Decontenting & the Honour Roll

The following is a letter I submitted to the North Shore News regarding the North Vancouver School Board’s recent decision to eliminate the honour roll.

This policy should be a clear warning sign for parents about the general drift of BC’s new curriculum. The automobile industry uses the term “decontenting” to describe the gradual reduction in quality of various car brands. The same thing is happening to BC’s education system. After the NDP stopped the Year 2000 movement in its tracks in 1994, the Ministry of Education has slowly been chipping away and implementing Year 2000 by stealth, and now we have Year 2000 in all but name.

So what do we have? Its proponents – including the Year 2000 education professors who are still around from the early 1990s – like to brand the new curriculum as innovative, student-centered and focused on skills. Unfortunately, the movement has been around for centuries and, frankly, not stood the test of time. It ignores the large body of evidence that thinking skills cannot be taught as autonomous and portable abilities. Critical thinking is developed within a particular realm of knowledge, and cannot be exported as a discrete skill removed from the knowledge it comes from. As a result, so-called “21st century” thinking skills require a knowledge-rich, properly sequenced and fully resourced curriculum in order to thrive. However, the new BC curriculum has had significant reductions in mandated content (almost zero in some English courses), a self-consciously anarchic approach to organization as opposed to a careful scope and sequence, and very few resources (in the humanities, virtually none).

An intrinsic element of this decontenting is a lack of outside accountability. The days of taking four provincial exams to enter university are long gone, and the last vestige of accountability, the English 12 provincial exam, will expire this year. It’s a great setup, isn’t it? Implement a new curriculum… without any way to test its effectiveness! The only metric left is the graduation rate, but given all the other changes, it will mean very little.*

So how does this relate to the attack on the honour roll? Well, the whole ethos of the skills movement – a movement that goes back to the 19th century – has been to dismiss intellectual achievement and academic excellence. Celebrations of intellectual achievement and academic excellence are apparently too threatening to other students, despite our continued celebration of athletics, leadership and community service. Killing the honour roll sends a powerful message: Keep your success to yourself; we don’t care about it and don’t want to acknowledge it.

Such explicit anti-intellectualism in a school district is exclusionary and should be fought at every turn.

*To be honest, the graduation rate hasn’t meant much for a long time,
particularly since the end of the Grade 12 provincial exams.

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