Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan
Why is it so difficult to distinguish advertising from communicating-in-general? One answer is because our leaders deliberately confuse the two: a candidate may offer his/her ambitions for their term in office, yet give us instead self-advertisements. From their point of view, “How will I look good and get elected?” replaces any attempt to pass on real content. So we are bathed in platitudes, all feel-good or phrased as stirring calls to create a better world.
All good, of course. We want leaders with vision; leaders who know the past and have thought long about the future. But platitudes (“I want the best for our children” for example) tell us nothing. Another wants to create a strong and vibrant school board (what does that mean!), giving the community a voice in our educational system. Yet the community has no such voice in education. The major issues and themes of education are set far away (Quebec City) by people who have no idea of who we are and what our Pontiac is all about.
These sentiments – “the best for kids,” “a voice for the community,” “more graduation successes” – are, advertising. They are not real communications: they don’t address our concerns, nor do they carry genuine content. This confusion of personal advertising with communications has spread through most levels of government. It’s also called obfuscation, creating a smoke screen, instead of answering real questions.
Communicating would be to tell us what exactly “the best for our kids” means, or what it means to “give our community a voice” within a monolithic bureaucracy like Education. Monthly town-hall meetings with parents? A petition-a-month for the public to speak out on school topics? Mobilizing to modernize Law 101? Start volunteer programs to get parents into schools or school projects, like a community garden? Publicizing academic successes of pupils?
It seems that community wishes are acknowledged mainly when the community gets angry and motivated – as with the closing of MacDowell School.
Curiously, it is difficult to get clear answers identifying the powers of school commissioners and boards, or explanations of the relationship of school boards with the Ministry of Education. It seems that school commissioners have little influence over the most important elements of the school system: curriculum, course content, schedules, class room hours, class sizes, teacher qualifications, and teacher and staff salaries and working conditions.
It seems they do have influence over handling public complaints, school safety issues. accommodating special needs, drug and discipline policies, use of IT in schools, formal communications with parents, the public and the media, school transportation, and, most important, purchasing, leasing, property management, building repairs and maintenance.
If this list is even m oderately accurate, how can commissioners tell us they will “put our children first”? Where in that list of powers can they do that?
The CAQ party wants to abolish school boards, merging them with municipal governments (MRCs); the ruling Liberals have said they will consider abolishing boards if there is too little public support in the next election, which is the trend.
Without local boards what would we lose? An appearance of local input into education?
Isn’t there a third unconsidered option: a real, community-influenced school board?
Since the WQSB itself will not address such questions, it is up to the candidates to answer our worries. Yet, we have no candidates in Pontiac – of our three seats, two are acclaimed and one has zero candidates – so how will we get any answers? And why should we keep playing this game?