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Ralph Klein has gone and it is time to retire Ralph's World. Thanks to all of you who have supported this venture by contributing material and through your comments. It has been fun.

Should we get another blog underway? Let me know your thoughts by e-mailing me at johnnyslow@gmail.com.

John Slow
January 1, 2007

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

MISINFORMED, ACTING DUMB or PURPOSELY MISLEADING 

(Second in series on propaganda in Ralph's World)
Average is a “weasel word” often used by politicians to keep more truth hidden than it actually reveals.

Dr. Lyle Oberg, in the subtitle to an article on school class sizes, August 26/03 in the Edmonton Journal, is said to have “released figures that show the average class size in Alberta schools ranges from 19.5 students to 25.5 students.” Four months later, January 2004, attempting to bully down and belittle those parents protesting the size of their children’s classes his news release stated “Average class size remains relatively steady.”

Now, Minister Oberg speaks for a department that boasts how it provides an opportunity for every single Alberta child to benefit from as full an education as possible.

Shouldn’t we expect that in his use of the word “average” he would be telling ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?’

Yet, even as those words were broadcast across the province last August, thousands of children and parents already knew how far away from the whole truth and reality those statements were.

To treat children as impersonal statistics that can be averaged across a whole province and stuffed into classrooms is nothing better than a distortion of reality designed for sale to the market place of public opinion.

The word average alone contains far more misleading impressions than any of the numbers attributed to Dr. Oberg.

The image makers in Ralph’s World obviously have assured him that the word average in the mental imagery of the careless reader would conjure up scenes of children all being cared for in rooms with desks for everyone and ample space to work on projects.

No classroom in these fantasy schools would have more than twenty-five-and-a-half students and none would have fewer than nineteen-and-one-half. (Where you put that half child is a bit of a mystery) Every child in this imaginary school has average ability to benefit from instruction. All lessons are suited to each child’s need.

But in the real Alberta, (not Ralph’s self-created one), reality destroys illusion. Even the most elementary student of statistics knows, or should learn, that a real statistical average among humans contains only about half of whatever is being measured.

When the results of any fair and accurate measure of human needs or characteristics is plotted on a graph there is a huge bulge in the middle of a bell-like curve that tapers off to almost nothing toward the higher and lower ends of the scale.

Responsible interpreters of this bell curve know that almost half or fifty% of the humans being assessed fall outside of the center or average category.

In the 2002-2003 school year the truth about the size of Alberta school classes would therefore more likely be that as many as half or fifty% of the school rooms in the Province already had either more or fewer students than the high and lows released in these headlines.

More importantly, at the very moment Dr. Oberg was reporting these findings, school Principals in cities like Edmonton and Calgary were already working with fewer teachers and having to put more and more students into their classrooms simply because they had fewer resources.

There are at least three deceptive omissions in the information Ralph’s agent Oberg released to the widest circulation paper in northern Alberta late in the summer of 2003.

First, Dr. Oberg clearly did not tell the public that those numbers were taken from schools all over the province reporting on the previous year’s attendance.

Second, a statistic he didn’t mention had been known to parents and teachers since before the summer break. Edmonton schools alone knew at least three months earlier that they were being forced to lay off 450 teachers. Calgary, like Edmonton, had made it public at least by the end of May 2003 there would be increased numbers in their classrooms when September came.

Third, Dr. Oberg in August 2003 obviously didn’t mention that his numbers on class sizes were being released just before the impact from his own government’s refusal to fund the salary increases awarded by arbitration was to hit the schools.

Within days of this first report it became evident that Edmonton children in schools all over the city were being squeezed into rooms where even the most qualified and professional of teachers could not possibly meet all of their needs.

So out came his use of averages to once more attempt to deny government responsibility for seriously jeopardizing the educational future of all those children who don’t happen to be average and don’t happen to be in average classes.

When releasing those numbers under the claim that they were Average, was Dr. Oberg uninformed, poorly educated in human measurement or purposely misleading the public into imagining that class sizes were not going to be affected by his government’s latest undermining of their resources?

Blair McPherson, Edmonton.

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