Extra Points !

Edwin W D Laryea clr-1997 DecEdwin W.D. Laryea  an educator- high school teacher and Vice Principal, former lecturer at Erindale College, University of Toronto.   President of “THE LEAD”, an educational Consulting Agency based in Kitchener, Ontario



December 1991 / January 1992

Welcome to my new column. Primarily dealing with cross-cultural issues, it will also suggest ways of improving the self-esteem of our children.  The topic for today is “User-friendly Schools”.

In this world of fast-foods, video-games, race-relations policies, and new political parties, many people find quick ways of eliminating their sorrows. And yet there is a segment of our society: the so-called visible minority group, for whom such a luxury does not exist.

These are the people who are faced with linguistic, cultural, economic, social, demographic and emotional difficulties. Several of them have gone through a change of status.

The respected positions they had in their native countries are no longer recognized. They are unable to obtain jobs that will match their skills. Instead they find themselves relegated to menial jobs. This change of circumstances is very devastating. Some do not know where to seek help. Forced to stay aloof from the new country they now call home, they become marginalized. Sadly enough, these are the role models for second-generation kids. They are the founts of knowledge and the reservoir of values for these children who hope to participate actively in the re-shaping of their own country.

One can indeed appreciate the cultural limbo in which these youngsters find themselves.

How can they compete fairly with their ‘Canadian’ counterparts ?

In my humble opinion, a stronger partnership between immigrant parents and the schools frequented by their children is imperative. I am not talking about the habitual definitions of parental involvement which is “limited to traditional activities such as attendance at open house nights, routine parent-teacher conferences, monitoring of reinforcing of school discipline policies. These tend to ‘involve’ parents in one-way communication: from school to home, rather than in a partnership where each partner is truly respected as having something valuable to contribute”. [1]

One of the best ways to establish this alliance with the parents is to make the schools user-friendly. Unless we bring the schools to the parents, schools will remain sacrosanct to them. We cannot allow this to happen !

Schools must find better ways of communicating with immigrant parents. For some of these parents, the English language is the biggest stumbling block ! Several parents have painfully recounted horrid experiences they have encountered as they tried vainly to communicate their ideas to others. They have been humiliated, abused and made to feel stupid ! The ability to communicate clearly in English has suddenly become the yardstick (meterstick?) of intelligence ! Indeed, my career has been adversely affected by my apparent inability to communicate clearly during interviews for positions of added responsibility.

What I really find curious is the fact that most, if not all, immigrants are polyglots (capable of speaking several languages) ! How many ‘Canadians’, I wonder, are able to speak another language ? Let us therefore not condemn those who are making a valiant effort to communicate in another language. [2]

*1 Cochran,Moncrieff & Dean,Christiann,”Home-School Relations and the Empowerment Process.”The Elementary School Journal,Vol.91,#3,Jan.91.
*2 A Caveat to our Critics: Please do not dwell on our grammatical errors, concentrate on the message instead!

April / May 1992

Changes in attitudes and increased participation in the restructuring of the school program, can be initiated through a co-operative effort of immigrant parents, teachers and administrators. Each group must clearly define what they mean by parental involvement, and identify positive examples as well as barriers.

Teachers and Administrators:
Answering the following questions will help you determine the extent of the parental involvement in your school:

1. What does this school mean by parent involvement?
2. What examples can you find, of parents, in decision making roles, in this, and other schools?
3. What structural barriers exist in this school to equal partnership between parents and school staff?
4. Who else has an interest in increasing parents’ role in this school? (locally, countywide)? How can they help?
5. What special efforts do you make to involve immigrant parents?

Find out how involved you are in your child’s education by answering the following questions:

1. Have you visited the school?
2. Do you know the names of your child’s teacher, Counsellor, Vice-Principal, and Principal?
3. When you visit the schools, do you feel welcomed?
4. Are you familiar with what your child is learning?
5. Are you monitoring your child’s progress?
6. Is your child happy in his or her school? If not, what steps have you taken?
7. Do you attend all school functions?
8. Do you communicate regularly with teachers and administrators?
9. Do you feel that the school communicates regularly with you?
10. Do you feel that your opinions are valuable in the decision-making process?
11. Are you satisfied with the role parents play in the running of the school? If not, what suggestions will you make?

Yes, the time has come for school administrators, teachers and other educational leaders to share some decision-making power with others in the community. The changes that will be made in the empowerment process should be tangible. They must be accompanied by training sessions for the parents, on how to interact effectively with the school


Minority Students and Self Esteem
June / July 1992

Shifting paradigms and recent events in Los Angeles and in Toronto make self-esteem discussions mandatory among people of colour and members of other minority groups. The escapades of the crowd after a peaceful demonstration in Toronto are still fresh in our minds. What were the underlying causes ?

Alienation, negative self-image and low esteem may have been contributory factors. (Let it be stated categorically that this writer does not condone violence in any way!). Some members of certain minority groups consider themselves at risk and disadvantaged.

What is the meaning of at risk? It is a term used to describe students who usually exhibit signs of distress and failure. “Youths at risk are usually identified by the .. signs .. such as alcohol and drug abuse, unwed pregnancies, attempted suicide, street crime and delinquency, truancy from school and dropping out” (Improving Education for the Disadvantaged: Do we know whom to help? by John Ralph, Phi Delta Kappan, Jan.1989,p. 345)

Well, I suggest to you that the minority status and the subsequent exclusionary practices in our society, low proficiency in English, and lack of self-esteem experienced by some minority group members are major reasons for feeling different and disadvantaged.

Why do they feel different, you ask? Discrimination, stereotyping, offensive jokes and above all the look. If you do not know what I mean, ask a member of a visible minority how it feels to be stared at in public! For those with a low self-esteem, the pressure can be devastating.

In schools, it is a fact that names of culturally different students have been read over the P.A. with a chuckle in a very insensitive manner. No attempt has been made to pronounce these names correctly; Actually, the word “whatever” has often been added to the mispronunciation – an over-exaggeration of kindness and courtesy extended to you by a member of a majority group.

Feeling different makes you look and act like an outsider. In a resource document by the Guidance and Physical and Health Education Departments of the Waterloo County Board of Education (1990) the writers Maynard Snider and Dave Schlei, expanded on the five sequential components theory of self-esteem as espoused by Michele Borba1 et al. they stressed “the sense of security, identity, belonging, sense of purpose and a sense of personal competence”.  Another writer adds “a feeling of belonging and contributing motivates children to abide by and uphold the norms and values that the school community has decided are important”. [2]

It is apparent then, that those who feel different have very little in common with the society in which they live.  There is no bonding whatsoever and as such these disadvantaged youth often place themselves at risk by engaging in behaviour such as truancy, violence and disorderly conduct.

In the humble opinion of the writer, the time has come for us, as a society, to take a stand. We must all make a concerted effort to improve and solidify all students’, and especially minority students’, self-esteem. Schools should lead the way!! In fact, numerous educational policy documents, such as OSIS (Ontario Schools Intermediate and Senior) and the Formative Years, recognize the importance of self-esteem”.  It is the policy of the government of Ontario that all children be offered a curriculum that will provide opportunities to develop and maintain confidence and a sense of self-worth”(p.4). Dr. William Mitchell, who has developed a program entitled POPS: (Power of Positive Students) states: few things are more crippling in life than a negative self-image. For kids who have a defeated view on life and a negative view of themselves, school is never much fun. It is something they endure, with the addition of a lot of avoidance behaviour. The handwriting is on the wall as far as their school life is concerned, and the word ‘success’ does not appear in it anywhere”. [3]

The big question is, what should the schools do to enhance minority students’ self-esteem? We all know that when kids have a better self-image, they do better in school.

Here are some suggestions:

1- Promote multicultural education in all schools (I will discuss this topic in the next issue)

2- Establish a school/ethnic-parent support team. Some parents of disadvantaged students have a fear (=reverence) of the school system and of the people who run it. Such a support group could educate the parents on the structure of school organization (attendance procedures, course selection, school expectations and career choices). A workshop in early September and another early in the new year could be planned

3- Select a teacher(s) as the contact person(s) for the parents of their at risk students. It is quite clear that most of the immigrant parents who are unfamiliar with our school system, are suspicious or uncomfortable with administrators. It will be less stressful when dealing with a teacher representative, especially when such a person is frequently in touch with the parents in question

4- Establish Advisory Groups for minority students who display at risk tendencies. This group, to be formed after the student has been in the school for 2-3 months, could provide periodic conferences for feedback and positive reinforcement.  The student should be allowed to select a teacher, since it may be easier to talk to a person you select.  The Guidance Counsellor and the teacher selected will be the Advisory Group for that particular student

5- Promote active participation of culturally different students in school clubs. (Advisory Groups can make suggestions)

6- Form a World Club – made up of students from different cultures and backgrounds

7- Select a Multicultural or Community Representative for Student’ Council. The mandate being the promotion of intercultural activities

8- Encourage minority students to run for positions in the Students’ Council. It would appear that most elections for these positions are nothing but popularity contests !! As such, minority students do not stand a chance. Schools should therefore find a way to give the at risk students a chance

9- Promote ‘Multicultural Days’ in the schools – not the usual song and dance routine – Let’s have more meaningful activities such as panel discussions, conferences, celebration of important days and of national days of numerous countries

10-Provide opportunities for minority parents to participate in school activities, such as the supervision of certain school events, school social committees, parents night, library supervision, some clerical chores and the collection of pedagogical materials

11-Provide role models for minority students. It is not enough to have policies and affirmative action laws where all the people in the position of added responsibility do not look like you !! The Ontario government in its wisdom, has mandated that 50% of school administrators must be female by the year 2000. Yet, the affirmative action laws target 4 different groups, females, minority groups, the handicapped and Native peoples !! Why are there no such requirements for the other 3 groups?

12-Establish Evening Study Centres – a place for the students to come after school for help. The present curriculum is so complex that some minority parents may not be in a position to provide the academic help needed.

For many disadvantaged students, it is clear that the school is certainly not an inviting place and their inability to identify with the system may represent the first failure in their lives. What a great introduction to a life-long learning !!

Let us conclude by saying that it is now critical for our schools to become caring communities because when students
feel that they are valued members of the school family, their chances of success increase tremendously.

(1) Building Self-Esteem, Robert W.Reasoner 1982. Esteem Builders by Michele Borba 1989
(2) “Schools and Classrooms as Caring Communities”, Eric Schaps and Daniel Solomon, Educational Leadership, Nov.1990, p.38
(3) “The Power of Positive Students”, by Karin. Porat, Teaching Today, Nov/Dec 1991, p.27


Promoting Civic Responsibility in our Schools
February / March 1993

In this article I will discuss the role our schools can play to prepare students for citizenship.

What is “civic responsibility” anyway ? Civic responsibility may be defined as:
“the ability of the individual to participate thoughtfully with fellow citizens in building and protecting a society that is open, decent and vital” (1)

In order to participate thoughtfully, an individual must learn the skills necessary to make sensible choices, to think critically and to participate actively in the democratic process.

The question is, what kind of citizens are we producing through education? Are our schools preparing our youngsters to participate fully in our society?

Many people believe that our educational institutions are failing our students. Cynicism and individualism reign supreme in our world and there is a feeling that we have lost our sense of community.(2) Newspapers, parent-associations and the business community decry the apathy, ignorance and malevolent behaviour of our students. “Adolescence seems to be accompanied by alienation, resistance to authority, senseless fads, excessive egocentrism and lack of concern” (3)

Even though our society may be culpable for most of the negative behaviour of our students, this writer believes that the schools are in a position to restore a measure of altruism.

After all, our schools are not neutral instructional sites. They have an obligation to improve society by graduating healthy, self-activated and productive individuals who are ready to carry on the responsibilities of citizenship.

If we agree that education for citizenship should be the primary goal of the schools, then, we must discuss the strategies necessary to respond to this important civic mission. Before doing that however, it is important to issue two caveats. First, it is unrealistic to expect the schools to be solely responsible for civic education and secondly, citizenship education should not become the exclusive domain of any one subject area in the school. In fact, it should permeate the whole curriculum ! !

Here is what I suggest the schools should do:

In the first place, schools must concentrate on the students’ pro-social development. That is “their kindness and considerateness, concern for others, interpersonal awareness and understanding, and their ability and inclination to balance consideration of their own needs with consideration for the needs of others” (4)

Secondly, students must be given a chance to learn through actual experience because social responsibility cannot be taught in a vacuum. Many students spend years in their ivory towers without getting a chance to come face to face with the problems outside the walls of their educational institutions.

Schools must emphasize participation by encouraging our students to become involved in community projects. By so doing, students get a golden opportunity to form partnerships with the communities they serve. In fact, it is my sincere belief that community service should be a mandatory credit for all students, before they graduate from High School.

Thirdly, our curricula must emphasize the social skills of cooperation, sharing, tolerance, leadership and problem solving. It is indeed gratifying that the strategies (co-operative learning, collaborative learning and independent learning) which are being recommended in the Restructuring Process emphasize these skills.

Fourthly, critical thinking skills must be a high priority in all our schools. Students must be encouraged to critically question the knowledge and the information given to them. Critical thinking will definitely enhance their problem solving skills. It will allow them to analyse and discuss their differences in a reasonable manner. In this way, students will begin to realize that cultural, ethnic, racial, sexual and ideological differences are not indicators of a deficiency, inferiority, chauvinism nor inequality. Instead, these differences allow them to become border-crossers capable of interacting with people with divergent opinions, mannerisms and cultures.

It is evident that we live in a time of increasing public pessimism. Our youth is lost in a mass of culture which promotes materialism, selfishness and individualism. “As educators, our responsibility is to educate our students to learn to make better choices, think critically and believe that they can make a difference”.(5) This means that the school curriculum must be more attentive to the issues, problems, and histories that construct the experiences of their students. At another level, this suggests that schools need to reconstruct their relations with the communities that they allegedly serve. “Schools need to reach out into these communities and learn about their traditions and struggles, share power with the parents who live in them, and use their resources to empower not only dominant members of the community, but also those individuals and groups that are generally excluded from school life”(6)

Our students are counting on us to prepare them for the future that they have to face. Let’s live up to their expectations. We can do it ! !

(1) William G.Wraga, “The Return of Citizenship Education”, The Clearing House, July/August, 1991
(2) Mary S. Harbaugh, “Kids Can Make a Difference”, Instructor, February, 1990, p 45
(3) Jonathan C.Cutler, “A Student’s View of Youth Participation”, The Education Digest, April, 1989, p 45
(4) Eric Schaps, “Schools and Classrooms as Caring Communities”, Educational Leadership, November, 1990, p 39
(5) Henry A.Giroux, “Beyond the Ethics of Flag Waving: Schooling and Citizenship for a Critical Democracy”, The Clearing House, May/June, Vol.64, 1991
(6) Henry A.Giroux, “Beyond the Ethics of Flag Waving: Schooling and Citizenship for a Critical Democracy”, The Clearing House, May/June, Vol.64, 1991, p 308


Encouraging Student Involvement in the Community – A SUCCESS STORY!
April / May 1993

Last time I discussed the role the schools should play to prepare today’s youth for the world of tomorrow, and I indicated that the schools had a responsibility to provide their students with ample opportunities both in the cognitive and in the affective domains.  Students, I said, needed to come face to face with the realities of the world. I felt that there were certain values which could not be learned in a vacuum and that students had to be given a chance to experience and practice these values. (Altruism, tolerance, caring, justice, equity, etc.). It was not enough to isolate students in their present pristine environment, commonly known as the SCHOOL !

Today I want to tell you about Grand River Collegiate Institute, a school in the County of Waterloo, that has about 1400 students, and which encourages its students to participate actively in their community. There are numerous clubs within the school; One of these clubs, the Key Club, is continuously focused on community service. In fact, the KEY CLUB at G.R.C.I. is a service organization for High School students.

The word KEY is an acronym for Kiwanis Educating the Youth. The club is part of a world-wide youth group made up of over 3,600 Key Clubs, with approximately 140,000 members in over 13 countries. The G.R.C.I. KEY CLUB became a reality in 1991, with the generous support of the Twin Cities Kiwanis Club. Twenty-six students, from grades 9 to 11 are officially registered as members. Mr. Ron Harris and myself are the club’s Faculty Advisors.

Its strength lies in the initiative and the resourcefulness of the members, affectionately known as Key Clubbers. Operating with a motto of “Caring .. our way of life”, the students embrace projects aimed at making their school and their community a better place to live in. Their involvement in these activities makes it possible for them to link their learning with concrete examples in life.

They have completed such community service projects as: collecting eye glass frames for a third world country, selling environmental Christmas balls, making Christmas cards with Senior citizens, helping handicapped children celebrate Valentine Day by visiting them and making cards for the occasion. They also participated in the Senior citizens’ Tea, held at GRCI in December, in a very unique way. With a little bit of coaching, the students visited the malls around our school and solicited prizes for the event. These were awarded to the lucky winners of numerous draws and contests.

Other forthcoming events include a clothing drive, sponsorship of a child overseas in the Foster Parent program, helping students bring up their grades (The BUG Program), an attendance improvement program aimed at helping at-risk students and the establishment of a service club at the Senior Elementary School near G.R.C.I.

However, there are three special accomplishments which I would like to tell you about. The first is the Reading Program, set up entirely by the Key Clubbers. Through their own initiative, they convinced an Elementary School Principal in our jurisdiction to allow them to visit the Grade 1 class as reading Buddies. About 8 students visit the children every Thursday for half an hour. What an excellent learning opportunity for both parties !

The second accomplishment arose out of the realization that the Elementary school in question was in dire need of books. The students rose to the occasion by organizing a Children’s Book Drive at their school. Even though the drive was not too successful (only 60 books collected), I think that the students’ ingenuity must be applauded !

The third one is related to fundraising activities. With the financial support of our parent Kiwanis Club (with a donation of $2,000), the Club was able to purchase a pop-corn machine. It is available to all clubs in the school at a nominal fee of $20 per week. The money raised will help the Club become autonomous.

It is quite clear from the activities described above that the students care very passionately and they are willing to extend their help to those in need. What is really commendable is the fact that these youngsters go beyond the passive care rampant in our society of today. They translate their care and concerns into reality. They organize hands-on activities. Their curriculum includes action and it emphasizes participation not passive learning. In the process, the students enhance their interpersonal and intrapersonal skills. Just listen to the answers of some Key Clubbers to the question,
Why did you join the Club?

“I joined because the Club is the only democratic one in the school. It is not built on popularity nor on prior experience. Anybody can become a member.” ” I enjoy the positive and the safe environment the Club provides. This encourages experimentation and risk-taking”. “I get a chance to hone in my leadership skills”. “For me, the Key Club Conventions are fun. Meeting peer groups from the United States, the Caribbeans and from other parts of Canada, allows me to broaden my horizons. This kind of networking may develop into numerous friendships”. And finally this comment “The Club helps me understand pressing societal issues and it shows me how I, as a citizen, can become involved in these issues”

Very encouraging statements indeed, wouldn’t you say ?

You may be wondering how I got involved with the Key Club. Well, I personally started the Club because, like Judy Starr, who teaches in Corrales, New Mexico, “I wanted the students to become aware of their community. They needed to realize that they could make a difference regardless of their age, sex, religion or colour”1 I wanted them to develop a can-do attitude ! In my opinion, the Key Club experience promotes the importance of co-operation, sharing and social justice. It helps develop the character of the participants. It provides the students with the knowledge, skills and values necessary to become better citizens and skilfull border-crossers, capable of interacting with people, irrespective of their beliefs, origin or status. Above all, these kids get more out of doing something like this than the people they help.

In conclusion, I urge my colleagues to promote more active student participation in their communities.

“Programs in civic education must find ways to sustain active participation and promote public forms of civic talk. That will require moving beyond the traditional classroom models of the active teacher talking at passive students about the virtues of good citizens. We need programs that require students to perform community service, that empower them in pertinent school decision-making processes, that give them practical experience, and that make them responsible for developing public forms of talk and civic forms of judgement. These will not be found in (classroom) lessons alone. If we can develop such a curriculum, it will be a powerful incentive to citizenship, for it will provide an education that is aimed not only at participation but (one) which works through participation” [2]

1 Harbaugh,Mary S.,”Kids can make a difference!”,Instructor,Feb.1990, p.45.
2 Barber,Benjamin R., Public Talk and Civic Action: Education for Participation in a Strong Democracy, Social Education, Oct.1989, p.355


Minority Leadership in the Educational System
September 1993

Do you remember the explosive riots in L.A. and in Toronto and the subsequent measures instituted by government officials? We were so hopeful. Finally, we said with a sigh of relief, those in positions of responsibility would respond to the wake-up call. We allowed our naivete to convince us that we were about to rise above the problems in our society.

Unfortunately, however, recent events at home and abroad have dampened our high hopes. Reports of vandalism, arson and physical attacks perpetrated by skinheads and readliners against minorities, racial slurs and threats in some of our schools, and stereotyping prevail. And who can forget the resurgence and proliferation of hate-groups such as WAR (White Aryan Resistance), Skinheads in the United States1 and the Heritage Front in Canada? How can we as a society indirectly condone (by our inaction) the existence of such organizations?

Imagine how difficult it must be for minorities to exist under such adverse conditions! Of course, we are expected to carry on oblivious of the existence of these hatemongers. Come on, we are told, detractors are everywhere. There are people who can’t stomach fat or short people! Discrimination is not restricted to minorities!

Comments like these bring a very wry smile from this writer. It is surprising that people can make such unreasonable statements. How can we equate hatred of fat people with racism? Let me tell you something .. racism cuts deeply into one’s psyche. It denies your existence and challenges your integrity. It is a negative experience which completely saps your energy. It is a very destructive force indeed.

Take, for example, the children of minority families. They are expected to lead a normal life knowing fully well that there are individuals out there who hate them because of their colour and origin. Conscious of the negative depictions of minorities in the media and the “traditional stares” reserved for those of us who do not look like and act like the majority, they endeavour to compete equally with their peers. And guess what? If their performance is not up to snuff, they are immediately condemned as proven examples of Rushton’s theory of hierarchical intelligence.

What can we do to correct the present situation? Who are the perpetrators of these insidious incidents? Paradoxically, “those who dominate and those who tolerate discrimination are graduates of our schools. We had a chance to teach lessons of equity and to them a priority but it appears we have failed“. [2]

Even though this writer is not as pessimistic as the quotation above indicates, he still believes that the problem of racism demands the immediate attention of our schools. After all, our educational institutions deal with youngsters when they are at a very impressionable age. “Education is their best hope for breaking racism’s chains. Yet although such issues as equal opportunity .. and inequities in educational achievement have received considerable attention in recent years, very few schools have developed deliberate and systematic programs to reduce prejudice. The prevailing attitude seems to be that society (will do) away with the problem of racism through legislative action and special programs” [3]

In this article, I suggest that Boards take a look at minority leadership as another way of tackling the problem of racism and promoting educational equity in our schools.

There are many reasons for my insistence on this kind of leadership. The first and the most fundamental one is that such a move could help eliminate the negative images and feelings people have about minorities.

Many people never see minorities in leadership roles. Take a look at the institutions in our society – the government, the business world, the movies and of course, the educational system. As such, Caucasians come to look at minorities as a group of people who serve in subservient roles only. Surprisingly, many minorities share similar feelings. In fact, a lot of students, both black and white, have reacted with disbelief and a subdued chuckle upon meeting me for the first time, as Assistant Supervisor, in charge of the Grand River Collegiate Summer School.

To many, minorities are only good for certain types of jobs – baseball, football, basketball, porters at airports and VIA Rail. When was the last time you saw a black quarterback other than in the CFL? I am told that aspiring black College quarterbacks become disillusioned the moment they enter NFL.

Minorities are shut out when it comes to activities that require a lot of money. Hockey, golf and to a certain extent, tennis. Next time you go to a game, take a good look at the people around you. I bet you will not find a lot of minorities around you.

On the other hand when it comes to suffering, the minority representation is quite high. Those starving children in Somalia, in Arab countries and in Africa .. don’t they look like you, the minority members? How do you feel when the faces of these poor souls are shown on TV? How do you feel when the media presents shows like COPS with reggae music as its theme? Do you feel comfortable when you notice that those arrested look like you? And what about drugs and AIDS? Take a good look at the pictures that accompany the stories.

Another situation which fosters the feeling of inferiority is the usage of the word MINORITY. It has a negative connotation and it just makes it possible for others to dump all non-whites into a big basket irrespective of any special characteristics which distinguish them. It is nothing but a “holding tank”! Furthermore, the word minority has a tendency to destroy reality and to give delusions of grandeur to one group of people. Personally, I find the use of the word very despicable and would highly recommend that our society should not be divided in such a way.

The conditions described above help formulate unjustifiable and negative feelings about minorities. What is rather unfortunate is the fact that these ideas are passed on to future generations. Children are very vulnerable in these situations because these negative concepts become part of their world. “As the ideas from a child’s social world are brought to bear through the guidance of the older members of the community, children come to know, to expect, and to share meanings with their elders. Children acquire scripts (sequences of actions and words) for various interactions with people and things .. Gradually, children internalize the adult rules for ‘making meaning‘” [4]

Unless we are prepared to correct these misconceptions by creating a totally different context, these youngsters may grow up to become future perpetrators of injustice towards minorities. “Several studies have shown that individuals maintain great social distance from those identified as having a social stigma or marginal status in society than normal peers“. [5]

Additional reasons will justify the need for minority leadership. In the first place, we have to prepare ourselves for the impending changes in our society. In an article entitled “Beyond the Melting Pot“, (Times Magazine, April 9,1990 p38) the following statement was made: “In the 21st Century – and that’s not far off – racial and ethnic groups in U.S. will outnumber whites for the first time. The “browning of America” will alter everything in society, from politics and education to industry, values and culture“.  In fact by the year 2015, there is a strong possibility that the same situation will exist in Canada. For reasons of common sense it is time for us to not only eliminate the bias but also to learn how to take advantage of everybody’s talents.

The need for positive role models is another reason for minority leadership in our schools. Minority students may have higher expectations for themselves if they see role models who look like them.  In a study conducted by the Congress of Black Women in Kitchener-Waterloo, many of the Caribbean and Black students indicated that they felt alienated from school because the people who ran the place did not look like them. They also indicated that they felt uneasy about going to seek help from people who did not share their values.

Most of these students indicated that they were completely ‘disengaged’ from school because “the curriculum and the personnel constitute a ‘conceptual separation’ for minority students. They were ‘universal strangers’, disaffected and alienated” [6]

Another way of enhancing the self-esteem of minorities and changing the negative views that others may have is to expose them to minorities who have succeeded in their communities. These individuals should be invited into the schools. Their presence will provide positive examples to all students.

Proportional representation is another reason for minority leadership in the educational bureaucracy. The existence of administrators from different racial backgrounds is in itself an equity lesson for students who must be taught respect for and understanding of people from groups other than their own. [7]

For minority leadership to be successful, the following beliefs and attitudes must be challenged: affirmative action benefits those less competent and less deserving; minority people take advantage of their minority status and attempts to ensure the promotion of minorities is reverse discrimination.

It is never too late for us to change our attitudes towards minorities and to prepare ourselves for the radical changes we will face in the 21st century. To do this, however, we must expand the definition of leadership to include minorities; we must eliminate the narrow definition and screening methods that limit access to leadership of marginalized groups.8 We must reverse the barriers that keep minority candidates out of leadership positions. We must increase the pool of minority students, teachers and other personnel in positions of added responsibility within the schools.

In the final analysis, minorities must realize that nothing will change unless they learn to challenge and question those in the position of authority. We cannot afford to be silent any longer!

Regardless of the consequences, I strongly believe that our voices must be heard. The future of our children is at stake. They desperately need role models. And remember, “if you don’t get a chance to bat, you don’t get a chance to hit”9 Whether we strike out or hit a home run is immaterial! All we ask is our chance to bat. That is the only healthy thing to do.

1 TIME magazine, August 9,1993 p 38
2 “Rx for Racism: Imperatives for America’s Schools”. Phi,Delta,Kappan April,1990 p 594 by Gerald J.Pine & Asa G. Hilliard
3 Gerald J.Pine et als. op.cit. p 594
4 Barbara T. Bowman, “Educating Language-Minority Children: Challenges and Opportunities,” Phi Delta, Kappan October,1989, p 118
5 Aaron Wolfgang, “The Silent Language in the Multicultural Classroom” Theory into Practice, Vol XVI, Number 3
6 “Rx for Racism …” op.cit. p 596
7 “Rx for Racism …” op.cit. p 597
8 “Rx for Racism …” op.cit. p 597
9 Mary M. Frasier, “Poor & Minority Students Can be Gifted Too!” Educational Leadership, March, 1989 p 16


Educational Reform .. is anybody listening?
Volume 5 #1  1996

Don’t begrudge me for the topic I have chosen. Of course one could write about the prevailing cynicism around the world, the triumph of social conservatism and the politics of fear. Comments about how the Harris government followed the US Republicans’ November script of scare tactics to a tee and how those who voted for him may have gone into hiding would be a popular topic for discussion.

Other topics did cross my mind: Chretien’s pugilistic skills, O.J.Simpson’s exculpation and the reluctance of the American population to accept the verdict, the Million-Man march, the resurgence of xenophobia around the world and the demographic changes that are forcing us to re-examine our goals, our values and how we define success. Interesting subjects indeed, but not for today!

The topic that won the day was Educational reform. Unless you have been on an inter-planetary visit you must be aware of the public outcry for educational restructuring. The climate of change and uncertainty has elevated the cry for accountability to a crescendo. Our educational institutions are under siege. They are being blamed for everything! This kind of attack is deja-vu. History tells us that education has always been society’s whipping boy (person?). People want vigorous standards, quality programs and quality results. All this to be done on a shoestring budget, of course.

Our legislatures have responded to public demands by establishing Royal Commissions and issuing several guidelines and memoranda. With each succeeding government, new “great” ideas have been advanced, ostensibly to enhance the cause of education. Presently, we all know what Snobelen is up to. True to his word, he has created a “crisis”. He has adopted the old colonial rule of “divide and conquer”. He has pitted the “haves” against the “have-nots”.

His calculated tactics of dropping “info-bombs” in his wake, conducting biased surveys and attempting to disregard some provisions of the Education Act have contributed to a malaise in many academic circles. People are walking on pins and needles. Is this the positive environment needed to create learning organizations?

The reaction to the provincial government’s attack on education has been fast and furious. It all culminated in the February 24th Rally held in Hamilton. Apparently, over 100,000 people (including teachers), participated in the march.

Amid this environment of negativism, it is easy to jump on the bandwagon of anti-government pronouncements. Do not for a moment doubt my total rejection of Harris’s educational policy (assuming he has one!). But rather than expending my energy on attacking him, I would like to offer some food for thought.

Snobelen’s no-sense revolution presents a wonderful opportunity for teachers to take a serious look at what is happening in education. It is time for reflection and self-examination. Our support base of previous graduates and parents is quickly disappearing.

Listen to the words of the Executive Director of the National Schools Public Relations Association “Our large base of national supporters – parents – is dwindling and some have also become our most vocal and organized critics. This increasingly hostile climate for public education is heightened by a growing competition for the for-profit privatization movement, charter schools, schools of choice, home schooling, private schools and special interest groups”.  (How Smart Schools Get and Keep Community Support, Susan Rovezzi Carroll et als).

The Harris government like other governments before him, have successfully exploited the public’s discontent with our education system. Their actions and words continue to validate the criticism leveled at us.

Listen to what Snobelen is saying about the College of Teachers. “At last we have a College to develop and enforce rigorous standards for teachers, and help to improve accountability, as well as public confidence in our educational system. This reform is long overdue“. And again, “through the College, the public will know what standards of performance to expect for teachers and how teachers are upgrading their professional development“. And finally, “the College will coordinate and monitor [mandatory] career-long accredited professional development“.  (News Release Communique, Nov.21,1995).

Dastardly words indeed! What, pray thee, have we been doing in the last 25 years? Waiting for a messianic deliverance from the abysmal depths of educational ignorance? Hallelujah!

We cannot stand idly by and watch this government exploit the climate of fear and ignorance. Our credibility is at stake. We, as teachers, may be able to inject some optimism in this seemingly pessimistic environment. What we need is an attitudinal reform by everyone concerned with schools: boards of education, parents, educational leaders, teachers, students and the community. The lead role in this renewal process must be the responsibility of those who are always on the front-line, teachers and administrators. The job will not be easy but like the mythical Sisyphus, we will continue to defy the odds.

Suggestions for Self-Renewal

What kind of strategies do we need to restore our image?  The actions of Snobelen convince me that most governments take our educational leaders for granted. Look at what is happening in New Brunswick with the abolition of School Boards, and in Saskatchewan with the establishment of Super Boards. One does not high jack the authority of those one respects. Does the government ever adopt this highhanded approach with other professional organizations? I don’t think so.

To counteract this condescending attitude, future educational leaders must command the respect of our politicians and the public at large. In addition to an extensive knowledge-base supported by research, these leaders must be capable of implementing change from within the organization. For too long our schools have relied on “outsiders” to lead the way. Never mind the fact that some of these experts have never set foot in a “real” pre-University classroom. We flock to their workshops, we listen attentively to their innovative ideas. Like Charlotte’s spiders, we return to our respective sites. In most cases, however, these experiences “boil dry” because there is no systematic process to ensure the smooth transfer of these new ideas.

Please don’t get me wrong. There is nothing improper about seeking information from those who are more knowledgeable than we are. It is our willingness to continue to rely mostly on these external customers that I find unacceptable. Why can’t we find a way to direct our own renewal process? It may take a couple of years to accomplish this by why not start now? That is one way of gaining respect.

Another way to restore public confidence is to make sure that all our academic institutions provide quality learning experiences for all our students. This may already be happening in most schools. Unfortunately, we do not communicate our success to the public. We allow the media to concentrate on the negative aspects of our jobs.

These quality experiences can be created by requiring each school, under a board’s site-based management structure, to set up Continuous Improvement / Renewal Teams. They will monitor the performance of staff, students and administrators, set stringent standards for everything that happens on the campus and develop a plan for implementation. The minutes, the working papers and the action plans of these committees will be shared widely with the community. The public will know that we affirm the value of discipline throughout the school: disciplined teaching, disciplined learning, disciplined administration, disciplined conduct by staff and students. (Ditto., M.Donald Thomas)

In fact, this sharing is vital. For, although the accomplishments of public education exists and are growing, these positive messages are not being heard in many communities. We must find a way to create and retain parent and community support. If we, as educators, had done a better job promoting what we do well, the Harris government would not have succeeded with their negative campaign against the schools. Their success is attributable to our inability to be advocates for the excellent work we do.

Our educational leaders must participate in more public forums, radio talk-shows, curriculum workshops, community info-sessions. This is a good way to convince our stakeholders that public education works. The strong partnership that will be created as a result of our efforts will be beneficial to everyone. The public will get a more realistic picture of the purpose of schooling, and educational personnel will get a chance to work in supportive and collaborative environments.

Such environments do not exist right now. Teachers are always under attack.

Undoubtedly, some of these criticisms may be warranted. There is however, a belief out there that we are easy to replace. The most painful thing is that the very people we are trying to educate are exposed to this condescending view about their role-models.

One of the most fundamental elements in the teacher-student rapport and in the delivery of quality education is what I call “teacher essence”. Broadly defined as the sum total or the embodiment of the teachers’ actions, behaviours, personality and philosophy of education, it is the sine qua non in the establishment of a positive classroom environment. What is happening to education is affecting teachers’ morale and contributing to a tarnished “essence” of our teachers. With all the negative comments our students are exposed to, how are we supposed to command their respect?

Finally, there is no doubt that teachers need support, empowerment and the involvement of parents. Our success, however, will depend on three things: our willingness to design new modes of inquiry into the purpose of schooling, our ability to provide quality and authentic experiences for all our students and a meaningful two-way partnership with our external customers. When one considers the odds against us, this may be a formidable task indeed! We cannot give up. Let us refine what we do, promote it and teach our adolescents, future politicians maybe, that the best way to deal with people is through collaboration.