The EQAO is an arm’s-length Crown agency of the Government of Ontario instituted under the Progressive Conservative government of Mike Harris in 1996. Its mandate is to conduct province-wide tests at key points in every student’s primary, junior and secondary education and report the results to educators, parents and the public. The question on EQAO’s tests are developed by Ontario educators and linked directly to the learning expectations in The Ontario Curriculum. The EQAO has an annual budget of approximately $33 million.
When I was a trustee on the London Board of Education I remember the reaction of the teachers, administrators, trustees and unions to this form of standardized testing. They were opposed to it. But not opposed on any solid educational grounds. They opposed it purely on partisan political grounds. The memory of the hatred the teachers unions had for the Mike Harris years is still seared into the minds of many today. That was a time when the common pronunciation of the word “harASSment” was changed to “HARisment” to reflect the harASSment the teachers felt they were being subjected to by the HARRIS govt.
Every time the EQAO scores are released we see the same teachers and administrators line up to condemn the results mainly because of the sense of effrontery they feel at having their profession assessed by the government.
And no wonder. The results (although I have to admit many failings in the validity and reliability of the testing) have always shown how poorly the public education system is at achieving the results mandated by their own curriculum. And while the nature of the curriculum is a topic for another day, suffice it to say that it is a failure in itself; a failure to teach the necessary literacy and numeracy skills to proceed to the next stage in their lives.
The ranking of school scores is always frowned upon because it reveals something of the education system which teachers and boards would like to ignore. First, areas of lower social demographics or immigration do poorer than schools that have children from more affluent and established families, and second, that if these factors are accounted for what is revealed is the poor teaching ability of the staff at particular schools.
In London the elementary school which scored the lowest was Sir John A. MacDonald, a school which is in a lower income area of town and has a considerable number of immigrant children. However, these same demographics can be found in many other schools in this city and in the province and these schools scored higher than Sir John A. MacDonald. In fact almost every school scored higher since “Mac” had a score of zero out of ten.
What I find most interesting is not that a school can perform so poorly on the EQAO tests but that the parents of the children attending this school don’t protest but instead actually praise the teachers and staff at the school.
I believe they are suffering from a form of “Stockholm Syndrome”.
“In psychology, Stockholm Syndrome is an apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.
“Stockholm Syndrome can be seen as a form of traumatic bonding, which does not necessarily require a hostage scenario, but which describes “strong emotional ties that develop between two persons where one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other.”
Perhaps the most infamous victim who exhibited “Stockholm Syndrome” was Patty Hearst, kidnapped by the so-called Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974. After two months in captivity, she actively took part in a robbery they were orchestrating.
Parents of these poorly scoring schools, in fact most parents who have children in the public education system, a system which graduates many children who are illiterate are incapable of functioning at the same level as say students who graduated in the earlier half of the last century, seem to rally around in defense of the school system whenever it feels threatened by things such as standardized testing.
Why? They, like a kidnap victim, are presented with little choice. They are forced to have their children educated in the Ontario Curriculum (whether in public or private schools). They are forced to pay into the system even if they wish to send their children to another school or home school they are still forced to pay into the public or Catholic education systems. They feel bewildered at the array of the ever increasing complexity of the curriculum deliberately made so by the teaching profession with the sole purpose of excluding any layman from doing what is actually a rather simple task – teaching.
Left with this feeling of being captured in a system of force they, like Patty Heart actually support the system even when data shows the harm that it is doing to their children.
Here is an excerpt from one parent who had children in Sir John A. Macdonald which aired on the Andy Oudman radio program here in London:
“I have no problem with the education my children have received at Sir John A. MacDonald. I see remarkable things at that school every day. The staff are incredible! Just incredible. And I’ve seen a lot of teachers. I’ve probably seen a hundred different teachers over the last 12 years and this group of people are a team. You can feel it when you walk into the front door of that school; the camaraderie, the compassion the care and the excitement for teaching. They want to see every child succeed, and whether that’s one step ahead or 10 steps ahead, every step ahead is progress for our students regardless of their background, regardless of their ability. That’s what we focus on.
“I’m not a teacher and I know that the foundation they received from Junior Kindergarten to grade eight was exceptional.
“We’ve considered moving not because of the school. We would find a way to get our kids back to the school if we moved out of the area. Mac is an exceptional place.”
This after hearing that her children’s school was ranked 2,689th out of 2,695 elementary schools in the province.
Stockholm Syndrome can be the only explanation for why parents praise a school system which is crippling their children’s minds.
But the education system is not the only area where we see the “Stockholm Syndrome” at work. It can be found in any area where force is used to, in-effect, victimize or capture the public with no alternatives just as with actual kidnap victims.
When we are told that fire-fighters make over $100,000 a year we don’t hesitate to praise the good work they do, even though the good work they do is done so infrequently and is usually done by unpaid volunteers in countless communities in the country. The same praise is given to policeman even though the police department has refused to come in under budget year after year.
Our health care system is praised as the best in the world even though it clearly is not.
We have, as a society become a mass of kidnap victims who have become sympathetic towards our captors, repeatedly giving them salary raises, re-electing them to Parliament, and singing the praises of the essential work they provide us even though we somehow know deep down that they are essentially harming us, and leaving us with little or no alternatives. We either side with them or accept the fact that we are all victims, held captive, by force, every day of our lives.
(Originally broadcast on Just Right #240, March 8, 2012)