We need direct control

Early news stories on a report titled Inspiring Education: a Dialogue with Alberta focus a little too closely on one detail, at the risk of missing a great deal of the response to the challenge of looking to public education in Alberta in 2030.

Early news stories on a report titled Inspiring Education: a Dialogue with Alberta focus a little too closely on one detail, at the risk of missing a great deal of the response to the challenge of looking to public education in Alberta in 2030.

The detail came toward the end of the report, which talks about governance. The report suggests that in 2030, “members of the governance team could be elected, appointed or recruited from the community.” The news reports — correctly — interpret that to mean that the authors of the report suggest that Alberta may not need elected school boards in the future.

Why should we? We’ve already done away with elected health boards and that’s worked wonderfully, hasn’t it?

And considering how all power in Alberta is invested in the premier and cabinet, we could also appoint our backbench MLAs and nobody would notice the difference — if anything because so few people vote.

In Alberta, direct democratic control over public institutions has become a rather overrated idea anyway. Just let cabinet, its appointees, party hacks and the oil barons run things — they know best.

But lest people concerned with direct democracy get worried unduly, let us put some fears to rest. This report, done for the government and actually released publicly (you can download the entire report from the government’s website) is a visioning statement, not a policy statement. If it were a policy report, you and I would never know it existed, never mind be able to read it.

Actually, the report is quite full of fuzzy assumptions about the future and technology. My quick read found three references to computer-based jewelry that children could wear that would impart all knowledge on request — at least all knowledge the government would allow you have.

In 2030, they projected a child from Zimbabwe could enter a class where half her peers were born in other countries and tap her bracelet to project for them a tour of her former home town, wandering minstrels and all. And this in Alberta.

To get back to today’s reality, a lot of Albertans would be happier if the government just paid attention.

Get this, the government took away the right of school boards to bargain contracts with their teachers. Then they settled with teachers for a six per cent pay raise — and denied local school boards the money to pay for these raises.

So in Calgary, a jurisdiction with a growing school-aged population, the (elected) school board says they will have to eliminate some 160 full-time equivalents in teachers. There won’t be layoffs, because in a district that large, about 250 teachers retire every year. But new teachers won’t be getting those jobs. And you know what happens to an organization that does not renew itself with new staff.

Extrapolate that to the entire province and there will be a lot of bright young Alberta teachers following our nurses into careers in other provinces.

And get this — government officials, representing the minister of education, told the Calgary board they had no idea their decisions would have this effect. Come on.

But you don’t need elected school boards to accomplish that; just a minister of education and few select appointees.

Inspiring Education is heavy on teaching critical thinking, ethics and collaborative problem-solving. Just the traits our government doesn’t want in Albertans.

Those traits would help a person see the pointlessness of giving up direct control of our public institutions. They would direct Albertans to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not because it’s the cheapest immediate alternative.

And they would challenge young Albertans to overlook the labels that divide us, to come to solutions that work best for all.

So unless we change governments, Inspiring Education will remain simply a vision statement.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.