Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Farewell, Pastor Mansbridge

Peter Mansbridge is retiring as anchor of The National and I…really don’t care. I don’t watch The National. In fact, I don’t watch CBC television. I’m an enthusiastic CBC radio listener but I probably won’t be able to tune in again until Mansbridge is gone because I’ve already heard two fond salutes to him and that is more than a body can bear.

I know I’m supposed to admire Mansbridge because he’s so well traveled and has interviewed so many famous people. But he gets to travel so much because he hogs all the plumb assignments and he does all that traveling on our dime. He does everything (including that farcical search for the two ships of the Franklin expedition) on our dime, except speak to oil industry executives, which he did on their dime.

As for the list of high-profile interviews he’s bagged, it reminds me of the hunting trophies of the late Archduke Franz Ferdinand. (Stick with me, I know where I’m going with this.)

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand's hunting trophies, Konopiště Castle, Czech Republic.

The Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s hunting trophies, Konopiště Castle, Czech Republic.

Although best known for being killed (his assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 is generally credited with having triggered the First World War), Franz Ferdinand was also a standout as a killer — of animals. “Anything that moved, he was ready to shoot,” wrote the author Richard Ned Lebow. His tally is believed to have been as high as 300,000 creatures (thousands of which are on display at Konopiště, his castle in what is now the Czech Republic) and the only real surprise about his assassination was that it wasn’t the work of a bear or an elephant or a brace of pheasants.

And how did he kill on such a massive scale? With a lot of help. “Keep in mind,” said one commentator, “royal hunting was a kind of massacre game, with his aids sweeping doomed animals into the Archduke’s eager sights.” Add a team of two or three gun bearers whose job was to ensure the Archduke always had a loaded weapon in his hands, and you begin to see how he came to set a personal record of 2,140 kills in a single day.

Which brings me back to Mansbridge: the CBC sent all those high-profile people to him. They beat the bushes and out came the world’s leading politicians and entertainers and sports figures to be chased toward Peter who lobbed softball questions, prepared in advance by his researchers, at them. (And then, in time-honored CBC tradition, he took all those researched questions and the responses and whipped up a book from them. Sample Amazon reviews: “This book contains transcripts of interviews, and it is surprising to me how boring they are” and “Easy read. Good at bedtime or in the bathroom as it comes in short snippets.”)

Mansbridge, according to Canadaland, earns over $1 million a year and will retire with a pension of $500,000 and yet, that’s not enough for him — he also needs us to trust and admire and vow to miss him.

Sorry, Pastor, you’ll have to make do with the $500,000.


Drake (Not the cool one)

Educator and commentator Grant Frost danced a jig of joy in the pages of the LocalXpress on Thursday as arbitrator Erik Slone came down in favor of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union (NSTU) in its dispute with the Minister of Education over the infamous Drake University courses — those long-distance learning courses several hundred Nova Scotian teachers used to upgrade their teaching qualifications and increase their salaries.

After a CBC report on the Drake courses caused, according to Frost, “quite a stir among the masses” (and by “masses” I presume he means those of us who have not had the benefits of a Drake long-distance education), then-Education Minister Karen Casey announced the department would no longer recognize the Drake courses except in the case of some 500 teachers who had already been pre-approved to take them. Casey then flip-flopped and announced the department would not recognize the courses even for those teachers who’d been pre-approved.

Slone ruled the government had no right to rescind its approval for those teachers.


Educational rigor

Frost hailed the decision as a vindication of any teacher who ever upgraded his or her classification by taking a Drake course and a slap on the wrist for the CBC for daring to question the quality of those courses.

But the quality or “rigor” of the Drake courses was not the subject of this arbitration, as Slone himself says, repeatedly:

It is not for me to decide whether or not Drake courses are “rigorous” enough to qualify for teacher certification upgrades.


In the end, the appropriateness of Drake courses, or Integrated Programs generally, is a matter of policy for the Department and, to the extent applicable, for negotiation with the Union. I make no finding about the Drake courses, per se, and simply note that this is a controversial subject. Indeed, the grievance does not require that I make any such findings.

Nevertheless, based on the testimony of six teachers who took the courses (and who, Slone admitted were hand-picked by the union to “make a good impression”), the arbitrator managed to slip his thumb onto the scale in favor of the Drake courses — and in a way that should send chills up teachers’ spines:

Each of the six teachers who testified described the Drake course work as rigorous, at least insofar as they effort that they were willing to put into the courses.

The teachers who testified described their work on the courses as rigorous, but his evidence is also basically anecdotal. The main thing I draw from this testimony is that the teachers involved all appeared to put a significant effort into their course work, and were rewarded with a good learning experience.

I believe it is just common sense that people will get more out of a learning opportunity if they put more effort into it. A course may lack rigour, in the sense that it is easy to pass, yet still provide a rigorous learning experience because the individual took it seriously and put in more than the minimum effort required to pass the course.

So educational “rigor” has nothing to do with the material or how it is presented, it is simply a question of how much effort an individual student is willing to make? And that effort will be judged by the student? Isn’t that a strange message to send teachers, whose job is to design courses and present material and evaluate student progress?


For-profit education

It gets even weirder when Slone addresses another complaint about the Drake long-distance learning courses, namely, that the courses are not even designed by Drake, but by companies like California-based Quality Educational Programs:

It also [sic] an important fact that Drake University is an accredited university in the United States, but it is also true that many of the courses offered in their distance learning department were developed by large educational firms and not by Drake itself. Yet, Drake was willing to put its name on these courses and stake some of its academic record on these courses. And who is to say that a course developed by a large educational firm cannot be rigorous? I believe this implication by the Employer simply plays into a prejudice to the effect that education which is delivered for profit is inherently inferior to that which is developed by public institutions. I do not accept that premise, a least not on the evidence before me.

Fill in the blank in this sentence:

When a school buys courses from for-profit educational companies, it does not have to hire ________

If you said “teachers” move to the front of the class! If you actually are a teacher, move to the back of the unemployment line, because that’s where Slone’s endorsement of store-bought education logically leads.

And about that endorsement: does Slone really want to stake his own credibility on course like Drake’s “Theory of Coaching?”

Theory of Coaching offers video segments that reveal the differences in various levels of competitive sport. Presenters point out the professional and personal roles all coaches must exhibit, and they offer some practical advice about how to use these roles to make the sporting experience a positive one for all.

The course, which is “presented” by one actual professor, five coaches and an Olympic athlete, is available on DVD (although I suspect they just send you a couple of seasons of Friday Night Lights). It provides three semester hours of credit for the low, low price of $425 (CAD$562)

This is the perverse heart of the matter with the Drake courses: in defending them, Nova Scotia teachers, who’ve spent a year telling us what important work they do (and I agree, they do important work), are rallying around online and video-based courses designed by for-profit educational companies to replace teachers.





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