More Education

educationThis image really hits home with a lot of people and anyone who has listened to CBC Radio lately may have heard the interview with Pasi Stahlberg where he discusses the education system in Finland where standardized testing is almost unheard of.

So what’s the problem with education in North America.  Well, first off, I think that our education system from Kindergarden to University has been designed to accommodate the Industrial Revolution.  I don’t know if you are aware but we’ve moved from the Industrial Revolution to the Digital Revolution and perhaps we are even moving beyond that into something completely different.  To put in in perspective, our current education system would be akin to teaching doctors techniques like blood letting and thinking that we’re doing a good job.

In reality, if our current system were truly successful and designed to allow for equality regardless of sex, age, race or religion we would probably find ourselves in a collapsing society.  Imagine for a second that we had an extremely high success rate in our high schools with a low dropout rate and people actually being educated to meet the social goals that we set (that of being a high paid professional).  Who would do the work that we all depend on in our every day lives?  Who would cook food in restaurants?  Who would wash dishes? Who would dry clean clothes? Who would sweep and mop floors or pick up trash?  Isn’t it odd that we have a tendency to treat people who do the things that nobody wants to do as failures or underachievers?  Shouldn’t they be praised for taking on a task that so many of us would prefer not to do?  I have met people who love being waiters or cab drivers and the biggest problem they have is that other people see them as unskilled or lacking ambition.  The reality is, people who are passionate about their work are often very skilled but our culture doesn’t recognize those skills as valuable… unless they all disappeared.  Then we would find them extremely valuable.

In our education system we treat our teachers little better than high paid babysitters.  They are underpaid, overworked and forced to teach a curriculum designed to produce higher results on standardized tests rather than meet the needs of individual students or produce individuals who realize their potential and find a meaningful place within our society.  I think we need to elevate teachers in our society.  We need to make sure that they are very well educated, very well paid and given the authority to design education programs that meet the needs of the students rather than try to produce the highest possible results on standardized tests.  What if we gave teachers the opportunity to treat their job like an art form?  What if we evaluated their success based on the overall happiness of the students they taught rather than how many of them scored high on standardized test which do NOT provide a guarantee of a happy fulfilling career?  I wonder how many social problems we could solve just by teaching children and young adults in a different way.

I know that it sounds like some kind of fantasy that could just never be achieved.  I admit that it would be very difficult but it wouldn’t be impossible.  To make this kind of change would mean that we would have discard our class system way of thinking.  If we gave up on the idea that wealth and power are the key to happiness I think we would be able to allow teachers to actually teach.  Imagine, if they were allowed to help foster creative thought and innovation in all areas of our society.  I wonder what we could achieve.

Maybe a Different Perspective Will Help

Back in 2006, I wrote a blog post on my old website about North Korea in an attempt to put things in some perspective for those of us in North America.  We tend to see North Korea as an extremist nation with a crazy leader (both the current Kim Jong Un and his father… and his grandfather I suppose) and that may be true.  There are plenty of reasons for North Americans to dislike the North Korean government but I don’t think we really understand what life must be like for the people of North Korea.

With continued war, natural disasters, UN sanctions and a lack of natural resources, North Korean people do not enjoy the same luxuries that we do.  I don’t condone the nuclear program in North Korea but I also don’t condone the UN sanctions.  Witholding food and aid does nothing but hurt the already struggling people of the country and I really don’t think that sending boatloads of biscuits is the answer to easing tensions.

North Korea is a country that has been at war for the better part of the last 100 years.  They have been relatively peaceful with South Korea for decades but officially, the 2 countries are still at war as no peace treaty was ever signed.  In the 1990’s North Korea suffered severe famine due to weather and farming practises that are pretty much archaic. It is estimated that as many as 3 million people died during the famines of the 1990’s.  Imagine that happening where you live.  Imagine your friends and neighbours starving to death and you are watching it happen struggling to just stay alive yourself.  Imagine that other countries are trying to force you to abandon technical advances like nuclear power while you are struggling to live from on day to the next.

North Korea relies heavily on foreign aid.  The country has been heavily hit by severe storms, mudslides and is prone to natural disasters.  In 2006, storms and mudslides resulted in more than 100 people reported dead or missing.  More than 10,000 homes were destroyed and at least 9000 families homeless.  Imagine the frustration you would feel when the rest of the world wants to shut you out.  Imagine the anger you would feel as you are forced to suffer and watch others around you suffer.

Denying aid to North Korea is not helping to bring an end to any political tensions. It’s an attempt to break the spirit of the country and it does nothing but cause ordinary people like you and me to suffer.  It forces children to go hungry with no home to go to.  Imagine someone doing that to you and your family.

As I said earlier, I certainly don’t condone the missile tests or the production of nuclear weapons but in the world today, it is the countries capable of waging war that are prosperous.  The countries with military power can demand and they receive.  North Korea has been a have-not country for so long that I imagine they just want to enjoy some of the simple things that we take for granted every day like feeling safe and secure.  I know it sounds a little crazy but what if the rest of the world reached out with some kindness and compassion?  The last 60 years of war, sanctions and broken promises haven’t done much to make the situation better.  Einstein, who was a pretty smart guy, said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.  Maybe to North Koreans the rest of the world seems insane.  For decades we have promised to help North Korea and have backed out on those promises, we have manipulated and lied (read up on the US claims of North Korea moving nuclear material to Lybia in 2003) and yet we somehow think that North Korea is going to abandon nuclear weapon testing and just decide to live peacefully with the rest of the world.  The same world that demonstrates time and time again that nations with military power and weapons have a better standard of living.  Doesn’t that sound even more insane than starving people wanting to be able to feed their families and have a good life?

What if we tried a completely different approach?  Maybe we would see a different result.

Earning a Soapbox

I’m sure that most people reading this post have an account on facebook.  I’m sure that most of you have also seen something like this posted at some point during your time on facebook:


I can’t really comment on this because I realize that foreign policy and immigration are things that I just don’t understand at the political level.  From a human perspective I can relate to all of these statements and I feel sympathetic.  I am well aware of the homelessness issue in my country (by the way, this image originated in Australia).  I am certainly aware of how expensive it can be to get the proper medications even when you live in a country with universal health care.  My Son has type 1 diabetes and the costs after the portion the government pays for is around $1500 per year.  That’s considerably cheap compared to what other people have to pay for their necessary medication.  I can understand all of these things and I can’t necessarily disagree that we have a lot of problems in this world.  What I can’t understand is how people can be so brave to post this on facebook or pound their fist in the coffee shop complaining about how we need to change these things.  OK, maybe brave isn’t the right word but I’m reluctant to use the word lazy.

Folks, I think that everyone has a right to their own soapbox to stand on and talk about issues like these but I firmly believe that you have to earn your soapbox.  I have to wonder, of all the people who “had the guts” to post this, did any of them have the guts to volunteer time at a homeless shelter or even take a homeless person out of the cold and buy them a coffee or even a meal?  Have any of them organized a fund raiser to help elderly folks pay for medications?  Have any of them also complained about having to pay taxes that are used to fund the troops and ensure that they have proper equipment and benefits?  Have any of them spoken to an immigrant to understand why they came to our country and what issues they might be facing?  For all of the problems we have in our own country we are comparatively well off and I think I would feel horrible if we told the poorer nations that there is nothing we can do to help especially knowing that we depend on the well being of every nation for our continued prosperity.

I am far from being the most socially conscious person but I have adjusted my work schedule to free up time to volunteer in my own community.  I have become friends with a number of immigrant folks and I am so thankful that I have never had to live through some of the horror they have seen.  I admire their bravery in leaving their lives behind to ensure the safety of their children and I am thankful that my country has been able to offer them some safety although, with anti-immigrant attitudes I can’t say that we have been comforting.  Even with the little bit that I have done there are people out there who do far more than I could ever do.  At the same time, there are people who will complain about all of these issues and then complain that nobody is doing anything about it.

We all have a responsibility to one another on a global scale.  We have to stop thinking about our own little bubble and think about the world around us.  We can’t let ourselves be satisfied with re-posting an image on facebook and thinking that we’ve done some brave deed that is going to help change the world.  We need to roll up our sleeves and give something of ourselves to our communities.  I live in a province of 1 million people… very small.  If everyone in this province made the commitment to dedicate one hour of each week to giving something back to their community we would contribute 52 million hours per year to improving our province.  That is the equivalent of adding 32,000 full time jobs dedicated to improving our province.  The government can never do something that huge.  We have the power to do it and we have the power to make a difference.  The questions is, are we brave enough to sacrafice one hour per week to change the world for the better?

Keeping Our Kids Safe

My heart goes out to the people in Newtown Connecticut.  The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a terrible tragedy and as a parent I can appreciate how horrific that event must have been for everyone who had children at that school.  For parents of the children who lost their lives, the world grieves with you but many of us will never know how much it hurts to lose a child.

The Googlesphere is all abuzz with talk of gun control and 2nd amendment rights.  Then you get those damn smug Canadians chiming in saying “Well we have gun control and we don’t have these problems.  Maybe it’s time to change your gun laws, US!”  OK, there are points to be made on both sides.  One thing that we have to keep in mind is that legislation can only do so much.  Of all the mass shootings in the US over the past 40 years (and there are a lot of them!) almost 3/4 of the shooters purchased their guns legally.  But hold your cheers, you NRA freaks!  The vast majority of weapons used in mass shootings were Semiautomatic handguns or assault weapons.  Perhaps things like this would be less likely to happen if shotguns were the only legal weapon for civilians.  In support of my fellow smug Canadians, yes, you are right.  We have nowhere near the number of mass shootings that the US does.  Even Mexico is much less violent.  Check out this map for a quick visual.  I am a firm believer in gun control.  There is absolutely no need for the average person to own semiautomatic or assault weapons for “hunting” or “personal protection”.  Americans can wave the 2nd amendment around all they like but that amendment was adopted in 1791!  OK, here’s the deal, you want weapons?  You can have any weapon that was available to the general public in 1791.  Have at it!  You’re looking at a single shot, flintlock fired, muzzle loaded gun here folks.  Do you honestly think that if Patrick Henry or Alexander Hamilton were alive today that they would be supportive of arming the average citizen with assault weapons?  Do you really think that’s what they had in mind?

But let’s put gun control aside for a second because that’s a bit of a distraction here.  Violent attacks of any kind in our North American society are not caused by the availability of weapons. Most of us could go out and buy some kind of weapon right now and carry out a violent act but we don’t.  Why is that?  Perhaps it’s because most of us don’t suffer from something that affects millions of North Americans.  About 20% of North Americans have some form of diagnosable mental illness but thanks to our mass ignorance and the stigma that we have attached to mental illness as something shameful, on’y about 1/3 of those people actually seek treatment.  I should note right here that the majority of mental health problems are not associated with violence so just because 20% of us have some type of mental health issue does not mean that 20% of the population is potentially violent.

It’s really amazing what we do to each other psychologically.  It is so very acceptable in our society to tear people down or to criticize and make judgements when people are different.  It’s so easy for us to label people or to write them off as useless or a drain on society.  As a society, we are excessively ignorant considering the vast amount of information available to us.  People have made comments about Adam Lanza (the shooter in the Newtown tragedy) saying that he was autistic or suffered from asperger’s.  This is just further evidence of our general lack of understanding of mental health issues.  Read this article about mental health myths and I think that you might be surprised about the myths believed by you or people you know.

More than half of the shooters in mass shootings in North America over the past 30 years displayed some signs of mental health prior to taking any lives.  None of them received the proper care or treatment.  To make matters worse, funding for mental health treatment programs in North America continues to decline and it is becoming increasingly more difficult for those who have the courage to break past the social stigma barriers to actually get the treatment they need.

So go ahead, change the gun control laws, I’m all for that just because it makes sense to do so but don’t change the laws and think that we’ve solved the problem.  Not even close!  The solution is not the responsibility of the politicians and law makers.  The solution lies with all of us.  It is our responsibility to change the way we think and to educate ourselves.  It’s our responsibility to recognize all people AS PEOPLE and to give them the respect and consideration that we all deserve.  A broken clock is still a clock!