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‘If you sugar-coat grades in school, you set the child up for a devastating reality check in later life when he or she enters the workforce.' -Thomas Mann, Cochrane, Ont.

January 26 2004
THEMAIL

The Mail

‘If you sugar-coat grades in school, you set the child up for a devastating reality check in later life when he or she enters the workforce.' -Thomas Mann, Cochrane, Ont.

January 26 2004

Pedagogical debates

“Why report cards fail our kids” (Cover, Jan. 12) warmed the heart of this recently retired teacher and principal. The debate Sue Ferguson describes is anything but new—it has alternately raged and subsided here in British Columbia since long before I began teaching in the 1960s. Rather, my heart is warmed because the debate continues with such freshness and vigour after all these years. As long as educators and parents are willing to spend energy on the complex task of improving the educational lot of our next generation, there remains hope for the future of Canada’s somewhat beleaguered public schools.

Brian Fraser, Victoria

In a poll released by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation in July 2003, Canadians favoured by a two-to-one margin teachers’ evaluations over standardized achievement tests when it came to measuring student progress. Why? Standardized tests can’t measure initiative, creativity, imagination, conceptual thinking, curiosity, effort, irony, judgment, commitment, nuance, goodwill, ethical reflection or a host of other valuable attributes that will help students later in life. What standardized tests can measure are isolated skills, specific facts and functions—the least interesting and least significant aspects of learning. Let’s remember that the most important reason to test children is to provide teachers, students and parents with information they need to plan for further learning.

Terry Price, President, Canadian Teachers’ Federation, Ottawa

This article is a sad example of fluffy psychobabble. Of course any parent will claim that his/her child’s grades don’t reflect his “intelligence or ability or potential.” I agree that marks in the early grades do not necessarily indicate a child’s long-term development or potential, but to bandy about meaningless terms such as “deep” learning in order to diminish the importance of testing is merely an education establishment strategy to avoid reality. Yes, grades are competitive, stressful and result in ranking, and perhaps the occasional failure. That is real life, and if our students can’t handle it then they have no hope managing their future in a highly competitive global economy. 

Dieter Hundrieser, Gananoque, Ont.

You wrote incorrectly that Nova Scotia has a grade-based report card starting in Grade 1. The Halifax Regional School Board in Nova Scotia uses an anecdotal report card (no grades) from primary to Grade 6. 

Crystal Huntington, Halifax

My wife and I need to see our children’s marks. We need to know their strengths and weaknesses. And our children find marks useful because they see that there is a relationship between effort and success. As they work harder, their marks go up; as they slack off, their marks go down. In my experience, marks improve motivation, focus one’s effort and promote learning—both shallow and “deep.”

George Klima, Mississauga, Ont.

Worshipping idols I With Ryan Malcolm, ability is in the ear of the beholder “Why does Canada so often feel the need to denigrate its emerging talent?” asks Cara Mumford of Calgary after reading ‘Canada’s idol goes global’ (Dec. 29/Jan. 5). Mumford objected to the article’s ‘negative comments’ that made Malcolm sound like a 'whining diva.’ Bruce Yarwood of Whitby, Ont., counters that Malcolm ‘won a televised karaoke contest, nothing more.’ ”

As the parent of four children, including a 10-year-old with autism and a seven-year-old with dyslexia, I don’t think it’s the report cards that are failing our kids. Until more support is given to our teachers through training, classroom aides, resource teachers, etc., nothing can change the fact that there are too many children with too many different needs for one person to possibly teach effectively.

Karyne McKnight, Morin Heights, Que.

Most children are simply too young to handle academic competition. Like tomato plants, children must be protected and not set out early. Our nation’s elementary schools would do well to do away with all grading and report cards. These could be substituted with teacher oral progress reports every other month, with the child and the parent(s) present.

Frank DeVries, Nanaimo, B.C.

So people are concerned that report cards do not explain adequately the progress of students? Well, here’s a novel idea: talk to the teacher about it. My advice for the parents would be the same as what I tell my students: if you don’t understand something, let me know, and we’ll work through it. 

Kevin Hohn, Cessford, Alta.

Honesty and male cows

I don’t understand why the politicians who are responsible for deceiving the public on deficits are not prosecuted for fraud ( “Leaders who can’t count,” The Back Page, Jan. 12). A political leader who distorts the truth once in power should be treated no differently than a CEO of a powerful company that falsely manipulates its financial statements to present a picture of booming profitability.

Doug Paquette, Greenfield Park, Que.

Aislin’s cartoon depicting a statue of a “male cow pie” politician is the perfect accompaniment to Paul Wells’s “Leaders who can’t count.” Both tell it like it is. Wells’s proposed Truth-in-Budgeting Office to give us independent financial status reports for every level of government would be a giant step toward good governance—if the rest of us acted on these reports. Let’s demand fiscal honesty from our politicians. Aislin’s statue is one every taxpaying Canadian would celebrate seeing deposed.

Sandra Mooibroek, Waterloo, Ont.

The greatest sacrifice

What a great choice for “Canadian of the Year” (Cover, Dec. 29/Jan. 5). Stephen Lewis has always looked out for the underdog, but right now he is involved in a mammoth task, not always fully appreciated by governments and citizens alike. To accept one’s own “emotional disarray” in order to help others is a sacrifice of the highest order.

Casey Huisman, Ridgetown, Ont.

We applaud Maclean’s inaugural choice for Canadian of the Year, Stephen Lewis. We share his despair and anger at the increasingly precarious situation of Africa, especially children orphaned by AIDS. Governments are to be condemned for failing to address the vast and complex nature of the crisis even though we know—according to UNICEF, UNAIDS and the World Bank--how to prevent it and how much it will cost.

George Worthington, Friends of the World Foundation for AIDS Prevention and Research, Houston

The real internment story

In 1962, I made my first return trip to the West Coast from where I had been exiled as an “enemy alien” 20 years before (“That’s Obasan’s home,” Voiceover, Dec. 22). The most eagerly anticipated part of this trip was to revisit the neighbourhood where I had grown up. With wildly beating heart I looked for the dear little house on the river side of Dyke Road, a house that was built on logs and floated on the great Fraser River. Alas, it was no longer there, but I was awash in happy memories, and wished all children could know the delights of growing up in a house that went up and down with the tide, and rocked gently when a boat with a powerful motor skimmed by. Joy Kogawa, who assuredly has visited Vancouver numerous times since the war, waited 54 years before revisiting the home where she and her fictional heroine in Obasan grew up. It was only after she noticed it was for sale that the house suddenly acquired a historical significance of such magnitude that a contribution toward its purchase will get you an official charitable donation receipt. It is time for someone to state, no, shout, the obvious truth: Japanese-Canadians were not traumatized, silenced or destroyed by the internment. We are not in need of healing. We survived the racially motivated injustice with courage and patience, a forgiving heart and a good dollop of humour. This Kogawa-initiated effort to create a totally unnecessary, unmerited museum in her own honour is nothing more than a shameless milking of the Internment Cow. 

Lois Hashimoto, Laval, Que.

Pride Down Under

As a Canadian academic living in Adelaide, South Australia, it was with great pleasure that I read the end-of-year national temperature-take (“Bumpy ride,” The Maclean’s Year-End Poll, Dec. 29/Jan. 5). Living in another country gives you a fresh perspective, and I can tell you that I have never been prouder in my life to be a Canadian than I am now. During the anti-Iraq war protests here in Australia, I proudly wore the Canadian flag and had people run up to me in the street with tears in their eyes, saying they wished they were Canadian and congratulating me on living in such a strong, compassionate country. Our stance on same-sex marriage has also brought much positive comment from friends and colleagues. 

Miriam Hughes, Adelaide, Australia

Adding to the saga

Vilhjalmur Stefansson was a close friend of my amma (Icelandic for grandmother) when they grew up together in rural Manitoba (“Colony of lost blonds,” History, Dec. 22). In turn, Amma treated us to many stories about Stefansson when we were growing up. I had occasion to meet Vilhjalmur’s son Alex Stefansson in the early ’60s when he was medically evacuated to the hospital where I worked in Edmonton. Alex confirmed to me that he was the son of the hero we heard so much about. But Alex also stated then that, contrary to your story, Vilhjalmur Stefansson did everything he could to convince Alex’s mother, Fannie Pannigabluk, to move south with him, but she always refused. 

Norma Busby, Winnipeg