Some thoughts about the state of education on the first day of school

Kellan & Liam

Today is Tuesday, the first day of school. The big kid has one hour of school. The little kid, going into Kindergarten, has no school. As a result, my wife took a vacation day from work.

Tomorrow, the little kid has one hour of school. This will slowly increase throughout this week and next until next Tuesday, when, if they deem him ready, he will get a full day of school. Which means my wife has taken the full week as vacation, and I’m going to take an additional day. (Or possibly two – I cannot even plan for this at this point) of vacation. Just so the boys can start school.

A full day of school is 9am – 3pm. My wife starts work before that, and finishes work after that. But. “Full day” is a lie. Because after-school care is not automatically provided to every child (it’s a lottery), my workday will suddenly shrink to roughly, 9:30 – 2:30pm, assuming no traffic and a hustle to get there and back. I’m extremely fortunate that I can easily do this.

Over the course of a school year, I’m losing, by my estimate, somewhere in the range of 600 (40 weeks of school x 5 days per week x 3 hours per day) hours of work in order to take care of my children.

Every year, in our school board, there’s a budget crisis, because our provincial government chronically underfunds public education (the argument of whether they’re last in the nation in per-child funding, or first, is moot, because even the most well-funded province is still systemically undermining public education through underfunding).

Every year, we don’t know which school programs will be cut. We’re lucky, in that our school isn’t one of the schools perennially on the chopping block to be closed, in order to force a seemingly arbitrary 95% full rate.

Our school is lucky, because we got funding to rebuild a new, earthquake-safe school, so we’re temporarily at a swing site. Our school is lucky, because we were the first school at this site, so it’s in fairly good condition – but 2 years in, the temporary buildings are showing wear-and-tear, and there’s supposedly another 10 years or so of use needed. My guess? There’ll still be students using this temporary structures in 15–20 years.

But there’s something like a 20-million operation shortfall just for needed infrastructure upgrades across the city. & I doubt that includes recommended infrastructure upgrades like better insulation, weatherproofing, and other “green” initiatives.

Governments, at every level, keep download problems to the next level down. The federal government says infrastructure costs are a provincial concern. The provincial government says budget shortfalls are a school board’s concern. And School boards say childcare is a parental concern. And it all sucks.

I have no idea what the monetary cost of the lack of provided childcare is. There’s lots of calls for the $5/day childcare – but they generally mean preschool care. What about for elementary kids – and even some high school kid, depending on their maturity? Millions of parents have to stress about finding childcare for both before and after school, because they work. Or they have to cut their own work hours, or not work. The school building exists. There’s enough room for all the kids from 9 to 3. I don’t understand how our government is allowed to get away with not providing care for allfamilies who request it, as part of every day schooling. I’ve no idea what the lost annual productivity at a national level is because of this failure of government, but it must be enormous – 10s of billions? Hundreds?

Of course, the school board can’t do this. They don’t have enough money to pay for the teachers and teachers’ assistants and resources our children need for the “in-class” portion of the day, let alone before and afterwards. It’s one of these situations where the conversation has been so controlled by the various levels of government, the bar has been pushed so low, that we’re not even having the right arguments with government anymore.

We’re desperately begging for scraps underneath the table, when we should be complaining that we’re not getting the meal we were promised.

Traffic Circles: A commuter’s rant

Traffic Circle
A typical Vancouver Traffic Circle

Traffic circles are common at intersections of Vancouver’s residential streets. In theory, they’re great – keep the flow of traffic moving, rather than the start-stop stutter of 2-way/4-way stop signs. In practice, they’re terrible, and I believe it’s mostly to do with poor signage & education. The city provides a page with a nice description of how traffic should flow around them. There’s even a video (warning: WMV file. Why this isn’t just up on a City YouTube channel beats me). But based on my experience as a driver and increasingly as a cyclist, no one knows these rules.

Nearly every day I have a dangerous interaction at  a traffic circle: both in my car & on my bike – because no one seems to know how to interact with them. This is made worse by the city’s well-intentioned, but ultimately poorly-thought-out “adopt a circle” project, wherein community gardeners can tend to the greenery within the circle. Sure, it makes them pretty, but it reduces visibility dangerously as the plants grow taller & thicker. Several times I’ve had a close encounter with a pedestrian or cyclist whom I simply couldn’t see through the plants growing in the circle.

What the rules are:

  • Vehicles travel counter-clockwise around the circle
  • Vehicles already in intersection have right-of-way
  • Arriving at the same time, yield to the vehicle on your right

These seem like a pretty simple set of rules,  right? If crows can keep 3 things in mind at once, surely drivers can too? Sadly, no.

What drivers actually do:

  • Drivers going straight assume they have right of way.
  • Drivers turning left go clockwise around (the shortcut)
  • Drivers turning always cede right-of-way to cars going straight
  • Drivers sometimes yield to cyclists, regardless of who was there first.
  • Drivers sometimes think they can go around the circle at the same time as a cyclist.
  • Drivers assume pedestrians will stop for them
  • Drivers yield to the car on the left instead of on the right.
  • Cyclists assume they always have right-of-way.

Here’s the thing. The sign on our traffic circles are not helpful. Several people I’ve asked thought that the black shield (see photo above) was a yield sign, so they should yield left. Why not use a sign that indicates, with arrows, traffic flow & yield rules? Even the standard European round-about signs would likely better:

Clearer instructions: Yield, go counter-clockwise

I think we need an educational campaign in the city about how to interact with these circles, while at the same time improving the signage on all of them. Maybe Preventable could get involved too.

Canadian islamophobia

Listening to CBC’s The Current this morning I heard the Québec immigration minister Yolande James state that a woman cannot wear the niqab to learn french, “point à la ligne” (full stop). The woman, a recent Egyptian immigrant, had chosen to learn french, presumably to better integrate into her new community, and has now been expelled from two separate government-run French classes. That blanket statement by the Québec government is frankly disgusting – I cannot comprehend how the wearing of a Niqab interferes with learning French.

If the story were that simple, this would be the end of it, but of course, it’s not. Over the course of the interview on the CBC with (I believe – my apologies if I have got the wrong person) Samer Majzoub, president of the Canadian Muslim Forum, it comes out that the reason she was expelled from the first class was her reaction to a request to do a class presentation (again, I’m working from memory of an interview I heard while driving Liam to school – I hope I have all the facts right here):

When joining the class, the woman, Naema, had made an arrangement with the teacher to sit in the front row, as she was uncomfortable having strange men look at her (presumably in the face) – the teacher agreed – that to me seems like “reasonable accommodation” of religious beliefs. Where I start to lack support for Naema is when, asked to present to the class, she refused to stand up in front of the class and speak, unless the men in the class weren’t there, or turned around. For me, at that point, she crosses the line from holding firm in her own beliefs over to imposing her world view on the others in her class. It is reasonable, to me, to accommodate her beliefs and ensure she has a seat where she is comfortable. It is not reasonable to allow her to speak from her seat, not facing the class, when everyone else must speak from the front. If you wish to attend government-run classes, some concession to the cultural mores of your new country should probably be expected. If you’re not comfortable with making those concessions, find a different class. Perhaps immigrant services, or groups such as the Canadian Muslim Forum could keep lists of privately-run classes that are more sensitive to the (for Canada) unique needs of devout Muslim women.

However, while I agree with the stand to not let her have special treatment relative to the other students, it in no way excuses a blanket ban on niqab-wearing women from learning French. It seems to be part of a growing (and worse, growing in acceptance) trend in Western Nations to isolate, demean and alienate Muslims living here. Given how already culturally isolating it would be to wear the niqab in Québec, it would seem right to encourage women such as Naema to attend French class, to have a better chance of assimilating somewhat into francophone culture in the province.

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