CHALLENGE FOR THE FUTURE!
G. Llewellyn Parsons
There has been during the past decade much discussion about the merits of the partnership of church and state in the governance of education in this Province. Some would contend that the system should be dismantled and a purely non-sectarian 'public school' system put in place. Most of the evidence seem to support the view that the present system can evolve and can be improved to promote the interests of all our people if we sincerely work together to identify and resolve the problems being encountered.
One obvious problem in the partnership between church and state has been the perceived "balkanization" of denominations and groups of denominations in providing their own schools when in many cases one common school with shared facilities could have been provided. These types of joint service schools could, through good will and cooperation among boards, communities and Denominational Educational Councils, be effected in many areas of the province where economics or population do not warrant the building of separate schools. In this regard I believe that the Schools' Acts and the Department of Education Acts for the Province should be revised and changed to permit and encourage any school boards or groups of boards that have districts coinciding geographically in whole or in part to make arrangements for the establishment and maintenance of a joint service school in any locality where conditions justify and that proper legal provisions be made to safeguard the accommodation of traditional values and religious preferences of our Newfoundland people.
Such cooperation will mean a change of attitudes on the pan of the churches, administrators, and particularly among communities as Austin Harte's research indicates. The actions and process that churches, administrators, and teachers need to initiate to change attitudes in communities in favour of cooperation in education will include:
- developing goodwill among various groups;
- demonstrating the positive outcomes of working together;
- making provisions in the school for the teaching of religion and values relevant to all members of the community;
- showing kindness, love, respect and loyalty and demonstrating tolerance; increasing communications with all role senders to the school and community - the parents, the churches, the teachers, and administrators;
- attempting to change 'decision-making at the top', 'institutional control', or 'fishing admiral' syndrome by encouraging all people to participate in decision-making;
- learning more about the role that the churches do play and can play in education;
- emphasizing in all aspects of education cooperation rather than competition. Emphasis should not be placed on one denomination "outshining" another in the community but rather how can educational needs of all best be achieved;
- taking initiatives in promotion of sharing of facilities - specialist teachers, special education programs, bussing, etc.;
- helping members of the community to question the need for new facilities when adequate facilities which can be shared are already available;
- providing opportunities for students of different faiths to work together; having exchange visits among schools whenever possible;
- concentrating on developing a more viable curriculum for the school in the community in the areas of communications, environmental studies, humanities and the pure and applied sciences.
In the social context of our educational institutions I see four challenges which we as educators should seek to address. They are (1) the challenge of participation, (2) the challenge of a new economy and entrepreneurship, (3) the challenge of excellence in education, and (4) the challenge of character formation.
1. The Challenge of Participation and Cooperation
What I am talking about here is the challenge of doing things ourselves rather than having things done to us, that is, learning to effect change rather than being moulded by outside forces. By tradition In this Province we have become used to decision-making at the top and by an outside authority. Even though we may complain about edicts from government or textbooks foisted upon us from other agencies, yet all too often we have not participated in or taken the steps that would make us the creators of the act. The process of education should prepare us to think for ourselves, to share ideas, to make and create for ourselves, to effect things which are relevant to our lives. Life is not something that is done to us; rather it is something that we make out of what we have. In educating our students we need to provide them with the knowledge and skills so that they can effect change rather than have change happen to them. This will mean providing them with marketable skills in the labour market so that they can 'learn to labour truly to get their own living' rather than be dependent upon the labours of others or to 'rub the paint off the government store'.
The administrator, the teacher, the parent must also accept this challenge of participation and cooperation. It is not sufficient for them to state that the alms and goals for Newfoundland education are worthy aims and goals (which they are) and merely accept them as givens - they have to examine and re-examine them in the light of present needs of students. Management in an organization may be little more than routines and bureaucratic behaviours but leadership in administering a school means discussing issues, participating in and guiding the school in achieving its declared goals. Vibrant, active, energetic leadership is really needed in our school systems.
Yet there is much evidence of leadership in our schools today as compared to that of the past. You will notice from Harte's history of education in Newfoundland and Labrador that when legislative grants for education were split between Catholics and Protestants in 1843 no provisions were made for those groups to unite or cooperate where need arose. Again, in 1876 with the division of the legislative grants for education among Anglicans, Methodists, Wesleyan and Catholics and other groups with a visible church, no provisions were made for sharing of facilities or services. Similarly, with the Education Acts of 1968 and 1969 no provision was made for the sharing of facilities and services among Catholics, Pentecostalists, the Integrated Groups of Churches, the Seventh-Day Adventists, or any other body. As Harte points out in his study, boards in the past have been slow to take advantage of interdenominational cooperation. However, in the 1990's religions must cooperate, work together and share facilities If all our children are to have access to the kind of education they need.
2. The Challenge of Economics and the New Entrepreneurship
The structure of economic life in Newfoundland, Canada, and the world has changed in regard to how it makes use of its material, human and natural resources. Today every country or area is interdependent one upon the other. A province's success in the economic field depends upon Its relations to other parts of the world and how well It has prepared Its citizens to make use of the resources upon which it and others depend. I have stated before that today a student must be well-prepared in communications, in environmental studies, in the humanities, and In the pure and applied sciences but he/she must be able to apply the knowledge and skills gained from these branches to the economic and working life. Education, again, must prepare a person for family living, for community living and for the leisure life; but it must also prepare that person for the working life. In this Province of Newfoundland and Labrador we have bountiful resources; let us as educators provide our students with the knowledge and skills to make the best economic use of them. To do this we need to develop schools that are more comprehensive in nature with broad programs not only in the academics but also in vocational, technical, commercial and aesthetic areas. It Is a challenge but It must be done.
The development of more positive attitudes as to what education can do for this Province in terms of economics and entrepreneurship Is essential; for education has the power to cure most of our social and economic ills.
3. The Challenge of Excellence in Education
In the 1980's in Newfoundland and Labrador, scarcely more than fifty percent of our students successfully completed a secondary school education in any form. In the 1990's let us as educators strive to accept each student where he/she is and bring him/her along as far as each can go in terms of his/her needs, interests and abilities. If we can modify and provide the facilities and opportunities I see no reasons why all of our students cannot successfully complete a secondary school program in the areas of communications, environmental studies, the humanities and the sciences according to the talents and abilities the Creator has given them.
Recognition of varying talents and abilities will mean diversity of programs in education. It will mean developing curricula that are relevant to the student, to the community and to the Province. It will not mean a dependence upon curricula developed elsewhere that may be unrelated to our aims, goals and objectives.
4. The Challenge of Character Formation
I believe that school is a place where educators and students can create an atmosphere in which human, moral, ethical and spiritual values can be manifested, discussed, and evaluated. There is a need throughout the school system to help students respect all life not just the human but all living creatures. One task of the school is to teach people to live together and to share one with another in their common humanity. The less we separate out people the better will be the chance to share and to learn from that common humanity.
Someone has said that:
"Every person comes to earth with a message for the human race; he must deliver it or he shall have lived in vain".
It is up to us in this Province to demonstrate how, through sharing
and Cooperation, our school systems can be improved.
*The above is based on a summary paper presented at the Fourth Annual Short Course in Educational Leadership on February 16, 1990.