It’s time for elected local education authorities in Britain

There is a lot to learn coming from Canada about the complicated education system serving England and Wales.

Differences abound from the widespread use of uniforms, to near-universal behavioural challenges, to the fact students don’t earn diplomas but are expected to either take the right classes to go to college (a step toward university) or just drift off into the workforce. There is also an intense effort by the government to oversee every aspect of the system through a convoluted merit-pay system and the teacher’s unions were debilitated by Margaret Thatcher.

Beyond all of that though, England has never had elected school boards – or Local Education Authorities as they’re called here. Basically, the local municipal or city council just appoints a few bureaucrats to run the schools.

This naturally raises the question: Are appointed or elected school boards more effective?

Continue reading It’s time for elected local education authorities in Britain

Catholics crash poll to protect privilege

Ontario’s Liberal government has done something really cool in setting up an online database for policy ideas that can be submitted and voted up or down to prioritize what the province should be doing.

One ambitious member of a local Young Liberal riding suggested merging the Catholic and Public school boards to save money and end the religious privilege. The idea gained quick traction and made it to the top four spot.

Unfortunately, this caught the attention of the Catholic school board administration, which circulated emails calling on their staff and trustees to crash the poll, down-voting the idea. At the time of writing it sits at –220 votes.

Go to the site, register, and vote up the idea and spread the word.

“If you don’t feel comfortable with your children in that kind of milieu, don’t send your students here.”

Following up on the religious proselytization and abstinence-only sex education occurring in Edmonton Public Schools comes a quote from Orville Chubb, candidate for the Edmonton Public School Board, from his time as executive director of Meadowlark Christian School Foundation.

Chubb was asked in 2011 about a proposed anti-homophobia policy at the Edmonton Public School Board (which was passed). As head of the school, Chubb stated in an interview about his school:

It’s not that we are anti-gay in any way, shape or form. We just need to be able to articulate the moral element to all Christianity … and our Christian community is not able to accept that homosexual acts are not immoral. If you don’t feel comfortable with your children in that kind of milieu, don’t send your students here.

It’s worth noting that since 2004 Meadowlark Christian School has been operated as an Alternative Program within Edmonton Public School Board. This means that despite parent’s paying up to $1,600 in tuition for their child to attend, the school still receives public funding and can discriminate against staff and faculty who aren’t Christian enough. Furthermore, it means that Chubb’s 2011 comments represented a desire to violate a proposed policy of their own school board.

When asked by local blogger Daveberta about the comments, Chubb argued the views were those of the parents and that

My position now, as it was then, is that you cannot legislate belief. I am a firm advocate for freedom of speech and conscience. I staunchly defend those who are discriminated against in any way.

Perhaps Chubb was just doing his job but the argument that “some” students should not be sent to some schools offered by the Public School District only highlights the discriminatory nature of permitting faith-based schools within a public system.

Edmonton voters, it’s up to you to push for a secular school board. Get informed and vote wisely.

Anti-choice Christian front promotes abstinence-only sex ed in Edmonton Schools

Anti-abortion Christian groups are notorious in Canada for setting up “Crisis Pregnancy Centres” as fronts to proselytize to women facing a pregnancy scare and are unsure whether to exercise their legal right to terminate it or not. The Centres are often filled with deceptive anti-choice propaganda and mislead women.

One such front group in Edmonton, Alberta offers a program called “WAIT! Let’s Talk Sex!” to local schools, with a strong emphasis on abstinence-only based education. Education that has been demonstrated time and again to fail students, leading to higher rates of dangerous sex, teen pregnancy, and sexually-transmitted infections.

The program is designed to fit the provincial curriculum for grades 7 through 10 and they claim to have reached 14,000 students in Edmonton and area. Edmonton’s ostensibly secular public district has about 80,000 students and lists the centre as an “approved vendor.”

There is a petition circulating to get Edmonton Public Schools to bar these ministers from proselytizing to students and to instead teach comprehensive sexual education, as mandated by the Alberta curriculum.

Sign and share it now.

If you live in Edmonton, make sure you contact your Public School Trustee candidates and have them pledge to keep Edmonton Public Schools secular.

(H/t Luke Fevin)

Closure of Muslim Free School highlights folly of government policy

A bit of welcome news came today that British government inspectors have forced the temporary closure of an Islamic free school over “health and safety issues.” The school promises to re-open soon.

Over the past few years, the British government has been increasingly trying to solve its broken education system through a combination of market-based reforms. Key among them have been the opening of many “free schools,” that is, fully government-funded schools that are free from the control of local authorities (locally-elected school boards).

Many of these free schools are religiously-motivated and are permitted to have discriminatory admission policies that favour students of a particular faith. The system is loosely based around similar programs in Alberta and BC where independent schools receive a certain amount of government funding.

The British Humanist Association’s Fair Admission Campaign has highlighted that these free schools end up increasing social fragmentation and class separation, with students of higher socioeconomic standing being admitted disproportionately.

Support the Campaign for Fair Admissions

The end of Catholic Schools: Not with a bang but with “creeping incrementalism”

The Windsor Star has a story about how declining enrollment a in local secular and Catholic school boards (both publicly funded) are forcing creative solutions as funding declines.

It sharply highlights the growing need to consider amalgamating the competing systems into a single non-discriminatory body.

Unsurprisingly the local Catholics remain quite comfortable with their privilege, despite an increasingly secular and aging population.

Such integration has caused some concerns among those in the Catholic system about a gradual merging into one system.

“There is the fear of what I call creeping incrementalism,” Iatonna said. “I don’t have that fear.

“I think Catholic schooling will be around because of the desire for it from Catholic parents.”

Minor efforts are already being made to reduce administrative duplication, and it’s predicted to save the province of Ontario over $10 million. One report by a Liberal delegation suggested the total savings for the province could be up to $1.6 billion.

As local boards make this minor steps toward amalgamation, the rights of non-Catholic students to have a secular education must be protected. It’s very foreseeable that a shared Catholic-Public school would push Catholic idolatry and worship on the public side and would potentially limit job prospects for non-Catholic teachers.

Better for the provincial government to take the initiative and provide clear guidance toward a path for one school system.

Safe and filthy sex

I did a quick interview this morning for a country music radio station in Abbotsford, which followed up on this story that ran in Vancouver’s 24 Hours yesterday.

The story prompted the following email from a fan with an Ontario email address (a province that has recently bowed to pressure from religious conservatives to not implement a progressive and comprehensive sexual education curriculum, preferring ignorance to information).

Mr Bushfield. I just read on the internet that you think children in schools should not be taught abstinence and instead be taught safe sex.

Are you kidding me? It is people like you who are ruining our children. Please Please Please, leave our children alone, so they can grow up normal and not filled with all this filth.

I will pray for you.

I already posted this on my Facebook, where it received 44 Likes and 31 comments. Apparently people love the irony of filthy safe sex and someone praying for me.

Vancouver Secular Parenting Meetup

While I don’t have kids of my own (yet), I see the need for a larger secular parenting support within the freethought/humanist movement.

This is why I’m excited to be working with some great parents to start a secular parenting meetup group in Vancouver through the BC Humanists.

The group will kick-off after our Sunday, June 17th meeting (Father’s Day), at which we will be discussing Dave McGowan’s Parenting Beyond Belief. The meeting is from 10am-noon at Oakridge Seniors’ Centre. Following the discussion, we will move to the nearby Columbia Park (42nd Ave and Columbia Street) for a barbecue and picnic.

This informal meeting will help gauge the interest in this type of group and allow us to determine what kind of programming to put on later.

With luck, we can hopefully set up a freethinker summer camp next year and maybe I will get to polish off my DiscoverE science presentation skills.

Alberta Education: An election bomb?

Alberta is ramping up for an election and while busty buses and money-for-nothing schemes are dominating the scandals, the new Education Act may be the thing that pisses enough people off to actually care about how this election turns out.

Alberta’s education laws haven’t been updated in decades and given last year’s slow resolution of bring secular schooling to Morinville, it’s long overdue. Yet the proposed act is drawing criticism on all sides.

The Catholic School Trustees Association fears that this is the first step to destroying their century-long privilege. Specifically, the act will allow the government to force secular and Catholic schools to share space when necessary and to amalgamate school boards.

Meanwhile, homeschoolers rallied 1500 people for a protest because they don’t want to have to teach they’re children to obey the Alberta Human Rights Act (seriously).  To placate these religious homeschooling extremists, the education minister caved and “offered an amendment on Monday to the preamble of the bill, recognizing parents’ right to raise their children within their ethical and religious traditions.” This was not enough to satisfy those who believe we can simply put two words like parents and rights together and suddenly have a codified law.

Nevertheless, the Alberta Liberal Party (who are the fourth party in terms of the number of candidates nominated) is skeptical of the government and fears it will further surrender to the Religious Right.

Kent Hehr, MLA for Calgary Buffalo, asked the education minister , Tom Lukaszuk, whether the province would soon provide “public funding of a school of Scientology or Druids or a school for witches and Wiccans?” Lukaszuk parroted the standard lines of “choice in education” in response.

Hehr pressed further asking if Lukaszuk was “comfortable with parents teaching that homosexuality is a sin or that evolution is not real?” Sadly, the education minister either dodged the question at best or admitted that parents have a right to poison the minds of their children.

Please, listen to the answer. I am comfortable with the fact that parents have the right of teaching their children and passing on their family values, their religious beliefs, and their morality. This is what we do as parents. Whether my daughter comes from a public school or whether she stays at home all day long, I still take responsibility for teaching her what is right and what is wrong, so that aspect has nothing to do with homeschooling. That is what we all as parents have the primary right to do, and we continue doing that.

Choice in education is a smokescreen for wasting money on inefficient two-tiered school systems. Alberta (and BC) currently grant ridiculous amounts of money to private schools, which can discriminate in enrolment and hiring under this absurd system. Furthermore, the United Nations Human Rights Committee condemned the separate school system in Alberta, Saksatchewan, and Ontario as discriminatory and called for the ending of separated school funding.

It will be interesting to see if the majority of Albertans (represented by neither the Homeschoolers or Catholic schools Associations) will stand up for secular, adequately funded education. Hell, it will be interesting alone to see if any party is that brave – the Alberta Party already missed that boat with their platform [pdf].