algebra teacher called Mr Gupta. No one had ever seen a South Asian before but what was most remarkable was that his two sons were in his class. They were math whizzes much to our disgust.

I don’t want to give the impression that there was no racism as there was but it was slowly beginning to break down thanks to the children from large groups of people from diverse places. We mingled together in school, played and fought together on the playgrounds in the neighborhood and began to develop understandings of each other. In her book on growing up in Toronto as a child of Holocaust survivors (When Their Memories Became Mine: Moving Beyond My Parents’ Past), Pearl Goodman describes how playing with the neighbourhood kids and dealing with them in the local school, helped her contend with the views and trauma her parents had from their experiences.   The outliers were Jewish kids in the area who were sent to Jewish parochial schools rather than the public schools. They were quite different from us and even talked differently with the sing song accents so familiar to those whose first language was Yiddish.

During that time, there was even a radio program hosted by the Minister of Citizenship, Jack Pickersgill, who gave his audience information about the various immigrant groups (called New Canadians), who were flooding into the country. The Governments attempt to help them gain acceptance

Education was a prime reason that fear and distrust of others began to break down. Aside from the fact that most kids in my high school could swear in Yiddish (as Jews were the largest group), tolerance and understanding was starting to emerge in all areas. A holdover from the War was the fact that high schools in those days all had cadet corps affiliated with various regiments and often our teachers were called by their military rank. My history teacher was a major.

My school was affiliated with the Queen’s Own Rifles, an old and respected regiment that landed at Normandy on D-Day and fought its way north to help in the liberation of Belgium and The Netherlands. We had to go on a Church Parade one Sunday to the regimental church and when we got there, the Sgt had us all lined up. His command was Jews and Catholics, fall out and we did and spent the church service in the basement playing foot hockey while the poor Protestants had to endure a religious service.

Education helped us integrate and learn to understand and tolerate each other and is very crucial today more than ever. And it is this understanding and respect for each other that results in US Muslim Vets offering to stand guard to protect Jewish cemeteries from vandals or Toronto Jews standing guard at Mosques to show solidarity.

It has always been important for us to learn about and accept others as equals and that process flourishes when we all go to school together.

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Education – More Important Than Ever

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Truly excellent, really well funded Public Schools are the answer to many of our problems and especially so in the United States. But, despite that, the US Congress has proposed a new bill ( HR 610) that will gut their educational system.

Some years ago a  book of essays by Robert Fulghum was published with the title “All I really need to know  I learned in kindergarten”. Hold hands when you cross the street. Share, be kind to one another, clean up after yourself….  It is cute and fanciful but beneath the smile of recognition there lies a profound truth.

Schools have two jobs. Educating our children may actually be secondary to socializing our children. Originally I suppose, as some sociologists point out, the goal of our newly invented schools was to prepare our children for the  factory jobs generated by the industrial revolution. Show up on time, do as you are told, work all day until the Bell rings.

Many years have passed. Our schools have gone through many evolutions keeping up with the changing needs (and fads) of the times. The curricula have changed, and many of the social rules have changed, each accompanied by much dissent and discord.

But I would argue that as our cultures have become so diverse and complex, as our populations become less and less homogeneous, and as future employment becomes both less certain and more multifarious, the role of socializing our children in good public schools becomes more important. Dramatically more important.

Every kid should be sitting in a classroom, playing in the school yard, singing in the choir with at least 50 percent of the other kids being, well, different. Our children need to work with, and play with kids unlike themselves during those 12 or so formative years. Smart kids, not so smart kids, shy kids, obnoxious kids, athletic kids and handicapped kids, black, brown,yellow, white kids, poor kids and not so poor kids, kids with two parents and kids with one, kids who speak other languages, take different religious holidays, wear some different clothing.

There has of late been a rise in “hate crimes” and racial vandalism.

In a way hate crimes and racism are pernicious extremes of tribalism, and they rise in frequency when tribalism grows and especially when our leaders fan the embers.

I think to combat this we must first accept the fact that tribalism is in our genes. We are programmed to notice if someone is not of our tribe. It would be a very important trait in our prehistoric period. Science tells us that when we encounter a stranger, we first notice his dress, and then we notice his tribal markings (think hair/tatoos/metal piercings), then we pay attention to language and voice, and lastly skin colour (when we primates first developed these perceptual skills, we were likely all the same colour).

Our sense of tribe can expand, and one day might include all who live on our earth. A large swath of the white American tribe recently accepted a black man and elevated him to their highest office. Though clearly there were many who never accepted him as one of them.

Still more recently we have seen how easily tribalism can be provoked and inflamed. Brexit, Marine le Pen, Trump. We can struggle against this, we can do our best to fight this trend, but the long term solution is having every one of our children attend, from JK to 12, a well funded Public School, and a school with the complete mix of kids I mentioned before. I would allow home schooling only if, for health reasons, attendance was not possible.

I suppose I would not oppose a small number of private schools because to do so would limit some important freedoms.

I think we already see in some idealistic young people who have grown up in very diverse and inclusive schools a sense of tribalism expanded to include the whole world.

Americans especially: Do not undermine your public school system. Fund it, grow it, improve it. There in lies the hope for your future.