We can expect to see the Report of the Inspiring Education Steering Committee shortly. The Report will provide an answer to many questions. The nature of the answer will fuel worthwhile public debate.
The Alberta Cabinet directed the Steering Committee to accept five characteristics as core values — opportunity; fairness; citizenship; diversity; and excellence. But Cabinet didn’t limit the Steering Committee to these five characteristics, and Cabinet didn’t elaborate about where these characteristics should show up — in the educated citizen or in the education system, or in the community, or someplace else, or everywhere.
I would like to see the Steering Committee to put forward other characteristics, some of which, frankly, I think are more to the point of core values than those put forward by Cabinet. I am also hopeful that the Steering Committee will be clear in saying that these core characteristics should be embodied in our young citizens as they graduate from high school, and embodied in our communities. It is pointless to talk about core characteristics (values) for the education system, or for the school, or for the pupil, if those core values (characteristics) don’t permeate the community in which the school system functions.
My list of important characteristics for citizens and community would include an abiding commitment to:
• the innate worth and moral autonomy of each individual (students and adults must be respected);
• democratic self-government, locally & provincially;
• sustainability; and,
• flexibility (adaptability).
Content may be less important than competence. Competence is less important than character.
One of the themes that concerned me during the public presentation stage of the Inspiring Education initiative was the apparent emphasis on education as an economic activity. One can call a person an entrepreneur and emphasize the economic impact of education, or one can call a person a citizen and emphasize the “wholeness” of education.
Another one of the themes that concerned me during the public presentation stage of the Inspiring Education initiative was the apparent emphasis on individualization. “Less school, more learner”. There are many things wrong with school as we know it to-day: it can use a shake-up. At the same time, “school” represents community, at a time when our interdependence is more and more evident and important to long-term success. More than one participant in this initiative quoted or paraphrased the adage: “it takes a whole village to raise a child.” More than one Edmontonian has recently said that “the school is the centre of the community”.
Interestingly, at the same time that some messages have been emphasizing individualization over community, other messages have been emphasizing “the big community” over “the small communities”.
All Albertans live simultaneously in a number of communities — like concentric circles that surround us and fall further and further away from where we stand. It is for citizens to decide which decisions will be made and implemented in each community. I hope the Inspiring Education Report will not presume to speak for Albertans on this issue, since governance was a very small part of the citizens’ input to the process.