A Christmas Wish List for Schools

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Christmas is fast approaching. One thing we often do during the holiday season is share our wish lists. In that spirit, here is my Christmas wish list for schools across Canada.

First, I would like for all students to be in safe and orderly classrooms. Recent media stories about the violent incidents at York Memorial Collegiate Institute in Toronto have painted a picture of a school in crisis. Hallway fights, regular drug deals, and assaults on teachers are not conducive to a healthy learning environment.

To make matters worse, back in 2017, the Toronto District School Board scrapped its School Resource Officer program. This means that the only time students and staff will see a police officer in their buildings is when they are called in during an emergency.

It would make far more sense to have a regular police presence in schools, especially schools that are disorderly, so that officers can help de-escalate situations before they become serious.

In addition, school administrators need to do a better job of outlining and enforcing clear standards of student conduct. When students get away with minor infractions, they often escalate to more serious incidents. Thus, my Christmas wish is that schools become safe and orderly for everyone, students, teachers, and administrators.

Another Christmas wish I have is that all schools start using evidence-based reading instruction. The evidence about effective reading procedures has been hiding in plain sight for decades; undoubtedly, phonics is vastly superior to whole language. Students need to be directly taught how to sound out letters and syllables and they should not be left on their own to guess what they think the words sound like or mean.

The “Right to Read” report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission laid out this evidence in stark detail. There is no longer any excuse for subjecting students to subpar reading instruction. Imagine how much better Christmas would be if all schools abandoned failed approaches to reading and adopted rigorous phonics instruction in the classroom.

A related Christmas wish would be for provincial governments to adopt a content-rich curriculum in every subject and every grade level. One thing we’ve seen clearly from research is that students who have significant background knowledge about the topic they are reading about are far more likely to understand an article or book than those who lack that knowledge. Simply put, content knowledge is key to reading comprehension.

If both these Christmas wishes (phonics instruction and a content-rich curriculum) were granted, students will invariably become better readers. Not only would students be able to sound out the words on a page, but they would also be able to understand what they read. This would be one of the best social justice initiatives a school could embark upon.

Another Christmas wish is that all students be in classrooms free of woke ideology. In far too many cases, teachers are using their positions as an opportunity to push their political views on students. Teachers should teach students how to think, but not what to think. Any teacher who cannot refrain from pushing his or her political views on students doesn’t belong in the classroom.

An added Christmas bonus would be for the Halton District School Board to realize that there is nothing unreasonable about expecting all teachers to dress appropriately while at work. The industrial arts teacher who wears giant prosthetic breasts while teaching shop classes is making a mockery of public education. If school board administrators cannot deal with this situation appropriately, then they should be replaced by people who can.

Finally, some school boards could use a little more peace on earth. For example, the Waterloo Region District School Board has seen more than its fair share of infighting among school trustees. Prior to the school board election last month, one trustee, Mike Ramsay, had been suspended from his position for several months. This was unacceptable because it silenced a long-standing trustee for representing the wishes of his constituents.

Imagine how much better things would be if all trustees were free to speak their minds without fear of being reprimanded or suspended by their colleagues. This would certainly be a much healthier political environment and would likely lead to a healthier educational environment as well. That would help students too.

Perhaps my wishes for this Christmas are unrealistic. However, I believe that Christmas miracles can happen. It would be a joyful holiday indeed for students if these wishes were granted.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Michael Zwaagstra

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Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of “A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.”



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