Posts Tagged ‘Ibbitson’

Re: Let the objections finally cease

March 16, 2007

I wrote and sent this letter to the editor at the Globe and Mail:

As a Canadian who takes as fact the First Nations’ responsibility for their own lives and communities, I’d like to answer John Ibbitson’s question, “So what are you doing to help them reach that independence?”

First and finally, I’m not suggesting we take away their autonomy regarding self-education. Integration is not, as he writes, “the only solution.” The last time Ibbitson made this suggestion (Dec. 21/06) Phil Fontaine (national chief, Assembly of First Nations) replied, “our dedicated leaders and educational professionals have developed a plan that will more effectively meet our needs.”


It wasn’t printed.

Just as a note, I use “we” (italicized in the letter) very self consciously. Ibbitson draws his readers into this “we.” He writes:

Let’s say to each other: We will bring status and non-status Indian, Inuit and Métis high-school completion rates up to national average in this generation, and we will not let jurisdictional disputes, funding shortfalls or anything else keep us from reaching that goal. And we will hold our politicians, our native leadership and most important ourselves to account.


I am a part of this we, and bothered by the inclusion. I become an actor in a conspiracy, a conspiracy I want no part of, and must respond with “we.” And there is a conspiracy here. “Integrating native schools into the provincial school systems is the only solution,” A conspiracy against First Nations autonomy.

Another note, When Fontaine writes “our dedicated leadership” and Ibbitson writes “our native leadership” the same possessive pronoun refers to different groups.

And another note: Ibbitson writes:

Those close to the issue are shaking their heads. They know the federal government would never surrender jurisdiction, the provincial governments would never agree to assume it and native leaders would never give up control.

We’re shaking our heads in Ibbitson’s mind because of what we know? But he’s proposed the solution, what he goes on to call the only solution:

The solution would be for Ottawa and native leaders to let provincial governments — who actually know how to run an education system — assume full responsibility for native schools.

For the record I’m not shaking my head, but if I were it wouldn’t be for the reasons Ibbitson puts forth. First is the repeated proposal of integration that Ibbitson is making. There’s a question; What are his intentions? The last time he made the suggestion the native response was clear, they’ve got it under control. So this second proposal, essentially ignoring the First Nations response, has got to be questioned. I don’t have an answer, just a question; What are his intentions?

Next, the interjection, “who actually know how to run a school system,” might provide the answer to why Ibbitson ignores the First Nations response. The First Nations are obviously not “who” for Ibbitson. This is actually offensive. All the more so, when you consider the influence the provincial education systems have had in the north. The provincial education system doesn’t work for low income kids.

And third, why wouldn’t the federal government want to drop this hot potato? Why wouldn’t the provincial governments take the money? Most kids fly out for high school already, integration wouldn’t be much of a change. These two objections are fabrications to make it look like the First Nations aren’t the only ones who don’t want this.

The First Nations are in an excellent position to experiment within education and find different practices that work in their many different communities, languages and cultures. There can not be an “only solution” when it comes to education in the north.

I now know why the question “How Canadian are you?” bothers me.

On Architecture of Education

December 23, 2006

A couple days ago John Ibbitson wrote “Native education is in crisis, and it’s everyone’s failure” in the Globe and Mail. In the column under the pretense of education he pushes for a move on native governance. He writes, “Provincial governments know how to deliver education, and would do the best job of running native education programs.”

I’d suggest Ibbitson look a little more critically into the ideas on which he so comfortably rests. Provincial governments are failing to educate children from lower economic situations. There are studies that show this. So sending provincial programs into these economically deprived areas will only reveal our education system for what it is.

Today native education is modeled on provincial programs. That’s why it’s failing. Studies show that children of university graduates are more likely to go to university. Others show that children who are read to daily perform better in school than children who are not. And children in low income situations are less likely to have an educated parent. Those low income children are also less likely to have a parent who reads to them. It’s clear that a child’s success or failure can be accurately predicted by what is happening outside the school. That’s because provincial schools simply exercise the education children receive at home.

If child who isn’t educated at home will not succeed in school,  what exactly is happening in schools? Our education system doesn’t work. It fails to educate the poorest students in the provincial system, and as it is modeled in native communities it fails there also. If you look at the professions that matter, architecture, medicine, law, for example, and compare their training to the eight months a teacher sails through, you can see that teaching doesn’t stack up. Qualification, in the case of teachers, does not translate as ability. The reality is that ability to teach isn’t necessary for qualification. Kids come to school with the skills that are being exercised in the classroom, or they fail. There is no teaching. And when these kids fail, we are all failing. Imagine an architect who’s been hired to build on poor soil. Our society needs building to stand up so we’ve got a collection of over-educated constantly learning professionals working to rigid standards, who are strictly judged and highly regarded for what they do. If the building fails, the architects and the engineers fail. Because of this there are a variety of building techniques for building on a variety of surfaces.

That the tools to educate are traditional as opposed to scientific, that the duration of teacher training is about an eighth of the highly regarded professions, and that standards of education slip while the standards in other professions rise, speaks more strongly to the crisis in Native education, the education of Canada’s underclass, than any allocation of funds. An analogy would be throwing money at front line doctors to cure a disease before the treatment has been developed.

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