As the American presidential campaign reaches its climax, I’m always amazed how the political pundits in the U.S. do their best to polarize the Republican and Democratic candidates for President. Before this campaign began, many political observers would tell you that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama have historically handled major issues like the economy and health care reform pretty similarly. In order to try to give the voting public a clear choice, the media and the campaign organizers themselves do their best to make the issues black and white, and it has nothing to do with the skin colour of the two candidates themselves.
One article I read this last weekend described it perfectly:
“The respective campaigns will keep emphasizing the sometimes-manufactured differences to make it easier to formulate attacks, and the news media will rightly point out opposing approaches, but look through the rhetoric. For all their efforts to convince you otherwise — at debates and on the campaign trail — they agree on more than you might first imagine.” (Bangor Daily News, October 4, 2012)
Before you panic and stop reading because this has absolutely nothing to do with School District No. 27, allow me to continue.
When the Board of Education released their Initial Options Report two weeks ago, the polarization began immediately. In fact, those who have been around this District for any length of time were ready before the report was released. Issues became black and white overnight, and battle lines were drawn.
All of this is to be expected and is not necessarily a bad thing. First, parents love their kids and are going to do everything they can to advocate for the school system they believe will give their children the best chance at success and will also ensure their safety at school. Second, people generally love their neighborhood schools – schools which offer the type of community feeling that is missing in a culture that so often puts the individual ahead of the common good.
I don’t mind the debate. Actually, I love the debate. I wish we had far more debates when it comes to public education. Unless we have some controversy, we rarely have a good old-fashioned evidence-based debate. Apathy usually rules the day, until somebody does something to really tick us off.
I must also point out that we have heard from between twenty and thirty members of the public so far. These are the ones who have chosen to speak at a microphone in front of fairly large crowds in both Williams Lake and 100 Mile House. We have also gotten to gauge the reaction of the audience, primarily measuring responses based on applause or lack of it and the odd head nodding or shaking. It’s not much to go on, but there has been enough said to know what some of the general public might be thinking.
For a moment, let’s set aside the discussion regarding schools that are up for possible closure. As one Trustee said last week at one of the public consultation meetings, “I’d be disappointed if parents weren’t fighting to keep their neighborhood schools open.”
For the south part of the District, what to do with Grade 8 students will certainly be a big decision for the Board. If you are a parent in favour of keeping Grade 8 students in elementary, you may argue that you get to keep your kids “young and innocent” for one more year. You may point out that it keeps our elementary school numbers healthier. If you are in favour of keeping the status quo, moving to a Grade 7-9 middle school, or moving to a Grade 8-12 PSO, you may argue for more elective choices, more specialty teachers, and a chance for all of the pubescent adolescents to be schooled in one location. All fair arguments, to be sure.
For the north part of the District, Grade 7’s are the topic du jour.
This debate is the one that has caught my attention for some of the wrong reasons.
I must first say that there are very good arguments for keeping Grade 7’s in elementary school. There are also very good arguments for Grade 7’s being part of a middle school concept. Finally, there are indeed very good arguments to include Grade 7’s into a 7-12 one-school two-campus model. As one parent so aptly pointed out last week, it wouldn’t take you long to google any of the above and find both supporting research and school districts who have just switched to the idea you most prefer. You’d also quickly find evidence from districts who just switched away from the idea you least prefer.
That being said, in order for some members of the public to make their point that Grade 7’s should not be placed in a school with Grade 12’s, our Williams Lake high schools came under fire. Speakers cited bullying, smoking, drugs, alcohol, and sex. Again, these are legitimate arguments and things that the Board needs to consider as they make decisions, but please don’t take these arguments too far.
At one point last week, a student who certainly has a future in public speaking proudly announced to the crowd that “more than 50% of the students in Grade 12 are not good role models”. The audience applauded loudly.
I respectfully disagree.
Do we have issues of bullying, smoking, drugs, alcohol, and sex in our schools?
Are our secondary schools the bastions of depravity that some described last week?
Are these school issues, societal issues, or family issues?
Will these issues be better or worse based on grade configurations?
This is where there is a whole lot of grey in a debate that some would like to make black or white.
After hearing what some members of the public had to say, Williams Lake Secondary decided to find out if the age spread between grades is truly having all of the negative impacts referred to.
Late last week, Principal Silvia Dubray and Counselor Mike Levitt used a ten point written survey with their Grade 8’s and came up with some very interesting data.
The survey revealed 3 students out of 94 surveyed who had been bullied since their arrival at WLSS this year. In two cases the age difference of the aggressor was one year. In the third case the aggressor was the same age.
The students were asked if, since their arrival at WLSS, has a Grade 12 pressured them to – smoke? do drugs? have sex? drink?
Not one Grade 8 student has been pressured by a Grade 12 to partake in any of the above.
The best part of this story is that members of the WLSS “Go To Team” (22 Grade 12 role models, I might add) addressed the three bullying cases, and they are trained to do so.
Many parents will have a story as a counterpoint to the survey data listed above. Some will do their best to make the Board’s impending decisions as black or white, good or bad.
As we continue this public consultation, I encourage you to continue to be thoughtful. The Board needs to hear what you have to say.
You may agree on more than you might first imagine.
I invite feedback and comments to any of my blog entries. As the administrator of the blog, I approve all comments before they hit the public domain. While I do not mind comments that disagree with my point of view, I will not post comments that I deem to be inappropriate, those which are personal attacks, or those which refer to specific personnel. I also will not post comments from anonymous or nicknamed sources. While one of my goals for this blog is open a dialogue, it needs to be a safe environment for everyone involved. Thanks for considering this before making a comment. – Mark