EDPS 360 (A2) Fall 2013

Of High Handed Tactics, Education Reform, and the Ghost of Jim Keegstra

In ATA, Commentary, Current Events on July 3, 2014 at 10:04 am

Another (perhaps) unintentionally inflammatory piece by Paul Simons in today’s Edmonton Journal.

Without going into her argument line by line, I think Paula is barking up the right analytical tree when she takes aim (mixed metaphor…yuck!) at a structural problem. Her structural analysis, however, is far too simple and, worse, is entirely non-empirical.*

Screenshot 2014-07-03 09.56.46

Paula’s column and the Twitter furore began like this last night. Will we ever be free of the Keegstra case? I assume not, and perhaps rightly so.

The point I want to make is this: any purely theoretical argument (here, the ATA has a conflict of interest = system is bad/a “mess”) must stand up to an empirical test. Put simply, does the supposed structural problem compromise real-world teacher review/discipline? ATA voices and others have provided plenty of information demonstrating that the process works quite well. Should we trust this claim out of hand? Of course not, but compare the ATA’s approach to Mr. Lemire’s as presented in Paula’s piece. The call to improve process may have some merit, but Paula fails (true, her space is extremely limited; still, there’s always another column on another day) to examine his claims critically and empirically. Where is the structural critique of the position of school superintendents in the system? Where is the evidence (no doubt real – no doubt disputable) to support Lemire’s claims? In fact, Mr. Lemire seems to speaking out of both sides of his mouth. He wants to protect the autonomy of boards from both the minister and, under some unspecified “reform,” the ATA. Just so. A structure characterized by adversarial relations between various interests may be totally appropriate.

Going back to Paula’s structural contradiction argument, there may be a problem in the present arrangement and processes, but, this being the case, it is not clear that she has identified the problem correctly. Assuming for the moment that there is a real problem here, what if it is with having the minister involved in the process? I would suggest that recent events provide evidence that the minister ought to be out of the process altogether. His comments around the most recent demand for records demonstrate another structural flaw, i.e., a system prone to the manipulations of an individual with a private agenda and the power to rule by fiat (“they serve at the pleasure of the minister”). I’m pretty sure, actually, that Paula would agree with some version of what I’m suggesting here, as I’ve seen her suggest similar independent oversight in relation to other public issues, most obviously in the “children in care” crisis.

When all is said and done, I have a lot of respect for Paula as a commentator and willing participant in discussions of public issues. In this case, however, I think she’s not doing her homework and, most unfortunately, resorting to “evidence” that reeks of reductio ad Hitlerum type argumentation by constantly invoking the Keegstra case. As reform in other provinces has shown, many of the “problems” meant to be solved by, for example, splitting the ATA in two, persist under such arrangements. This doesn’t mean that there are no problems to be solved, but it does suggest, empirically, that the theoretical contradiction that Paula and Minister Johnson are attached to may be just that.

* The less said about the relevance of Keegstra here the better, but if you are interested, here is Paula’s commentary on the case and a brief but informative response published soon afterward. If you are interested in learning about or recalling the court saga that was and is “Keegstra,” have a look at the legal records, which are free and easily accessed, if not easily read. Please also have a look at a few different pieces by my colleague Laura Servage on questions of reform linked here, here, and here.

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