Poor Professor Judith Adler. A couple of months ago, the sociology instructor at Memorial University informed the CBC and the National Post that her second-year charges were thoroughgoing imbeciles.
Perhaps, I go too far. I shall rephrase. The dutiful academic, whose only thoughts are for the well-being of Generation Y (Ver. 2.0), laments the fact that a big chunk of her class can’t read a map of Planet Earth and, so, cannot point to England or Ireland or Europe or Africa or, for that matter, the Atlantic Ocean, even though, she correctly observes, “we are on it.”
All of which, I must admit, leaves me feeling a bit of the imbecile; frankly, I don’t get it. In my day of rubber bottles filled with glue, prettily arranged on teacher’s desk for pitching at pugnacious pupils’ heads, geography was the course one could never fail as long as one was in temporary possession of a half-decent memory. The Einsteins and polymaths in school derided those who took it, calling us birdbrains. In return, we beat them up. But, I digress.
The question is: How have we arrived at this time and place when and where a university sophomore is unable to locate his own town, province, region, country, and continent on an atlas? The answer is: It’s a stupid question. Or, at least, it’s a rhetorical one, because we know exactly how we have arrived at this time and place.
Nowadays, public schools aren’t places of learning; they’re trauma centers. Teachers are too busy performing triage on children wounded by exposure to all the rank perfidies this linked-in, hookedup, texting, sexting world provides, 24 hours a day, every day. They’re too busy wondering whether little Johnny had an orange for breakfast or merely toaster strudel.
The stark, lamentable fact is that, relative to their peers in other countries in the developed world, kids in Canada are falling behind in every subject that matters to a so-called knowledgeloving global marketplace: math, science, language, literacy, and now even geography.
To be sure, even on a good day, much mindless babble fills the conference rooms and policy chambers of elective office. But in the interminable debate over what governments can or cannot do—should or should not undertake—surely we can agree that providing a decent, early start to a good, universally accessible education is a nobrainer. More than this, it’s a competitive necessity.
Not long ago, TD Economics reported on the subject. “There is a great deal of literature showing compelling evidence of the benefits of early learning,” wrote Craig Alexander, the bank’s senior vicepresident, who authored the study. “Not only do high-quality early childhood education (ECE) programs benefit children, they also have positive impacts on parents and the economy as a whole.”
In fact, he asserted, “The analysis shows that for every dollar invested, the return ranges from roughly 1.5 to almost three dollars, with the benefit ratio for disadvantaged children being in the double digits.”
Statistics Canada backs him up. According to its calculations, ECE is among the highest industrial GDP multipliers—that is, you get more back for every dollar you spend—in Canada. The employment multiplier is even more impressive, suggesting to Alexander that “early childhood education does not only provide significant benefits to children, families and the economy, but it provides a better return on investment than many other sectors.”
Here’s the plain-spoken truth: If we give our kids a structured education when they are very young (age four and under), we vastly improve their chances of succeeding later in public school. We catch their problems and nurse their troubles before they become unteachable, unmanageable adolescents.
In the long run, that means a stronger, more globally competitive economy.
For reasons that make more political than economic sense, the federal government has determined, in its wisdom, that structured ECE in Canada is too expensive and too intrusive to take seriously.
But if we don’t start now, taking it seriously, we may live to watch a prime minister of this vast and ignorant land deliver a speech in which she mistakes Paris for London, just as a member of the peanut gallery chirps, “Hey, who’s the imbecile?”