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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 3, November/December 2004

It’s all about achievement

by David Denyer

Early in this present government’s assault on education and teachers, the deputy minister of education introduced documents setting the agenda. Emblazoned on the front page, and much repeated ever since, has been the mantra "It’s all about achievement."

It is somewhat surprising that this slogan has never been challenged or subject to critical appraisal. There is no knowing what it’s refers to or what defines achievement. These words appear to be a thinly veiled exhortation to relentless striving.

Noticeably absent from this "achievement" vocabulary is any notion of enjoyment, pleasure, or recreation. Instead there are accountability, data collection, and, most recently, supervision-supervision of teachers, conducted by principals who are themselves supposedly supervised by directors and superintendents who are in turn supervised by the deputy minister and the ministry. It is a top-down, paternalistic model of continuous surveillance ostensibly aimed at improving instruction (no longer teaching) and of course "achievement" (as measured by tests).

Aside from the totally absurd and insulting assumption that lurks behind this initiative—that somehow teachers and teaching are running amok—what will this do to our concept of and practice of teaching and education? Teachers, I fear, are going to be increasingly cajoled and intimidated into using an ever restricted, defined, and officially sanctioned pedagogy (thinly disguised as "best practice").

That pedagogy will be directed at serving a narrow, compressed curriculum in which the only things that matter are literacy, social responsibility, and, to some extent numeracy. But above all, what matters most will be improved FSA scores and measurable results.

Any notion of meaningful teacher autonomy (critical to being a professional) will be lost and teachers will become mere functionaries charged with manipulating prescribed materials and strategies in the service of a cynical political agenda aimed at portraying a system that can somehow be successful despite vastly reduced support.

In concert with the other political directions this government is pursuing, we are witnessing a war on childhood. Schools are becoming "work camps" and children simply compliant human capital to be equipped with marketable skills. To ensure attainment of government’s "deadening" goals and objectives, the establishment of which teachers have never condoned or been part of, supervision will be a key component.

David Denyer is an assistant director in the BCTF’s Field Services Division.