Saturday, September 26, 2009
Anatonomy of a Murdered High School Course
On Sept. 22, The Tyee published an articled called "Anatomy of a Murdered High School Course". Here is the text of my response:
I appreciate the article, Nick. As an English 12 teacher and part-time college instructor, I can certainly sympathize with your point of view. I’d like to add a few thoughts to the discussion.
I followed TPC 12 from its inception, and I knew a number of teachers who, like me, were interested in its approach. However, TPC appeared doomed before it was even deployed. Like so many BC humanities courses, new and old, the TPC curriculum guide was hopelessly vague. It had so many mushy and feel-good objectives, so many potential learning resources, and yet so few practical classroom tools, that it seemed very difficult to work with. I know that professional autonomy is important, but this course was so formless that I had no idea where to start. And I wasn’t the only teacher to hold that view.
As you mentioned, the universities were never on board. As a result, the kids voted with their feet and many teachers interested in the course never got a chance to work with it. I‘m mystified why there is such a disconnection between the K-12 and post-secondary education bureaucracies. Why isn’t post-secondary approval secured well before a new course is introduced? This lack of prior approval has hurt other courses, too, particularly in math and social studies. I remember a Pro-D meeting a few years ago regarding the new Civics 11 course, and the Ministry rep. in attendance seemed to have no idea why the universities had not yet given their approval. To me, this affirmation is one of the first things that must be secured. Otherwise, why invest your time as a teacher in developing a new course?
With regard to your comments on literature vs. communication, I couldn’t agree more. But my solution is simple: I don’t take the En. 12 IRP very seriously. Thankfully, the provincial exam doesn’t really match the curriculum, and its literature demands have been scaled back, so I focus much more on writing, critical thinking and argumentation. My students still do well on the provincial, and I feel they are much better prepared for post-secondary education.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Firefighting: A Public Good?
In a 2008 speech for TVO, Naomi Klein discussed the shrinking public sphere in the United States. Already small by Western standards, America's public sphere appears to be shrinking by the week. One of the few realms of American society that is still considered to be a public good is firefighting and disaster relief. But even that is disappearing. AIG Insurance (as well as Chubb Alarm) have set up their own private fire fighting forces to help insurees protect their homes... assuming your house is important enough to save. (For Chubb, that means a market value of at least one million dollars.)
Two stories that explain the trend can be found here and here. Notice that the business website (link 2) paints a substantially rosier picture in its conclusion compared to the Bloomberg article (link 1).
A "public good" can be defined as any item or service that is publically funded and available to all. Moreover, it's good for you if other people also have it. For example, public education is a public good because it's a benefit for you if other people around you are educated. Presumably firefighting is a public good, too, as the protection of all helps protect you as an individual.
The same is not true of a private good. This type of good does not require equal access to a product or service. The fact that others lack what I have (let's say, a Porsche) is not a hindrance to me if they can still move efficiently with public transit, a bicycle or a Kia. Inequality in this case is a matter of reward and preference, rather than mutual benefit.
Canada's ratio of public to private goods is slightly higher than the United States (especially with health care), but less than most western European countries. Even within Canada, Quebec sees child care as more of a public good, while most other provinces do not. BC still views basic auto insurance as a public good ("it's good for me that other people are insured"), while Alberta or Ontario consider it a private good.
What constitutes a public good varies greatly. Each country tends to have a different ratio of public to private goods, but this ratio is a relatively stable predictor of daily politics. In other words, the dominant ideology of any country can be measured by this ratio. It shows how much we (or the political elites, at least) are other-regarding or egoists.
If we are living in an age of increasing political egoism, perhaps those who defend public goods, or seek their expansion, need to emphasize the self-interested nature of public goods (they help you, too). It wouldn't hurt to also emphasize the efficiency of public enterprises when delivering goods we all need, in the sense that private enterprises replicate bureacracies and lead to higher administrative costs, like in the American medical system.