Square pegs, round holes

Hey! Welcome to round 2 of my blog! I first started blogging for university purposes last semester in EC&I 833.  Although I was a bit skeptical at first (and frequently got frustrated with WordPress), I eventually grew to enjoy blogging so I am glad that this will once again be my primary method of interaction throughout a course.

For our first blog of the semester, we’ve been asked to look at ways in which we’ve seen schools used as agents for the maintenance of existing unjust power structures in society.  Turns out, the list is long. For starters, one only has to look at the curriculum and its priorities. As Kirsten and Stephen mentioned throughout their lecture, there is an inordinate amount of attention paid to the 4 r’s – readin’, ‘ritin’, ‘rithmetic and regurgitation.  Meanwhile, physical education and the arts often take a backseat. Out of curiosity I went back in time to my days as an elementary school itinerant and checked out my timetable from the 2010/11 school year in order to see how much time was allotted to certain classes. Since I was merely an itinerant, I was assigned non-core classes such as physical education, core French, music, as well as Social Studies.  The time allotted to each is as follows:

Physical Education:  Primary classes (K-5) = 90 minutes/week.  Senior Classes = 120-150.

Core French:  Primary classes = 60 minutes/week.  Senior classes = 90 minutes.

Music:  Primary classes = 60 minutes/week.  Senior classes = 90 minutes.

Social Studies:  Primary classes = 90 minutes/week.  Senior classes = 120 minutes.

It’s not particularly surprising that the time allotted to these classes paled in comparison to literacy, English Language Arts, and math.  While I don’t have those numbers handy (remember, I was a lowly itinerant), I recall time spent on both literacy AND numeracy being at least 60 minutes per day.  Now, keep in mind these numbers are from a timetable from 8 years ago and it has been 5 years since I’ve taught in an elementary school so perhaps things have changed (I’m assuming an elementary teacher can correct me if I’m wrong – Adam Williams, I’m looking at you).  In the high school realm, on first glance, it appears as though the discrepancy between the value placed on courses evens out a little bit (see the list below).

screenshot_20190114-122751_drive
The above table shows the number of credits one needs in order to graduate in Saskatchewan.  As you can see, English Language Arts is the dominant course.  

When you dig deeper, however, the amount of time spent on ELA (‘readin/’ritin’) is potentially worrisome (note: I say this as a high school ELA teacher).  You’re going to have a real tough time graduating from high school if you struggle to read/write which many of our disadvantaged/at-risk students do (many of whom don’t speak English as their first language).  To make matters worse, the Sask Party’s failure to prioritize education has resulted in increased class sizes, fewer educational assistants (even though Premier Moe attempted to address this recently) and less learning resource time.  Those that are struggling are going to have an even harder time getting the support they require.  Next semester I have 30 students registered in my ELA 9 class and 32 students in my ELA A10 course (which includes two modified students enrolled in ELA 11). It goes without saying that these numbers are far too high and it makes both the teacher’s and student’s job much more difficult.

Next up.  Our Indigenous students.  Years could be spent discussing the litany of ways in which the system has failed them over the years.  The fact that a wide achievement gap continues to exist between Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students is further evidence of this (something that government’s fail to point out when trumpeting the “good work being done to increase graduation rates”).  Unfortunately, recent budget decisions make it unlikely that this gap will shrink anytime soon. The Sask Party’s canceling of the NORTEP program combined other budgetary decisions such as requiring guidance counselors and Indigenous advocates to also teach classes (thus limiting the amount of time they can provide support to students) have further diminished support for our Indigenous students.  This, combined with the aforementioned emphasis on the 4 Rs is proof that the status-quo remains acceptable to those in power. Remember, the second premise highlighted in this week’s lecture was that “power sustains, protects and reproduces itself”.

squarepeg
The way our education system is currently structured around fails to meet the needs of all of our students.  Instead, we ask our at-risk students (“square pegs” for the purposes of this metaphor) to adapt to a system that is not conducive to their achievement.

While this post has largely been doom and gloom, all hope is not lost.  Even though counselor time has been reduced, there has been an increase in programs available to at-risk students.  Drumming groups, ACT, and GSAs can be found throughout schools in Saskatchewan. Cree is being taught at some community schools in Regina while Regina Public also hosts a feast and round dance each year.  In addition, there has been an increased emphasis placed on Social Justice issues in the ELA curriculum (hopefully the senior Social Sciences curriculums which haven’t been updated since 1994 will follow suit).  Also, this is my 12th year in Regina Public and I’ve had a female principal for 9 of those years. Good work is being done and some progress is legitimately being made.  

All of this having been said, it is obvious that, while our schools are doing good work, more needs to be done (I haven’t even mentioned the digital divide but for the sake of time and space, I’ll save that one for one of my classmates).  The fact that many Canadians believe there to be an “Indian Problem” shows just how far we still have to go and just how much work our education system has to do in an attempt to overturn decades of colonial attitudes. 

People care.  But whether the people that have the power to help make change truly possible care remains to be seen. 

Status-quo.  Rinse and repeat.

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Author: scottgardiner12

Husband/dad, teacher, sports-geek, traveller, and cantankerous grad student. Oh, and an avid fan of both puns and sarcasm.

7 thoughts on “Square pegs, round holes”

  1. Hey Scott, great post! Yes the times allotted for ELA and Math heavily weigh down that of the arts and social…no change! Which is sad because there are benefits and importance to each subject strand so the different array of students that take them as well as the educators teaching them.
    Although there have been changes to aspects of unjust doings within education, they have been few and it’s been slow going…
    My question to you would be is there an avenue in which RPS, or any division for that matter, speed up the process of integrating greater change within education?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Scott great post!!!

    Though I agree with you completely when you say the government is a bit hypocritical in their choice making (overload with Numeracy and literacy). With all these cuts it is hard to support our varied learners such as our EAL students and special needs programs that have taken a huge hit for the past two years. Class sizes are huge and yet I have been hearing from the grapevine lately that due to budget cuts, elective classes may now have to take a hit….which is a sad thought for students and passionate teachers.
    I agree not all is gloomy! There seems to be some hope in our education system….I’m always hopeful….with a new government in place and perhaps some disruptive leadership.

    You mentioned briefly the digital divide that we have in all schools. (This is super apparent). My question would be, how do go about fixing this digital divide? Where can we start?

    Looking forward to working alongside you this semester.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed reading your post Scott. I can really relate to all that you are saying about focus on the 4 R’s, class size and the long-term effects of budget cuts.
    In following this line of thinking I think this will ultimately cost the Saskatchewan government and people more as education is the number one indicator of health in a society. So as we struggle to give youth a high quality education the society as a whole struggles to maintain healthy lifestyles and choices. Since, Healthcare is the number one cost for a provincial government this in turn cost us more. Pretty much save a buck and cost you two later.
    I also really agree with your analysis of time spent in elementary school as I just remember being so excited and impatient for recess, physical education and art or music. And I was really good at Math, Social and English, I can only imagine how long the days felt for those that struggle to read, rite and rithmetic!
    Lastly in looking at the success of Indigenous students and many other at-risk youth, I really feel like many of the challenges in the classroom are far beyond the realm of what a teacher can solve. We support, we care, are kind, helpful, have high expectations but many children are not getting their physical and emotional needs met outside of the building. It would require a very large societal change to really confront these issues, maybe living wages, eradication of many “isms”, over haul of education and social services to name a but a few. I guess one just has to put their head down, work hard and to the best of their ability and be the best educator they can be in the end.

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  4. Great post Scott! I do agree that we continue to create this optimal cog for society through emphasis put on the R’s and lacking initiatives for the arts and physical education. Since the beginning of teaching I have seen the cut back of programming and financial funding that is robbing our students of a holistic education they are deserving of. We seem to continue to force people in certain directions not understanding that by forcing someone to live outside of their true self will only build a society of unhappy people, lost and unhealthy. I see in students and parents a drive for data in the R’s- as that is how they were educated. Parents fighting outcome based reporting to the death as it is not data filled enough for them too allow for entrance to post secondary institutions. Post secondary education generally leads to professions that “fit” within jobs related to societal power. Do you feel there would be change on the emphasis of the R’s in High School if Universities based entrance on students who were educated in the arts, physical education, service to others? I think of the comparison between my application for my initial teaching degree and master’s degree. These were two very different applications- one based on data (my degree), one based more on service to others and references of character (masters). How do you think the dynamic of high school students choosing classes would change if they could enter further education based more on their character? Do you feel more would explore the arts? Physical education?Do you feel students would feel less pressured to “fit”?

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    1. Great questions!

      I agree that a large part of the problem lies with universities. As long as universities base their reporting on percentages, high schools will feel like they need to attach a number to each student’s grade (plus, as you said, it’s what parents are most familiar with).

      Would there be a decreased focus on the 4 Rs if universities changed their admissions practices? Perhaps but that’s a tricky one because different departments already have different standards for admissions. Essentially, we find ourselves caught in a loop where:

      – It’s believed that you need a degree to get a good job (but it also needs to be a specific degree, arts degrees are often perceived as “useless”).
      – In order to get one of those “specific degrees” you need a particular set of skills (4Rs + science).
      – Part of a high school’s responsibility is to prepare students for university. Therefore, there is going to be emphasis placed on developing that particular set of skills.
      – Parents are often of the belief that their children must go to university because they won’t get a “good job” without a university degree (or some form of postsecondary education).

      So yes, I do believe that the dynamic of high school students choosing classes would change if universities changed. It’s just hard to see that happening given the aforementioned loop and society’s ingrained attitudes towards both postsecondary education and skills such as literacy, numeracy, and science.

      Note: It’s not just a Canadian issue. Just look at the subjects that are used worldwide to measure the quality of a country’s education system. PISA for instance uses, you guessed it, science, reading, and mathematics.

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      1. Very thoughtful discussion you created, Scott. All of the frustration with curriculum expressed here crystallizes a problem which critical theorists see as having political roots Therefore, to be critical educators, we MUST participate in the politics of the jurisdiction(s) that control our schools. If we fail to do so, then the downward societal spiral that Dylan describes is inevitable. I think contemporary America provides a glimpse of what our Canadian futures will become, if we allow stupidification to continue.

        – Steve

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  5. Love your thoughtful and beautifully composed post, Scott.! Yes, as things are, it is up to individual teachers and their immediate leaders to create pockets of change – sanctuaries within the megolith – where students of all abilities and from all backgrounds can find a safe a nourishing place in which to learn.

    Your hammer on a peg image is especially striking! Thanks for sharing it.

    -Steve

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