Persons of Canada must fight back against the thought police

Originally published by The Province (British Columbia), September 19, 2012. Original link.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time we call a spade a spade. English-speaking Canadians must learn to speak inclusively. Whether you are a long-time resident or a recent immigrant, choose your words more carefully. After all, we should make sure that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists all feel equally included in our society. Inclusivity begins at home when mothers and fathers model appropriate language for their kids.

Gratefully, I’m not an employee of the Durham, Ont., district school board. If I were, what I just wrote could get me in serious trouble with their language police. In fact, I violated their Guidelines for Inclusive Language more than a dozen times in my first paragraph. That could be enough to classify me as a level-one cultural destroyer on their cultural proficiency continuum.

You see, their guidelines prominently display a chart with six different levels. They range from level one, cultural destructiveness, to level six, cultural proficiency. Being tolerant doesn’t count for much in this school district – it only gets you up to level 2. It is also called cultural incapacity. To reach the highest level of inclusiveness and attain cultural proficiency, you need to master a whole new lingo.

For starters, starting a speech with the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” is verboten in that workplace. Apparently, audiences are supposed to be addressed with a more neutral greeting such as men and women. Similarly, you should not refer to people as husbands or wives, they are all simply spouses. Teachers are also expected to replace the terms mother and father with the more neutral title of parent or guardian.

According to the guidelines, the idiom “calling a spade a spade” can’t be used since it allegedly “demean[s] and ostracize(s) people.” Apparently, bigots in the United States sometimes used the word “spade” as an ethnic slur against African Americans during the early 20th century. So notwithstanding that this English phrase dates back to 1542 and ironically means to tell the truth in a direct way, it still can’t be uttered by Canadian teachers.

The silliness doesn’t stop there. It is now officially wrong to refer to someone as Chinese, Korean, or even American.Rather, teachers should identify someone as a person from a particular country. So calling U.S. President Barack Obama an American is a no-no. Rather, we should say that he is a person from America. So when country artist Lee Greenwood sings that he is “proud to be an American,” we should change that to “proud to be a person from America.”

By the way, the same applies to faith and language groups. No longer can teachers identify someone as Jewish, Muslim or Christian. Rather, they should be identified as members of a particular faith community.

For example, Billy Graham is not a Christian, rather he is a person from the Christian community. By the same token, we cannot refer to someone as English-speaking or French-speaking but rather as a person who speaks a particular language.

So let’s put this into practice and see how it works in real life.

Pauline Marois is a person from Quebec, a person who speaks French, and a member of the Roman Catholic community. Unfortunately, some of her comments during the recent Quebec election campaign could be interpreted as hostile to immigrants.

Oops, I did it again. I used a level-one cultural destroyer phrase when I said the word immigrants. According to the Durham District School Board, I’m supposed to refer to them as newcomers instead. Someone should really tell the minister of immigration, I mean the minister of newcomers, that he insults millions of new Canadians, sorry, persons from Canada, whenever he calls them immigrants.

Isn’t it great to know that Durham District School Board values diversity? In fact, they are so committed to diversity that they’ve issued a document that forces everyone to speak exactly the same way.

If we want to see real improvement in our schools, perhaps administrators should spend more time focusing on academic achievement and no time creating politically-correct language guidelines for students and staff.

All persons from Canada should be outraged at this silliness going on in our schools.

There’s zero support for schools’ no-zero policies

Originally published by the Calgary Herald, August 28, 2012 Original Link

High School physics teacher Lynden Dorval probably never expected to become a celebrity. But with his decision to defy his principal’s no-zeros edict, he ignited a nation-wide debate about grading practices in schools. Under no-zero grading policies, teachers are forbidden from assigning grades of zero to students for assignments they do not submit.

Public response on this issue has been overwhelmingly on Mr. Dorval’s side. Students rallied to his defense, teachers spoke out in support of his position, and newspaper pages were filled with letters attacking the no-zero policy. Even an online poll conducted by the Edmonton Journal reported that more than 97 per cent of the 12,486 respondents opposed the no-zero policy.

Largely in response to public pressure, Edmonton Public School Board trustees voted at their June meeting to conduct an extensive review of their assessment practices. The review is scheduled to commence in September.

Hopefully trustees take the time to carefully review the research evidence on no-zero policies. If they do, they’ll find that the evidence does not support the overblown claims made by no-zero supporters.

One of the best-known no-zero advocates is Ken O’Connor, an assessment consultant in Ontario. In his book How to Grade for Learning, O’Connor claims that zeros cause students to withdraw from learning. However, the only source he cites to back up this claim is an article in the NASSP Bulletin by Thomas Guskey, an education professor at the University of Kentucky.

Guskey does make the statement attributed to him by O’Connor but cites only one research study to support this claim – a 1992 article in the British Columbia Journal of Special Education by Deborah Selby and Sharon Murphy. In it, Selby and Murphy describe the experiences of six learning-disabled students in mainstream classrooms. These six students had negative experiences with letter grades and blamed themselves for their poor marks.

It should be obvious that it is absurd to generalize the experiences of six learning-disabled students to the rest of the student population. And yet this article is regularly cited by Guskey when he makes the claim that grades of zero have a negative impact on students. Even a more recent article by Guskey that appeared in the November 2011 edition of Educational Leadership contains the same claim, with Selby and Murphy’s article again providing the only research support.

Clearly, the claim that research evidence strongly supports no-zero policies is flawed. No-zero proponents cannot hide behind the research argument since the evidence for their position is quite weak.

In addition, there are many reasons why school administrators should avoid no-zero policies. One is that they inevitably bring controversy with them, something acknowledged by even their strongest proponents. If a school chooses to use a no-zero policy, it can expect that controversy will likely overshadow other more important initiatives. School administrators need to ask themselves whether a no-zero policy is worth the opposition they are certain to face.

No-zero policies also unreasonably interfere with the professional discretion of teachers to determine grades. Teachers know their students and realize that it is unrealistic to expect the same strategies to work with every student. All a no-zero policy does is take away one of the consequences teachers can use for students who fail to submit their work.

Students who submit their work on time could actually end up receiving worse grades than those who submit only some assignments. Since no-zero policies prohibit teachers from giving a zero for incomplete work, a student who hands in an assignment and receives a mark of 30 per cent would actually have been better off not to submit it. In fact, students will figure out that it is in their best interest to pick and choose the assignments they submit.

Finally, no-zero policies fail to prepare students for life after high school. Employees don’t get paid for doing nothing and universities don’t grant credit to students who choose not to hand in their assignments. A pilot who never flies a plane, an electrician who never wires a house, and a journalist who never hands in a story can all expect to get paid nothing. Employers aren’t going to accommodate employees who can’t be bothered to submit their work. Teachers need to prepare their students for this reality.

Let’s hope trustees in Edmonton and elsewhere across Canada recognize the folly of no-zero policies and stay away from them.