Crisis in our classrooms

JUNE CALLWOOD January 23 1965

Crisis in our classrooms

JUNE CALLWOOD January 23 1965

Crisis in our classrooms


Some 1,000 young people a day will be seeking jobs — just as 4,000 jobs a week are vanishing. The Automation Revolution has plunged our schools fifty years behind the times. But more than the crisis itself, what alarms experts most is that we dont know what to do about it, fast enough

THEY'RE CALLING these years the Second Industrial Revolution, and they're calling them the Automation Revolution, and a few with a grasp of electronics are speaking of the Cybernetics Revolution, but many thoughtful people say that all are wrong. The real name of this period of history, they claim, is the Education Revolution — and it's getting off to too slow a start.

Today’s children are standing on quaking ground. Those now in college have been warned that they will go back to school three times in their working lifetimes to keep up with new developments. Those now in high school can expect to change their occupations up to five times as automation permeates every business and trade and science and profession. Public-school students will become adults in a well-to-do economy that has few jobs to offer: economists, of all people, are urging that they be educated for leisure. As for this year’s crop of babies, some claim that ninety percent of them will never hold a job at all.

“Our education is about fifty years behind the times,’’ says Dr. Robert W. B. Jackson, professor of Educational Research at the University of Toronto's College of Education and head of the Educational Research Department of the Ontario government. “It didn't matter so much a generation ago, but now it is a tragedy."

“We're still training our children in the same way we've been doing it for the past two generations," agrees Ken T. Bernent, president of the Canadian branch of Burroughs Business Machines Ltd., the country's third-largest manufacturer of computers. “It isn't

going to help them get the jobs of today, let alone in the future.” “Our whole approach to education is going to have to change,” admits Clare Westcott, the executive assistant to Ontario's kinetic young minister of education, William G. Davis. “But since no one really knows what is going to happen, the best thing we can do right now is to make children as adaptable as possible. That's the important talent these days.” Westcott, a father of eight young children, adds ruefully, “But the more I see of automation, the more frightened I get. Our youngest boy will be forty in the year 2000. Frankly, it scares me.”

It scares a lot of people. Some claim that Canada's current low level of unemployment is a picture of false health, like the pink cheeks of advanced tuberculosis. The group known to statisticians as the "postwar-baby boom,” youngsters now between fifteen and nineteen, is staying in school, heeding the warnings of doom if they leave before they graduate. (The effect of the anti-dropout campaigns has been dramatic: this year three out of every four Canadian teenagers are staying in school — just ten years ago, less than half of them stuck with their books.)

But too few of them are learning computer programming, computer maintenance, computer language and electronics, or about the operation of a data-processing centre or automated machinery. Instead, they are learning about machines and parts that will be obsolete in a few years, about bookkeeping and filing — which already is vanishing — and about a system of mathematics that

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“When people retire,” said the secretary, “their desks vanish and we carry on”

has no practical value at all. Modern schools are turning out too many graduates whose heads are crammed with stately and useless information but who cannot spell, cannot handle language with any grace or wit, have little grasp of logic and even less ability to be spontaneous and creative.

There are approximately a million and a quarter of these teenagers, and they will emerge on the labor market in the next few years just as automation really gets underway in Canada. At a time when jobs will be disappearing at the rate, conservatively estimated, of four thousand a week, a thousand young people a day will be looking for their first fulltime jobs.

In the United States, where automation is about three years ahead of Canada, the Under Secretary of Labor, John F. Henning, has calculated that during the 1960s more than twelve million young people will be ready to enter the labor force, and during the same ten years some twenty-four million jobs will disappear because of automation. A U. S. Labor Department automation expert, Nat Goldfinger, is quoted as saying, “We’ll be in a hell of a jam in two or three years’ time.”

If you make that 1969, you can color it Canada.

The blows of automation fall mainly on the young. Adult workers in companies in which are installed computers or automated machinery usually are retrained or transferred to other departments or are retired early. Staff cutbacks and consequent economy to help justify the staggering costs of the new equipment are accomplished by what is called “silent firings” — a policy of nonhiring.

Imperial Oil Limited, for instance, increased its Canadian production twenty percent over a five-year period, during which it actually reduced its staff twenty percent. Three thousand jobs disappeared. There were few dismissals and these were confined mainly to relatively new employees. “It’s so strange,” an Imperial Oil secretary muses. “When people retire around here or leave for another job, their desks just vanish and we carry on exactly as we did before. It's really weird.”

As a result, unemployment is a much more serious problem among teenagers than adults. In the United States, with a higher proportion of school dropouts, the rate of unemployment among white teenagers is three times the national average: among Negro teenagers it is six times the national average. Dr. James B. Conant, former president of Harvard University, calls these millions of frustrated, idle and restless young people “social dynamite,” and the trend is evident in Canada in the soaring increase in juvenile crime (in some centres there has been a fifty percent increase since 1960). A Toronto magistrate observed last autumn, “The problem has reached the eleventhhour point of crisis.”

Even so, it will become worse. The peak year for births in Canada was 1960, when nearly half a million babies were born. One suburban school board got the bad news from its statisticians a few weeks ago: in the mid 1970s twelve percent of the suburb's population will be in high school.

“We face an unsettled future,” Toronto University's Dr. Jackson, known as the father of educational research in Canada, recently told the Board of Christian Education. “For the first time in our history, parents are completely unable to foresee and advise their children in regard to the shape of the world they must face.”

This very uncertainty is the reason educators give for the absence of galvanic change in the content of school curricula. To add to the pervading tone of hesitancy, departments of education across the country are being belabored by conflicting advice. “The man of the future is the technician and technologist,” a businessman insists. “Most academic education is unrealistic.” But an industrialist disagrees and compliments the Ontario Board of Education for embellishing its trades-training courses with English, mathematics and science. “Good

idea,” he says. “The student will be more versatile. It's old-fashioned to teach him nothing but a trade.”

A high - school principal recently told a public-school trustees’ meeting that the most important feature of education in the future should be “training for life.” The principal, Paul Moreland of Toronto’s Eastern High School of Commerce, suggested that schools teach students to “appreciate good music, literature, art and drama” and also provide instruction in hobbies. During the same week, in the same city, a public-relations group was reporting on Toronto schools and roundly condemned the cost of teaching music in them. “It is hard to believe,” the report stated, “that the playing of an instrument will make a potential craftsman a better citizen or increase his technical aptitude.” Despite such dissent, most complaints about today’s schools follow the line of “not enough,” rather than its opposite. Bright students are not being challenged enough, slower students are not being interested enough, creativity is being discouraged on all levels, personality growth and moral development are overlooked. Instead, the emphasis falls on memorizing, conforming, enduring and following

established rules and precedents, all of which the phlegmatic computer can duplicate more accurately and cheaply and in a billionth of a second.

“It’s startlingly clear that something must change, and soon,” observes computer expert Arthur A. Mackey, director of marketing for Univac in Toronto, which built the world's first commercial computer in 1950. “My daughter goes to school all day, studies all night and knows nothing but what she is taught. It’s just not good enough.”

“We stuff information in our children from the ages of five to eighteen,” notes Clare Westcott, the assistant to Ontario’s minister of education. “But do we help them to enjoy their lives more? I'll answer that: not much.”

The newest concept in education, the stuff that keynote speeches are made of, is education for leisure. Eventually, educators are beginning to say, work will have to stop being the moral equivalent for worth, since most people will work a short-hour week or not at all. Accordingly, schools will teach the art of good conversation, mental health and building a Japanese garden, along with the talents of the Renaissance gentility: the love of learning for its own sake and the pleasure in something beautiful.

The fundamental danger of the automated world is the profound uneasiness that most people experience when they are idle. Dr. Jackson puts it simply: “We’ve got to figure out how we can have millions of people living on the dole without turning them into drunks.” A University of Toronto professor who is a computer authority, Dr. Arthur Porter, believes that a return to crafts is essential, along with early training in recreation.

There already are traces of education for leisure. Six Ontario schools this year launched a new high-school course, Man In Society, which includes such topics as religious tolerance, modern suburban life, the role of propaganda and coercion on individual thinking and morality in public office. An Alberta high school has a new course, called The Performing Arts, which introduces students to television, stage and radio. In Toronto, a tough - minded vocationalschool principal, Gertrude Fatt, succeeded in having her school for girls of modest ability equipped with a bowling alley. “My students aren’t likely to belong to golf clubs or attend fashion shows,” she explained until she wore down her opposition. “The places they’ll work will probably have bowling leagues, though, and it’s important to give them some confidence in themselves so they can enjoy that kind of an outlet.”

Similarly, the Ontario Department of Education moved last fall to limit basic drill in the physical education program and plans to de - emphasize team sports in the future. “After all,” the director remarked reasonably, “the school graduate is far more likely to call up a friend for a game of badminton or tennis than to call up

twenty-three friends for a game of football.”

While leisure training is a part of the change in education, the issue of the moment is still preparation for work. For the properly trained, jobs abound. In five years computers will have proliferated in North America to such an extent that three million operators will be needed; only a handful of Canadian high schools have data processing centres to train young people in the fundamentals. In five years the United States and Canada will need almost four hundred thousand computer programmers, the technicians who stock the computer's brain. In the United States only ten thousand computer programmers were trained last year, and in Canada only a few hundred. No high schools in this country, and only two or three post-secondary technical schools, offer computer-programming courses. Canadian universities give computer - programming courses to maths, physics and science students: “It’s a tool comparable to an engineer's slide rule,” says Dr. J. N. Patterson Hume, of the University of Toronto's Institute of Computer Sciences.

Computer in the classroom

At the top creative level, programming a computer is a job for a highly developed intelligence. In Chicago a bright sixteen-year-old, who worked part - time in a bank, became the bank's chief programmer and was snapped up, sight unseen, by Princeton University. But most programming jobs can be filled by people of average intelligence and in Des Moines, where the school board installed a $400,000 data processing centre in a high school, teenagers can enroll in a three-year course in programming. Des Moines, the secondlargest insurance centre in the world, can absorb the graduates with ease.

Some feel that an understanding of computers can begin in elementary schools. One of the country’s leading authorities on computers, Univac's Arthur A. Mackey, favors replacing grade - five arithmetic with binary arithmetic, the system used by computers. “Hand-done arithmetic, apart from the keeping of household accounts, is as dead as the dodo," he says. “Tenand eleven-year-olds can learn how a computer adds and subtracts and multiplies a lot more easily than older students. It’s a simple key and once it is turned, the whole world of computers is simple.”

A few elementary schools already are introducing “some concepts" of binary arithmetic as soon as grade three and the genuine article at grade seven. The students don't seem to be having any difficulty with it, but it has given some parents, fondly bent on being helpful with the homework, a nasty shock. “I got a call from one parent who wanted to know what he could read in order to catch up with his twelve-year-old," says Dr. Kenneth F. Prueter, the progressive superintendent of public schools in Etobicoke, Ont. “I told him I’m pretty confused about contemporary maths myself.” A sign of the times: There is a book to answer the problem: Insight Into

Modern Mathematics, by Paul R. Trafton.

Computers and automation create jobs but the net effect, still disputed by some, is the disappearance of jobs. Though schools are still enrolling boys who want to be car mechanics, it is likely that automobiles in the next five years will replace piston engines with turbines, which need little upkeep. In five years printers, draftsmen, lathe and drill operators, bookkeepers and tool and die makers, to name only a few of the skills still being taught, will be obsolete. In ten

years supervisors, foremen, men and women in mid - management, law clerks, bank clerks, filing clerks, librarians and purchasing agents will be thinned out. “In ten years,” a computer expert comments, “our mental hospitals will be filled with forty-five-year-old people whose jobs are finished."

“Some of the jobs that we're training these kids for won't last for as long as it took the youngster to learn it," an official of a department of edu-

cation admits gloomily. “We know it, but we have to be teaching him something while we’re trying to get the staff and equipment together. We can't let him vegetate while we peer into the future.”

Periodicals dealing with the changes wrought by automation and computers read like science fiction, the horror department. A steel-company official told a reporter last summer. “They're going to be able to run one of our mills with five guys and a computer

“Not enough teachers are as yet aware of demands of an automating society”

instead of the two hundred and thirty in there now.” A plant in Cleveland, Ohio, can produce two hundred cubic yards of ready-mixed concrete in an hour, without a human worker. A punch card, which any freshly manicured girl can drop into a computer, directs the casting of a one-piece aluminum nacelle for a jet engine, three to four hundred percent stronger than the 162-piece nacelle that men used to build.

Computer - programmed machines will turn out tools, automobiles, appliances and other computers, within two-thousandths-of-an-inch consistency. There already arc computers whose brains are loaded with medical histories, law judgments and construction data — put in the punch card and get out a diagnosis, a list of the legal precedents, a bridge on drafting paper. In Cleveland, Ohio, a hospital is equipped with a computer that stores all the business - office and medical records; nurses coming on duty pick up a telephone and get their instructions from the computer. In Toronto the world's first traffic-control computer, a two-million-dollar complex, not only controls traffic signals all over the city but in its spare time works out all the city’s tax assessments, relaying the information to an office a mile away by means of telephone.

It's a dizzy time for everyone, but particularly for educators. “If we do not find the answers soon.” wrote Donald Michael in Cybernation: The Silent Conquest, “we will have a population in the next ten to twenty years more and more out of touch with . . . realities, ever more the victims of insecurity on the one hand and ennui on the other, and more and more mismatched to the occupational needs of the day. If we fail to find the answers, we can bumble along, very probably heading into disaster.”

The only answer that Canadian educators have been able to provide so far is flexibility. “We aren’t as modern as tomorrow,” says Lome Johnston, who heads the Ontario Department of Education’s fast-growing branch, Technological And Trades Training, “but we are as modern as today. Our basic thinking is that almost all our courses include some academic upgrading. If we only train him in a disappearing skill, he’ll soon be back where we found him. This way, he has something to help him.”

Other provinces, particularly in the education-conscious west, are following the same line. Dr. George Johnson, Manitoba’s minister of education, notes: “Businessmen have told us frequently that as long as the schools provide the solid foundation of basic education, they are prepared to give the specific training necessary.”

“Preparation for careers in modern industry and business needs to have a broad base that provides for adaptation to changing job requirements,” agrees Saskatchewan’s deputy minister of education, R. F. E. Harvey. That province provides courses in construction and electronics that cover

“a field of work, rather than specific occupations.”

"in the older programs,” adds Harvey. “students selected such occupations as auto mechanics, carpentry, welding, etc., during their high-school careers. Narrow preparation in these occupations left them with little flexibility ..."

In British Columbia, which has the lowest dropout rate in the country, the deputy minister of education, J. F. K. English, comments, “It is basic to the philosophy of our new program that we should avoid concentrating a great deal of our effort on the development of very limited and specific sets of skills and knowledge. In our opinion, a concentration of effort on this type of education or training might well be termed ‘education in obsolescence.' ”

A National Employment Service official, Toronto manager John B. Devlin, endorses the concept. “I’m often asked by parents what their children should be studying in order to be sure of getting a job some day. I tell them the only thing that’s essential to learn is how to learn. Learn to learn, that’s the ticket.”

High school’s not enough

A broad base in high school, however, makes post - secondary - school education imperative, and the biggest bottleneck in the country right now is the shortage of subsidized trades and technological schools for highschool graduates. There is also the matter of poor synchronization between the high-school training and more advanced course, which in most areas gives the student no feeling of logical progression into a specialty but, instead, of having changed direction entirely.

Few parents and not enough teachers are as yet aware of the demands of an automating society. A highschool diploma, once a status symbol of considerable weight, is fast becoming meaningless. Grant Venn, a United States school superintendent who has just completed a survey entitled Man, Education And Work that is creating a sensation among educators, writes, “A high-school diploma today is a minimum requisite for most production workers and a bachelor’s degree, often in engineering, may be the requisite for the foreman or supervisor. A college degree is the only ticket of entry into the professions, with graduate study often a necessity for advancement. The technical, skilled and semiprofessional occupations all demand substantial amounts of post - secondary education for entrance . . . Education has become the crucial ladder to the reward positions in society.”

In an automated society, education becomes the crucial ladder to nearly every position. School dropouts used to fit comfortably into the unskilled and semiskilled jobs, which in 1962 accounted for thirty-one percent of all jobs in Canada. In 1975, however, these jobs will represent only twelve percent of the total. The stunning

change in North America’s labor force has been the increase of white-collar workers: at the turn of the century only seventeen percent of working people could be described as “whitecollar”; now almost half are in this category. Even industries such as General Motors, once manned mainly by blue-collar workers, now have up to thirty-five percent of all employees in the white-collar class.

The certified antidote to the peril of school dropouts is the provision of a battery of up-to-date vocationaltraining courses. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which has the most extensive program of secondary vocational education on the continent, keeps ninetyfour percent of its students interested in high school until graduation.

In Canada the federal government recognized the need for more vocational education in 1960, mainly because the supply of skilled immigrants was drying up and industry was beginning to complain. The Technical And Vocational Training Assistance Act of that year provided financial assistance to the provinces for a rapid building and expansion of vocational schools, trade schools and institutes of technology to educate teenagers and retrain adults.

It turned out to be one of the most expensive pieces of legislation this side of a declaration of war. Ontario responded the most heartily of all the provinces and in two years built or enlarged two hundred and twenty-five schools at the portly cost of two hundred and fifty million, with no end of the expansion in sight.

Ontario high schools now tend to be composite schools, where students can choose between four-and five-year courses in either the old-style matriculation (which cost taxpayers six hundred and fifty dollars a year per student) or new-style commercial and technical (which cost as much as one thousand dollars a year per student). All five-year courses qualify students for college. The response to the streaming plan astounded educators: in some areas sixty percent of highschool students have chosen the commercial and technical courses.

Ontario also offers two-year trade courses in such fields as restaurant services, dry cleaning and janitorial duties for those students who used to fail grades eight and nine until their hearts broke.

“The most difficult job is to decide what training we should be providing,” says lanky Lome Johnston, a former high-school superintendent who runs the spanking new Technological And Trades Training branch in Ontario. Johnston tries to solve the dilemma by consulting with industrialists and businessmen. Last spring, for instance, contractors complained to him that the old method of promoting men on construction jobs to the rank of foreman wasn’t satisfactory any more because of the complexity of modern techniques. Johnston told them to work out a curriculum for a constructor foreman’s course, and six months later he was offering the course in three schools.

Saskatchewan is similarly responsive to the needs of the community. High schools there feature a course in agriculture, recognizing that the rate of farm employment is descending like a punctured balloon — from thirtyeight percent of all workers in 1900 to less than ten percent today — but that men left on farms now must be technologists and scientists to survive.

No matter what course he takes, today's student faces a lifetime of learning — continuous education, it is being called, or open-endedness. It’s already happening to adults and it is bitterly hard on many of them, since forty-three percent of Canada’s labor force have less than grade-eight education. In some cases unions supply the retraining. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has been the most enterprising, teaching electronics to fifty thousand of its members. (In New York, electricians instituted a twenty-five-hour week, which spread the available work around so handily that five thousand more jobs were created.)

In other cases management shares the burden with employees. A few years ago, for instance, the refinery at Sarnia, Ont., began installing equipment beyond the capacity of many of its employees to operate. Working slowly, the company took two years to build up awareness of their plight in employees, while carefully avoiding panic. Then several hundred men went back to school, many of these greyhaired and some possessing only grade-three educations. The training lasted for four years, partly on company time and partly on the employees’. The company paid all the costs, about a thousand dollars a year per man. An Imperial Oil director, Ronald Ritchie, observes, “Some people might have thought it was impossible for

those men to learn physics and maths and electronics, but they did it. It’s built into us to believe that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but that’s dead wrong. You can.”

A significant scheme was worked out in Leaside, Ont., in 1963 and it has become a model project. Theie, government and industry co-operated and three plants regularly released employees for three hours a day to take courses provided by the Leaside Board of Education. A pattern of the future, many authorities have suggested, is that the work week will be shortened but employees will use the time saved to attend schools.

There are, however, some notable drawbacks of the present system: plants tend to retrain employees with relatively high levels of education, passing by those who need it most; ten men are retrained for every woman; despite the success at Imperial Oil and in Leaside, only a small proportion of grown men can bear the ignominy of school desks and homework (when Armour and Company meat-packing plants were closed in Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Texas, only sixty-one of the more than a thousand workers displaced stuck with retraining courses and found jobs in their new skills).

Sweden has the world’s best solution to adult retraining. Unions, employers and educators work together to keep unemployment at the level the economy can handle most gracefully — when the need arises, more workers are put into the constantly maintained retraining program or a public-works construction project is launched. West Germany has the world's lowest unemployment rate, a fraction of one percent, which some suspect is due in part to the more than a thousand company-owned technical schools in the country.

Yale’s professor of economics, Neil W. Chamberlain, recently wrote, “The new approach to a person’s career must in time supplant the increasingly romantic notion that a person is a garage mechanic or a postman or a newspaper reporter. It will not be easy to fix the idea that occupationally a person never is, in any continuing sense, but is always becoming.’’

The major reforms suggested for Canadian schools all flow from this ideal. In November, Quebec and Ontario sent educators to California and Chicago to investigate, among other matters, the profusion of two-year arts and technological colleges in those areas. The likeliest change in Canadian education is the establishing of these community colleges, with both fulltime and part-time courses.

Another strong possibility is that the government soon will perceive that a greater support of post-secondary education would be economical as an alternative to glutting welfare services. At certain levels, students might well be paid salaries for studying, with a bonus for good marks — a system already employed by Russia. It is not reasonable, many feel, that marriage and parenthood should interrupt education; family residences, equipped with nursery supervision for the preschoolers, may become common on the campuses of colleges and high schools.

Certainly school-leaving age is apt to be extended (some say to the age

of twenty), with a prohable blurring between school and employment as some students divide their time between both. And there will have to be training courses specially designed for housewives who, with their children safely tucked into schools, want to return to work.

Ontario’s adventurous young minister of education, William Davis, recently wrote, ‘The nineteenth century saw the battle of elementary education waged and won, to yield free primary education for all the children of all the people. The past fifty years have witnessed the struggle for free secondary education for all, and the recognition of the possibilities of an

ever-higher level of school expectation . . . The remainder of this century should see completion of the goal of universal free secondary education and a rapid advance into the realm of some post-secondary education for all.”

The first priority, many experts have been urging, is the extension of guidance services in high schools and the establishment of fulltime guidance people in elementary schools, to help in earlier and more accurate routing of teeming youngsters through the maze of increasingly multi - choice education. Ken Bernent, Burroughs Business Machines president, comments, “We need to hit the hot button

with these kids who will thrive in the electronics field and get them pointed in the right direction.”

It is also necessary to point in the right direction those students who will thrive in the steadier, surer world of services — such occupations as hairdressing, landscaping, interior decorating, designing, barbering, jewelry arts and delivery — which automation won’t touch.

Solutions, the right solutions, are imperative. As Dr. Jackson put it, “We have been forced into the position where practically everything, even our survival as a nation, depends upon how and to what purpose we educate our young people.” ★