Mystifying math

While the news cycle has largely moved on to the back and forth between Ontario Premier Doug Ford and ousted (from the Tory caucus) MPP Randy Hillier, whose accusations that fealty to Ford has become more important than representing constituents among the Conservative crew ring pretty true, it’s hard not to cast a backward glance at last week’s announcements regarding education.

The Ford government revealed changes to Ontario’s education system on March 15, including increased class sizes for high school and upper elementary grades, and new elementary math and health education curriculums.

“Our plan will modernize the classroom, protect the future of the education system and ensure that Ontario students will acquire the skills they need to build successful lives, families and businesses right here in Ontario,” said Education Minister Lisa Thompson.

Maybe, but only if they’re building successful lives in Doug Ford’s Ontario, where the only math the government would like you to know is that beer costs a buck a bottle and a carbon tax will bankrupt the province. While some old-timers are applauding the announcement of a back-to-basics math curriculum that includes a return to emphasis on rote learning of times tables, it’s hard not to wonder who that will help. Math basics need to be taught, but they should hardly be the focus. The advent of calculators and computers has meant that while students need to understand math principals, the basic grunt work can be handled electronically, leaving young minds free to concentrate on more intricate and important tasks. Farmers don’t plow fields with horses anymore, for much the same type of reasons. It can be done, but why would you?

While the health and physical education curriculum appears not to have been dialed all the way back to the 1950s, as many feared it might be under a leader who was compelled to cozy up to social conservatives long enough to win his party nomination, the new version does delay introduction of topics such as  sexting, contraception and sexually transmitted infections until halfway through Grade 8 which, unfortunately, is going to be too late for some.

Perhaps the biggest lesson imparted by the new education approach is that this government actually thinks you are stupid.

Otherwise, why would they even try to sell a plan to increase class sizes as symbiotic with Ford’s election promise that “not one single person will lose their job.” That of course evolved post election to “no front line workers” will lose their jobs (tell that to all the front line workers already facing layoffs due to program changes). Thompson is now pushing the line there will be “no involuntary job losses” due to the education changes. 

Attrition may sound like a painless way to cut, but unions are predicting there could well be 16,000 to 20,000 fewer teachers working in Ontario four years from now. In addition to the impact on current students, that kind of talent exodus bodes poorly for the future of education in general. Many bright young people have already been discouraged from entering the education field due to difficulty in  finding full-time employment upon graduation in recent years. What impact this purge will have on the profession is difficult to imagine.

Still, with a Tory majority, there’s no stopping the plan, so we might as well get ready for the “new” math. Try this one: if beer costs one dollar, how much does it cost to drink enough to forget, at least for a little while, that Doug Ford is premier?