A Political, Socio-Economic Predisposition

FTLComm - Prince Albert - Monday, January 21, 2002

I have often sat at this intersection on Second Avenue in Prince Albert and even written about it and shown you pictures of this scene and mused that this could be almost anywhere in North America with its busy traffic, brightly lit fast food outlets and American vehicles.

We have each come to accept what is, as normal for us, as Canadians sharing this continent with the vast population that makes up the United States. It is surprising perhaps, that we have retained anything at all of our own unique identity, when faced with such overwhelming presence in every single facet of life.

This morning I was talking on the telephone to a representative of one of Saskatchewan's major crown corporations and it struck me as we were talking how unusual his work must seem and it also explained to me why provincially own business, established to serve the people of this province so often seem as remote and confused about themselves and their function in this environment.

The man I was talking to, grew up in Alberta, but moved here to Saskatchewan some years ago and has raised his family here. I asked him the simple and very important question,"When you were in school what was the course called, that is referred to here in Saskatchewan as social studies?"

His response was immediate as he said, "It was called social studies in high school, but it was 'enterprise in elementary school." He went on to explain that he learned so many useful things in enterprise and it is a fundamental part of his life. So much so, that his children often remark that he knows so many things about business and commerce.
Up until the mid sixties the province of Alberta, with the very strong influence of its citizens who were mostly immigrants from the United States and who had been electing Social Credit governments since the depression, a party that was based on making changes to the banking system and established a provincial government bank system that is referred to the "treasury branch". This society took the subject matter that we commonly refer to as geography, civics, history and anthropology and called the subject in elementary schools "Enterprise". In the mid sixties they changed the name to social studies to make it similar to the similar courses throughout most schools in North America. But most parents and most teachers still referred to the course on the timetable as Enterprise when I became an Alberta principal in 1968.

Now think for a minute about the elections in Alberta. Term after term Albertans go the poles and elect huge majority governments, often only a handful of members are elected to the opposition and all governments must have an agenda that advocates low taxes, few government services and emphasises the importance of business and the free enterprise system of business. Alberta has no sales tax and is one of the few provinces in Canada where its people have to pay a significant amount of money for medical premiums.

During the 1950s when "Enterprise" was the name for social studies in Alberta we in Saskatchewan discovered that grade seven and eight social studies had units of study on the history of the "co-operative movement". How this wonderful business system developed in Rochdale England and was based on "one member, one vote" and was the basis for Saskatchewan's Wheat Pool and Co-op stores.

As a principal and later as a psychologist, I often found myself chuckling at what we were doing in our schools. Parents, the chamber of commerce, religious groups, politicians would all get pretty rhetorical about what they referred to as education. But the primary function of schools has always been to provide a social-political training programme. The organisation of the school, the way classes were conducted, the subject matter and all other aspects of the operation were organised for the production of citizens in a society that would evolve in the future.

If you find this hard to swallow, just look at what people say about schools and teachers. Check out the demands that are put on the system and you will immediately recognise that little of this is related to academic development. Teach a lesson on the scientific method and using empirical evidence to formulate a conclusion and you are going to be in trouble with all religions, you will outrage the chamber of commerce because you are wasting valuable classroom time that should be spent on learning to buy and sell on the stock market and many parents will consider the material impractical.

We have all known that to make a citizen fit into a society we need extensive training. North American Indians prior to contact with Europeans had elaborate training programmes to produce warriors and women suited to the rigors of tribal and hunting and gathering way of life. Our North American schools have been structured carefully to produce factory workers in the industrial era and now we see the shift to creating people who can fit into the information age. The emphasis on business and commerce has seen the elimination of history from schools and the economic pressure and demands by the chamber of commerce for high communications and mathematical skill levels is seeing the downgrading of music and art.

Despite the rampant development of obesity in North American society a society that only twenty years ago demanded that every child have thirty minutes a day of physical education, most classes are lucky to get a couple of classes a week and that will involve game playing in the gym.

Everyone is acutely aware of the power of the education system to establish a predisposition in each kid that will influence their attitudes for their life time and perhaps longer. The schools are structured with local boards and governed in such a manner that the professionals in the school must do as the system dictates and you, the voter and member of society, have to hang your head in shame for what is happening to education. The deliberate use of schools to replace social and family institutions, to develop attitudes and political values that are closely aligned with the world of commerce and business is a mistake.

When we should be training individuals to think critically, creatively and inspire life long learning, we are to quick to demand that schools have testing programmes to maintain standards in reading, mathematics and grammar. The pursuit of knowledge in the sciences is almost as bad as it is in the social sciences which have all but been abandoned entirely. Even English is being downgraded to make more curriculum course time for more "practical" course time such as economics and communications.

Timothy W. Shire