Montreal, April 12, 2003  /  No 123  
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Randy Hillier lives in Carleton Place, Ontario.
by Randy Hillier
          Public education has become a difficult and tiring subject in Ontario. The education system has weathered the many storms of amalgamation, teacher strikes, job actions, teacher testing, more programs than money, for ESL, French immersion, special education, and gifted education. Throughout the turbulence it's been difficult to see clearly into the schoolyard and measure the results of education. Although clarity is lost in the storms of political controversy, it's time to look past the union rhetoric and political fog and see the reality of public education. The horizon of learning is filled with increasing fears of liability, authoritarian rules, political correctness, and less physical activity. The fear of physical harm, mental anguish, intolerance, and individualism has entered the bureaucracy of public education with zero tolerance
Learning without rewards 
          The term "risk management" is deployed to justify new policies and the need for more protection in most Canadian schools. Eliminating risk from the student's environment has become the priority of educators. However, risk is not an evil concept to be eliminated from the student's environment in order to teach and learn. There is always a flip side to every issue in life: the flip side to risk is reward. When risk is eliminated from life's travels, life's rewards are also eliminated. School policy based on risk elimination results in a dark journey of learning without rewards. 
          Although schools need rules, they must be balanced with equal amounts of freedom, including the freedom to make mistakes, along with the pains of error. Society's are measured and labelled by the freedoms they teach, and the rights people enjoy. Democracy portrays equality, freedom, and justice; fascism and communism paints a stark picture of rigid rules, social consistency, and injustice. What label should Canada attach to a public education system that is void of risk and freedoms? In addition to freedom, education must teach the fundamentals of decision-making and accepting responsibility for one's actions. The objectives of education are severely compromised when safety and protection are the administrators' main focus.  
          School administrators employ three tactics to further the unseen agenda to eliminate risk and increase authority including; banning activities, increasing regulations and restrictions, and the deceptive method of quietly removing the activity without comment using crafty words that camouflage the objective  
          Most elementary schools prohibit rugby, football, and even Red-Rover with the dreaded "no-touch" rule. As schools take a recess from reality, the fear of tears, scrapes, or bruises warrant the removal of fun, laughter, and social learning. The endangered list includes snow forts, rain puddles, ice slides, microwave ovens, kettles, and outdoor play structures, in the protected habitat of public education. In earlier times, children brought hockey sticks to school, to play "boot, or ice hockey." Now plastic mini-sticks and tennis balls are deemed unsafe and eliminated. Helmets and masks must be worn to protect fragile students from the unlikely dangers of plastic sticks and sponge-rubber pucks. Physical activity is fast becoming extinct, replaced with the obesity of rules. 
     « There is always a flip side to every issue in life: the flip side to risk is reward. When risk is eliminated from life's travels, life's rewards are also eliminated. »
          In addition to prohibition, schools have an endless array of regulations that discourage and become disincentives to physical activity, socialising, and individual responsibility. While not banning activities outright, the burden of regulations achieves the same result. Students are no longer allowed to bring skateboards, skis, and snowboards on the bus. Alternate means to transport skis and boards to school must be found, and more inconvenience justifies dropping the activity. Trading cards and marbles are also to risky without "fair play" rules and mediators. Teachers have become social referees in the playground, and assess more penalties than goals: and students must look to authority figures to solve simple disagreements. The lengths bureaucrats' will travel to protect students has changed public schools into maximum-security institutes, devoid of personal responsibility and decision-making.  
Of Ritalin and Paxel 
          Often there is no formal policy to ban activities: however, the principals of deception achieve the goal, without fear of parental knowledge or reprisal. Many Schools no longer allow children to play on snow hills; they are plowed under before a student can play on it. The game "king of the hill" is only a faded memory, lost on today's children, along with red-rover. Dodge ball is no longer enjoyed in gym; the inflated risk from a ball is to great a burden to accept. This evolution of protective policies subtracts thinking, problem solving, responsibility, and reason from the student's education.  
          However, political correctness and authoritarian rule bring the greatest harm and danger to children. Society will feel the scars and wounds for generations as authority is administered with zero thinking. The passive political agenda has removed the word "gun" from spelling tests. Boys must be docile and learn to be passive, as masculine behaviour is outlawed and re-named "bullying." A dose of Ritalin, or Paxel is administered for those who won't conform to the uniform code of obedience. Students must quietly sneak past police officers and breathalyser tests on their way to the school dance. Police officers routinely patrol school corridors, and lock down schools and students to sniff out grams of illegality. However, the weight of authority pounds on the common sense of people and beats individual independence into submission and apathy. The number of rules needed to apprehend the lone exception is numerous: and innocence is lost in the bureaucracy of guilt. 
          Every time educators replace personal decision making with another rule, students are deprived of honing and practising their decision-making skills, and learning the fundamentals of education. What picture will be seen in Canada after a generation is conditioned to accept authority without question? How will people react, when confronted with a decision? People's ability to imagine solutions, evaluate options, and analyse consequences will be lost when problems arise; buried under layers of disuse and zero thinking. What will be their rewards in life - the risk is clear. The future label of Canada will not be spelled D E M O C R A C Y. 
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