A top educator details the school system’s deep flaws but the big dailies won’t print it
There’s a little-known but vitally significant fact in the recent history of education in the Canadian province of Alberta. In the closing years of the 20th Century a team of conservatively minded educators somehow gained control of the city of Edmonton school system. Within a very few years they sent Edmonton’s academic scores soaring so spectacularly on international tests that American systems, one of them California’s, conducted studies to discover the mystery of how they did it.
One of the men chiefly responsible for this, Stuart Wachowicz, then director of curriculum in Edmonton, scoffed at the question. In essence all he had done, he later explained, was to restore the curriculum that had been in place up to the mid-1970s. Meanwhile, other extraordinary things were happening. The city’s famous “Cogito” schools emerged, as alternative and charter schools came into existence. Faith-based schools acquired state support. All these innovations had the effect of empowering the parent who could choose the school that best suited the his son or daughter.
Wachowicz was by no means alone in the movement’s leadership. Another key man was Richard Dietrich, principal of one of the Cogito schools, and an eloquent spokesman for the whole Edmonton phenomenon. Yet another was Leif Stolee, a founding vice-principal of Old Scona Academic High School, which became a showcase for the movement. Stolee’s witty spoofs on educational “progressivism” gravely irritated the progressivists, though most of them were too humourless to reply in kind.
Wachowicz himself says the chief role in the Edmonton experience was played by Emery Dosdall, who hired him as director of curriculum. “He was the spark-plug of the reforms by forcing issues of accountability using quantified measures,” says Wachowicz. “That’s something for which he was and is still hated by the granola eaters.”
Few realized, however, how wholly this Edmonton movement differed from what was happening elsewhere in the world of education. It was absolutely at odds with the dire changes wrought by the Sixties revolution in the universities whose aim was the destruction of the traditional. No longer, they ruled, were the schools to teach the appreciation of, and the functioning of Truth, Goodness and Beauty. All such concepts were now known to be purely subjective and transient “feelings.” The purpose of the school was to produce citizens who would acquiesce with whatever “the community” required. Learning specific skills and acquiring specific facts of our past– maths, grammar, history– were secondary. In fact, real history, as distinct from “social studies,” could be actively dangerous to this new ideology..
Such had once more become the thinking of the educators who gradually regained control of Alberta’s schools, and made them much the same as schools across most of the western world. For the new reformers, the Wachowicz program was an object of horror, and they have since striven hard to rid the Alberta system of its accomplishments. Retired principal Dietrich laments another change. Modern parents aren’t as keen as those of 20 or 30 years ago.
“Parents need to realize,” says Dietrich, “that reversing these modern trends can only be achieved by people who have a genuine personal love for their children. They cannot continue to allow self serving governments, whose institutions and media ratings dictate morals, values and ethical standards. Their motives and expediency have corrupted true diversity of thought and turned the legacy of our forefathers into disgrace, shame and dishonor. No wonder our children are becoming clones of an Orwellian Society! As Robert Frost once revealed of an unsatisfied life, ‘They have nothing to look backward to with pride nor anything to look forward to with hope.’ Our success as a society truly depends upon what happens inside our homes.”
However, with practically the whole professional establishment opposing them, the overthrow of the traditionalists in Alberta was probably inevitable. Wachowicz, Dietrich and Stolee went into retirement and the conservative rebellion gradually came to an end.
There followed what some see as the Great Calamity in Alberta’s political history. The Albertans elected a socialist government, which in turn appointed a minister of Education whose scorn for independent schools in general and Christian schools in particular seemed boundless. He embodied his private ideology into a proposed new curriculum which he promises to work “the most sweeping change” ever wrought in the schools of his province.
Though he has been referring to it for more than two years, and has begun a process of “sharing it” with selected parents, the only aspects about it that are “sweeping” are his bizarre efforts to surround it with secrecy. Who’s actually writing it? That’s secret. How were they chosen? That’s secret. What books or other materials are on it? That’s secret. What do the parents think of it? They aren’t allowed to say. Those who attended parents’ meetings on the new curriculum were instructed to keep what they saw of it confidential. They must not discuss it with anyone outside the meetings. They must not copies of any part of it, or refer to it in any way on the social media.
All of which, as it turned out, didn’t matter much because it is written almost entirely in educationese, a language spoken and understood only by professional educators. So it raises the question: Why all this secrecy? The minister’s response that he doesn’t want the creators of the new course to be publicly vilified
for having produced it. This is hardly reassuring as to its content.
But what, one wonders, do the architects of the great Edmonton educational miracle think about it — notably Messrs. Wachowicz, Dietrich and Stolee? The only one of the three to to speak so far about it was Mr. Dietrich. He summarized some of his thoughts in a letter to the editors of our two big daily newspapers, the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal. Both are now left-leaning and both refused to print his letter. We print it herewith. Remember as you read it that the people most involved in this are your children and grandchildren. Remember in particular that they are yours, not the government’s. The minister of education always speaks as though they were his, and that he takes a personal responsibility to protect them all. From whom, one wonders. From their parents, of course…
The text of Richard Dietrich’s letter follows:
Richard Dietrich’s forbidden letter
In the 1990’s and into the early 21st Century Alberta Education System was recognized as one of the best in the world. It was so successful that other provinces and countries sent delegations to see how they might replicate this model in their jurisdictions.
Parents and newly formed Parent Councils can take much credit for the success. They were informed and demanded public schools provide excellent programming that could compete with reputable Private Schools. And they looked for comparable curricular enrichment and high academic results. Parents were the driving force behind the emergence of Charter Schools.
Public Schools hurried to offer Alternative Programs, before parents exercised their option of increased choice and open boundaries. Students were the beneficiaries: more focused learning, improved academic results, a province wide level playing field allowing unbiased access to post secondary financial assistance, and a preferred entrance status to post secondary institutions across Canada. Alberta students consistently ranked among the highest achievers in Math. and Science worldwide!
What has happened??? Whereas one and two decades ago parents were not only demanding higher educational and academic standards for their children, they were citing curricular expectations and objectives where improvement was needed in their schools. Today, parent councils and parents in general seem to have succumbed to their Board and Department of Education ideologies that have reduced curricular outcomes to a social/emotional manifesto.
Parents have not questioned the almost meaningless provincial assessments that inform about student academic results. They have been lulled into debating the status of bathroom equity, rather than been given the relevant knowledge content of subject disciplines. Ask any University Faculty, outside of Education and the Humanities, and they can relate their frustration about the poorly prepared Alberta student, while they watch an ever growing percentage of foreign trained students legitimately being selected for research and innovation grant positions.
It seems our Alberta Society has become so overwrought with the ’social/emotional equity’ ideology, that we have disadvantaged our students in an increasingly competitive global economy. We would rather teach our children to be self taught happy feel-good unique individuals, than provide with the knowledge it takes to successfully compete in a callous world. In our pursuit of equality, we have lost our balance of goals in Alberta’s schools.
Ted’s New Book Now On Sale
“The Time Is Now” is the third of Ted Byfield’s trilogy of booklets on the Culture War. The pivotal battleground, he says, is neither the courts nor academe. It’s the media, where an effective Christian presence is almost non-existent. He says it’s imperative that such a presence be established, and he advances a plan on how this can be done.
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Ted Byfield was founder and publisher of Alberta Report news magazine, general editor of Alberta in the Twentieth Century, a 12-volume history of the province, and general editor of The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years, a 12-volume history of Christianity. His column on education appears in The Christians.com, a web journal. He has aslo authored three little books on modern pedagogy: Why History Matters, The Revolution Nobody Covered and most recently The Time is Now. You can order copies here.