With last month's government cabinet shuffle, a new term came to lips of Alberta citizens: the Ministry of Learning.
It would be only too easy to make an off-hand comparison to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. In Airstrip-one, (London in the not-too-distant future) there are three ministries: the Ministry of Peace (responsible for war), the Ministry of Truth (lies) and the Ministry of Love (hate). The Ministry of Learning you get the idea.
What does this newspeak term actually mean? Besides being a transparent attempt at "a new way of thinking about education," it's a really stupid, and probably dangerous, way of thinking about education.
What does this comprise? Advanced education (previously a ministry all to its own) is now lumped in with education concerns from kindergarten to grade 12. You may remember some of the problems that keep arising in the K to 12 area of education. Maybe you heard about a teachers' strike (or two) that threaten to rob tiny, button-nosed youngsters of a few weeks at the end of each year. Mind you, university students are pretty busy fighting tuition around that time.
Maybe you've read a letter to the editor about the need for teachers to act more like bloodhounds in an effort to banish the deadly substance peanut butter from our elementary schools. Or what about over-protective parents screaming, "Why should junior high kids have to eat lunch on the floor?"
Can you see where all this is leading? The provincial government obviously equates your university education with Heritage Park field trip funding.
While there are very important issues related to primary and secondary education, in that arena, the government is more willing to give seventh graders e-mail than give teachers a cost of living increase. While 13 year-olds learn to write memos of no consequence or forward a week's list of fart jokes, teachers get more frustrated every year.
Don't they realize a single minister will have to deal with all this garbage on top of all the actually important K to 12 issues? Add to that a universities' situation that threatens to explode.
In case Premier Klein or Mr. Oberg didn't get the update, 2,000 University of Calgary students protested last year's tuition increase. If the trend persists, and it appears it will gain steam, more students will appear at next year's tuition rally.
Here is the beauty part: with only one budget for the Ministry of Learning, every dollar spent on lowering crippling tuition will appear to the public as a dollar stolen from the mouths of their adorable children.
It would be unforgivable if the government planned to quash the growing number of unsatisfied university students by pitting them against a large and vocal K to 12 lobby; a group comprised of parents, the lion's share of actual voters, and teachers, with the backing of a powerful union.
Graduate students will now compete for research grants with children learning how to finger paint.
You cannot deny that a good base education gained in primary and secondary is extremely important; but the leap to post-secondary is just too far to jump. While it is important that there are enough copies of Jack and Jill, it is not really on the same level as Fluid Mechanics, Advanced Theories of Recent Political Thought or even the U of C's recently scrapped jazz program.
A better solution would have combined Advanced Education with Science and Innovation, then expanded the domain of the department to include all areas of research.
This would have given some respect to the highly advanced research conducted by all faculties of a university; instead, we drown in a sea of voices.