For the Record: Holistic education hurting students?

After a recent trip to an education seminar in Washington, Iqaluit MLA Ed Picco reported to his fellow MLAs last week that American educators have found that educational fads like the “whole language theory” and “holistic” education are hurting students.


MR. PICCO: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise today to give a report on a recent trip I took with you to Washington, D.C.

Our meetings ranged from Ambassador Chretien at the Canadian Embassy, to officials of the federal government, the National Governor’s Association and the U.S. Education Associations.

The most striking similarity that I saw between our two countries is the attitude that the education system is failing some, mostly the poor and minorities, and that more results have to come from the money being spent.

This has resulted in the Clinton administration proposing voluntary national standardized tests one for Grade 4 in English and another in Grade 8 in mathematics.

Holistic education failing?

Another similarity is the failure of the so called “holistic” form of education. This is where children are kept in their peer group. They are not failed, “X’s” or red markers are not used on tests.

Mr. Speaker, this debate has been raised many times in the North and the pedagogy surrounding it needs to be looked at by the Government of the Northwest Territories, as several of the provinces are now doing.

The states are also having the same debate over phonetics and whole language. Adherents on both sides insist their way is right and can only see a classroom that fully embraces their teaching methods.

An official from the National Education Association pointed out the obvious in the situation. Since phonics are essential in teaching, reading and whole language is essential for writing and structure, both methods should be used in teaching in the classroom. This emotional debate over education, on both sides of the border, it appears that many missed the obvious solutions while fighting for their ideas.

Whole language a big controversy

The Americans introduced the whole language approach first in the New England states and then in California. Later on it came across the border and drifted into Canada, and now is widely used nationally and here in the North.

Now, as I explained, many states are revisiting this approach and to say that it is a controversial issue is surely an understatement.

Other delegates from Canada also had many of the same concerns with the holistic approach to education.

A disturbing difference between the U.S. and Canada involves teachers. From my understanding, there are no state or national unions for teachers. Each school board pays its teachers the wages it can afford and negotiate.

This means that poor, urban centres with a low tax base, offer lower wages, the richer, suburban areas end up getting the better quality teachers it would seem.

Some colleges and universities have set up summer orientation courses to further educate freshman and bring them up to speed in an effort to prepare them for university courses.

High school not working to prepare for university

There is even talk of freshmen using their first year of post-secondary education to upgrade their education enough to be able to handle a full university workload. Sounds familiar, Mr. Speaker.

Lastly, there was talk about the charter school system in the states. Charter schools are a relatively new type of public school, that is released from many of the regulations normally applied to public schools.

In return there is an increased accountability to ensure students achieve better results. Half the states have passed legislation authorizing the establishment of charter schools. Each charter school is treated like an independent school agency. They get their funding directly from the state. Many areas are looking at charter schools because they feel they will have more say in its operations and standards.

Mr. Speaker, I am going to end my report there. The information on these and other subjects will soon be available in the legislature’s library. I found my time in Washington to be very informative and to be able to speak with people who are attempting to deal with many of the same concerns and problems we are, is both eye-opening and helpful. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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