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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

Friday, February 20, 2004

PR "OPTICS" or FALSE ADVERTISING? 

(Third in series on propaganda in Ralph's World)

The web site of the Department of Learning contains a whole series of statements using “per cent” to sell the impression that the number of students in Alberta Schools class rooms is almost perfect.

Here’s a sample of what the Government of Alberta tells the public:- “99 per cent of K-3 classes had 30 or fewer students and 79 per cent had 25 or fewer; 94 per cent of 4-6 classes had 30 or fewer students and 25 per cent had 25 or fewer. 94 per cent of 4-6 classes had 30 or fewer students and 52 per cent had 25 or fewer......”

Yet those words contain as little of the truth about Alberta’s schools as the report of a helicopter pilot who has just flown over the Arctic tundra and now tells everyone that there are five herds of caribou and all but 1% of them are really healthy.

Did he land and walk among the animals? Did he examine the food supply conditions they were facing? No! But he saw that 99% of them were in herds of average size.

The word percent is constantly used by politicians, marketers and sales campaigners to conjure up images that hide as much, and often more, truth than they convey to citizens.

In Ralph’s World no politicians employ the word percent more regularly than the Minister of Learning and his department.

These cold calculations give no answer to questions like, how many children are there in Kindergarten? If even 1% of Kindergarten children are in classes larger than 30 how many flesh and blood precious humans does that amount to?

How many K-3 children in the 99% of classes under 30 are new Canadians who don’t even speak the language? How man are physically and mentally handicapped? How many come from a broken or troubled home? How many beginning children are there in classes far above the manageable size of 17?

These, dehumanizing numbers from the Department of Learning serve no other purpose than that of promoting the illusion that children all over the province are comfortably seated with their teachers happily learning the lessons prescribed for them by a benevolent government.

Such language is designed to impress the seventy percent of the province’s voters who haven’t a clue what the teachers and students are really facing in many, many Public Schools particularly in Edmonton and Calgary where the largest portion of our students live.

Perhaps the Minister of Learning doesn't mean to mislead the public? In Ralph’s World surely he wouldn’t want to lead us astray. After all his government boasts about enabling every young person “to achieve their dreams and realize their full potential. Nothing could be more important.” (Speech from the throne Feb. 17/04.

Come on let’s get real. Even as a student in Elementary School I already knew how number concepts may be used to create false impressions designed to mislead others into believing what is far from the whole of reality.

In grade five I reported one morning to my teacher that we had lost fifty per cent of the calves on our family farm. 50% or our young bovines had died the night before.

Her response was, as I intended it to be, one of shock and sympathy. At the depth of Great Depression she knew that losing half a farmer’s herd was comparable to a mad cow devastation today.

What I told her was true as far as it went, but when she asked me how many calves we’d had on our farm, the hidden reality came out. In fact fifty percent of our calves was only one small creature.

Now I knew exactly what I was doing and when my teacher caught on we both laughed and she thanked me for showing her I’d learned a valuable lesson.

But I see no twinkle in the eye of the Department of Learning. This is dead serious stuff they are selling. The well-being of flesh and blood, feeling and thinking humans lies hidden from public view behind these percentages.

No part of the learning that children do in a Democratic society is more important than coming to know how to see through the emotion-loaded language of politicians and public relations experts. And yet here are men using cold statistical concepts to control their education.

In order to confront the misleading and often false conclusions desired by so-called great communicators, students need teachers who can enable them to distinguish clearly between deceptive language and the truthful reporting of information

Even if, as is almost certainly seriously underdetermined, only 1% of K-3 children are in classes larger than 30; are they simply write-offs fin Ralph’s World?

Those of us who are parents and grandparents see each child born to us as a precious gift entrusted to our care. And when we don’t have the money to nurture them intellectually as well as physically we get busy and find it.

Shouldn’t we, as citizens of the real Alberta (as distinct from Ralph’s World), have the right to demand that the department responsible for our children’s growth into citizenship begin again to put our money where their mouths are and stop using the baffle gab of statistics to hide more truth than it conveys?

If the Minister of Learning could also get it through his head that children are precious persons and not statistical digits the money being stashed away in Ralph’s World for buying future votes would soon be used for children’s needs rather than political sales programs.

Blair McPherson

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