This month, Canadian students finish exams and begin hunting for summer jobs. A student working the counter at Taco Bell for minimum wage would have to work eight hours a day, seven days week, for almost the entire summer to cover tuition, never mind the cost of specialized or technical degrees. Students have a responsibility to work and pay for at least some of their education. Also a responsibility, when choosing their college or university program, to think about whether they are choosing a field of study where there is a real demand for jobs.
When a child's stress levels are too high various systems for thinking and metabolic recovery are compromised. The signs of when this is happening show up in the child's behaviour, or mood, or attention, or for that matter, physical well-being. Canadian children are dealing with far too much stress today.
The answer seems to be found in that old abysmal gap between policy-makers and practitioners. Why is anyone without educational expertise drafting educational policy? The actual question of who decides upon curriculum is nothing new: even the role and qualifications of teachers in this process is a contested matter.
Since 2006, Canada alone has pumped more than $180 million into education in Afghanistan, according to the Canadian Foreign Affairs project browser. Thousands of schools have been rebuilt or rehabilitated by western nations. Afghan government statistics show more than -- up from just 5000 in 2001. So why is it that, despite this decade of massive investment, the literacy rate for women is still only 22 per cent according to UNICEF? It's the same problem we've seen so many other places: failing to realize that building a school is not the same thing as providing an education.
Growing up gay and brown in the suburbs was rough. I came really close to flying to freedom towards the end of my senior year of high school when I drove off a cliff near my home. I thought it would be better than the stress of exams and the alienation I felt from being the only gay kid in the neighbourhood.
The fact is our student populations are becoming more diverse, though that's barely mirrored in the staff make-up of most urban schools. And while there is recognition of a need to hire teachers that better reflect the student population, reaching that goal remains a long way off considering the comparably low number of teachers who self-identify as visible minorities. In the meantime, we need to foster culturally sensitive and inclusive schools where student engagement leads to higher graduation rates, the de-glamorization of gangs, and the nurturing of productive citizens of all backgrounds.
For us in the West, it's hard to imagine life without education. But what if you couldn't read the words on a basic contract, write your name on a job application, or count the money you earn at work? Imagine no one in your community knew how to prevent your crops from failing, basic accounting to run a family business, or how to treat a common illness.
This past week, the much lauded TV show Cosmos made its return to the small screen. Back in 1980, I was a 13-year-old immigrant kid, youngest in a busy, working class household of seven people, and attending a Toronto inner city middle school that was not exactly a model of academic excellence. Enter into that world Carl Sagan.
Most low-income parents can't buy expensive homes or afford private schools or tutors or access specialized public schools or home-school. Their children, for the most part, are stuck with their neighbourhood school. If that school doesn't meet their children's needs at some point, those needs just go unmet.
An African-Canadian woman I know became very tired of being asked which "island" she came from. Her family had lived in Canada for many, many generations, so her answer to this question was "Toronto Island." But what happens when a child is quizzed in this way? If we are not careful, our children will learn to internalize the assumptions that others make about them.
On February 7, the government announced it would give almost $2 billion in new funding for aboriginal education. But it will take years to build all the new schools required, let alone create new community-run school systems. The real impact on aboriginal communities will take at least a generation to manifest. When next year's federal election rolls around, this agreement will provide few tangible, here-and-now marshmallows for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to offer voters.
Last week I was speaking about rights and freedoms to a high school law class. I asked the students if they could think of any laws that had changed in their life time. They knew that the alcohol limits for driving had changed. But when it came to changes that had brought about legislation against racial, gender, and other discrimination, they had to be reminded or even simply informed.
When 78-year-old Aboriginal education activist Verna Kirkness heard Harper promise legislation giving aboriginal communities full control of on-reserve education, backed with $1.9 billion in new stable funding, she choked up. "I thought I would never hear such words. That feeling that, after all these years, something could finally happen."
As much as I am passionate about what I teach, I am more passionate about the people I teach. I am more interested that they are content and happy -- that they are not under undue duress or strain; what is the point of spouting out facts and figures, as important as they might be, if the students' heart is not in it? If their belly is empty?
I've even taken to exclusively wearing my Blue Jays hat on tour. Sadly, when people see it they connect it with one person: Rob Ford. Since Mayor Ford has been stripped of virtually all of his power, I thought he may have some time to listen to a fraction of the great music that I think defines Toronto.