Once considered one of the best in the world, the Canadian educational system has, over the past 20 years, lost some of its luster.  Increasingly, parents are pulling their children from the traditional institutions and educating them at home or in alternative schools.  The Interim has asked some of these parents to defend the choices they have made concerning their child’s education.

Public education is still the best bet

The school yard is alive with joyous sound.  Children, faces alight with smiles, move amid the bustle renewing friendships.  Inside, new students gather near the office, little ones clinging to their parents’ hands, older ones nervously examining the unfamiliar surroundings.  In the yard, in the halls, in the staff room, there is an exhilarating air of excitement.  A brand new school year is about to begin.

Each September, this scene is repeated with local variations from one end of the nation to the other.  For most young Canadians, the first day of a new school year is a joyous and exhilarating experience.  For them, their parents and teachers, school is a wonderful place.  Whether it is a native school in Inuvik, a prestigious private school in Victoria, a Christian school in Calgary, a public school in inner-city Toronto, or any one of the thousands of schools large and small that dot the Canadian landscape, if it is a Canadian school, it is among the best in the world.

Unlike the academic mills of Japan or Korea, with their spectacular successes and their equally spectacular failures, Canadian schools put the same level of educational standards within the reach of everyone, their goal to educate the “whole person,” to inspire life-long learners.

The school community is a microcosm of Canadian society.  These are places where our children encounter the reality of our multicultural world.  In many cases a single classroom will hold representatives of a variety of diverse cultures and social strata.  Here, students learn cooperation and respect for each other’s way of thinking and living.  It is an environment geared to sharing.

Students participate together in the community of the school.  Through a variety of group situations, they come to respect that each member, regardless of ability or social status, has something to contribute.

Teachers are, in general, a dedicated lot.  As a rule they are well educated for their role.  Many spend free time pursuing courses or reading and sharing materials with colleagues to stay aware of what is current in the field of education.  Each one brings an array of talents and skills to teaching.  Of course teachers are not masters of all aspects of education, but each adds to the general pool of skill and talents within the school community.

Consider the extreme case.  A teacher gifted in the presentation of academic programs is uncomfortable with music, daunted by art and overwhelmed by the physical education program, while another has difficulty with the academic program, but is exceptional at art, music, or physical education. Many would feel the term spent with the gifted presenter of academic programs better spent than one with the poorer presentation skills.

Yet, for some students, the experience with the exceptional artist might form a life long love for art and a potential future as an artist, artisan or commentator.  Similarly, the musically gifted teacher might instill some students with a love of music that could carry over into any number of future expressions of that love.  The gifted physical education teacher might promote fitness and athletic skills giving some students a positive direction they might otherwise never have known.  The pooling of teacher skills and talents extends the student’s learning opportunities.

Canadian schools are resource centres.  They are places dedicated to study and research.  Most schools can boast a variety of materials to encourage and assist the learning process.  Text books, reference materials, teaching aids such as computers, VCRs, record players and ape recorders are found to some degree in all our schools.  Tape recorded story books, material for science study, geometrical shapes and countless other learning materials, from the commonplace to the creative can all be found in classroom learning centres.

Resources are more than books and libraries, teaching aids and computers.  As a community within a community, the school is a focus for human resources made up of teachers, parents, staff, students and all members of our society.

In many schools, remedial resources are available for Special Needs children.  Besides the regular staff, there are also teachers and staff who work directly with these needy members of the school community.  They serve as mentors, spokespersons and advocates for their charges.

A school may not be an appropriate place of learning for everyone.  And yes, it is true that today’s schools sometimes reflect the worse aspects of society, but it is equally true that they also reflect the best.  For those who would forsake the schools and press out on their own, good luck!  Bur remember, the school systems are only as strong as those who are willing to fight to improve them.  Although a country of contrasts, Canada has always been a community oriented nation.

Rugged individualism, as noble as it may be, belongs to our neighbours to the south.  That is how they opened their frontiers and grew to be the nation they are today.  Still, it is worth remembering that when the Americans began a new community on the western front, the first buildings to go up were often a saloon and a jail, while in Canada it was a church and a school.