Re Teachers’ Unions Are Obsolete (Focus – Jan. 12): Virtually all of the high performing countries on international assessments (Japan, South Korea, Finland, Canada, Australia, Germany, New Zealand) have strong teacher unions, while others (e.g. Singapore) have very favourable salaries and working conditions for teachers. Countries with weak teacher unions and poor working conditions (e.g. the U.S.) have lower achievement levels. There is no evidence that strong teacher unions are inconsistent with high quality education.
Facts In Education panel: Ruth Baumann, Ron Canuel, Gerry Connelly, Michael Fullan, Kathleen Gallagher, Avis Glaze, Sue Herbert, Bill Hogarth, Ben Levin
Margaret Wente says that teachers rightly regard themselves as professionals, and quotes one anonymous teacher who decries union leaders for alienating members and making them look ridiculous. Teachers’ unions are democratic organizations in which every member has the right to seek office and to vote for the leaders of their choice. If teachers want to shift public perception so that the larger community also regards them as professionals, they have opportunities to take action every time there is a call for nominees and every time they cast a ballot to elect new leadership – leadership with the vision and courage to move away from the traditional, industrial union model to one based on the professional association model common among doctors and lawyers. If it is true that teachers’ unions have become obsolete, they have done so with the blessing of their members.
D. Philip Cameron, Regina
Technology can be a wonderful learning tool, but Margaret Wente needs to spend more time in an actual classroom before she is so dismissive of good, old fashioned teacher instruction.
Give a smartphone to the average high school student and they will probably text their friends. Give them access to YouTube and they will probably watch hockey highlights.
Independent learning replacing in-class instruction sounds great on paper, but we are talking about teenage kids here.
John Clench, Vancouver
What kind of state?
Contrary to what Doug Saunders argues in What Kind Of Nation Is A First Nation? We Need To Decide (Focus – Jan. 12), the 1648 Peace of Westphalia did not invent the modern nation. The Peace ended the worst European war to that point and arguably heralded the triumph of sovereign states, free to govern their subjects without outside interference. Neither did the state-system ushered in at Westphalia create institutions that allowed for national self-determination, fixed borders and “citizenship rights,” concepts that were anathema to almost all statesmen throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
The modern nation and more significantly, the modern nation-state, are largely the products of European wars fought between 1789 and 1918. Perhaps the Canadian peoples, aboriginal and newcomer, should heed the example of the European Union, founded in the aftermath of the last general European war, and rethink not what kind of nation, but what kind of state we want to be.
Matthew Neufeld, history lecturer, University of Saskatchewan
The timing of the death of celebrated Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak (Folio – Jan. 9) is thought provoking, given the current climate and relationship between Canada’s aboriginal peoples and the federal government.
Her death is a loss for Canada but also a reminder of the exchange that can take place between the country’s indigenous people and its government leaders. As former governor-general Michaëlle Jean said in 2008 on presenting the artist with a Governor-General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts, Ms. Ashevak’s work “ignites a stirring dialogue between Inuit and Western cultures.”
J.D.M. Stewart, Toronto
Those who ask what Idle No More demonstrators are protesting should read the obituary of Kenojuak Ashevac (For Inuit Culture, She Was An Iconic Light Of Happiness And A Dancing Owl – Obituaries, Jan.12). The government and culture that caused her father’s death, named her number E7-1035, and took her from her dying children is related to the federal government’s present day plan to take away Aboriginals’ traditional rights and pollute the lakes, rivers and land they depend on.
We should be thanking the Aboriginals who are trying to save Canada.
Myrna Wood, Prince Edward County Field Naturalists
My wife, Gloria, and I have always admired Kenojuak Ashevak’s work. In November of 2004, I read in The Globe that Ms. Ashevak would be appearing at a Toronto art gallery. My wife and I decided to meet this very special person. We weren’t disappointed.
When we arrived at the gallery, Ms. Ashevak was sitting on a bench, with her daughter-in-law standing beside her. As we walked up the steps, we saw she was looking at us. My brother Ernie has worked in the Arctic for years and had become friends with Ms. Ashevak and her family. When I introduced myself as Ernie’s brother, she broke into a broad smile. She said something to her daughter-in-law in Inuktitut – that as soon as she saw me, she knew I had something to do with Ernie.
Ms. Ashevak asked her daughter-in-law to get her nephews who were showing their work in the gallery to come out and meet Gloria and myself. She wanted a picture with us and her family. How, she asked through her daughter-in-law, is Ernie’s dog.
She treated us like family, and she was so genuine. Gloria and I were honoured and will always remember Kanojuak Ashevak not only as a brilliant artist but as a beautiful human being as well.
Rudy and Gloria Bies, Mississauga
Women as cardinals?
Michael W. Higgins’s excellent article Let’s Open The College Of Cardinals To Women (Jan. 7) signals a brave move forward in dialogue. More and more people are talking about the ordination of women priests, and this could be a first step in that direction.
It would encourage gender equality and recognize what women give to the Catholic Church and can give in the future. It also would challenge the legalism that’s now so prevalent in the church and encourage dialogue about celibacy and married priests.
Fifty years after Vatican II, we’re moving backward and away from the community of equality that was envisioned at the Second Vatican Council.
Virginia Edman, Toronto
Re ‘Big Money’ In Illegal Garlic (Jan. 11): This Twilight craze is really getting out of hand.
Pat Lee, Vancouver
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