“My son was poor in spelling, so I went in to talk to his teacher. She told me she wasn’t marking his spelling mistakes because it would give him a poor self-image!  I ask you, how is a student supposed to correct his errors if they aren’t pointed out to him?”

“My child’s class went out skating three times this week. Then none of the kids could pass the math test at the end of the week. Activities, outings, field trips…how can they learn when they spend so little time in school actually studying?”

“My two daughters have classes on peace education, sex education, values clarification, labour studies, family living, personal life management, and now they want to add ‘human rights education.’  When, oh when, are they going to learn the basic skills when the curriculum is cluttered with all these non-academic subjects?”

“My son’s teacher told me he was a ‘slow learner.’  So I took him out of that school and put him into a private school. Now his teachers tell me he is brilliant and he’s at the head of his class. How can there be such a huge discrepancy from one school to the next?”

Do any of these complaints sound familiar?  If they do, let me introduce you to the Council for Excellence in Education (CEE). Formed by parents discouraged by low academic standards and “frill” courses, CEE is a parent and citizen group dedicated to improving education in the Toronto area.

After networking informally for the past year and a half, CEE organized its first public meeting at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) on January 29. Prominent local educator, Shiela Morrison, headmistress of the Shiela Morrison School near Barrie, Ontario, was the featured speaker.

The purpose of CEE is to serve as a support and information group for anyone interested in education, especially parents. Parents are sometimes baffled, distressed, or angry about their children’s experiences in the school system. By pooling their insights and efforts, CEE hopes to help parents better understand and respond to their children’s needs.

CEE will also provide a forum for parents to speak as a group to educational institutions. Leaders plan to generate and lobby for parent-based initiatives before school boards.

The group will bring together parents throughout the Toronto area to respond to a wide range of issues. Members of CEE come from a variety of backgrounds, drawn by a variety of concerns. For some, the main thing is academic excellence. They want an emphasis on basic skills brought back to the classroom.

For others, the central concern is sex education and the subtle message it often gives to students (“everybody’s doing it, so it must be OK.”)  Still others object to values clarification, or moral education, with its implicit assumption that morals are merely a matter of personal preference, something the student may choose for himself after a rap session with his classmates.

CEE includes other parents concerned about the politicization of curricula. Political groups (e.g., women’s rights groups, disarmament activists) have had a tremendous influence on material used in the classroom today. Non-academic programmes, like peace studies and labour studies, tend to be especially susceptible to political bias, rarely presenting to students al sides of an issue.

In the past, parents’ groups have organized temporarily to respond to one or more of these issues. CEE will be a permanent organization, an on-going umbrella group to enable people with different concerns to network and support each other.

The school establishment, from the classroom teacher, to boards and ministries, to professional consultants and guidance counselors, can be intimidating to the individual parent. One way parents can have an effective impact is to unify and organize.