Featured Blogger Posts
Posts originally written by featured Ontario educator bloggers.
In this episode of In Conversation with Stephen Hurley, Stephen speaks with Joel Westheimer, the University Chair of Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa. In this conversation we explore the power of connecting music education with the teaching of history.
ecooorg / Featured Blogger Posts / @stephen_hurley, 18botw04, Hall-Dennis Report, Living and Learning: The Report of the Provincial Committee on Aims and Objectives of Education in the Schools of Ontario, Stephen Hurley /
The beginning of a New Year is traditionally a time for us to look forward–to lean into the future with enthusiasm and vigor. For many, January 2nd is a day to begin in earnest those habits, routines and practices that are going to help us move forward in both our personal and professional lives. Like many of you, I relish the opportunity to refresh, if not reboot, as we turn another calendar page and begin another year!
When it comes to education and, specifically, education in my home province of Ontario, 2018 calls us to look back as well. It was 50 years ago this year that the release of the Living and Learning: The Report of the Provincial Committee on Aims and Objectives of Education in the Schools of Ontario was released. Commonly referred to as the Hall-Dennis Report, after the co-chairs of the Committee, Mr. Justice E. M. Hall and Mr. L. A. Dennis, the report’s recommendations initiated a series of changes, many of which still weigh on the minds of parents and educators throughout the province.
In many respects, 1968 was a hopeful, if not aspirational time in Ontario and, indeed, throughout Canada. The country had just completed a year of Centennial celebration and hosted one of the century’s most successful International and Universal Expositions (Expo 67). The Toronto Maple Leafs were fresh off a Stanley Cup win and, south of the border, the Apollo space program was capturing the imaginations of people all over the world.
Of course, it was also a time of great social movement, accompanied by violent riots, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and the escalation of the Vietnam War under U.S. President Johnson.
I was in Grade 4 at the start of 1968 and, although I remember news reports that chronicled all of these events, they now all blend together into a type of backdrop against which we all, myself included, lived our young lives.
Personally, the first indication that something was happening on the education front was when I spent the summer of 1968 hanging out in the school yard down the street watching a new addition being built. As the construction project was nearing completion I remember peering through the windows on a Saturday morning (there was no sign of the construction crew) to realize that all that seemed to exist was one big open space. It was the biggest classroom that I had ever seen! I was even more surprised when I walked into my new grade 5 classroom on the first day of school that September to find that no walls had been erected. It was still the same big open space, filled with movable book shelves, trapezoid tables, brand new carpet and a sense that something different was about to happen.
As a young student, I knew nothing of the work of the Living and Learning committee, nothing of the conversations and debates that must have accompanied the transition and nothing of the upheaval caused by the new approaches that were to define Ontario education for the next several years.
But now, some 50 years later, I feel compelled to find out more. I sense that our current conversations on the future of education in Ontario and beyond, need to be informed by the work of Mr. Hall, Mr. Dennis and the other committee members. So, in the weeks and months that are about to unfold as 2018, journey with me as we take a look back at that rather heady time in Ontario education. But let’s avoid the tendency to remember 1968 in nostalgic or even sentimental terms. And let’s not start the hand-wringing about an experiment that failed. But let’s look at the context of the period, the impetus for the review and the principles expressed in the report.
And let’s use this anniversary year as a time to check our own assumptions, principles and beliefs about education as we lean into another year of personal and professional growth.
I believe that all of this talk of literacy is wearing a little thin. The once effective (perhaps) technique of identifying anything worthy of our attention as a literacy is becoming tiresome, if not annoying. It’s manipulative and it has to stop. We’re being forced into a shallow definition of a powerful word and I’m fearful that, if everything becomes a literacy, then nothing does.
I want to make my case for a more reserved and thoughtful approach to literacy, but I would like to divide that case up across a few blog entries. I hope that my reader(s) might indulge me just a little.
I had two audio experiences this week that caught my attention and had me immediately reaching for my spool of connective thread.
The first was an episode of Ideas with Paul Kennedy. It came up rather randomly on my playlist as I took to the ice for a daily skate at the local arena. Canadian anthropologist, Wade Davis, was making a very compelling case for why, in this era of disconnection and disunity, we should be paying more attention to the values, the voices, the stories and the language of our Indigenous people.
The next day, I was listening intently as Aviva Fudem and Simone Spiegel were unpacking the word literacy on their weekly Beyond Words Radio show (on voicEd Radio of course), and I found myself becoming rather passionately involved in the conversation. I’m fortunate that Aviva and Simone invite me to do a little live debriefing after each show, so I was able to explore some ideas with them immediately.
Here is the entire show, and I’ve added a little voicEd marker where I come in to the show:
I believe that learning to encode our thoughts, values and, most important, our stories in an accepted and useful system of communication is essential to life in a community and in a culture. I also believe that learning to decode and, in the process, make sense of what others have encoded is central to the process of communicating, both in the short- and long-term.
A first step in being literate and living in a society that is considered literate is agreeing on and being conversant with the tools of meaning-making. In most cultures, that means learning to read and write at relatively young ages. That’s the decoding and encoding part. For many children, it’s a process that seems to come naturally. For others, it requires additional support. But it is, arguably, one of the primary responsibilities of schools.
But I believe that there is a deeper sense to literacy, and one that we run the risk of overlooking if we’re not careful. It has to do with what is being encoded and, as a result, decoded–in our schools, in our communities and in our wider world. What values and beliefs are being given priority in the process of teaching our children to read and write. What stories are being shared in our quest to become a more literate society? Whose stories are not being shared? And in not sharing them, what important wisdom is being “lost in translation”?
Our literacy landscape has become much too noisy and, before we look to add one more thing to it, let’s pause to think about what we may be pushing to the side as we clear the path from one more pet project-that-needs-to-become-a-literacy. Let’s dig deep and ask ourselves some important questions about the values and the stories that become wrapped up in the language(s) that we use.