Dr. Dawn C. Wallin

Dr. Dawn C. Wallin

March 26, 2014 4:47 PM

































































































































































































































































































































































































































CHAPTER ONE: Making Sense of Public Schooling



The Staff Room, 8:15 a.m.

Linda Chartrand arrived at school at her usual time: 8:15 a.m. Getting her own children ready for school and to the neighbor’s for preschool care was hard, but she found that she needed at least half an hour before the students arrived to review her plans for the day and make sure that she had all the materials ready. She also used the time to chat with colleagues in the staff room, to find out whether there had been any important developments since yesterday, and to check on which resource people might be in school that day.

“By the way, Linda,” Pat, the office secretary, said as she came through the staff-room door. “Don’t forget that your class will be going to the auditorium at 3:00 p.m. to practice for the school concert. And could you make sure that all the money is in for the book orders? Oh, and Mrs. Koslowski is looking for you. She wants to ask if she could send the kids back 10 minutes early from Phys. Ed. so she can make a meeting with the divisional consultant. Is that okay?”
“Sure,” Linda replied. As an experienced teacher at both the elementary and junior high levels, she knew that there would be days requiring last-minute changes in her schedule. She had intended to get into a new unit with the class toward the end of the day, but that would have to wait, and she would have to find something else for them to do for the half hour between 2:30 and 3:00 p.m. As she was pondering what this might be, the resource teacher, Eric Sigurdson, asked if he could take three of her students for an extra half hour that morning. “The parents I was going to meet with had to cancel, so I’d like to give your kids the time.” Again, Linda agreed to the change. She didn’t like the model of resource withdrawal very much, preferring a collaborative, in-class approach, but there was no doubt that Eric was a help to the students he saw; she had a hard time finding the time to give them the individual attention they needed, even in her relatively small class of 23.

Linda checked her staff mailbox and pulled out an agenda for an upcoming in-school, professional development day. At the first staff meeting of the year, the principal had asked the staff to spend the year reviewing the school’s mission statement and reaffirming their collective vision and goals for the school. This was to be the focus of the day’s meetings.

Linda had been through a comparable process in her previous school, and she smiled to herself as she thought of the similar reactions to the request among the two staffs. Some teachers had asked what was wrong with the existing mission statement that had been written by the previous principal when the school first opened 15 years ago. Others expressed surprise that the school had a mission statement, because they’d been working at the school for several years and had never seen it. A few wondered why it would take a year to do this. Surely, they argued, a small subcommittee could draft something fairly easily, working from the old statement and from a few other schools’ goals. This, they maintained, would allow time for the rest of the staff to focus on some of the pressing and practical issues that needed to be dealt with, like a new conflict-resolution program for the children and the cooperative-learning initiatives that the grade 6 teachers were working on.

But the discussion that had followed had been a good one, and by the end of the meeting, most of the staff had been supportive of the project. The principal had emphasized that she wasn’t interested in simply producing a public-relations document full of all the right phrases and current jargon. She wanted the staff to talk through their different views of the school’s goals and priorities, and to come up with a statement of purpose that the staff as a whole would feel was their own. The statement would relate to daily school practices as well as set a direction for future initiatives. Some teachers began talking about their dreams for—and frustrations with—the school, and how they thought it had changed over the years. Despite the differences in the concerns and ideas of the teachers, when the meeting had ended, there had been an air of excitement about the project, which had carried over into the ensuing weeks.
Now, as the bell rang for the first class of the day, Linda was still thinking about the process of developing a mission statement that would actually capture what the school was all about. She thought of the mixed group of students she had in her class. They were good kids and she liked them all, but she was always being reminded of how different they were, from her and from one another. It wasn’t that their reading levels ranged from grades 2 to 8; that was normal. It was just that there were so many other differences. The two new immigrant children were just starting to learn English, and couldn’t yet speak very much to the other kids. She hardly noticed Rose’s wheelchair anymore, since Rose was so much a part of the class now. But Tommy still had occasional severe outbursts of rage that were hard on her and the students, although he’d improved since the year began. The full-time teacher’s aide helped, but Linda wondered how much Tommy was really learning. And there were so many others, the quiet ones, for example, who raised questions in her mind about her teaching strategies and effectiveness.

Yes, she thought, it was going to be a good exercise to step back a bit from the everyday demands of the classroom and to think through what the school’s priorities were, and what kind of balance it wanted to establish among what seemed to be an unending set of demands and expectations. What were the goals of the school?
The purpose of this book is to help readers understand how and why the organization of schooling is important. It begins with the story of Linda because organizational matters shape in fundamental ways the nature of teaching, the work that teachers do, and their level of success and satisfaction. This chapter sets the stage by discussing some important underlying aspects of schooling in Canada. We begin with the importance of an analysis of education that goes beyond a description of the status quo to ask why things are as they are and how they might be different. We then turn to a discussion of the purposes of education and the goals of schools, followed by a discussion of the main features of public schooling and some central tensions and dilemmas that are embodied in the organization of Canadian schooling. Taken together, this examination provides important background to the more specific issues raised in later chapters.

Many people may take for granted the organizational aspects of schools, assuming that schools are the way they are for good and sufficient reasons, as people do with much of the world they encounter every day. But because schools have the potential to be much better places, for both students and teachers, we regard it as very important for everyone involved with education to understand the way in which our schools are organized and operated so that they can ask questions about, and propose changes to, current practices. One approach to developing this understanding is to embark on a description of the existing constitutional, legal, and administrative structures that give direction to administrators, teachers, and students in the daily routines of school life. This has become, in a sense, the official or taken-for-granted version of school organization. It is important because no one who is to be involved in schooling can afford to ignore the power exercised through these structures and processes. As a result, this text gives considerable attention to them and attempts to demonstrate concretely how they affect, on a daily basis, the work of teachers and what it means to be a teacher.

However, this approach is not a sufficient introduction to school organization, because the context for Canadian schooling has been shifting in important ways. From many points of view, the status quo is no longer seen as adequate. Whereas for much of the third quarter of the twentieth century schooling was an unquestioned and positive social institution and Canada was busy expanding its education system at all levels, the fourth quarter and the beginning of the twenty-first century have witnessed many questions about what schools are for and how well they are meeting their goals. Changes in policy and practice are now frequently announced by governments and school districts. A variety of lobby groups press for changes of one sort or another. Newspapers and other media ask questions about whether our schools are good enough, too costly, well run, and so on.

The reasons for the current climate of uncertainty are varied, but they are largely connected to changes in Canadian society (Ungerleider, 2003) and Canada’s place in an increasingly global economy. Central to the concept of globalization is the reality that recent revolutions in information and communication technologies and cheaper transportation costs have produced a dramatic shift from the traditional “walled economies” of individual countries to a far more open “global economy” accompanied by much more intensive competition for investment, jobs, and skilled labour between companies, regions, and countries (Halsey, Lauder, Brown, & Wells, 1997). Very closely connected to this has been the growth of government policies across much of the world, generally referred to as neo-liberalism, that support an individualistic rather than a communal vision of society. These policies promote competitive individualism and market competition in all areas of public life, and the role of government is substantially reduced. In this new world order of technology, competition, and innovation, education is seen as key to economic prosperity. We now live in a “knowledge society” and compete internationally in a “global knowledge war.”

These developments have had a substantial impact on Canadian society and Canadian education at all levels. Educationally, they impact on the curriculum, on the ways in which schooling is organized and funded, and on the increased opening up of public/state education to private, for-profit, business involvement. Changes in the nature of work and the demands of a skilled labour force have produced increased attention in schools on “employability skills” such as information management, problem solving, and teamwork. It has also led to a greater focus on international comparisons of student achievement and, in some settings, increased demand for the teaching of international languages. For some, this is a necessary and sensible recognition of the critical function of schools in preparing students for adult work. But for others, it is seen as a dangerous and misplaced narrowing of the educative and democratic purposes of schools (Barlow & Robinson, 1994). Neo-liberal support for reduced government and for market competition has led to support for adopting business models of management and operation for public education. It has also led to increased parental choice in the selection of the schools their children will attend as well as increased accountability for schools and teachers for the educational outcomes of students (Holmes, 1998). Furthermore, the liberalization of world trading arrangements, particularly the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), has the potential of shifting more and more elements of the provision of public education in Canada into the private sector, and opening public education in Canada to competition from international service providers. (See Chapter 2 for a further discussion of GATS.)

These are important times for public education in Canada, and educators may well feel overwhelmed by all the pressures they face as a result of social change. Yet in this climate of change, critical reexamination of school organization is essential, and it is vital that teachers provide leadership in this process. Rather than viewing current practice as somehow natural or obvious, we want to examine why things are the way they are, how they came to be this way, who benefits most from them, and the consequences of their being otherwise. Similarly, it is equally important that proposals for change, such as those associated with “responding to the demands of a global economy,” are similarly examined and critiqued.

Embedded in this task is the belief that one must approach school organization from a moral and educational perspective as well as from a technical perspective. In other words, questions of “how to” cannot be separated from questions of “why.” Nor is it possible to detach the discussion of school organization from a broader discussion of the purposes of schooling and its place in Canadian society.

Another way in which we have sought to extend the official version of school organization in this text has been to recognize the real world in which students, teachers, and administrators live and work on a daily basis. The official image is often a pale reflection of the complexity of real classrooms and schools. It is important to pay attention to the uniquely human nature of schools and to human behaviour with all of its idiosyncrasies, its intertwining of personal and professional lives, its dreams and disappointments, its friendships and hostilities, its egos and ambitions. Often all of this is underemphasized in administration texts as being too messy to fit into neat theories, lectures, and organizational charts of the way the world ought to be. We attempt to incorporate this reality into our discussion. Furthermore, school organization and administration must be seen as concerning not only those people who occupy positions termed as “administrative” (e.g., policymakers, directors, superintendents, and principals), but everyone who is engaged in, and affected by, the educational process.

In everyday language, people slip easily from “education” to “schooling” as though the two words, if not synonymous, were at least mutually supportive, with schools being the formal institutions of education. This blurring of concepts is not always helpful. If we are to examine thoughtfully the organization and administration of schooling in Canada, then it is important to think about the meaning of education, the purposes of schooling, and the significance of public schooling.

Questions of what it means to educate, or to be educated, have long been the subject of intellectual debate. In recent years there has been growing attention paid to the role of education in ensuring economic success. Many discussions about school reform have focused on the need to improve education so that a province or the country can compete internationally (Levin, 1998). While economic outcomes of education are important, most educators would find this exclusive focus on the economic to be too narrow. In the Western liberal tradition, education is inextricably bound to ideas of self-knowledge or identity, as well as to empowerment, which means “becoming more than we are.” In describing the relationship between education and self-knowledge, Symons (1975) argued that to be educated means to know ourselves: who we are, where we are in time and space, where we have been and where we are going, and what our responsibilities are to ourselves and to others. Nor, he suggested, can self-knowledge be separated from an awareness of the social context in which we live our lives, the two kinds of knowledge being not merely interdependent “but ultimately one and the same” (p. 14).

For this process of acquiring self-knowledge to be considered educative and not simply socialization into existing ways of thinking, people must play an active and critical role in creating their knowledge. It must be an active and purposeful endeavour that informs our actions and provides the understanding, skills, and dispositions that enable people to grow and to exercise more control over the ways in which they live their lives within their social, communal, and ecological contexts. This view of education, although simplified in its presentation here, would not be acceptable to everyone. Traditionalists, for example, might argue that it does not give adequate attention to absorbing the central lessons of the past and the best of our collective cultures. Furthermore, when we speak of “control,” we need to pay very careful attention to the interrelated nature of our social lives and to the global devastation that has resulted from the pursuit of control over the environment.

Any general definition of education is likely to encompass more than the formal process and structure of schooling. Indeed, the great bulk of what people know, believe, and can do is not learned in schools (Resnick, 1987). We learn many of the most important things in our lives before we begin our schooling, and over the course of our schooling we continue to learn many things outside of schools as a result of our experiences, our reading, and our contact with other people. Even institutional education extends well beyond the school system. Programs ranging from daycare to courses for senior citizens, and including the vast gamut of adult-education activity in Canada, are also clearly educational in their focus.

At the same time, for many people there is a clear connection between these general ideas of self-knowledge and their expectations of public schools in Canada. We expect schools to be places of learning and development for students. Yet this rhetoric masks the multiple functions that have been assigned to public schools since their establishment as compulsory institutions in Canadian society. The problems and tensions facing schools can be seen by considering their official goals and their actual purposes.

Why have formal education at all? We tend to take the goals of schooling as being relatively self-evident, but they are actually quite problematic. To understand the operation of schools, we need to go beyond formal statements of goals and ask about the functions schools actually perform. Schools have purposes that are rarely talked about in the official statements. Holmes (1986) describes six such purposes for Canadian secondary schools—allocative, custodial, intellectual/vocational, socializing, aesthetic, and physical. The allocative function has to do with determining who gets what—for example, who qualifies to go to university. Custodial refers to the child-care function of the schools. Intellectual/vocational includes what are usually thought of as school goals—developing knowledge and skills. The socializing function refers to inculcating desired values and behaviours. The aesthetic purpose has to do with developing appreciation for arts, culture, and beauty. And the physical function involves the training of the body—sports, exercise, and so on. Educational philosopher Robin Barrow (1981) identifies a similar list—critical thinking, socialization, child care, vocational preparation, physical instruction, social-role selection, education of the emotions, and development of creativity.

There are several important questions to ask about any statement of educational goals:
•     Are the goals mutually compatible?
•     Are the goals achievable?
•     Do the goals have a commonly shared meaning?
•     Do the goals affect what schools do on a day-to-day basis?
Before discussing these questions more fully, consider the list of goals in Box 1.1, page 8. Although this particular set is drawn from Prince Edward Island, most provinces and many school systems would have quite similar goal statements.

There is no guarantee that all the goals on any list can be achieved at the same time. It may be that achieving one purpose will necessarily be at the expense of another. There is only so much time, energy, and money. If one of our goals is to make students physically fit, the time spent on fitness cannot also be spent on, say, reading, yet goal statements rarely suggest any order of priority among their multiple objectives.

BOX 1.1 Statement of Goals for Education in Prince Edward Island

The goals of public education are to enable the student to:
•     develop an appreciation for learning, an intellectual curiosity, and a desire for lifelong learning;
•     develop the ability to think critically, apply knowledge, and make informed decisions;
•     acquire the basic knowledge and skills necessary to comprehend and express ideas through the use of words, numbers, and other symbols;
•     develop an understanding of the natural world and of the applications of science and technology in society;
•     acquire knowledge about the past and an orientation to the future;
•     develop an appreciation for one’s own heritage and a respect for the culture and traditions of others;
•     develop a sense of self-worth;
•     develop a respect for community values, a sense of personal values, and a responsibility for one’s own actions;
•     develop a sense of pride and respect for one’s community, province, and country;
•     develop a sense of stewardship for the environment;
•     develop creative skills, including those in the arts, and an appreciation of creativity in others;
•     develop skills and attitudes related to the workplace;
•     develop good mental and physical health and the ability to creatively use leisure time;
•     acquire a knowledge of the second official language and an understanding of the bilingual nature of the country;
•     develop an understanding of gender equity issues and the need to provide equal opportunities for all;
•     develop an understanding of fundamental human rights and an appreciation for the worth of all individuals.

Source: Prince Edward Island (1989). A philosophy of public education for Prince Edward Island. Charlottetown: Government of Prince Edward Island. Reproduced with permission.

Most sets of school goals are very ambitious, and it is reasonably clear that doing them all at a high level would take more time and energy than is currently available. Thus, a school is always faced with the problem of having to decide which goals should get how much emphasis. For instance, does it place its energy into improving mathematics, expanding multicultural awareness, improving students’ commitment to healthy living, or emphasizing critical thinking?
More fundamentally, purposes and goals may be logically inconsistent with one another, such that pursuing goal x means, by definition, not pursuing goal y. For example, one common goal of schools is to teach students to think critically and to make their own decisions, while another common goal is to teach students to appreciate some of the basic values of our society, such as patriotism or respect for others. But what if a student, after thinking about it, decides that he does not want to be patriotic or to respect others? Are educators prepared to say that, because the student has formed an independent opinion, he is free to disregard social conventions? Probably not. A 12-year-old student, who, after careful thought, decided that she would gain more benefit from reading at home than from going to school every day would not be allowed to exercise her critical-thinking skills; she would be compelled to attend school anyway. One of the basic tensions in schooling is between our desire to help individuals learn to think for themselves and our desire to have those individuals develop the same basic attitudes and values as everyone else in our society. It is not possible to maximize both of these goals at the same time; the same logic applies to numerous other mutually conflicting school goals.

It is one thing to write down a goal, and quite another to be able to accomplish it. It is doubtful that schools can achieve all the goals set for them, even if there is agreement on what those goals are. As you will see later in the book, knowledge about how people learn and about how to teach them is, and always will be, limited. There are many things schools would like to do, but we don’t know how. As an example, consider the very basic skill of learning to read. A great deal of a teacher’s time and effort goes into developing reading skills in children. Yet some children learn to read almost effortlessly, while others learn only with considerable difficulty and still others do not learn to read well at all. All of us can recall this variability in learning from our own elementary-school experience. Learning differences exist not because teachers or students aren’t trying, but because we do not fully understand how people learn to read and are therefore only partially successful in teaching them.

If teaching students to read presents difficulties, it is even harder to teach values, such as an appreciation of the worth of all individuals or love of learning. Of course, just because educators aren’t sure how to accomplish something does not mean they should stop trying. It is important to set our sights high and to expect a great deal from ourselves. But setting many goals we do not know how to achieve is likely to create considerable frustration.

Shared Meaning
A statement of goals is an attempt to generate agreement among many people as to what schools should do. In education, there is currently much talk about creating a “common vision,” which also requires agreement on aims and purposes. But there may be quite a bit of disagreement among and between parents, students, teachers, and others as to what the schools should do. Students, especially in secondary schools, place high value on preparing for jobs or for postsecondary education, while teachers and parents place more emphasis on goals such as developing positive personal habits and attributes. Some parents want a great deal of emphasis placed on reading and writing skills, while others want more emphasis on the arts or sciences. Some parents want their children to be exposed to many different ideas, while others want schools to reinforce the values of the home.

Such different priorities have significant implications for the way schools and teaching are organized. To place more emphasis on preparing for jobs, for example, schools could increase the amount of vocational and cooperative education, add staff to provide vocational counselling, or provide work-experience opportunities for students, in addition to courses in job-seeking skills. On the other hand, placing more emphasis on academic skills might involve cutting back in the above areas and allocating more time and resources to areas dealing with reading, writing, library use, and so on. ­Different goals should lead to different kinds of activities.

One way schools try to cope with the differences in people’s desired goals is to smooth them over with language. Thus, a statement of goals can be worded in such a way as to generate agreement, even if people would not agree on what the statements mean in practice. As long as the discussion stays at the level of words, the disagreement can be hidden. Often this approach works reasonably well in allowing people to move ahead with their work instead of spending endless time debating purposes.

Impact on Practice
It is one thing to espouse a goal and quite another to be able to put that goal into practice. For instance, many studies have concluded that the overwhelming emphasis in secondary schools is on preparing students for further education, and particularly for university studies, even though most high-school students do not go on directly to postsecondary education (Canadian Education Association, 1995). Despite many calls for changes in the priorities of the secondary schools, this academic emphasis has persisted for many years.
The gap between goals and practices does not usually exist because people are malevolent or stupid, but because it is so difficult to align our behaviour with our ideals. At a personal level, how many people are always able to behave in the way they think and feel would be most desirable? The same discrepancy between thought and action is true in organizations, including schools.

An important aspect of this discrepancy is the acknowledgment that while school systems may talk about success for all students, the historical record is that schools have not always met this goal. The Toronto District School Board policy statement on equity shown in Box 1.2 offers an important recognition of the significance of systemic biases within Canadian society and Canadian schools and offers actions to ensure equity of opportunity and equity of access to its educational programs, services, and resources.

BOX 1.2 Equity Foundation Policy of the Toronto District School Board


The Toronto District School Board values the contribution of all members of our diverse community of students, staff, parents and community groups to our mission and goals. We believe that equity of opportunity, and equity of access to our programs, services and resources are critical to the achievement of successful outcomes for all those whom we serve, and for those who serve our school system.

The Board recognizes however, that certain groups in our society are treated inequitably because of individual and systemic biases related to race, colour, culture, ethnicity, linguistic origin, disability, socioeconomic class, age, ancestry, nationality, place of origin, religion, faith, sex, gender, sexual orientation, family status, and marital status. Similar biases have also impacted on Canada’s aboriginal population. We also acknowledge that such biases exist within our school system.

The Board further recognizes that such inequitable treatment leads to educational, social and career outcomes that do not accurately reflect the abilities, experiences and contributions of our students, our employees, and our parent and community partners. This inequitable treatment limits their future success and prevents them from making a full contribution to society.

The Board is therefore committed to ensuring that fairness, equity, and inclusion are essential principles of our school system and are integrated into all our policies, programs, operations, and practices.

The Board will therefore ensure that:
(a)  The curriculum of our schools accurately reflects and uses the variety of knowledge of all peoples as the basis for instruction; that it actively provides opportunities for all students to understand the factors that cause inequity in society and to understand the similarities, differences and the connections between different forms of discrimination; and that it helps students to acquire the skills and knowledge that enable them to challenge unjust practices, and to build positive human relationships among their fellow students, and among all members of the society.
(b) All our students are provided with equitable opportunities to be successful in our system; that institutional barriers to such success are identified and removed; and that all learners are provided with supports and rewards to develop their abilities and achieve their aspirations.
(c)  Our hiring and promotion practices are bias-free, and promote equitable representation of our diversity at all levels of the school system; that all our employees have equitable opportunities for advancement; that their skills and knowledge are valued and used appropriately; and that they have equitable access to available support for their professional development needs.
(d) The contributions of our diverse community of parents and community groups to our schools are valued and encouraged; and that they are provided with equitable opportunities for working with staff and with each other for the benefit of all students.
(e)  Students, employees, parents and community partners are provided with effective procedures for resolving concerns and complaints which may arise from their experiences of unfair or inequitable treatment within the school system.
(f)  Financial and human resources are provided to support the work of staff, students, parents and community groups, and for staff development, in promoting equity and inclusion in the school system.
(g) Procedures are in place at all levels of the system for implementing, reviewing and developing policies, programs, operations and practices which promote equity in the system, for assessing their effectiveness, and for making changes where necessary.

Source: Toronto District School Board (2000). Equity foundation statement and commitments to equity policy implementation. Toronto: Toronto District School Board.


The fact that goals are hard to define and difficult to achieve should not be taken to mean that the effort to do so is fruitless. Important decisions about education are made every day by students, teachers, administrators, school trustees, and others. These decisions need to be based on some sense of direction and purpose, despite all the difficulties in doing so. The goals may evolve, and they may never be fully achieved, but they remain a beacon in our day-to-day efforts.

One way to think of public education is in terms of a series of characterizing attributes or elements. For example:
1.   Public accessibility. All persons of school age should have a right to free access to schooling.
2.   Equal opportunity. All children should receive equal opportunity to benefit from schooling, regardless of factors such as their culture, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and so on.
3.   Public funding. The costs of schooling should be borne by government so that the quality of schooling received by a student is not related to the ability of the student or their parents to pay for that schooling.
4.   Public control. Decisions about the nature of public schools are made through public political processes, by persons who are elected at large to carry out this responsibility.
5.   Public accountability. Public schools act in the interests of the public and are answerable to the public for what is taught and for the quality of the experiences provided to students.
Most people would probably agree with these characteristics in principle, but what they might mean in practice is much less evident. As Canadians have struggled with them in specific situations, a number of ongoing tensions or dilemmas have arisen—areas where trying to recognize one reality leads us away from another that may be equally important. Much of the history of Canadian education can be seen as an effort to find an appropriate but always temporary balance between these competing objectives. Three tensions are particularly important: uniformity and diversity, stability and change, power and equality.

Uniformity and Diversity
The first tension is between the desire to have a common education system for all, and the recognition that students and communities are quite different from one another and may therefore have different educational needs.

In many ways, despite the variety of school systems, present-day schools in Canada are remarkably similar to one another in their internal appearance: rows or groups of classrooms full of desks or tables, generally empty hallways, libraries, gyms, administrative offices, and almost always groups of students of about the same age who are engaged in some activity that is directed and supervised by a single adult.

Students everywhere in Canada study quite similar material, which is divided into subjects. They have to learn certain material on which they are tested, and their progress through the system depends largely on how well they do on various assessment measures. Children are judged individually and do the vast bulk of their work as individuals. Students have very little say in shaping the nature of their education. Classrooms tend to be dominated by teacher discussion, with students playing a largely passive role in the whole process. The school day is about the same length and covers about the same hours of the day almost everywhere.

While these similarities are quite consistent, even to the point of crossing national boundaries, schools are found in diverse settings. Consider a school in a very small community in the high Arctic. The community has a few hundred people. It is very isolated, and transportation in and out of the region is entirely by airplane, with limited service. There is continuous darkness for about three months each winter, and continuous sunlight for three months each summer. The school has a few dozen students, from kindergarten to grade 9, and a couple of teachers. Most of the children are Inuit, and they come to school speaking Inuktitut, while the teachers are probably white, come from southern Canada, and often leave after three or four years. Resources for the school have to be flown in from outside, as does much of the community’s food. Many of the children have never been in another community, although through satellite communications they do have access to television. Everyone in the community knows everyone else, and many of the students are related to half or more of the people in the community. They rely heavily on one another for almost everything.

Compare such a community with a school in a new suburb of Montreal. There may be 400 or 500 students and about 30 teachers in such a school. Nobody has lived in the community for more than a few years because the homes and school were built only a few years ago. Most but not all of the children speak French. Many also speak English. The school is officially Catholic, and includes religious exercises in its program. A significant number of students are members of visible minority groups. Many of the children have travelled quite extensively with their families and are used to books, libraries, museums, and all the other amenities of a large city. They also face the pressures of commercialism and isolation that inundate our cities. Many of them do not have any close relatives living in, or even near, the same community.

Or consider a third setting—an inner-city school in Winnipeg. Here, many of the children are from non-English-speaking families. Many families are Aboriginal or immigrant. Many of the families are subject to frequent unemployment and are unable to afford adequate food and housing, let alone holiday trips or the latest trend in athletic shoes. Some children move to different schools two or three times in a school year. Their parents have limited education and may be intimidated by the school system. After years of unsuccessful struggle, some may feel powerless to influence their situation and live very much on a day-to-day basis.

It is clear from these limited descriptions that the conditions of learning and the job of teaching vary across settings, even though the schools themselves may be structured in quite similar ways. There can be no single right way to organize schools and schooling. Different students and communities may well require different educational approaches. There will be substantial disagreement about how best to organize and conduct schooling to meet these needs. It is also possible to conceive of ways of conducting schooling that are quite different from those in common use. Yet there is surprisingly little debate about many basic aspects of schooling that are shared by all kinds of schools and communities.

Stability and Change
The second tension concerns the degree to which schools should change to meet changing needs or should remain constant to a set of educational ideals and practices. Most of us tend to think of schools as having always been the way they are now. There is much in schools today that is easily recognizable to the student of 50 years ago. But in other respects, schools, like other institutions, have changed in significant ways, just as the society around them has changed. Until the last century, there was no mass public education; schools were primarily private or church affiliated, and they charged fees that only the wealthy could afford. In the mid-nineteenth century, however, a number of countries began to introduce free and universal public education. Historians have different views about why this occurred. Some see the development of schooling as part of societal progress. Others believe that mass schooling was developed in order to ensure that the new factories and industries had an adequate supply of workers who were both skilled and trained in habits of obedience to authority.

As recently as 50 years ago, however, schools were different from those of today in some important respects. In many areas, the church remained a key provider of education. Most communities were rural, and each rural community had its own school. As new communities developed, people formed a school board, built a school building (often with their own hands), hired a teacher (who typically taught eight or more grades in a single room), and operated the school. Control was very much in the hands of the local parents, or more particularly the fathers, since most school trustees were men. Teachers, usually unmarried women, were not well trained and were very poorly paid.

Gradually, these conditions have changed. Power has shifted away from local parents and communities. Small school districts have largely disappeared in Canada, usually as a result of government legislation, and have been replaced by much larger school districts, which are generally run by professional administrators. Manitoba, for example, had more than 2 000 school districts in the early 1950s but currently has less than 40. While school boards still exist, many are now responsible for running large and complex organizations that may have hundreds or even thousands of teachers, as well as huge budgets. For example, school districts in Ontario may now have several hundred thousand students and cover thousands of square kilometres. In this kind of setting, each school trustee may represent many thousands of people. Schools are also larger. Thus, schools have changed from being small and local to being large and bureaucratic in their organization, though they may still be administered largely by males, still be staffed predominantly by women, and still give almost no meaningful role in governance to students.

Another important change has been the amount of schooling most people receive. More people are getting more years of formal education than ever before. Not so many years ago, grade 8 was the common finishing point for many people and the mark of someone with a reasonable level of education. Now those with less than grade 9 may be classified as being functionally illiterate (although one might well question the accuracy of such a standard). Formal education and its credentials have become much more important elements in the organization of modern society.

Most of these changes, significant as they were, are now taken for granted. We seldom ask ourselves whether they have produced the desired results, or whether they imply that we ought to change the way we conduct formal education. For example, as parents become more educated, they may well have more views about how schools should operate and be less willing to assume a passive role.

Power and Equality
Schools, like all organizations, are shaped by power relations. Some people have more influence over what happens than do others. Final authority over most aspects of schooling rests with elected officials in the provincial government or the local school board. Within any given school, administrators typically have the most official power. Principals can give instructions to teachers, students, and (sometimes) parents. Teachers have considerable power over students, but not very much over administrators. And students have almost no official power, although they can exercise quite a bit of informal influence when they want to. Where power exists, so does the potential for unfairness and abuse. It is important to ask at all times whether power is being used in the right way and to guard vigilantly against its abuse, no matter who the perpetrators or victims might be.

Much of the history of schooling in Canada has been marked by struggles over power and control from which enduring questions have emerged. How much authority would be held by laypeople (parents and community members) and how much by professionals (teachers, principals, and superintendents)? How much authority would rest at the local level in a community, and how much would rest with provincial governments? An important distinction can be made between representative democracy and participative democracy. The former implies that legitimacy is conferred on a central authority, such as Parliament, by the population and then held accountable to the population through the electoral process. The latter implies that the central requirement is that we develop institutions that attempt to make decisions by argumentative discourse as much as is practical and that invoke claims of sovereignty as rarely as possible. The principal aims are three: (a) to assert the merits of the better argument against power; (b) to assert the merits of equality and reciprocity against bureaucratic hierarchy; and (c) to assert the merits of autonomy and solidarity against domination and coercion (Strike, 1993, p. 266).

Currently, the move to school councils and local school management is consistent with participatory democracy, but the simultaneous move to give more power to provincial ministers of education is quite in the other direction. (More is said about these points in Chapters 2 and 3.)

Schools also are marked by inequality. Some schools are better staffed and equipped than others. Some teachers get better teaching assignments or more resources for their courses. Some students have more access to computers, reference materials, or field trips. Some students get better marks, enjoy school more, and are treated better by staff. Again, where there is inequality, there is the potential for abuse. We are not suggesting that everyone should be treated precisely the same at all times; that is both impossible and undesirable. Rather, it is important to ask whether the kinds of inequality that exist in schools are justifiable. Is it right (and, if so, why) that some students get to learn much more than others? Such questions are important in analyzing the way in which schools are organized and how that organization affects those who come into their orbit.

Inequalities in schooling are not accidental. One job that schools have been expected to perform is allocating social roles, determining who will go to work for low wages and who will receive professional training. How is it possible to reconcile this purpose with the desire to have every student develop all the skills and competencies listed in the goals statement in Box 1.1 (page 8)? Indeed, some believe that failure is part of the mission of schooling:

Imagine what would happen if . . . the goals that educators and reformers officially seek were actually accomplished. All students would become top performers. All of them would make . . . perfect A records throughout their schooling. Chaos would ensue. Colleges would not have room for all, but would have little ground on which to accept some and reject others. Employers looking for secretaries, retail salespersons, waiters, busdrivers, and factory workers would have jobs unfilled as every student considered such work beneath his or her accomplishment.
As long as education is used to rank young people and sort them into occupational futures that differ substantially in the money, status, power, and intrinsic rewards they can yield, good education, or students’ success at education, must remain a scarce commodity. (Metz, 1990, p. 85)

The fact is that schooling in Canada and in other countries does produce unequal results. Some people do well, go on to higher education, earn higher incomes, and attain greater access to societal rewards, whereas others do not fit in with the school, fail or drop out, and end up in low-paying jobs. Worse still, societal rewards are not distributed only on the basis of talent. The kind of family you come from, and particularly your parents’ income and occupations, have a great deal of influence on how much education you receive, what kind of job you have, and how much money you earn. For example, university students in Canada (and in other countries) are much more likely to come from families with higher education and income levels than are community college students or those who leave school without any postsecondary experience.

This tension between the allocative and educative functions of schooling is another example of the point made earlier in this chapter about the problems schools face in attempting to develop creative, critical individuals while passing down the basic values of the culture. The conflict between these purposes is of enormous importance in understanding what schools do and how they are organized.

The Moral Nature of Schools and Teaching
A final complication in the discussion of the goals and purposes of schooling has to do with its moral nature. Schooling is not simply a matter of teaching prescribed sets of knowledge and skills to students, although this is how it is often described. Rather, schooling is essentially concerned with introducing young people (and, increasingly, adults) to the nature of the world as we understand it, and equipping them to live and engage actively in that world—what we earlier called the development of self-knowledge. In this process, moral and ethical considerations are of fundamental importance, and students learn as much from how they are taught and treated in schools as they do from what they are taught. Every day, teachers and school administrators are acting as moral examples to students and one another, and are creating a community that embodies particular concepts of ethical behaviour. If some students are treated as unimportant, as people whose ideas and feelings are of no consequence, then they are more likely to see the world as one in which some people matter while others do not. If teachers embody respect for all students, for one another, for their subjects, and for the development of knowledge, then students are more likely to develop and value these qualities. According to Gary Fenstermacher (1990):

[t]eaching becomes nearly incomprehensible when disconnected from its fundamental moral purposes. These purposes are rooted in the moral development of the young. . . . [M]oral qualities are learned—acquired in the course of lived experience. If there are no models for them, no obvious or even subtle pressures to adopt moral qualities . . . the moral virtues may be missed, perhaps never to be acquired. . . .What makes teaching a moral endeavor is that it is, quite centrally, human action undertaken in regard to other human beings. Thus, matters of what is fair, right, just, and virtuous are always present. . . . The teacher’s conduct, at all times and in all ways, is a moral matter. For that reason alone, teaching is a profoundly moral activity. (pp. 132–33)

There are obviously important technical skills to be learned about teaching. Teacher candidates are understandably anxious about their ability to manage classes, maintain order, and create reasonable learning experiences for students. But these skills are not meaningful unless they are tied to an ethical and moral view of teaching. Think back to the teachers you had, and you will probably see that the example set by good teachers had more impact on you, and is more vivid in your memory, than the subject matter they taught.

Moral issues are not only embedded in the fabric of teaching, they are also integral to school organization and administration. Such matters as the division of schools into classes, grades, and ability levels, the assignment of work to students, or the awarding of marks and credits also have important moral dimensions.

The inconsistencies and tensions discussed in this chapter raise important questions. How do we work in an institution whose goals are uncertain, sometimes in conflict with one another, and perhaps unachievable? How do we decide what is worth our time and effort? Even more significantly, the idea that schools might actually require some students to fail—that this is a built-in part of what schools do—is a difficult one for many teachers who see their job as helping students to succeed. The shock value of the quote on page 18 lies in making us ask ourselves whether this quest for educational quality and equality can ever be totally successful, and whether the institution in which we work could survive if it were.

Some teachers probably don’t think about these issues very much. They just go on doing their daily work, help students as much as they can, and try to avoid the contradictions in the system. Other teachers come to the conclusion that they cannot do the things they value in schools as presently constituted, and they leave teaching. Some combine their teaching with active involvement in larger educational and social issues, whether through their professional association or through other kinds of volunteer work and public service. Others make up their minds to live with the frustration and inconsistencies because they continue to believe that their work is important, and that they can make a difference, even if only in their own classroom. In taking this position, teachers are embodying a concept of schools as institutions that are based fundamentally on moral considerations. A vision of the good school is intimately connected with a vision of the good society and the good life

Key Terms
Globalization p. 4
Neo-liberalism p. 4

1.   Conduct a class discussion of the main changes in society that have an impact on the schools. Put together as broad a list as you can, but don’t forget to look at some of the changes that have had positive impacts.

2.   Briefly state your view of the purposes of schools. Compare your view with those of Holmes or Barrow as cited in this chapter. Do their arguments modify your initial ideas? Why or why not?

3.   Find a goal statement from your province or a local school district. Compare it with the statement in Box 1.1 (page 8). Does it embody the same sorts of problems noted in this chapter? Why or why not?

4.   Reread the goals statement in Box 1.1 while thinking back to your own experience as a student. Which of these goals would you say were regarded as important in your school? Which were de-emphasized, ignored, or even contradicted?

5.   Consider one of the goals in Box 1.1 (e.g., developing critical thinking). Write a brief statement indicating how a school might be organized to achieve this particular goal more effectively if it were suddenly given top priority. How might these changes affect other purposes of the school? Would you advocate the changes? Why or why not?

6.   Interview three or four people involved with schools either as students, teachers, or parents. Ask them what they see as being the most important purposes of schools. Compare their answers. How much agreement is there? What disagreements occur? Why?

7.   How are schools in your community accountable to the public? Talk to people in the schools about this issue, and compare your perception with theirs.

8.   Conduct an informal survey of people in your community as to the relative power held by teachers, principals, school trustees, and parents on such matters as the curriculum, teaching methods, or school rules. Analyze and try to explain the agreements or disagreements among your respondents.

9.   Do a survey of your university class to assess the occupations of your classmates’ parents. Compare their distribution with Canadian census data. Is your class broadly representative of the Canadian population? What are the differences?

10. Write a brief description of a teacher you remember as being particularly good. What made him or her a good teacher? Are these qualities that any teacher could develop? Why or why not?

Further Reading
Debates over what it means to be an educated person and what the roles and functions of public schools are, and should be, in a democratic society have a long history. The debates are also very much alive today against a backdrop of a changing global economy and school reform initiatives. The following sources provide additional information on these debates.
•     School and Society (1998) by Walter Feinberg and Jonas Soltis provides an introduction to functionalist, conflict, and interpretivist analyses of the purposes of public education. The Sociology of Education in Canada (2nd ed.) (2004) by Terry Wotherspoon is a valuable Canadian source.
•     Public Schools and Political Ideas (1994) by Ronald Manzer provides an historical account of the ways in which public schools in Canada have been expected to serve different social/political purposes since Confederation. This analysis is expanded in his most recent book, Educational Regimes and Anglo-American Democracy.
•     Education Canada, Volumes 44(4) and 45(1), have a special focus on the public purposes of education in Canada. They include a set of articles that explore the historical and cultural forces that shaped Canadian schools and our ideas about schooling.
•     The Reformation of Canada’s School (1998) by Mark Holmes offers a critique of contemporary Canadian education and proposes educational reform through a balance between parental responsibility and the educational needs of society.
•     Failing Our Kids: How We Are Ruining Our Public Schools (2003) by Charles Ungerleider provides an overview and analysis of contemporary public education in Canada, drawing primarily on British Columbia illustrations.
•     The Erosion of Democracy in Education: From Critique to Possibilities (2001), edited by John Portelli and Patrick Solomon, looks at the relationship between public education and democracy, and the ways in which these relationships have been changed by recent school-reform initiatives across Canada.
•     The journal Our Schools/Our Selves, published by Fernwood Press, offers valuable current discussions about many of the issues raised in this chapter and elsewhere in the text.