Guest blog from Dr. Kel McDowell (school counsellor)

Dear Premier Clark and Minister Fassbender. I have become increasingly disappointed with your government’s stance with the BCTF. I understand the basis of negotiation as I deal with it everyday in my job. In fact, my entire doctoral thesis was on ethics and relations – how parties must first understand the expressed needs of each other during negotiation and then strive to balance these in an ethical and fair manner. I have not seen this on the part of government during this dispute, in fact I’ve seen mostly unethical behaviour and very disturbing leadership – actually quite scary not just for teachers, but for all citizens in a supposedly democratic system.

I understand that your government is from a different side of the political spectrum than either me or members of the BCTF, but I’m not sure why you feel you have the right to dismiss their (BCTF) right to a different political belief and simply try to engineer society to be the way you want it. Ms. Clark, you have made it your personal agenda since 2002 to try and ‘eliminate’ the 41,000 people who are the BCTF – almost like a sort of political genocide – simply because they have a greater social awareness and conscience than you or your government. Furthermore, you don’t really want the public education system to actually ‘work’ as your mandate is to see more people move their children into the private education (for profit) system. I, as well as many others, would argue that you are trying to keep this strike going as long as possible in hopes that more people will move their children into private schools. Would it not be more effective leadership to try and compromise and sustain a lasting relationship with all of the citizens of BC, rather than create a lasting adversarial and provocative one with those who don’t share your views, such as the BCTF (to mention just a few).

For the record many of us, are quite happy to pay taxes, in fact I’d pay even more, if I can be assured at least two basic human rights – health and education – are secured. I am frightened by your ideas of ripping the social fabric out from under all of us – may the rich survive and the poor die. I think your leadership would be much more respected by all citizens (not just those who voted for you) if you took the high road, rather than reverting to what some in this latest dispute would ironically call your high-school drama antics of bullying your adversaries because you are in power. Why not have Mr. Fassbender work with the BCTF and not against them.

My further questions to you (or Mr. Fassbender, although he has no voice of his own, he just speaks for you like some sort of puppet) are:

  • Why are you so adamantly opposed to fair negotiations with labour unions, particularly the BCTF?
  • Why do you want to (or rather why did you) provoke another teacher’s strike?
  • Why do you have a personal vendetta against teachers and public education?
  • Was your own experience so horrible at school that you are angry with teachers and the system?
  • What is your actual stance on public education – do you see it as a human right for all citizens in a democratic society?
  • Do you not feel it is unethical to take public monies to pay for your son’s private education?

I look forward to hearing from you or one of your representatives. I don’t actually suspect I will, because you probably only respond to ‘the converted’, or those who tell you what a good job you are doing. I sincerely hope those converted people still say that in 10 years when we have become another post-Thatcher, Regan, Harper disaster right here in BC. If however, I can use my skills and education, (a public one which subsequently led to my getting a doctoral degree – in ethics), I would be happy to help your government with some advice on how to treat people in a fair and ethical manner. It may actually help you politically – how’s that – coming from someone on the ‘other’ side.

Dr. Kelross McDowell


What if the Secret to Success is Failure?

It’s a rare thing that I am compelled to jump out of my seat, hunt down my computer and blog about something I’ve just read. Well, that is exactly what just happened.

I’ve read a number of articles on education over the years and I don’t usually react this way. To be perfectly honest, I find a great deal of articles on pedagogy to be a little pedantic––scratch that––a lot pedantic. Zzzzzzzz. However, I just read a very good article from the New York Times called, “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” (free account required). Before you click on this link (and I highly recommend that you do), I just wanted to highlight a couple of things:

The author has nicely and thoughtfully encapsulated a number of the educational issues that have been bouncing around in my head the past year––into one article. Examples of those are:

  • Failure (at something) should be re-imagined. Failure vis-à-vis making mistakes: Getting better at something often involves being challenged but sometimes that means failing (at something) in the process. Somewhere along the line, a neurosis has formed around making mistakes; the errant supposition is that it has to be avoided at all costs. When did we become afraid of fallibility? Making mistakes has never been the problem, it’s the willingness (or lack theirof) to correct them. It has become a vicious cycle. Maybe re-imagining failure may encourage more students to take chances and risks, or at the very least, explore their curiosity. This leads to the next point.
  • That IQ is not the only predictor of success. That persistence and determination is as important, if not more, in helping determine overall success. This belief that IQ is not the only indicator is also supported by authors like Carol Dweck (thanks Brooke); and, of course, this has implications in terms of growing the whole student. This leads to my next point.
  • That there is more to a student’s growth than just G.P.A. “Wouldn’t it be cool, he mused, if each student graduated from school with not only a G.P.A. but also a C.P.A., for character-point average?” A very interesting idea, and one that gets to the heart of many issues around character development of youth. This also connects with school goals focussed on social responsibility and academic integrity. As you would expect, this leads to my next point.
  • Evaluating students on a broader spectrum. When reading this article, I immediately thought of Kaser’s and Halbert’s Network of Performance Based Schools––the changing emphasis of numerical feedback. De-emphasising numerical feedback for written is in line with the de-emphasis of the G.P.A. as the sole indicator of achievement and growth. I hope you read the article as it will fill in the gaps left here.