The announced closing of up to 29 rural schools by the Upper Canada District School Board has woken people up. Apparently many were oblivious while the education system rotted in our rural society.
For some, the hope now is if they bellow with the mob and put a sign on their lawn, their school will be “saved.”
And that is the prevailing thought in Glengarry: Economic facts (not enough money), government policies (four school boards when one is enough), demographics (shrinking enrollments) and teaching realities (below provincial average results among students) be damned.
Of the school board’s 84 schools from Lanark County to the Quebec border, 29 have been put on the chopping block and most, if not all, will likely close. Two are already slated for closing in the next two years.
I saw the board’s report that targeted 29 schools. The board has to kill the schools because none of them are sustainable. People hate me for saying this. A retired Char-Lan principal wondered how I could been seen in public without getting beaten up.
God knows politics doesn’t follow logic. The board might pull back on a school or two. People have until March to make their case.
Before the latest news, there were already school closings after school closings. The now braying mob must have missed the constant “drip, drip” of closing doors.
Three schools that closed in the past decade were within a 10-minute drive from my door in Glengarry. Two schools were turned into retirement homes and the third is now a dog training centre.
Buildings reflect a society’s demographics and values. Which is why these closings reflect something far deeper and almost sinister about society. Old people used to be kept with dignity, yes, even when dying, in their children’s homes, who saw that as their moral obligation, and dogs, well, were dogs. These buildings were filled with kids because there were kids to fill them. Married couples had kids because in those days it was never all about “me.”
Demographics changed for other reasons, to be sure. Add in bigger tractors and milking parlours, meaning far fewer farmers. Plus the many factories that used to hum with activity are now closed.
The province installed four school boards, based on a mixture of religion and language, when we could only afford one. As a result, 29 schools are now in the crosshairs.
In an interview with long-time trustee Art Buckland, I learned the extent to which the teachers’ union had taken all power away from the school board to install cost control and “excellence” in the teaching profession.
High school teachers, by law, only teach three classes per day. If you put those classes back-to-back, in Buckland’s teaching days it would mean “I was done for the week by Tuesday afternoon,” he quipped.
The union also dictates that poor teachers can’t be replaced. Nepotism and politics has dictated, in some cases, who will teach in my community. There are far superior teachers, with no chance of a job, who are now teaching in China, Vietnam, Korea, England and Australia.
A 2015 report from our local high school revealed that only 13 per cent of students reached the required provincial level for applied math. The report called that “a concern.” Really? You think?
Only 49 per cent reached the required level for writing. But not to fret, the report noted that courses like “camping” are offered to get students the required credits and to reach a 94 per cent school graduation rate.
Across the road at the public school, the cumulative effect of the first six grades of math teaching resulted in 48 per cent reaching the bare minimum provincial requirement.
That is what you get in a province that has dictated a new math curriculum that goes on the premise of “putting two times two equals 10 on the board and saying, ‘Let’s talk about that,’ ” a Cornwall high school math teacher told me.
“I get them coming into Grade 9 and they fail and they wail, ‘But we were getting 90s before,’ ” this Cornwall teacher said, unwilling to sacrifice her principles. “ ‘Not in my class,’ I tell them, which is why I won’t have a job next year. The more senior displaced teachers will bump me.”
The solution is obvious. You hire her, and others like her, and run a private school based on excellence and honour. It’s a solution government can’t and won’t deliver.
Ian Cumming is a former Glengarry County dairy farmer and now farms with his son in northern New York state.