The kerfuffle that has divided members of the Greater Victoria School Board is not about whether there should be Wi-Fi in elementary schools.
If it were that simple, the board might simply have called for a comprehensive summary review of expertise about Wi-Fi, about proximity of Wi-Fi to kids, about iPhones and microwave ovens, baby alarms, radio-controlled cars, cordless phones, Bluetooth headsets, security alarms and loads of other things that operate with unlicensed radio frequency bands.
The board might then have reviewed those opinions and made a decision.
That is why the public elected school trustees — to find out to the best of their ability what is what about Wi-Fi or anything else, put a motion pro or con on the table, vote and get on with it.
No, this particular kerfuffle is actually about the creeping politicization of public education and who’s in charge of what.
As one beleaguered school principal said to me not long ago: “I don’t know who I work for anymore — the school planning council, the parent advisory council, the district parent advisory council, the union shop steward, the superintendent or the trustees individually or collectively. None of them seem to agree with each other about what we are trying to do here and how we are to go about doing it.”
Parent groups of one kind or another have been active in B.C.’s public schools for more than 95 years. On Sept. 8, 1915, the first official parent organization was launched at the oldest school in the province, Craigflower, on Victoria’s outskirts.
In provincial legislation in 2002, parents were given the right to form a district parent advisory council in their school district, and through it to advise the board on any matter relating to education in the district. That provided DPACs with a kind of quasi-appointed but unelected (by the larger community) authority.
Then followed school planning councils in every school. SPCs were legislated for the first time with the responsibility of creating an annual school plan for improving student achievement. Parents were given majority representation (three) on the school planning council, joining the principal, one teacher and a senior student in secondary schools.
It would be tough to run a business overlaid with that amount of direction and advice.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to receive expert medical treatment at the Victoria Cancer Centre, the result of a PSA test about which there is both informed and uniformed public controversy. My treatment did not have to be approved by anybody other than my doctors and oncologists, unobstructed by committees, councils and advocacy groups, some of whom might have disagreed about the use of chemicals as opposed to naturopathic remedies.
Others might have held strong opinions about the application of radiation to the human body, which, as everybody knows, is dangerous.
My doctors were able to proceed unimpeded by any of that, and I’m grateful. I have to trust that they knew what they were doing.
The same applies to other levels of government and most professions where decisions are made by people educated, trained or elected by the wider community to make decisions. Even then, mistakes are made. Cancer patients die and ice falls off a brand-new bridge, but engineers and oncologists can get on with finding solutions unobstructed by politics of who should have done what and when and how.
This is not an advocacy for non-responsive governance at any level. I have worked with too many boards of trustees who, recognizing the responsibility to which they had been assigned in a general election, worked long and hard to get the job done and make the system work in the best interests of kids. At the same time, they did not disregard the interests of innumerable single-issue advocacy groups and individual agendas, as well-intentioned as they might be.
But public education faces enough challenges not to be derailed by small-“p” politics.
Geoff Johnson is a retired superintendent of schools.
© Copyright 2013