JANUARY 29, 1981
Schooling—The Problem or the Answer?
AN ADDRESS BY The Honourable Bette Stephenson, MINISTER OF EDUCATION, MINISTER OF COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES, PROVINCE OF ONTARIO
CHAIRMAN The President, Reginald Stackhouse
Ladies and gentlemen: Although it has been one of the most overlooked social developments of the modern world, the public funding of education has been one of the most significant. Until the nineteenth century, schools depended on families and charities. But for a variety of reasons, governments in the nineteenth century added education to their budgets, and with that change made today's world possible.
That is not an exaggerated claim. We can see it from even a brief consideration of how much we depend on each other's education. The satisfaction of almost every need requires someone's education.
This meeting itself demonstrates that. The notice we received (or perhaps did not receive) required the education of the person who wrote it and the person who printed it. The hotel we meet in functions because of the skills its army of trained people put at our disposal. And most of all our speaker today makes it possible for this public forum to think seriously about education in the Ontario of tomorrow.
Without an adequate education program this country's small population could not keep Canada among the world's seven leading industrial nations, and the minister of education in its largest province is therefore a social leader The Empire Club of Canada is privileged to hear.
The Honourable Bette Stephenson came to this key ministry in the provincial government after a long and demanding preparation. It began with her own professional development as a physician. She graduated from the University of Toronto as a doctor of medicine in 1946 and later became first Head of the Department of Family Practice in the Women's College Hospital. She organized and chaired the first National Conference on Education for General Practice in 1961, became president of the Ontario Medical Association in 1970, and president of the Canadian Medical Association in 1974.
Fortunately for Ontario, she was not content to confine herself to medical practice and professional activity. Dr. Stephenson successfully stood for a seat in the Ontario Legislation in 1975, and was appointed immediately to the provincial cabinet as Minister of Labour. After a successful tenure in that frequently controversial ministry, she was moved to the education department, adding to her portfolio responsibility for the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.
In these past six years, she has made her reputation with the people of Ontario as a forthright debater, a government leader able to make hard decisions in the face of conflicting pressures, and a communicator able to explain and persuade. It is a privilege for The Empire Club of Canada to welcome Ontario's Minister of Education, the Honourable Bette Stephenson.
THE HONOURABLE BETTE STEPHENSON: There is a compelling reality which rapidly assaults and pervades the consciousness of newly minted ministers of education. It is that "education" is a matter about which everyone has concern or opinion or both. One soon discovers that the concerns and opinions are directed almost totally toward that part of the Oxford definition of education which states "the systematic instruction, schooling or training given to the young in preparation for the work of life" rather than to the more generic first definition, "the process of nourishing, rearing or bringing up young persons."
The use of education and schools as interchangeable terms is a relatively recent phenomenon--and I am not at all sure it is appropriate, for no matter how humanely and sensitively comprehensive a school or instructional program is, it encompasses only a few of the multitude of sites, experiences, and relationships in which each of us acquires education.
If we examine the goals, programs and reports of schools, colleges and universities we might think that they alone furnished the citizenry with education and, of course, they have a major responsibility. But if I were to ask each of you, "Where did you get your education?" I would receive many different responses: parents, grandparents, church, the armed forces, service clubs, sports teams, the press, Tv, employers, advertisers, apprenticeships, libraries--many agencies and facilities have contributed to the education of all of us.
Dean Duncan Sinclair of Queen's University says:
The rapidity with which the child learns to speak and understand two or more languages in an environment where they are spoken routinely is a sobering example of education at its best to those of us who have struggled in formal settings to learn a "foreign" language later in life. Ask any cabinetmaker, any craftsman, where and how he acquired his skill. If he is honest he will tell you that he is still learning from each piece of furniture he makes and that his education is still continuing. He who claims to be fully educated is a fool. Education is a process. It continues and gives truth to the old adage, "It's a poor day you don't learn something."*
In our society we are educated not just in an organized system but in a loose-knit arrangement of institutions, facilities and individuals which forms what Lawrence Cremin calls "the educational configuration." It is flexible, varied, rich in resources and as much a part of the texture of a free society as is freedom of speech.
Schools provide education, but so do news agencies, film producers, publishers, and even politicians. Like it or not, the promoters of Coca-Cola, for example, have throughout the world systematically furnished instruction on lifestyles, taste and attitudes.
Does that mean that everything we experience is a part of education? Not really. Cremin points out that "Earthquakes may produce even more significant changes in understanding, behaviour or sensibility than education." But experiencing earthquakes is not education unless one deliberately sets out systematically to learn from them.
Schools have come to be regarded as the main medium of education. But it was not always so. If we look back only a short way in history, we find that churches ran the schools: one learned to read in order to be able to read the Bible and save one's soul. Going back even further; the apprenticeship system was the primary component of the educational configuration. A person who went to school was serving an apprenticeship as a clergyman. At the end of schooling he
*From "The Education Business," a speech to the Bermuda Chapter of the Queen's University Alumni Association, November, 1980. produced his masterpiece, a dissertation, and was given the degree Master of Arts. The craft guilds through apprenticeship taught a whole way of life, not just a trade, and they jealously resisted any attempt by others to share their role. Thus when St. Francis de Sales first tried to teach students to write in his school in Paris, he was attacked furiously by the guild of scribes for infringing on their prerogative of teaching writing. He had to promise that he would not attempt to teach his students more than the rudiments.
At this time, however, when we think about education we think about schools; colleges and universities and inevitably about our expectations of them. To have expectations is to care about the future of our young people. What is the future that awaits today's students? The general consensus of the prediction of thoughtful futurists indicates that the final two decades of this century will hold for us:
continuing inflation and financial restraint;
a decline in job opportunities for the highly educated and for unskilled youth;
a reduction in the per capita consumption of energy;
an aging population;
the gradual replacement of the nuclear family by alternative family structures;
increasing pressure on Canada to accept large numbers of immigrants from countries undergoing political upheaval;
more sophisticated and accessible data-processing techniques and electronic media;
increased threat of nuclear destruction and growth of terrorism;
greater need for environmental control and conservation of natural resources;
shifts in the existing economic balance within Canada; continuing difficulty in making accurate labour market forecasts;
scientific advances in cybernetics and the control of mechanical, biological, and electronic systems; increased need for individuals to adapt to a variety of career patterns and lifestyles within one's lifetime.
It is obvious that the world will continue to change and that Ontario will change with it.
The means of change are all about us. Bookstores are vending advice on how to make a fortune out of the ruin of our fellow man. We are surrounded by lobbies and interest groups campaigning for unconditional surrender to their demands. Each of them, taken singly, might sound quite reasonable. But there seems to be no limit to their demands and precious little concern for the common good. Each is out to ensure that its own members benefit from the proposed changes, and devil take the hindmost. And when all these demands are put together it becomes apparent that the role of the education system cannot be to satisfy everyone who makes demands. If we try to satisfy the most aggressive and sophisticated groups, the people most in need will probably be those who lose most in the process of change.
Change should not make us apprehensive. It should be viewed as a challenge and an opportunity. If Ontario is to maintain its leadership role in education we must ensure that the challenge is met for the benefit of all and the opportunity seized on the firm foundation of a value system which has withstood the twin tests of time and the vagaries of the political system.
Would there not be merit in the integration into the curriculum of positive support for those time-honoured virtues whose light has been dimmed by the dust of society's headlong pursuit of material gain and selfgratification--probity, truthfulness, charity, thrift, obedience to the law, respect for oneself, for others and for the value of work? If we agree that merit exists in such action, should the schools alone be expected to provide leadership?
The time has come to face squarely all the disappointments our schools have suffered. Do you remember how in the sixties many thought that with early childhood education we were going to produce a society of equal opportunity and equal result? The cure for all the ills of society was supposed to be school. But a careful scrutiny of results showed that schools could do little or nothing to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots. We now know that the family and the community have far more influence than schools on educational achievement.
A recent California study reveals that television is a more powerful influence than school. Apparently the more Tv a child watches the worse he or she does in school. Can school compete with a well-organized sustained advertising campaign? I doubt it. Even the lyrics of rock music seem to have a greater impact on values than do our schools. We have to conclude that the school cannot fully compensate for adverse educational influences in the community. And in parts of the western world, the schools themselves are suffering malaise. Some public school systems seem perilously close to collapse.
In some North American cities there is racial gang violence, drug peddling, rape and prostitution in schools which are permeated by an ethic of underachievement called "dumb chic" and aimlessness, and marked by uncertainty of economic support. In those cities, parents with next to no money are scraping together whatever cash they can to send their children to private schools with class sizes of sixty or sixty-five. Anything to get their kids out. Could it happen here? Is it happening here? Let's not be smug. Unless we plan and act in mutually supportive fashion, it could
happen here. Are we courageous enough to help children to learn the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, and the consequences of both? Are we concerned enough to ensure that all parts of the educational configuration assume and discharge their educational responsibilities.
If we care about the future of all the individuals in our society, we will have expectations about how their educational needs are to be met. While we need an education system that will be concerned with the common good in the midst of all these turbulent crosscurrents, it must also be a system which envisages each student as an individual learner.
The goal of education should be to help each student: to become responsive to dynamic processes of learning;
to be resourceful, adaptable, and creative in learning and living;
to organize the basic knowledge and skills needed to comprehend and express ideas through words, numbers and other symbols;
to value and maintain physical fitness and good health;
to enjoy satisfaction from participating in and sharing the participation of others in various forms of artistic expression;
to build a sense of self worth;
to understand the role of the individual within the family and the role of the family within society; to develop skills that contribute to self-reliance in solving practical problems in everyday life;
to accept personal responsibility in society at local, national and international levels;
to respect the customs, cultures, and beliefs of a wide variety of societal groups;
to acquire skills and attitudes to respond to the expectations of the world of work;
to acquire a commitment to wise interaction with the environment and to understand the need for conservation of natural resources;
to acquire values related to personal, ethical or religious beliefs and to the common good of society.
I believe that we will find consensus on the goals of education. But what about the means to achieve those ends? Can we find consensus on that? Achieving the goals is indeed a gargantuan task. In the past, many have assumed that they could expect the schools and colleges and universities to take care of education for them. It is time to question whether that is the right way to proceed. Far too much is at stake for the achievement of these goals to be left solely to the school system.
As we look for the means to achieve our educational goals, let us not dismiss the schools' achievements altogether. Schooling does make a difference in society. The 1979 report of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Future Educational Policies in the ChangingSocialandEconomic Context, makes the following statement:
The raising of levels of education in the population as a whole is an irreversible social phenomenon, the consequences of which have already affected, and will continue to affect, social life, employment conditions, and attitudes to work. Economists have long stressed the widespread external effects that higher educational levels could have on the social, economic, and cultural life of a nation. A person's cultural "consumption" is, for example, closely linked to his level of education.
Apart from salary and socio-economic status, the level of a person's initial education has been seen to affect such diverse aspects of life as the acquisition of further skills, choice of marriage partner, size of family, and level of children's education, consumer behaviour, handling of savings, choice of household investments, political attitudes, degree of social deviation, choice of leisure activities, level of activity of women (other than those with young children), or time devoted to children.
In general, education increases a person's knowledge, his or her capacity to solve problems in a rapidly changing world, his or her ability to plan for the future rather than be content with the present, and thus his or her capability to make important personal decisions. In addition, transfers from one generation to another take increasingly the form of cultural and human capital rather than one of merely money and property.
The schools will try to make acute learners of our young people and adults, but the whole community, the entire educational configuration will have to share the responsibility of making them knowledgeable enough and wise enough to survive. That burden of responsibility is onerous--but vital.
For parents, it means recognition of the fact that parenthood is a privilege rather than a right. It imposes obligations to provide a loving, supportive home atmosphere with opportunities for frequent verbal interchange, safe, stimulating exploration, varied play experiences, visible support of the value systems and/ or religious belief and active participation in schoolrelated activities.
For teachers, it means commitment to real professionalism--including adherance to a code of ethical behaviour, the maintenance of professional competence and--especially at the secondary school level--apparel and language befitting the important role of guide and mentor to impressionable adolescents.
For the ubiquitous invasive media (Tv, radio and press), it means an understanding of their influence in education, frequent interchange with other parts of the education system, acceptance of the duty to use exemplary language in all public broadcasting--and open channels of communication for the exchange of ideas and knowledge to facilitate greater mutual understanding amongst all those involved in the educational configuration. The current chaotic confusion of this configuration could thus be eliminated, and the destructive isolation of schools from society ended. The answer lies in the development of a skilled, concerned and dedicated education community within an educational configuration which recognizes schools as one major medium in a common pursuit. Then, as a result of shared values and mutual understanding, our expectations of our educational system can be realistic, worthy of the past and appropriate to our future.
The thanks of the club were expressed to Dr. Stephenson by Ronald Goodall, the Treasurer of The Empire Club of Canada.