Rushing off to school
Last year, despite the roll-out of full-day kindergarten across B.C. (“The munchkin invasion,” National, May 27), we decided to keep our daughter on a half-day schedule. The research tells us kids will catch up academically, and our daughter is thriving socially and academically in Grade 1. I have no regrets about having had the extra time to spend with her. Most days, we simply went home to spend the afternoon reading, as she was too tired for much else. Parents should know (many don’t) that kindergarten is not mandatory, and with the help of supportive teachers (as we had), they can make a plan that is not disruptive to the class and works for their children. Now that more articles like these are shedding light on its actual effectiveness, I wonder if there will be more families asking for the formal return of a half-day option.
Christina Shorthouse, Vancouver
“The munchkin invasion” acknowledges the strong and positive reaction teachers and parents in Ontario have to full-day kindergarten for four- and five-year-olds. That said, the piece doesn’t fully explain the nature of the Ontario program. The U.S. data cited note that short-term gains for young kids don’t hold. Unfortunately, the U.S. kindergartens studied more than a decade ago were more likely to include instructional drill rather than Ontario’s inquiry-based curriculum. This U.S. study focused only on five-year-olds and did not control for two years of high-quality early education. The real story in Ontario is that preliminary research results are very promising; ongoing research and evaluation will continue to make the program better over time. After just three years, it is more than a bit premature to use largely irrelevant U.S. research to imply that Ontario’s program will not have the long-lasting social and economic impact that a mountain of good evidence predicts.
Charles E. Pascal, professor of applied psychology and human development, OISE/University of Toronto, Toronto
Charlie Gillis makes some excellent points about why this well-intentioned but misguided program will end up costing Ontario billions with nothing to show for it. The original idea for early intervention was to help high-needs, at-risk, young schoolchildren get a head start on their more affluent and advantaged peers. Making the program universal for all children defeats that purpose. As Gillis points out, there is lots of research to show that early gains get wiped out by about Grade 3. In fact, it was Project Head Start in the U.S. which showed us the failure of similar, costly, early-kindergarten intervention programs. A better, and cheaper, solution would be to ensure that all children had sound, fluent fundamental skills of reading and math. Failing that, giving parents the tools to find the right schooling, as is done in the U.S., is the only way to provide incentives for improving public education. A rising tide raises all boats.
Doretta Wilson, Executive Director, Society for Quality Education, Toronto
I did my graduate work in education in the early 1970s. Even then, research showed that gains made by students enrolled in all-day kindergartens were short-lived and virtually disappeared by the time they got to Grade 3. Why must we keep reinventing the wheel? And when are we going to stop electing people who make billion-dollar decisions from the tops of their little pointed heads?
John Hart, Mississauga, Ont.
May the force be with him
Thank you for sharing Ghyslain Raza’s story of being the “Star Wars Kid” (“Return of the ‘Star Wars Kid,’ ” National, May 27). It is absolutely inspiring to see a young man conduct himself with such grace and integrity in the face of malicious bullying by his peers. He is an outstanding role model for other adolescents currently faced with similar hardships.
Bethann McLaren, Ottawa
It is commendable to read about someone who has endured and successfully battled bullying. Ghyslain Raza teaches us we cannot stay in the shame and chaos others want to impose upon us. The key is to fight back with whatever means needed to bring the issue into light.
Mario Castanon, Vancouver
I’m very surprised. Did nobody explain to Ghyslain that the Star Wars Kid went viral because it is awesome? We see a kid going wild with abandon, not giving a damn, because he thinks no one’s watching. It’s so pure. We’ve all had moments like that. When we laugh at the Star Wars Kid, we laugh at ourselves. Fan tributes to the Star Wars Kid popped up everywhere, not to ridicule Ghyslain, but because, deep down, we all want to be accepted when we’re most vulnerable. The bullying he encountered should never be tolerated. But a bully just wants to fulfil a power fantasy; the object of bullying barely even matters to him. I genuinely love the Star Wars Kid.
Jeff Preshing, Montreal
History comes alive. Kind of.
“The dirty secret of Canadian history is that it’s actually not that exciting,” says Paul Wells (“A debate that surely won’t make history,” Opinion, May 27). Sad and true. In a moment of patriotic guilt, I started Richard Gwyn’s biography of John A. Macdonald. In the first 50 pages, I learned that, as a backbencher in muddy little Bytown, Kingston’s MP said nothing, did nothing. In the next 50 pages, I learned that Macdonald lived at Mrs. McGilligutty’s boarding house on Sparks Street. To calm down, I put the book away and promised to return to it at a later date. In the next 50 pages, things picked up a bit when I learned that Macdonald pulled some strings and got his brother-in-law’s second cousin’s uncle the job of postmaster of Foggy Hollow. Talk about a page-turning frenzy. Thank goodness for Mackenzie King. At least he liked dogs.
Fraser Petrick, Kingston, Ont.
Paul Wells states that “it will never be easy” to get kids excited about things such as the Winnipeg General Strike, but that’s only if we teach it in isolation, and from an uninterested perspective. The real question regarding that idea is workers’ rights, so we should share the events of the strike with students but then let it lead us to explore what those workers wanted and see if we can find similar situations in the world today (a clue: look at collapsing factories in the news). Not only does this engage Canadian-born students who may want to understand our past, but it helps engage newcomers as it becomes relevant to them, as well, and they will bring their own examples from the countries they may be familiar with.
Gary Kohl, Toronto
Plotting our Arctic future
It is patently obvious from the article “Why the world wants the Arctic” (National, May 27) that Canada’s sovereignty over its northern shoreline is of critical importance to our country, and so developing technology to help our country address those concerns should be of paramount importance. Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), i.e., drone airplanes, are being used today to detect mineral deposits, census wildlife, patrol borders, track forest fires, and even to act as first responders for rescuing lost souls. So why, then, is the current federal government making it so difficult for scientists and companies studying UASs to acquire the necessary permits from Transport Canada? I am aware of lost contracts for Canadian companies struggling to make a profit with this technology. One would think that a government with an eye for protecting and knowing more about its Arctic regions would allocate more resources to furthering a technology that could be invaluable to achieving its goals.
David M. Bird, Professor Emeritus, McGill University, Montreal
A passport to reconciliation
I was struck by your timely article “The old country” (International, May 6), about Holocaust descendants seeking European citizenship, as I have regained my German citizenship. My grandparents left Germany after Hitler came to power, when my father was five years old. Like so many who fled, they had no interest in getting back their citizenship. I grew up in a family environment in which there was a profound sense of loss of both identity and nationality. I talked to my father about reclaiming his citizenship as part of a healing process and righting a wrong. Once that difficult decision was made, the process was relatively easy. German authorities in Toronto and Ottawa could not have been more helpful. My father received his certificate as a symbol of that which was always his: his identity—and not only his identity, but the knowledge that the Nazis ultimately failed to remove Jews from Germany. Since then, I have applied for and received my German citizenship, as have our two daughters. When I visit the graves of my great-grandparents in Berlin’s Weissensee cemetery, I stand there in defiance of anti-Semitism and dictatorship, and in continuation of the link that my family has with the country that had been their home for generations.
Alan H. Kessel, Ottawa
Canadian supply management needs to be reformed to allow dairy farmers to grow and become as efficient as they might be (“Wine and cheese parity. Why its time has come,” From the Editors, May 27). But let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. Canadian dairy farmers exert control over the price of their product. Their international competitors are heavily subsidized. The end of supply management would be a direct transfer of income from the dairy farmers to the processors. And the price to the consumer would not change very much.
Allan Spicer, Port Burwell, Ont.
Canadians should know that when they buy their milk products, they pay for the cost of its production at the till. The reason for the creation of marketing boards has not changed since they were created. In most countries where milk products cost less, you find a series of inventive ways to subsidize the farmers. You can bet that marketing boards would have been dismantled long ago in Canada if this were not so. The irony is that most of the countries where milk is being exported from are paying for part of the cost of milk products (including exports) when they pay their taxes. All this while most governments are running budget deficits.
Marty Bauman, Waterloo, Ont.
So the Harper government cancels the gun registry and sets up a pizza-oven registry. The question is not whether this is ridiculous, but rather, if I see someone lurking on my street with an unregistered pizza oven, whom do I call: the police or the Big Cheese?
Chris Shepherd, Toronto