A better way – some thoughts on the ‘Class Size’ protests

As a retired teacher, I relish in seeing adults I once taught as children appear in the news because they improved the world in some way. I am delighted to see them on television getting an award for outstanding work. It gives me great satisfaction when they turn up as a reporter or public figure perhaps, shining brilliantly as exemplary representatives of their chosen field. It makes me feel very proud of my own profession and the job we must have done to help those individuals think, read, write, speak and reach those standards of excellence to which educators encourage their students to aspire.

I wondered recently though, how the teachers of students filmed and interviewed by the media recently while covering the ‘Class Size’ issue must have felt seeing some of their charges express woefully under informed or incorrect statements, comment that they felt pressured to attend the walkout and did not really know the reasons, or shout derogatory and incredibly disrespectful chants about our democratically elected Premier, such as “F*** Ford!”

I rather doubt any teacher I ever admired would be proud of that . . . and I wonder if there is not a better way?

If I were a leader in that profession today, I would seize this golden ring opportunity to show a better way. I would show it to the youth. I would show it to their parents. I would show it to trustees, politicians and the media. I would get the brightest and the best teachers in this province to lead every one to a better way.

Imagine if teachers used the passion, and the intrinsic motivation of the ‘Class Size’ controversy in an integrated teaching unit in the high schools of Ontario.

What if teachers decided to run a debating tournament on a resolution about ‘Class Size, in which every student was involved in a group of four and taught the art of formal debate? What if each team had to debate the other teams in their class, and winners would debate winners of other classes? Maybe parents, administrators, trustees, members of the community and the media could attend. Maybe the three best teams could request time with our politicians and present the debates. Maybe an excellent few could deliver polished, well composed speeches about conclusions students found in their research and which they request leaders to consider in policies about ‘Class Size’ in Ontario. Maybe letter writing skills such as presenting a logical flow of ideas, backed with researched facts, as well as the mechanics of expressing them in correct written form could be added, and students’ letters be sent to every possible change agent in the province. Maybe some media people, parents or seniors in our community would provide recorded political shows on the subject, footage of news coverage concerning it, or magazines or articles which deepen the resources the debaters could use to prepare their debates. Maybe they could discuss bias. Maybe a Mathematics teacher or volunteer who is an Economist could deliver a few lessons about budgets and how politicians must work within them when decisions are made. Maybe footage of our politicians talking about this issue could be studied, and our young could witness the reality of democracy at work in the Legislature.

Maybe! Maybe! Maybe!

The possibilities for this unit are endless in my mind. And who could not be behind a unit with the  potential to teach our children to work together; the importance of knowing what you are talking about before you open your mouth or form an opinion; and that our most intelligent and strongest position is when we know both sides of any issue to the nth degree and can speak to every argument calmly, without foul expletives, and without disparaging opponents personally? Who could not be supportive of a unit that by its very nature motivates our children and requires them to read well, write well, research well, speak well, work collaboratively and think so clearly and critically? Who could not be behind a unit to teach children a better way to be heard, influence change and do it with respect?

Such an opportunity for educating our children does not come along every day. These things are called “ Teachable Moments” in the business. Wouldn’t it be incredible if my profession used it to grab hold of the reins, demonstrate real leadership, while showing our young, our parents, our politicians and everyone else entangled in the controversy around ‘Class Size’, that there just might be . . . .

A better way?