By PIERCE GRAHAM
I HAVE SELDOM passed up an opportunity to respond to publicly aired criticisms of our school system, such as letters to the editor, FaceBook postings, and the like.
I should know better than to go for that kind of bait, because in most cases the complaints or harangues are just that — bait for the naive, the uninformed, the uncritical, or the similarly disaffected. I like to think of my views as none of those.
Common to all of those — usually negative — condemnations is a general lack of understanding of the purposes of education in a multi-cultural, inclusive, and democratic society. And in many cases the criticism comes from someone who was unsuccessful at school. And, of course, in the standard mantra, the fault belongs entirely to the school. Introspection — particularly in hindsight — is beyond the scope or intent of the critics.
Often we hear of the schools’ inability or reluctance to change. In most cases, of course, the perception of stasis is in the mind of the viewer and not in the school processes. The pace at which time moves in a societal perspective is quite different from that at which it moves in the mind of an adolescent.
Schools do change, of course, but they do so on a scale greater than that perceptible to the critic, whose analysis is basically his own often adolescent perception, or even his adult recollection of his once adolescent perception.
There is no question that a school system, like a public transit system, cannot divert — deliberately or randomly — from a prescribed route to an had hoc, individually based scholastic-experiential-maturational taxi-service. One may, however, get off at unscheduled stops, departing from his chosen or required route. Exploration is possible.
But in public education, the goal, or purpose, is not sight-seeing; thus, it is set largely within the same social framework as are the means of reaching it. And that is true for those evaluating the system.
Public education is part of a social framework: the purpose or destination is set largely by society, and the route is chosen — but only partially — by the rider. And, of course, one can always walk…. can do it alone…. Not recommended. Education, like public transit, is best done publicly.
In defence of the public schools of B.C., particularly Kamloops, where I spent 32 years teaching in classrooms from Grade 8 to first-year college, in administrative roles at four secondary schools, and many sessions in Adult education at the local college, I offer to the critics of the system the observation made by the American educator, sociologist, psychologist, Talcott Parsons.
It is fundamental and incisive. Parsons described the purpose and role of any public school system, in any society, as “pattern maintenance.” The description is valid, even when one considers the role of private schools, whether faith-based or economic-class-based: just a slight addition, or decoration, or embellishment, of the pattern.
The goal of any school is set by its founders to maintain the essential prevailing ethos of the society — or the micro-society, or the social class, or the religious or cultural or linguistic sector of the larger society — which it serves.
And, obviously, the smaller groups with narrower views are required to operate within bounds deemed acceptable to the larger society, and deleting much less than that which they are required to add.
In B.C., for example, students in Jewish schools may skip the daily King James Bible readings in favour of Jewish doctrine, and the Muslims may make similar minor tuning adjustments.
Whatever the case, all are involved in their own pattern maintenance within a larger, more diverse, yet tolerant social pattern. The ends, or goals, however broad or inclusive, are achieved by strength and breadth in the diversity of means.
The narrower the goal and means, the less likelihood of finding either the tolerance or the success which we believe are important enough to be recognized within a secular society. Specialization in public school curriculum plays a secondary role, behind that of socialization. ’Twas, and ever will be, thus. Good thing.
Pierce Graham is a retired vice principal of NorKam secondary, a long-time English teacher, and a member of the Rube Band.