(Image Credit: Rosser1954 via Wikimedia Commons; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)

Several instances have been reported of School Boards / Trustees acting in questionable ways. If ‘children are our future’, then that future, which is being shaped by out of control ‘representatives’ of the people, can’t be too bright.


Recently, Global News reported that a New Westminster, B.C., School Board Trustee, one Dee Beattie, had ‘admitted to running a Twitter troll account to harass people’. She has taken a medical leave of absence and agreed to cooperate with a code of conduct investigation. While one may be justified in being skeptical regarding the outcome of this investigation – there have too many instances of elected officials going scot-free or getting a slap on their wrist for their wrongful actions recently – her admission of wrongdoing is definitely orders of magnitude better than what we have seen from another School Board Trustee in Ottawa, Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth (I will be referring to her as Dr. Nili henceforth, in the interest of brevity). She consistently comes across as angry, aggressive and unwilling to accept any points of view outside her own, as if she has a direct perception of Truth that is inaccessible to lesser mortals. In November last year, when appearing as a guest on the Ottawa area talk show host Bill Carroll’s show, she came swinging out of the gates right from the word go, forcing the host to take the shocking and unusual (but entirely justified, in my view) snap decision to hang up on her. While this was in the context of the debate of making masking mandatory in schools, and therefore Dr. Nili may have been speaking in her capacity as a doctor (at least partly), even in her position as the School Board Trustee, she has been equally abrasive to parents and other constituents. For example, at one meeting, she cut off the mike of a parent who was making a presentation on the issue of the use of washrooms by transgender students. This has led to demands for her ouster from the position of Trustee.

Elsewhere, the Waterloo Catholic District School Board is mired in a controversy over the process to replace two Trustees, the vacancies having arisen due to the death of one trustee and the resignation (on health grounds) of another. At a public meeting on the issue, police had to be called as a number of individuals were said to have been disruptive. This was likely in response to Twitter posts by (now former) trustee Wendy Ashby that had led to concerns being raised about possible breach of the code of conduct. Trustee Ashby responded to these concerns by stating that she had decided to remove her Twitter account, and added that she remains ‘dedicated to continuing to work with (her) colleagues and (their) community to support all students’. Her offensive tweet is no longer available (except as screenshots taken by others), but it said this: “The most dangerous creature on the planet is the White Christian male. They’re a threat to anyone that is not them.” Clearly, it is not worth having a person with such views anywhere near an educational institution for children, many of whom would be ‘White Christian male’.

One can scour the internet to find more examples like this, but the question on my mind is whether the School Boards and the Trustees are indeed ‘supporting all students’. I put that last word in italics for emphasis, because as it relates to the part of their lives as students, I think our children are being let down by the public education system, with the School Boards playing a prominent role in this.


Before we turn to that discussion, I think it is important to note that while School Board Trustees are elected representatives of the people, once elected, some of them appear to acquire an exaggerated view of their role in the system – and particularly of their powers. To be clear, this is common at all the 3 levels of government that we have in Canada. While we commonly refer to all of them as elected officials, their role is supposed to be to represent people rather than to officiate over them; the meaning of the verb ‘to officiate’ being ‘to act as a person in charge of something’. This is a crucial difference that is usually forgotten. Any powers or authority that elected ‘officials’ have are not endowed upon them by virtue of holding that office, but rather by the a choice made by the voters who want themselves represented in the system by another individual. And this is where the voters’ role comes into play.

New Westminster Trustee Dee Beattie was elected by securing 53.5% of the votes cast. Voter turnout in New Westminster was 27.28%. This means that Ms. Beattie won the lection by getting the votes of 14.59% of the electorate.

Similarly, Dr. Nili secured 50.74% of the votes cast. The turnout in the Ottawa municipal election was 44%, meaning that Dr. Nili won the election by getting the votes of 22.33% of the eligible voters. And finally, for Wendy Ashby, I was unable to locate similar data, but the webpage of the township of Wilmot where she was elected from shows that she had secured 264 votes.

Voter turnout at municipal elections is a well-known problem. Perhaps a sociologist or a psephologist can dig into the causes, but from my layman’s point of view, our day-to-day lives are more directly impacted by the policies and actions of municipal governments compared to those of the other two. I grew up in an environment where there was a lot of enthusiasm about voting, so this Canadian phenomenon will always remain a mystery to me.


Returning to our scheduled programming, the overbearing approach by School Boards and the arrogance displayed by Trustees is not new, although it has been getting a lot more press of late. For example, some 5 years ago, Peel District School Board made waves by removing the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird from the books that could be taught to students there. After much brouhaha, they relented – but mandated that the book be taught with a ‘critical “anti-oppression lens”’. My view is that the book is an excellent example of ‘anti-oppression lens’ that is hard to surpass.

Elsewhere, educators in Edmonton were “urged to ‘be sensible and sensitive’ about N-word in To Kill A Mockingbird”. I am not a teacher and never have been, but my mother was, so I can say with a degree of confidence that a teacher being told to ‘be sensible’ is highly insulting. People who spend their lives in a given line of work – especially one that requires specific education to qualify for it – should be expected to know the basic requirements of their jobs. Barring exceptional cases (they do exist everywhere), it would be mightily condescending of a person who hasn’t spent a day of their lives in that line of work to tell the workers that they need to have the basic attributes required for that job. But in those days, it was fashionable to deride this literary classic, and it was an instant ticket to one’s 15 minutes in the limelight.

In short, this malaise is many years in the making, and since nothing was done to cleanse the system, it has only grown worse. Moreover, over the same period, we have witnessed the rise of a movement and class of people belonging to it that can only be described as Canada’s Neo-Clergy (see my earlier article on this for a detailed exploration). In a nutshell, these are self-appointed arbiters of what is moral, and go about enforcing their moral code on everyone with gusto. While they may not sometimes live up to this lofty code themselves, their fury at anyone they deem guilty of having transgressed it is unforgiving. This is a far cry from – indeed diametrically opposed to – my school experience.


We had a curriculum that had been set in place by the government. Our teachers taught that curriculum in class. In addition, it was natural for them to tell us, from time to time, how to be a good person. This was usually done when some student had misbehaved. Punishment was strict, but beyond the basic ones (such as the student being made to stand outside the classroom), it required the school to communicate with the student’s parents. It was a simple system, and therefore it worked well.

I find the environment in school education in Canada to be not only different but also detrimental to the children’s future. I have seen a lot of people (especially on social media) lament the ‘leftist indoctrination’ in our public education system, but I think the digressions can go off in other directions also. For example, when the agitation against India’s farm laws was going on in that country, I heard from a teacher in the Peel Region that the Sikh teachers were spending an inordinate amount of time in class talking about ‘human rights violations by the Indian government’. Not only that, I was also told that they were pressuring other (non-Sikh) teachers to do likewise. I cannot vouch for these claims, but it seems plausible to me that digressing from actual class work is not seen as a problem in some schools or by some teachers. Therefore, when the digression from their actual teaching functions is at the direction of their School Board, many teachers would willingly oblige. This digression, of course, comes at the expense of the children’s education and therefore their future. I need to add here that it is also our future, because (as the cliché goes) the children are our future.


This situation reminds me of a scene from the 1965 movie Genghis Khan, wherein the great Khan of the future (played by Omar Sharif) – by then a nomad who went by his given name of Temujin – helped a diplomat of Imperial China. The diplomat convinced Temujin to accompany him to the Imperial capital. When they reached the Great Wall, Temujin’s companions were awestruck by the imposing sight, but Temujin, whose ambition for conquest was already in his mind, noticed that the Chinese soldiers patrolling atop the wall were all pot-bellied. So he told his friend and closest companion Sengal (played by Woody Strode), “These fat sheep will be no match for the wolves, mark my words.

I have been saying for a while that Canada is becoming globally uncompetitive precisely at the time when global competition is becoming unprecedentedly intense. This may sound off-putting to some, but at least a part of past glory is owed to the fact that the vast majority of people in the rest of the world did not have access to the same opportunities that Canadians had. I believe that the era has ended, and the path forward will be more and more steeply uphill as time passes. People in (seemingly) remote parts of the world will be able to compete against Canadians in the global marketplace. As is common, this challenge will come coupled with opportunities that didn’t even exist before – the only worry is whether we will be equipped to grab these opportunities while navigating the challenges. How does one do that?

Given the increasing role of technology in work as well as everyday lives, I believe that one key attribute that the winners of tomorrow will possess is a sound base in STEM subjects. Their work may not fall under the STEM umbrella, but no matter what kind of work they do, having a basic grip over STEM subjects will be prerequisite for doing that work well.

In this regard, the continuously falling performance of school children is of grave concern. As I pointed out in my earlier article ‘The Coming Age Of Un-Knowledge, 53% of the students in Ontario do not meet the province’s own standard in math. When they come out of the education system (I hesitate to say ‘When they finish their studies’ because they won’t have learned much), they will be competing against the winners from a system where standards are much higher. How likely are our kids to succeed in that kind of grossly mismatched contest?


It is of course obvious that our education system needs to get back to the basics of teaching the famous three R’s. I am not exactly making a revelation here. But what has not been mentioned – let alone discussed – is that the people who are supposed to be in charge of that system don’t appear to have any defined deliverables. In the business world, the use of KPI (Key Performance Indicators) is ubiquitous. What are the KPI’s for School Board Trustees? Or is the very concept of KPI inapplicable because this is an elected position? I believe that this is a key question (pardon the pun) that is not even on anyone’s radar. But if we wish to improve our future along with that of our children, I think it is imperative to have a public discussion about it.

As chance would have it, Steve Paikin at TVO discussed the state of the education system in the province and the need to re-focus on the three R’s about 6 weeks ago. At the very start of the discussion, one of the guests, Kathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards Association and a Trustee in the Kawartha – Pine Ridge District School Board said: “Well, the good news is, School Boards and School Board Trustees have always been focused on student achievement…”

With all due respect to Ms. Abraham, that ‘focus’ is not visible in the results – we are the proverbial ‘proof of the pudding’ point here. In fact, student performance in Ontario has been on a relentless decline for at least the past 14 years, if not more. Without sounding unduly harsh, let me say that her statement is political rather than factual – but that is to be expected from a person who is holding an elected (i.e., political) office. And that is the crux of the problem here – the other guest on that show, Waterloo trustee Mike Ramsay, who has been clamoring about some underperforming schools in his region, has become unpopular among his fellow-trustees and is having to battle the School Board. Handing over an administrative function to a political body was always going to end up in politics trumping actual, efficient administration that measures output by pre-determined metrics rather than word salads. I am a vegetarian, and I like salads, but when it comes to words – and especially administration – I would much prefer it if the people in charge of education got to the meat of it rather than offering salads.


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