In 2009 I, like many Albertans, participated in the Inspiring Education consultation, a comprehensive review and visioning process that gathered considerable public input intended to be the catalyst for a major overhaul to the Education Act.
Participants were encouraged to think big, think way outside the box and speculate about what “bold & courageous” decisions might be needed to ensure success for 21st century learners. I admit to feeling a bit nervous about some of the line of thought, as we were told that nothing was to be considered “off the table”. We should explore the idea of eliminating grade levels, assessment, classrooms… whatever. But I understood that the purpose of such shock therapy was to open our minds to the possibilities, and I joined the conversation with enthusiasm. In fact, when MLA Jeff Johnson, who was managing the pan-provincial process, approached me and asked if I would facilitate a half-day session at the Red Deer Chamber, I immediately agreed and went to a great deal of time and effort to do just that. In fact, in my little corner of the world alone, a whole lot of people put a whole lot of time and effort into engaging in the Inspiring Education initiative.
And it was done up right, too, let me tell you: hotel ballrooms were rented, high-tech software and AV were put to use, Department of Education support staff and managers were available in abundance. There were hand outs and visioning stimulation tools, and a ton of great food. No low rent affair, this consultation. In fact, the consultations culminated in a free convention, replete with EFA (Experts From Afar)! Wow. Though I thought it was done a little too extravagantly, and I wasn’t necessarily a fan of some of the… flakier… aspects of the guided conversation, I did indeed feel inspired by the time the reports were compiled. I had great hope for and confidence in the future of Alberta’s education system (which, by the way, I think is already pretty great). I waited with anticipation for legislation to be tabled as, I’m sure, did many others. Bill 18 was given first reading, and I wouldn’t remotely describe it as “bold and courageous”. It was not reflective of the visionary and audacious conversations to which I was party. But…
Now we have a new education minister. Thomas Lukaszuk replaces Dave Hancock and immediately decides we liked Inspiring Ed so much we should do it all over again with Our Children, Our Future: Getting it Right.
I have to say this is just frustrating on so many levels. Is Minister Lukaszuk saying that all the hard work we did with Inspiring Ed didn’t “get it right”? If we were all so wrong then, then why bother to ask us all over again? What will we have to say this time that will be so different? And really, why would any of us invest the time and energy to tell the government all over what we already told them? What assurance is there that this time our input will be considered? Really, I don’t think the issue is with the input that came from Albertans. If the new act laid an egg, that’s not because our input was lacking. Go back and study the input some more. Don’t rush to judgment as we’ve seen done in other instances – *cough*Bill50*cough* – but for goodness’ sake, when are we going to stop going around Mt. Consultation and merge onto Highway Get-on-with-it?
Beyond the colossal waste of money – OUR money, by the way – Minister Hancock made public consultation a colossal waste of time by turning all of our spicy ideas into a bland Bill. If you’re not interested in what Albertans have to say, and you aren’t going to do anything with it, then don’t ask. Don’t spend hordes of money and have us take time away from our work and ask us to organize and facilitate and think and speak and engage, and then completely disrespect us by ignoring what we say.
It wears us out and makes us disengage. Some Albertans, maybe several, will decide to go ahead and try again, to participate in this next go round, to roll the dice and hope something actually comes of it.. but methinks nobody oughtta hold their breath. Look at Thomas’s track record: he recently undertook to gather widespread public input on minimum wage that included extensive work by an all-party committee. In the end he went against the recommendations of the committee, bowed to special interest lobby and implemented two-tier minimum wage. And don’t even get me started on THAT!
I can’t for the life of me understand why the PC government either doesn’t ask us before it makes decisions, or asks us and then ignores our input and does what it wants, or keeps us locked in perpetual consultation mode without ever moving on to action.
The new premier says she wants to listen. She wants to engage Albertans in meaningful dialogue and respect what we have to say, and that she wants real outcomes, strong decisions and bold action. But the truth is she had to approve this expensive, redundant exercise in futility, and that’s disheartening. How many times can the government of this province pretend to include us, waste our time and money, and do nothing of substance as an outcome? I assert that this prolific PC practice has led Albertans to a point of either apathy or anger. Neither reaction lines up with Redford’s declarations, and certainly neither fosters a healthy atmosphere.
I’m not interested in being angry at the government all the time, and I certainly have no intention of disengaging. What I hope to do is inspire Albertans in my neck of the woods to engage me in meaningful conversation and work with me for real outcomes. Not earth-shattering out-of-the-box thinking; just common decency and common sense. The Albertans of today and of tomorrow deserve it.
Tell me what you think.