Time for Education to Change

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I have been commenting on the public school system and how it is failing our students time and again. Ever since social promotion was introduced, students have slowly figured out that they don’t even need to work hard to pass. Couple that with a 50% passing mark and you have average graduates. Worse yet, students earn high marks despite their performance so that when they reach the tertiary level, if they do decide to undertake a college or university course, they do not have the skills they need to excel.

Let me pose a few assumptions:

Assumption One: The public school system does not seem to communicate with colleges and universities and vice versa about what students need to know or be capable of doing.

One would come to this conclusion because students who come from the public school system have weak grammar knowledge and poor writing skills. From experience, I have discovered that they are unfamiliar with research methods and research writing; they are unable to write a cohesive research paper; they use incomplete sentences and dangling modifiers; their vocabularies are limited; they cannot speak in public; they have difficulty understanding and solving basic mathematics problems, and so on. The list goes on and on.

Assumption Two: Pass marks of 50% mean that students have only learned half of what they should.

That, plus the fact that they only perform half of what is expected of them. This is alarming, because students no longer strive to be as good as they can be in school. They are content to pass with only half the marks, as long as they pass. Their ambitions are low and they do not try to aim for more.

Naturally, there are those who work as hard as they can and earn higher marks, some of them attaining the status of honour students. I often wonder about what qualifies students to be honour students in the public school system. Is it that they achieve a general average of 80 and above? How are their grades determined then, if they achieve 80% or more and still cannot demonstrate strong basic skills in reading, writing, and mathematics? I have worked with college students claiming to have been honour students in high school and being told their work was excellent, yet could not submit written work, let alone a research paper, with complete, grammatically correct sentences throughout, nor were they certain of the correct use of punctuation.

Assumption Three: Students who do not make the grade, so to speak, are promoted nevertheless.

I say this because I have not heard of any students who have failed and have been held back to repeat a year or attend remedial classes. All this achieves is send the message to students that they don’t even need to try, because they’ll pass anyway, whether or not they get the 50% mark. If that is the case, what is the point of even having a pass mark? Do students ever attend remedial classes in the public schools?

I’m aware that students who need help are sometimes sent to resource. However, I do question how much help students get, and if resource is uniform across the board. I have heard of resource where students do nothing at all, particularly in cases where students have learning disabilities and are assumed to be incapable of learning. Resource should be tailored to the students’ weaknesses, and even then, a small handful of resource teachers cannot fill in the knowledge that students should have gained over the years.

Assumption Four: The Public School System does not want change.

Why do I say this? The writing is clearly on the wall. Students graduate each year with worsening levels of achievement. Teachers are teaching to the test so that students can score well in the foundational outcomes tests. The teaching is inconsistent and the teachers are not all fully capable of teaching.

We no longer need the factory design that churns children out of school with the barest knowledge so they can find their place among assembly lines. The world has changed; the 21st century demands training in skills that are transferable. While there might be specialized skills, the basic skills still need to be taught well. Math, reading, and writing are no longer valued when they should be at the forefront of teaching. Communication is a huge factor in the working world–it has always been and always will be–and yet very little effort seems to be made to develop this skill among school-age children.

Assumption Five: Teachers are not well-trained.

When learning about education and how to teach was reduced from a four-year course to a two-year course after attaining a regular undergraduate degree, then to a one-year course, churning out new teachers on a conveyor belt, I knew the quality of education would drop even further.

When it was still a two-year course, I had the opportunity to teach a methods class for one semester, and I knew from the beginning it would be a disaster. In the first place, students were allowed to enrol in the methods class before they had taken the theory class, so instead of being able to apply theories they had learned first before working on methods, the students had to be taught theory. I had designed the class to be a workshop-type class because it was a methods class, but a good number of the students expected a full lecture class–all 45 hours of it at 3 hours a week–and for me to teach them everything I knew about teaching English. That expectation alone was ridiculous because what I knew about teaching English was something I had learned over 20 years of teaching. Also, it would be impossible for me to teach everything I knew, because a great deal of what students learn about teaching is learnt in the classroom, doing actual teaching.

The other thing that I found most ridiculous was that many students felt they were being embarrassed in front of their peers when they had to receive a 360-degree critique of a demo class. If they could not receive comments and suggestions from their peers and professor in a safe setting, how much more would they feel when faced with and average of 25 students in each class all ready to criticize them, and in most cases not constructively? Needless to say, I did not regret not being invited to teach the class again.

Assumption Six: Education does not always attract the brightest and best students.

The fact that many teachers are churned out with only one year of teacher training has a negative effect on their ability to teach. I have heard of teachers who don’t even understand what they are teaching, teach to the test, teach to the whiteboard, or even teach to themselves. Some teachers seem to be teaching subject matter they are unfamiliar with and end up leaving students without a clear understanding of the subject matter. Many times, teachers are made to teach subjects they are not experts in, regardless of the level they are assigned to.

In many countries, families have been known to encourage the least scholarly or academically-inclined of their children to take up teaching. The brightest and smartest are encouraged to take up medicine, law, or engineering–still top-rating courses no matter where in the world you go. In highly-religious cultures, the priesthood is the fourth vocation of choice. Parents ensured their futures by ensuring their children covered all necessary aspects of their lives: a doctor to take care of them in their old age; a lawyer to attend to their legal needs; an engineer to build and show off skills; a priest to take care of their spiritual needs. Once all these had been taken, the last choice would be to have a child unsuited to the top choices become a teacher. Admittedly, there are many more careers students can choose from today than there were half a century or more ago, but the elders of society might still assign greater value the same things they would have half a century or more ago. After all, having a son who is a lawyer or a doctor is still more prestigious than having one who is a computer programmer or an actuarian, assuming they understand what a computer programmer or actuarian does.

Assumption Seven: Expectations are unrealistic.

Sometimes, failure in the classroom is not completely the teacher’s fault. Sometimes, teachers are expected to teach a particular subject matter in a particular way that the teacher is not prepared to do or that does not suit the students’ learning styles. There is a problem with knowing that students all have different learning styles, just as teachers have different teaching styles. Are students expected to adapt lessons to each and every student? In an ideal world, yes, but the immensity of that proposition is beyond the reach or ability of any school.

Several theories of education besides the public-school-conveyor-belt system have been proposed, studied, and implemented in progressive schools, many with great success. Common among these theories are the Montessori approach and the Emilio Reggio approach. The theory of Multiple Intelligences has been accepted as a sound theory of learning, as is the theory of learning styles, and yet public school systems have not adapted their settings to reflect this learning. Models of the best school systems have been shown successful in Scandinavian countries, notably in Finland, yet North America has been slow to even explore these models.

Assumption Eight: The bottom line is still money.

I think that bottom line of the North American reluctance to change the way the public school system operates is money. North America’s governments do not want to foot the bill when it comes to overhauling the educational system. The cost of retrofitting classrooms and retraining educators will be no less than staggering, because not only will the public schools have to change, but the way teachers are trained must change. Teachers need to be retrained to change their perspective, their teaching-learning styles, their content learning. Too many teachers have been entrenched in their methods and adapting to new ways of teaching and learning is something they either do not want to do or cannot do.

Assumption Nine: Society’s perception of what education is must change.

Besides changing the system of education and teacher training, how society sees education as well as what society expects of education must also change. Society still sees schools the way they were taught and expects nothing to change. Probably the majority of students graduate (whether they deserve to or not) with the feeling that they are escaping a prison and choose not to look back until they have children of their own who need to attend school. Then they expect schools to teach their children everything the children need to know when they grow up, as if they themselves learned everything they needed to know from school. The attitude towards school and learning is also something society must instill in people. If the majority think going to school isn’t really worth it, is it any surprise their children do not see the value of education?

Assumption Ten: Schools just aren’t teaching the skills needed by society.

If we are teaching transferable skills that will allow students to become successful in multiple contexts, then content should not be the primary focus of education. If 90% of all graduates use only 10% of all the math they are taught, why do we continue insisting on teaching 90% of the content to the 90% and expect them to fail anyway? Why do we not teach the 90% math that they do need and will use 90% of the time? If 10% of all graduates become excellent writers or researchers and 90% of the jobs waiting for them require mastery of writing and research skills, why aren’t we teaching more writing and research? If 90% of all the jobs out there require public speaking and other communication skills, why aren’t we teaching more public speaking and communication? If everything is being done on computers or using digital media, then understanding computers and digital media should be more of a norm than a novelty.

We are approaching a time when we can no longer ignore the consequences of stubbornly clinging to an educational system that does not work. Our graduates cannot read or write or do math properly. The only thing they can do on computers is use social media. They spell as if they were texting all the time. They cannot shake hands properly or look people straight in the eye when speaking. They cannot even speak before a crowd properly. Most of them have no idea what debate or oratory or declamation is. They do not even have manners or social graces so that they know what to do with protocol. There is no denying that education is still entrenched in the 19th century while everything else is straining at its leashes, raring to leap into the 21st century.

I’ve gone on much longer on this than I thought I would, which just goes to show how much of an opinion I have on the state and quality of education today. I am certain of one thing, though: there MUST BE CHANGE.

 

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Thoughts on teaching and learning

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I have spent so many years of my life teaching and, while there have been challenges, none have been as challenging as my most recent experience. I can’t say it’s because of the difference in the overall culture, because I grew up in a very western-like setting and a very cosmopolitan city that is far more advanced than where I am now. Perhaps that could be the reason, and yet I have found such a different attitude towards learning and education here than what I have encountered and know of among cultures in the eastern hemisphere.

In the east where I grew up, education was valued highly. Good education was a privilege, because not everyone could afford it. Nonetheless, nearly everyone wanted to go get an education if they could, and for the middle and higher classes, that meant paying whatever families could afford to go to a more prestigious private school run by a religious organization. Private schools meant learning all lessons in English, which was recognized as a huge advantage. Private schools also meant more progressive curricula and more adequate educational support systems, from textbooks to laboratory and sports equipment. Private schools competed with each other to achieve the highest status because that brought greater recognition and graduates thereof were in demand. Public schools suffered because of lack of funding, poorly paid and poorly trained teachers, and overcrowding. As a result, few public school graduates made it through college or attended mediocre colleges and diploma mills just so they could join the workforce as blue-collar workers. The rest joined the workforce as contractual labourers, farmers, fishermen, house help, and the like. Even training for skilled trades cost more than the average person could afford, so many workers remained unskilled labourers.

Here, education seems to be taken for granted, not only in the public schools, where many children feel they are being forced to attend and would rather not go. I wonder if that is because it is seen more as a right than anything else, and because the government strives to ensure everyone receives an education. Even when they enter a college for technical or vocational training for which they pay a considerable sum, they seem to treat it as a right rather than a privilege. Could that be why many students, as a whole, are more demanding and less inclined to be motivated to do any work on their own? Because if it is seen as a right, is there a general feeling that education, skills training, and knowledge are owed to them rather than something they should work hard to acquire?

That attitude could be a huge problem and a barrier to learning simply because the students expect knowledge to be handed to them on a silver platter. I had that feeling when I taught a class at university for one semester, and the students gave feedback saying that they expected me to lecture them 3 hours straight, which would have been the whole period; they also expected me to teach them everything I knew about teaching–which, by then, was over 20 years of collective teaching experience at all levels, from preschool to university, including professional training and development. Worse yet, many of them did not like the process of delivering demos and receiving 360-degree feedback because they felt they were being embarrassed in front of their peer. My thoughts were that if they could not receive criticism from peers, what more of their students when they would be working as teachers?

In my most recent experience, I have received feedback saying that students did not appreciate having to do research or self-directed study. Also, I learned they were not expected to do much homework or assignments outside of classroom hours. They had 40 hours a week of class time with no real study periods. It seems like a lot of cramming of a lot of information in very little time. I know that where I came from, universities and colleges were regulated in regard to the maximum number of hours of coursework students could take each semester, which would be 24 hours or a maximum of 8 classes each week. That way, students would have 16 hours to absorb any new information, research, and complete assignments. They would also have time for extra-curricular activities. After all, we want well-rounded graduates, don’t we? All that this cramming does to churn out graduates as quickly as possible is spit them out half-baked.

Another thing some students did not appreciate was not being given key search terms for researching in the Internet, or even having to research on the Internet. Research is a skill we develop little by little, from being a beginning reader to one who looks words up in a dictionary, from being a novice Internet user searching for music, videos, and games, to the Internet user who appreciates and takes advantage of links, wiki references, and information databases. The Internet has made research so easy, allowing users to enter anything from words to questions and spitting out hundreds of thousands of search results. The sophisticated user will know how to narrow the topic down to very specific questions, or cast a wider net by searching for keywords. Who determines the keyword? Certainly not a tertiary-level professor. By the time students are at the tertiary level, students are expected to be discerning enough to figure out what keywords and questions to use when researching a topic. Unless they have never worked with computers or search engines (even if they don’t know what a search engine is, they most likely have used one if they have used computers and gone on the Internet), there is no reason a student can’t figure out how to search for a topic, given a question to answer.

I could go on and on and create a dissertation-long blog entry, but I will stop here and explore these ideas further another time. Until then, au revoir.

Stories of My Life Workshop

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I have just concluded delivering another workshop for a group of seniors, this one called “Stories of my life”, administered by the Senior Citizens’ Federation of PEI and funded by New Horizons for Seniors.

I had wanted to join Kathleen Hamilton’s memoir-writing workshops so I could just be the writer instead of being the mentor or teacher all the time, but I guess that wasn’t meant to be. I tutor everyday after school until a fairly late hour, and the workshops were always in the early evenings, so there was no way I could attend those workshops.

As many other things that seem to happen purely by chance, I ran into the Executive Director of the Senior Citizens’ Federation, whom I had met several times in the past when I ran LEAP workshops in art for a few seniors’ residences in Charlottetown. She asked if I would be interested in teaching a memoir-writing class on “Stories of My Life”, and when I confirmed I would have the time to fit it into my pretty full schedule, I accepted, since it would not conflict with any of my other bookings.

I will not say what topics we wrote about, nor will I share any of the stories that were shared except maybe some of mine, but I will say what one participant said: “What a wonderful group of women with such diverse stories.”

Diverse, yes, but also uncannily similar in some cases. Because of the workshop, the group has agreed that we will continue writing and meeting and I will continue to guide their writing as we deepen our stories and deepen our connection.

Yes, I had hoped, when I moved here, to find a group of friends–and I certainly have made many friends and have several different groups I work with on different things at different levels of involvement or commitment–but I needed to find a group of friends with whom I could share a deeper connection that included my writing. I needed a writing group with people whose stories needed to be shared–and not the literary and creative writing I do, because I have friends and a group to do that with–but the very personal writing that bares our souls to each other in a safe yet creative environment.

It seems that I have finally found that group I needed, and maybe we have found each other, because it was chance that brought me to the group, and chance that brought each of the other participants to the workshop. While we have not met outside of the workshop yet, we have already planned our next meeting and everyone already has the next writing assignment. I feel that the connection we have made is one that will keep us together for a while, perhaps even longer than a while. After all, it takes a lifetime to make a memoir.

 

To Reach the Unreachable Spot

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Have you ever seen Baloo the bear in the The Jungle Book movie scratch his back? He just about goes crazy finding the perfect tree with bark of just the right roughness, or maybe protruding branches, to rub his itchy back on. That image brings to mind a young man I used to work with at a Tim Hortons coffee shop, who utilized the corners of walls or posts to scratch his back, which seemed to frequently plague him with itching. (Is it just men who so frequently get itchy back? Perhaps because of their propensity to grow hair there?)

That brings me to examine the myriad and most effective ways to relieve that unbearable itch.

The most obvious way, naturally, it to be like a bear and find a post, wall, or doorknob against which you can rub your back. That is really handy when you’re alone in a place where there isn’t much you can use. If you’re not alone, you can, quite obviously, simply ask another person to scratch your back for you. Not that very many people are likely to oblige, though. That would really depend on your relationship with that person. (Just as a warning, strangers are less likely to oblige and might take offense, look at you strangely, or do more than just scratch your back, if you know what I mean.)

The next best way would be to find an implement long enough to reach that unreachable spot. Quite often, a pen or pencil will do the job nicely. Don’t forget to use the non-writing end of the pen, though, or make sure it is capped. Ink isn’t always easy to get off your skin, and if you had to bare your back, for whatever reason, people might wonder at your unusual tattoos and try to figure out which prison you got them in, or if you had a very bad tattoo artist. Pencils don’t write quite as easily on skin, so it doesn’t matter which end you use. The pointy tip is generally more effective. However, it does matter if you’re wearing a light-colored top. Pencil marks on that don’t rub off easily. To be safe, just don’t scratch with the writing end.

You can also use a ruler, which is longer and good for that itch which is somewhere dead center so you can reach it with neither the overhand nor the underhand scratch. Rulers are also better for taller people with longer backs. You get the picture.

One of my personal favorites is a paint brush–not a house painter’s wide brush, but rather the artist’s long, elegant paint brush (such as I prefer to use). The handle tips are very effective for scratching that damned spot, although, I have been known to sometimes have multi-colored hair in the back of my head.

Around the house, you’re more likely to find all manner of implements besides pens, pencils, rulers, and paint brushes (but the last only if you happen to be an artist, of course, or have a child in the house with a handy paint set with a brush that hasn’t disappeared under a couch or fridge or some other inconvenient piece of furniture or appliance you can’t reach under). Thinking of children, you could use their little plastic bows and arrows (if they have a set conveniently lying around) or assemble a Lego tower (again, if they have enough pieces you can find). Rummage around your closet and you could use a hanger or a mop or broom handle, depending pretty much on which closet you’re rummaging through. A long-handled shoe horn can also be very effective.

Cooks, chefs, and other kitchen workers have a distinct advantage because their cooking implements are generally close at hand. They have rolling pins (too round, sometimes, but will do in a pinch), whisks, wooden spoons, mixing spoons, cooking forks or turners, and knives (completely inadvisable). The best tool, however, is the pasta spoon or fork or ladle–you know which one I mean. It has perfectly curved claws that scratch as well as a hand–often better, because it has more fingers! It’s infinitely better than a garden fork or clawed hand rake, which tends to have a shorter handle and might be covered in soil. Just make sure you dump the pasta (or serve it) before you use the pasta server. Of course, if I saw a cook do that, I wouldn’t be likely to finish my dinner or ever eat that cook’s food again!

Whether it be a lowly pencil or a stainless steel pasta server or a fancy long-handled tangle-removing hairbrush, if it aids you to reach that unreachable spot, to scratch that impossible itch, no matter how itchy, no matter how far, then you have found the perfect spar!

*****

(Written while a student was writing an essay describing five unusual ways to use a pencil.)

Why be an artist?

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A good friend of mine very recently shared a post from Facebook where someone shared how she responded to the question of why people should be artists–because everyone is familiar with the phrase “starving artist”–and not switch to a career in technology because that’s where the money is. Her response was to invite naysayers to isolate themselves for 30 days without music, books, films, television, art, or dance–and I would add they should be in a plain make-shift shack or a blank-walled cell so they do not see any architectural structures–and see what life would be like. I agree with her completely.

I believe true artists follow their passion knowing full well that they could remain penniless and unrecognized all their lives, and if they are among the few fortunate enough to be discovered, they might earn something out of it, and possibly be revered after they die. Since the Renaissance ended, history shows that artists are among the most mistreated people–Van Gogh hardly sold any paintings while he was alive; Edgar Allen Poe was penniless, Sammy Davis Jr. owed millions–and the pursuit of any field related to art is discouraged because everyone knows most artists can’t live off their art.

The arts that receive the most attention are performance arts, and yet, unless you are a top-rated film actor or a record-breaking recording artist or singer, or a consistent best-seller novelist, you’re probably scrounging around for a job most of the time. Even big-name stars might be in the limelight for a while, but when the public transfers their adulation to another star, previous stars have difficulty even getting a bit-role and some even end up isolating themselves and living in seclusion because they are unable to live with the loss or their adoring public and the loss of their source of income. Among writers, it is no better. As long as you write books that the public eats up, you’re fine; the moment they find someone else to follow, and you are unable to churn out work that sells like hotcakes, your books are relegated to the back shelf or worse, taken off the shelves. Architects are often not even considered artists, and yet the artistic creations of the greatest architects live on long after their names have been forgotten. How many people still know that the Guggenheim Museum, along with thousands of other magnificent structures, were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. How many people can name the architects of the Notre Dame Cathedral? Big Ben? Westminster Abbey? the Eiffel Tower? I could go on and on, but unless you’re a fan or student of architecture (or a trivia buff) you probably can’t shoot off their names from the top of your head.

Non-performing artists, such as poets, essayists, short-story writers, theatre performers, dancers, crafters, and architects, to name a few, often have greater difficulty making ends meet. While a great number of artists dream that they will be recognized some day and start receiving what their creations are worth, there are still more who simply create art because it is the best thing they do and the only thing they want to do. Thank goodness for all the reality shows where unbelievable talents are discovered, but there are several arts that do not lend themselves to performance, hence more limited and exclusive audiences.

True artists create art not for the recognition they receive, whether pecuniary or acclamatory, but for the fulfillment and satisfaction they achieve from the mere act of creation, because everything they create is an extension of themselves. True art embodies the artists’ souls and the mere expression of artists’ deepest thoughts and emotions is reward enough. For their art to be appreciated and valued by others is an affirmation of their existence. To make money is merely icing on the cake.

 

On the Miss America issue and beauty pageants in general

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“If we don’t have swimsuit, we’re leaving out a vital part of Miss Texas and Miss America,” said Dana Rogers Martin, Miss Texas 1983. “It’s about fitness and nutrition. I’m hoping it will come back.”
My dear Ms. Martin, fitness and nutrition can be seen without having to wear a swimsuit! Just have a look at every athlete in the Olympics!
Really, beauty contests were created to objectify women’s bodies. It’s sad that so many women find fulfillment in joining and winning a beauty contest. All it is, is winning the approval of a board of judges who think your outer appearance is more important than who you really are inside. Western society has objectified women by extolling beauty, and Hollywood has played a huge part in solidifying the image of a beautiful woman, to the exclusion of any woman who was not white, not tall, not slim or shapely, not symmetrically balanced from head to toe, spreading that belief around the world. It was a huge step forward when women who were not white were selected as winners in international beauty pageants. And yet, most pageant organizers have acknowledged that, as an ambassador of goodwill, beauty contest winners need more than just physical beauty, hence the interview portions and talent portions. Lately, we’ve seen more women competing who’re smarter and more accomplished than in the past, which is a good sign. Removing the swimsuit competition acknowledges that women don’t need to expose themselves to show how beautiful, healthy, talented, and smart they are, and how they can be the best goodwill ambassadors to travel the world over. But really, I think that a truly progressive century will be one where there is no need for beauty pageants or swimsuit competitions.

On the Roseanne Barr and Samantha Bee controversies…

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There is nothing wrong with saying it like it is. There is no reason, however, to be offensive, abrasive, insulting, or rude. Some people just didn’t learn their manners. Some people just don’t care how what they say or do affects others. Some people think they sound smart and good and sassy, which is not really smart or good. Some people think they can get away with saying and doing anything they want because of their social status, wealth, or popularity.
 
I am so glad people are calling them out on their behavior and taking action. It’s just showing the world that we don’t have to listen to people who are loud and bullies. We don’t need to listen to people who are insulting or offensive. There is enough negativity in the world. There are better, more tactful, and subtle ways to get the point across. Let’s stop feeding our children and grandchildren with this permissive acceptance of what really is crude and low-brow entertainment.
 
Do we really want to live in a world where people exchange expletives in normal discourse? Where people barrel ahead, do what they want, and get what they want just because nobody wants to be their next target? The world does not need bullies. Many of us would have grown up with greater confidence and more spectacular achievements if we were not bullied in childhood.
Take it from someone who was bullied throughout her childhood.

Why did Health PEI Board of Directors resign?

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This article was in the local news today — http://www.theguardian.pe.ca/news/local/updated-entire-health-pei-board-of-directors-resigns-over-concern-with-government-direction-212349/

 

Okay, first of all, this article says the changes will align Health PEI with other systems across the country; second, the changes will increase accountability within the health care system; third, they will create stronger linkages to community; fourth, they will clearly define roles and responsibility for both the ministry and the health authority. I don’t see how any of that is bad. No healthcare system should be isolated from the people they serve; no healthcare system should exist without great accountability, since our lives depend on it; no healthcare system (or any other system) should operate without clearly defined roles and responsibilities.

While MacBeath thinks Health PEI has done a phenomenal job in creating a single and unified health system for the island, that does nothing for the actual delivery of health services. Ask any islander who has sat in the emergency waiting room for anywhere from 3 to 12 hours before being seen by a doctor or even a nurse; emergency room intake clinics with only one in operation; emergency room doctors being caught asleep instead of attending to patients; emergency room staff chatting or doing things other than attending to patients, while patients wait to be seen; patients with critical symptoms who are sent home; patients who are unable to make an appointment with their family doctors without having to wait anywhere from one week, if they are fortunate, to three weeks, a month, or even more if not — usually, by then, the conditions patients need to consult their doctors about could have worsened considerably or disappeared; islanders who still do not have a family doctor despite having grown up on the island; family doctors who do not listen to their patients’ concerns and dismiss them summarily without even checking them; the conspicuous lack of specialists; the inability to keep emergency rooms open 24/7 all over the island; the inability to be admitted into a nursing home or long-term care facility without a waiting list; the absence of dental care for all islanders; the limited vision care; the lack of mental health professionals; and the list goes on — as far as I am concerned, these all sound like gross mismanagement and an inability to deliver quality services worthy of a first-world nation, in which case it is a good thing the board has resigned.

Don’t get me wrong. I respect and admire doctors for their skill and their service. I grew up around hospitals and physicians in a third-world country where I never had to wait more than an hour, at the worst, in an emergency room in a private hospital where my health insurance covered everything; where I could see my family doctor on the same day I showed up at the clinic; where specialists were not difficult to find or access. I’m not saying that system was perfect, because most health care was private, and what was provided by the government was equally excellent if difficult to access because of the sheer density of the population being served.

I am fortunate to have a caring, concerned family doctor–I am fortunate that I already have a family doctor! I am fortunate that I have not had to be a frequent visitor to the emergency room, and the few times I had to go on my own, without being brought by an ambulance, I had to wait no more than an hour before an intake nurse saw me and only somewhere between three to six hours before a doctor saw me.

I wonder how doctors and nurses can take an oath to heal and serve yet tolerate this appalling lack of quality service or even selflessness that is needed in their professions. I wonder why it is so difficult new doctors or doctors from out-of-province to set up a practice here. I wonder why some doctors are able to tuck away over a million dollars in salaries and vacation once or twice a year, leaving patients without anyone to see. I wonder why booking with some specialists has to be done up to a year in advance. I wonder why islanders even have to go off island to see certain types of specialists. I wonder why there is an ambulatory clinic where you can’t just ambulate in to be seen when you have the time or the need for attention to something that is not an emergency. I wonder why we can’t communicate directly with our doctors by email — they don’t even give out their email.

If copying the systems in other provinces brings us up to the standards of other provinces so that ER waiting times can be cut down to an hour or less; so that every islander has a family doctor; so that ERs are open 24/7 all over the island; so that patients always see their health service professionals genuinely concerned about their health instead of idling away time while ER patients wait; so that triage procedures are followed; so that we have all the specialists we need on island; so that every member of the healthcare system is accountable to the islanders , whose taxes pay their salaries; so that hospitals are operated with absolute efficiency and no complexity — because the best management system is that which makes the complex seem effortless and simple, rather than cumbersome and difficult. If the health care system is delivered by the government, then by all means, it should be directed by the government. Why should they resist improvement and change, when it is crystal clear to every islander that it needs improvement and change? A mass resignation like this shows a lack of concern for the community they should be serving.

Let them be reminded of the Hippocratic Oath they swore to, which, nowhere, says that they should enrich themselves, vacation in southern countries, limit access to their services, and allow patients to wait hours on end suffering varying degrees of pain, discomfort, and anxiety from simply not being attended to.

A Modern Version of the Hippocratic Oath

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

Diatribe over.

Stepping into Their Shoes: An Encounter with Immigrant Women

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On the evening of April 21, 2018, at The Guild in Charlottetown, I met eight immigrant women who told their stories in front of a full house. The women were part of a teaching initiative founded in Toronto in 2011, and directed by novelist Katherine Govier, who taught writing workshops to help immigrant women improve their written and spoken English. In the process, the women wrote their stories—centered on shoes, because the project’s home is in a shoe museum and it was the one condition required so they could hold workshops on the museum premises for free. Thus, The Shoe Project was born.

 

The women shared how they arrived in Canada between 2003 and 2017 at different stages of life for various reasons, from love to the pursuit of a better life to seeking refuge from war and strife. Each woman’s story was different and yet the same, because each woman’s story spoke of the same struggle and trauma experienced when a life is uprooted and transplanted in an alien environment. The women were from different countries—Syria, Iran, China, South Korea, Colombia, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Tibet—and all were old enough to understand the change, the necessity to leave their old lives and start new ones in a new country. They were old enough to remember all the friends, family, memories, and possessions left behind. Several were successful professional women whose careers were abandoned because their new nation would not recognize their credentials and required complete re-education—something that would take too much time, money, and effort; something that these women did not have the luxury to choose because they had to obtain gainful employment almost as soon as they landed. Employment that often would have been considered demeaning and beneath their station in life in their home country. Despite the difficulty, pain, and depression, these women forged on, put on brave faces, and claimed Canada as their new home, whether in Halifax, Calgary, or Toronto. They created new memories and while they continue to struggle with pain, depression, and trauma, they have found humour, love, and community.

I was eager to attend this performance because I knew their stories would be my story, and I was not wrong. Each story touched a raw nerve in me because I, too, was an immigrant to Canada and still feel what Govier has called a lifelong process of adjustment. I was glad to see so many immigrants in the audience as well, because these were their stories too, and hearing these eight brave women speak was almost as if they were speaking for us. I am glad this project exists because the voices of immigrants need to be heard, especially the voices of immigrant women, who are often unable to express themselves, let alone tell their stories. I am glad there were so many people in the audience and that the performance is touring the country because Canadians need to hear these stories and acquire greater understanding and compassion for immigrants. In most cases, Canadians born in country and who have lived in Canada all their lives will never be able to truly understand or imagine the experience of being an immigrant, let alone a refugee. Stories generated by initiatives such as The Shoe Project are a powerful way to provide others with a glimpse into what immigrants go through just to fit in and adapt to their new country. Hopefully, this will open up the eyes of decision-makers, employers, and policy-makers who persist in antiquated policies and practices that instantly discriminate against immigrants. I was once told it normally takes about 10 years before an immigrant is fully assimilated into the (PEI) community. Not every immigrant can or will wait that long. It is time people step into the shoes of immigrants, even if only for an evening, because an evening can stretch into forever.

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Why PEI Needs Real Math Teachers in Elementary Schools

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It’s been a while since I last posted an article, a whole month and some days to be precise.  I must apologize. Besides preparing for the Seniors College class on stories by Alice Munro, which began three weeks ago and will be in its fourth week Tuesday, I spent every minute of my spare time researching and preparing materials for a Math Camps program for grades 1-12 for the LDAPEI, where I tutor everyday after school. Yup, my main occupation at the moment is tutoring, which is both a good thing and a sad thing. Good, because students who need help and are struggling with reading and math, regardless of whether they have a learning disability or not, get the help they need. Sadly, there are just not enough tutors to help everyone. But that’s not the sad thing. The sad thing is that there are so many students who need the help, and these aren’t just students with learning disabilities, particularly when it comes to math. In my years of subbing and tutoring, I’ve encountered students who insist on performing basic math operations the wrong way because their teacher taught them that was how to do it. Those students will have to unlearn those wrong procedures and relearn the right way; meanwhile, they will experience frustration because they will never get the answers right. I discovered elementary schools do not have math majors teaching math, hence the development of concepts and skills is not approached the way teachers trained specifically to teach math would teach. Where I grew up, we always had a dedicated period for math only and math teachers who were math majors or minors teaching math in grade school; in higher grades, our math teachers had majored in math and were trained to teach math. The basic concepts were ingrained in us so that by the time we were in seventh grade, we had mastered all basic operations and knew our multiplication, addition, division, and subtraction forwards and

Good, because students who need help and are struggling with reading and math, regardless of whether they have a learning disability or not, get the help they need. Sadly, there are just not enough tutors to help everyone. But that’s not the sad thing. The sad thing is that there are so many students who need help, and these aren’t just students with learning disabilities, particularly when it comes to math. (I’ve a different rant for students who don’t learn correct grammar and spelling!)

In my years of subbing and tutoring, I’ve encountered students who insist on performing basic math operations the wrong way because their teacher taught them that was how to do it. Those students will have to unlearn those wrong procedures and relearn the right way; meanwhile, they will experience frustration because they will never get the answers right. I discovered elementary schools do not have math majors teaching math, hence the development of concepts and skills is not approached the way teachers trained specifically to teach math would teach. This is definitely a call-out to PEI’s Department of Education and Early Childhood Development: Kids are bad at math because they’re not taught the right way, they don’t have the proper foundational training. Kids need real math teachers from the very start so they develop sound concepts correctly. Kids need real math teachers throughout elementary school because these are the foundational years. If they don’t learn it right at the start, they’ll have difficulty understanding concepts that build on the basics. It’s not like there aren’t any math majors available. If you can get specialized teachers for music and gym, why not math? Math is an essential skill to real life because math concepts are relevant to nearly everything they will encounter.

Where I grew up, we always had a dedicated period for math only and math teachers who were math majors or minors teaching math in grade school; in higher grades, our math teachers had majored in math and were trained to teach math. The basic concepts were ingrained in us so that by the time we were in seventh grade, we had mastered all basic operations and knew our multiplication, addition, division, and subtraction forwards and backwards. We were ready for algebra, geometry, and trigonometry–the basis of pre-calculus, which students in senior high need to understand to complete their GED requirements. If the foundation is weak, students will have greater difficulty coping as the concepts become more complex and the calculations become more complicated. By then, students will have a greater dislike for math than at the onset because of repeated failure and lack of understanding. That is where the idea of Math Camps came from–giving students the opportunity to encounter math in friendly, fun, and practical

If the foundation is weak, students will have greater difficulty coping as the concepts become more complex and the calculations become more complicated. By then, students will have a greater dislike for math than at the onset because of repeated failure and lack of understanding. That is where the idea of Math Camps came from–giving students the opportunity to encounter math in friendly, fun, and practical acpplications that reinforce the basics. And yes, that’s because I was a math major and a teacher trained to teach math before I decided to focus on writing and literature. Math rant over.