Social promotion, the practice of not letting children fail in school even if they don’t have a clue about what they are supposed to know, is now the norm across Canada. Kids aren’t allowed to fail in school.
Michael Zwaagstra, a teacher and writer for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, offers some explanation as to why this is happening. “There is a huge disconnect between real life and the education system,” he says.
“Education is a different world.” Zwaagstra says. “People not in the system don’t realize how different a wavelength they are on,” he says of senior education administrators, like directors of education, superintendents and principals. He describes it as “almost a different planet – it seems on how they see these things.”
What’s worse, if you want to advance into administrative roles in the education system, you pretty much have to drink the Kool-Aid on social promotion, otherwise you, yourself, are unlikely to be promoted. Think otherwise, and that principalship, and its pay raise, are a pipe dream.
To most people, education is about skills, learning things they need to know like a math, science, writing, and something about their country they live in. To senior educators, the focus is on social development and self esteem.
Well, that’s all well and good for little Johnny at the age of 10, but doesn’t work at the age of 20 and beyond. What’s Johnny’s self esteem going to be like when the only jobs he can get are minimum wage for the rest of his life?
The real world does not allow for people to be coddled to the point where they don’t have to do anything and still advance. Indeed, the entire concept of 50 per cent is a pass is flawed. I don’t know of any job where you can be right half the time and maintain employment. (Well, except for economists and politicians. If they were right half the time, it would be a shock.)
Even at a bottom level cashier position in a grocery store, you won’t last a week if you can’t balance your till every day. When I was 18, that meant being accurate to within a dollar on thousands of dollars of transactions.
The workforce requires perfection, or close to it, in almost every job, otherwise you don’t keep that job very long.
We’re seeing the results of this social promotion daydream become a nightmare every day. A highly respected First Nations leader from North Battleford told me not too long ago that he and several others were deeply concerned because their First Nations students were going off to university with what they thought was a good high school education, only to find out they were woefully unprepared.
These students were victims of social promotion.
Universities, according to Zwaagstra, don’t buy into this concept nearly to the same degree and the primary and secondary education system does. He says at the university level, instructors care more about specialized knowledge, as opposed to being generalists.
However, I wonder if being accepted into an education program anywhere in this country these days means an automatic degree? If the social promotion policy extends to children, why would those who have cooked up and implemented this policy not apply it at the university level? Can you still fail while taking an education degree?
What will happen to the socially-promoted students? If they cannot succeed at post-secondary education because the system has failed them for the past 12 years, they are liable to spend the rest of their life in low-income jobs, and all the social consequences that entails. Instead of being a source of hope, they will end up on the bottom rungs of society.
A grade 12 diploma will no longer be considered worth the paper it’s written on. For employers, technical school or university degrees will be the new standard, because you’re never going to know what you are going to get with a grade 12 grad.
What does it take to fix this? Most likely, a minister of education with great big gonads to tell the educational bureaucracy that social promotion ends now. End of discussion. In life, you know it or you don’t, so, too, shall it be in schools.
Asked if this can be accomplished by a strong-willed minister of education, Zwaagstra responds that there would be massive resistance from the educational bureaucracy and teachers unions. Most people assume these people are experts, which is why it’s been allowed to become commonplace.
I would suggest that the senior educational administration would also realize that ministers come and go, and they could just bide their time until the next one comes along.
It’s going to take a sea change, not just at the ministerial level across the nation, but in the workshops and conferences and colleges of education across the country, to fix this. Until that time, we’re going to watch the students of nations like Japan and Singapore become smarter and smarter, and ours will learn how to fill space and breath air.
This article first appeared on the pipeline news website.