“Who Killed Canada’s Education Advantage? ” (November), by Roger Martin, addresses a serious Canadian concern: how can we keep up with or, better still, stay ahead of the US in the quality of our educational programs? However, his argument that the minor downgrading of Canada’s foreign currency debt was the primary cause of public education spending cuts is flawed. Paul Martin’s budgets had a limited impact on Mike Harris’s Common Sense Revolution or on anything Ralph Klein did to Alberta’s schools. (Note that other provinces continued to spend at least as much on schools as they had in the past.) Moreover, it is simplistic to claim that health and education constitute a zero-sum game. Spending more money on health care does not automatically mean there will be less to spend on education. Taxation and reducing expenditures give all levels of government a certain degree of freedom to implement their agendas.
The writer chiefly errs in measuring the quality of education only by “inputs,” totally ignoring results. Did the percentage of students graduating drop? Did average test scores diminish? Did the percentage of high school graduates going on to post-secondary education decline, etc.? Not according to any study I’ve ever seen. In fact, since the days of the Coleman Report, back in the 1960s, it has been grudgingly acknowledged that per student expenditures have little effect on achievement in comparison to a student’s home environment and socio-cultural setting. Surpassing the US in education won’t happen because our governments throw more money at schools. It will happen when Canadians turn off their kids’ TVs and cellphones and start reading to them and helping them with their homework.
New York, NY
While it is indeed a shame that our country should suffer a decline in competitive advantage as a result of inadequate education funding, this concern is probably more relevant to the economic elite than to the common citizen. It seems to me that a more broadly shared fear concerns the loss of human potential when our youth are denied opportunities we can and should provide. Naturally, a solution to this problem would address Roger
Martin’s economic concerns as well.
I appreciated Roger Martin’s concise analysis of government’s attempt to escape fiscal vulnerability in the 1990s. He is, however, back in the “old economy” when he proposes that heavy reinvestment in post-secondary education is a preferred alternative to health care spending. In May 2003, then Bank of Canada governor David Dodge suggested that investment in the early years might provide a higher social return than later educational investments. Indeed, the Human Early Learning Partnership, a consortium of BC scholars, has demonstrated that around 25 percent of children entering public school across Canada are vulnerable to failure. Given that our population is aging, we cannot afford to write off a quarter of our children to un- or underemployment in the knowledge economy.
A Lost Cause
I am rather stunned that Alex Hutchinson’s “Global Impositioning Systems” (November) completely ignored a major factor in cognitive mapping: gender differences. It has long been held that men tend to navigate quite differently than women do. Hutchinson did begin to address the issue when he spoke of the two major categories of human mapping strategies, but he left out that males tend to favour the spatial strategy, while females favour the stimulus-response approach. We all know this is rich fodder for stand-up comedians, who joke about the husband who refuses to ask directions. But, in fact, there is a solid scientific basis for it. In early human history, females remained at camps, tending to all the other business of life. That “tending” engendered considerable communication among them, which could explain their propensity to adopt the stimulus-response approach. Meanwhile, “back at the ranch,” men were out chasing game; those who couldn’t use an adaptive spatial strategy to find their way home tended to be naturally selected out by hungry predators…
Read Alex Hutchinson’s rebuttal, posted with “Global Impositioning Systems” at TheWalrus.ca.
In “Fly At Your Own Risk” (November), Carol Shaben alerts us to Transport Canada’s dilatory response to questions surrounding the inadequacy of its safety oversight program: an apparently irrelevant $690,000 consultants’ study. Indeed, this is precisely the type of bureaucratic game I discussed some eighteen years ago in connection with the disintegration of the Transportation Safety Board’s sad predecessor, the Canadian Aviation Safety Board, in my book Improbable Cause.
But while Shaben looks to Justice Virgil Moshansky’s brilliant report on the 1989 Air Ontario crash at Dryden for a solution, his analysis was by no means the first. Roll back the clock another decade to the Commission of Inquiry into Aviation Safety, initiated in the wake of a deadly air crash at Cranbrook, BC. Based on exhaustive hearings and frightening case studies, Justice Charles Dubin urged the creation of a long-sought-after independent tribunal to investigate aviation accidents and conduct public inquiries in the interest of aviation safety. Had the resulting casb functioned as intended, Moshansky’s inquiry would have been unnecessary. (Judge C.H. Rolf had, presciently, made this very observation about his own inquiry into the 1984 Wapiti Aviation crash.)
After the CASB’s collapse, following the scandalous investigation of Canada’s worst-ever aviation disaster — the crash of the Arrow Air DC-8 in Gander, Newfoundland, in 1985 — the legislation drafted to replace it didn’t incorporate recommendations from a study (yes, another) by future Supreme Court justice John Sopinka that reiterated Dubin’s call for a truly independent tribunal. Instead, the new multi-modal tsb became “an agency of inefficiency, secrecy and chronic timidity,” according to yet another long-forgotten study — a year-long review of the TSB’s first three years of operation conducted by former Alberta cabinet minister Louis Hyndman.
Do we need yet another inquiry at this point to rediscover Justice Dubin’s remedy? Or should we focus on the record of thwarted reforms and the twice-failed implementation? Remember, every time history repeats itself the price goes up.
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