Monthly Archives: June 2013

Student speech in school yearbooks censored, again

Student’s yearbook from Springvalley Middle School in Kelowna

Do student comments fame or defame school yearbooks? Apparently, they defame the great works of literature. Thanks to quick-footed censorship, some middle school students’ yearbooks now read like heavily redacted wikileaks documents. In fact, last week one yearbook was leaked to the CBC, which covered the story.

CBC Radio West, June 21, 2013– Konar Sanderson just graduated from Springvalley Middle School in Kelowna. On Tuesday, he received his yearbook. But later that day, Konar says he was forced to black out some of the comments his friends signed in his yearbook. [CBC West host] Rebecca [Sandbergen] spoke with Konar and his stepfather, Tom Metz. Listen to the interview: CBC Radio West

Defenders of student speech in school yearbooks will recall a similar incident at a BC secondary school in June 2010: “A Vancouver Island principal is defending a decision to cut a Grade 10 student out of the high school yearbook because of what he said about her in his write-up. Staff at Lake Trail Secondary School used scissors to chop Brandon Armstrong’s picture and comments from about 150 copies of the annual, saving only a single intact copy for Brandon himself.”  Read More: CBC June 16, 2010

The yearbook teacher “said after trying to black-out and white-out the comment unsuccessfully, it was decided that cutting Armstrong’s entry out of every yearbook was the only reasonable option left. Armstrong’s picture also had to go because of its proximity to the text, she said.”

New articles from Critical Education

Please note that the Institute for Critical Education Studies‘ (ICES) flagship journal, Critical Education, has just published its latest issue. We invite you to review the Table of Contents here and then visit the journal to review articles and items of interest.

  • Pedagogy and Privilege: The Challenges and Possibilities of Teaching Critically About Racism
    Ken Montgomery
  • Race and Fear of the ‘Other’ in Common Sense Revolution Reforms
    Laura Elizabeth Pinto
  • The Struggle for Critical Teacher Education: How Accreditation Practices Privilege Efficiency Over Criticality and Compliance over Negotiation
    Jean Ann Foley
  • Race and Fear of the ‘Other’ in Common Sense Revolution Reforms
    Laura Elizabeth Pinto
  • The Relationship of Teacher Use of Critical Sociocultural Practices with Student Achievement
    Annela Teemant & Charles S. Hausman
  • Coring the Social Studies within Corporate Education Reform: The Common Core State Standards, Social Justice, and the Politics of Knowledge in U.S. Schools
    Wayne Au
  • Catch-22 and the Paradox of Teaching in the Age of Accountability
    Christopher Leahey

We encourage you to consider Critical Education and Workplace for publishing and circulating your research.

Thanks for the continuing interest in our work,

Sandra Mathison
Stephen Petrina
E. Wayne Ross

Institute for Critical Education Studies


Non-graded student assessment growing (and progressive) trend in Western Canada, says UBC Prof

Schools boards in Alberta and British Columbia are trending toward non-graded approaches to student evaluation for students in primary and intermediate grades. Non-graded assessment policies have recently been adopted in Calgary, AB and two British Columbia districts, Maple Ridge and Abbotsford.

Institute for Critical Education Studies co-director Sandra Mathison, who is Professor in the Measurement, Evaluation, and Research Methodology program at University of British Columbia calls
gradeless evaluations ‘progressive’ in an article in the Vancouver daily The Province.

Mathison said removing early grading could help stop kids from studying strategically just to get As.

“Having a letter grade or a percentage grade … fosters competition and a sense that you have to be better than other people, and detracts from the idea that what you are doing in school is learning something.”

This afternoon in an interview on CKNW AM 980’s Sara Simi Show, Mathison pointed out that teachers have an incredible stores of knowledge about students that is not communicated to parents or students through traditional report cards. With the introduction of non-graded assessments, “teachers will have an opportunity to say a great deal more about what their students have accomplished and what students need to continue working on than is currently the case.”

Mathison characterized traditional report cards as focused on efficiently communicating simple reports of students achievement. She said that the use of grades or percentages produces an “overconfidence” in the actual meaning of summative indicators such as letters grades or percentages, which are “devoid of the specifics that would help students know where they are and what they need to work on.” Traditional report cards, “also limits the information to parents as well,” Mathison added.

A key issue in the success of non-graded assessment policies, according to Mathison, is the willing of parents and schools to engage in dialogue with one another about both the process and substance of how to best evaluate student learning.

Stream or download the Mathison’s CKNW interview on non-graded student assessment here.

Evaluating Education: Great Schools Project v Fraser Institute

A great example of how fact becomes fiction, and in return how fiction becomes fact, a process critical theorists generally call reification, is the Fraser Institute’s annual ranking of schools in British Columbia. Yesterday, on 17 June 2013, the Fraser Institute published its rankings of secondary schools in BC. The Fraser Institute’s annual School Report Card is based on a single indicator in BC– “results of the Foundation Skills Assessment (FSA) exams in Grades 4 and 7 and provincial exams in Grades 10, 11, and 12.”

Fact becomes fiction: Individual students’ test scores on the controversial and hotly contested (by the BCTF, ICES, etc) FSA exams are aggregated and turned into a rating along a scale from 1 (worst) to 10 (best). A fiction of the quality of a school is generated out of the fact of individual students’ test scores.

Fiction becomes fact: The individual schools are then rank ordered, pitting school against school to capture the competitive nature of education, at the school level, in BC. The fiction of quality is represented as fact within the annual research-based School Report Card. The Fraser Institute exploits a fairly easy, common process.

Of course, there are many alternatives for evaluating education or judging the quality of schools. One of the most comprehensive alternatives has been taken up by the Great School Project, headed up by a group of experienced, insightful educators and researchers.

The purpose of the Great Schools Project is to develop methods to assess schools that support students, communities, and the public education system, so that we can provide the best education possible for every child—so that we have a useful answer to that Mum’s questions: How is our school doing? How well is our school meeting the needs of my child? It’s also an attempt to live up to our responsibility to move beyond simply criticizing — to make concrete proposals we believe will improve the public education system for kids.

Working methodically to offer productive ways of judging quality, the Great Schools Project has offered a set of Principles that ought to be at the base of any evaluation system.

Henry Giroux: The Educational Deficit and the War on Youth

Truthout Interview with Henry Giroux

Truthout contributor, director of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project and Board member Henry Giroux responded on June 10, 2013, to questions concerning varieties of pedagogy and fundamentalism, markets, and the prospects for public schools raised by his latest book: America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth

Leslie Thatcher for TruthoutDidn’t teachers open themselves up for attack when they used the agency acquired through strong teachers’ unions in the service of self-interest rather than modeling critical pedagogy? And hasn’t that begun to change? How would you contrast the real versus the ostensible goals of education “reformers”? What has to happen now? And concretely, what must each of us do?

The narrative about the contemporary assault on public schools doesn’t begin with the failings of public schools. One can’t even talk about them in such monolithic terms; some are outstanding and some are a disgrace, which is largely the result of a funding structure that has always been deeply unequal. But a critical understanding of the current war on public and higher education might begin in the seventies when right-wing billionaires and ideologues decided that the biggest problem with public schools was not that they were failing – but that they were public. The so-called new “reformers” are really radicals who want to transform the entire structure of public and higher education to serve elite, corporate and military interests. The project that informs their understanding of education is anti-humanistic, unjust, iniquitous and authoritarian in its attack on all things public, which also includes public servants such as teachers and especially teachers’ unions. The so-called new “reformers” are thoroughly ideological, politicized and market-driven missionaries who camouflage their intentions and their interests by advancing elements of a progressive discourse to push their deeply conservative agenda. Terms like “freedom,” “choice,” “equity” and “democracy” are emptied of meaningful content and bandied about in order to promote the neoliberal script of privatization, standardization, high stakes testing, commodification and unchecked competition. The new reformers are reactionaries who assume the posture of committed, avant garde patron saints of educational renewal. But in reality they are a new breed of philanthro-capitalists looking to dictate the educational experiences of entire generations of students – their aptitudes, their competencies, their consciousness, their aspirations – and make a lot of money at the same time. They are as disingenuous as they are backward looking. The new “reformers” are, in reality, pushing an old right-wing attack on schools and teachers. According to them, teachers are the problem because they lack accountability and unions promote a self-interested bureaucracy. Underlying this claim is a refusal to address how larger structural issues such as racism, income inequality and exploding poverty impact on school failings or how they should be reformed in light of these forces. Fixing public education is reduced to bashing teachers, unions, public servants, and funneling taxpayer money “away from the public school system’s priorities (hiring teachers, training teachers, reducing class size, etc.) and into the private sector (replacing teachers with computers, replacing public schools with privately run charter schools, etc.).”(7) The alleged new “reformers” are in reality a mix of conservative billionaires, hedge fund managers, bankers and right-wing ideologues that constitute an anti-public education movement that has produced “just another get-rich-quick scheme shrouded in the veneer of altruism.”(8)

Unlike current “reformers,” those who advocate egalitarian reforms – who promote education as the practice of freedom – are well aware that if public schools are going to improve, they have to be defined and appropriately funded. Such schools should serve as laboratories of democracy, critical and accommodating spaces where young people have access to the expertise, skills and experience that both deepen their understanding of history, the arts, sciences – of humanistic traditions and archives in general – and the new world of advanced technologies, digital communications and screen culture. The acquisition and mastery of such diverse technologies, knowledge and skills are important not only so young people can find meaningful work but also so they can determine judiciously and rigorously their appropriate and inappropriate uses. In short, so they can rise to the level of critical and engaged citizens of the world.

Public schools must be defended as public goods that benefit not just individual children and their parents but an entire society. Critical reformers must also fight to protect teacher autonomy, struggle for equitable modes of financing, and recognize that any talk about improving schools under conditions of alleged austerity has to include an analysis of the failed domestic war on drugs and the wars abroad and the devastating effects they have had on such basic social services by diverting funds from public schools and increasingly criminalizing the behavior of low-income white and poor minority students. True reformers have to fight against the neoliberal onslaught on teachers, unions, curricula, diverse modes of accountability, and reclaim democratic values and civic education as crucial for creating quality public schools. The most important starting point for creating genuine educational reform is the necessity of acknowledging that the crisis of education cannot be separated from the war on youth, the rise of the neoliberal state, the war on terrorism, and the ongoing financialization and militarization of the entire society. To not understand these basic connections is to misrecognize the real drivers in shaping currently proposed changes and misdiagnose meaningful educational reform. Those market and corporate forces that now undermine public education in the name of fixing it have little to do with democracy and critical teaching and learning, except to weaken both as part of a larger corporate restructuring and militarization of public education as a securitized, profit-based entity. Battling against those forces clearly puts one on the side of genuine educational reform.

In strategic terms what would this mean? In my view, genuine educational reform should begin with rejecting the financing of schools through local taxes, which is fundamentally out of step with the funding models for public education in every other advanced, industrialized nation. Moreover, the struggle over the proper funding of public education should coincide with the struggle for smaller schools and classes, more resources, and more full time quality teachers – which would also entail a robust commitment to critical and comprehensive teacher education and so a rejection of its current debased state. Schooling is a public necessity that is as important as national defense and should be funded as such. Secondly, all attempts at the privatization and corporatization of schools must be rejected so as to make education truly public and widely accessible, removed from those who see it largely as another source of profits harnessed to corporate power. Schools must be defined as democratic public spheres and not simply as sites whose worth is determined by the morally truncated, narrow instrumental standards of measurable utility. Teachers need to work under conditions that provide them with the autonomy that enables them to take risks, be creative, and draw upon a range of educational approaches and pedagogies. Schools must be defined as sites of political and moral practice deeply involved in the production of democratic agents. Moreover, matters of vision, agency, and support should be connected to the struggle against those pedagogies of repression that reduce teaching to the imperatives of standardization and testing. We need modes of pedagogy that enliven the imagination, create thoughtful and curious students, incorporate an ethic of civic responsibility, and teach the practice of freedom. That means connecting pedagogy to the histories, experiences, and narratives that young people bring to any learning situation – the very educative contexts denied by the standardization juggernaut. Pedagogy should not mimic economic models with their reductionist worship of method, stripped of any sense of morality or social context. Instead, pedagogy should provide the conditions for students to invest in robust and critical forms of self and social agency. Pedagogy is not a neutral method, but a deeply political practice that is always connected to the acquisition of agency, a practice that demands that educators be vigilant about what identities are being produced under what conditions and for what purposes.

Critical educators, in concert with concerned citizens, need to raise the bar so as to demand modes of education in which teachers are knowledgeable and reflexive, function as agents of civic education, and create pedagogies that are provocative and illuminating in their ability to get students to come to terms with their own power as individual and social agents. Any viable mode of critical pedagogy must treat young people with respect and enable them to develop their own voice and sense of agency, and do so in an environment that is thoughtful, critical, humane and challenging. In the end, I think it is reasonable to argue, as I do in this book, that education at all levels is the fundamental precondition that makes democratic politics possible, provides a space where meaningful histories, voices and cultural differences can flourish, and enables students to grow intellectually and morally, reflect critically about their relationship with others, and interrogate thoughtfully their relationship with the broader society and the larger world. I make no apologies in arguing that the project that informs this book furthers the attempt to establish a connection between learning and social change, educate young people to be able to translate private troubles into broader social considerations, and create the pedagogical conditions for the development of a formative culture that expands and deepens the possibilities of a democratic society. The Education Deficit and the War on Youth is a call for educators and others to organize collectively both within and outside of schools to further develop the ideas, values and institutions necessary to sustain a world where justice prevails and individual and collective consciousness does not fall asleep.

Read More: Truthout

7. David Sirota, “It’s No Coincidence that the Public Education and Poverty Crises are Happening at the Same Time,” AlterNet (June 3, 2013). Online:

8. Ibid., David Sirota, “It’s No Coincidence that the Public Education and Poverty Crises are Happening at the Same Time.”

Cyberbullying and cybermobbing: What ought teachers do?

Heritage Minister James Moore announced $250,000 in funds this week to support the Federal government’s Youth Take Charge initiative. The new funding supports a youth-led anti-bullying project, primarily through the Canadian Red Cross’s Stand Up to Bullying and Discrimination in Canadian Communities project, building on the Red Cross’s Beyond the Hurt program. The Red Cross funds will be used to train 2,400 teens ages 13 to 17 to deliver workshops for their peers. The announcement was made at the Ottawa high school where Jamie Hubley was a student when he heart-breakingly took his life in the throes of bullying on 15 October 2011.

The new initiative and funds signal increasing concerns with bullying and cyberbullying, which is receiving due attention; mobbing, including cybermobbing, is also drawing attention. Although mobbing can refer to a group of bullies, it less obviously refers to scenarios where students, teens, etc. succumb to peer pressure to gang up on one or a few individuals. Any one of those joining into mobbing may never be suspected of bullying per se, as they are unlikely to single-handedly act against a target, but collectively all too readily assume the characteristics of the pack.

In the past year were two highly publicized suicides of young women in tormented by cyberbullying and cybermobbing through social media. The tragic story of Amanda Todd, who took her life on 10 October 2012 after posting on YouTube an emotional cry for help and description of how she suffered, generated a wave of compassion and questions: how could this have happened to a 15 year-old high school student at CABE Secondary School in Port Coquitlam, BC. Who and what are responsible? Why? Canadians relived a nightmare again when Rehteah Parsons, a 17 year-old student in Coal Harbour, NS, took her life on 7 April 2013. This young woman was a tragic victim of rape and subsequent malicious social media practices. Yet the deaths of these young women followed three suicides in 2011– young women all of which were tormented through social media practices maligning and targeting them: Emily McNamara, Jenna Bowers-Bryanton, and Courtenay Brown took their lives in March and April 2011. There is no getting over these young women, Jamie Hubley, or the many others who lost or took their lives for similar reasons.

Teachers have for years been taking stands against bullying and mobbing and need help and support, and they need insights into how to protect themselves from making a mistake in the selection of resources. For instance, on 29 May 2013, a Winnipeg teacher at École Julie Riel in St. Vital showed a popular anti-bullying movie titled Love is All You Need?, using the YouTube version. It’s a professionally produced movie with a powerful message. Writer and director Kim Rocco Shields defended the movie, noting that “it was created to open eyes of more adults and maybe teenagers, late teens, that couldn’t really grasp the idea of why kids were being bullied and why kids were taking their own lives.” Contemplating an edited version for use in schools, she reported that “some of the experts said, right then and there, we must change the ending so it’s more uplifting.”

Image from Love is All You Need?

With the explicit peer-induced and self-inflicted violence of the video, a student fainted in class and the boy’s parents understandably became quite upset. The boy’s father was straightforward: “A teacher chose something that was viewed that was not part of the official curriculum.” Superintendent Duane Brothers called the video “clearly inappropriate.”

Hopefully, in addition to the $250,000 for youth-led anti-bullying project more funds will be forthcoming forthcoming from federal and provincial governments for teacher-led initiatives.