I’m in the middle of a series of posts about changes to community ESL.  In this one, I get a little meta: I’m writing about why I’m writing them.  You can catch up on the series here and here and here.

The Overland pieces have been percolating for a while, but it has got to the point where I can’t write anything else before I get these done.  What impels me to write them? I think there are two things going on inside my writer brain.

First, the whole “too much democracy” theme is a bit of a thought experiment.*  How do we balance equality with excellence?  I have been raised to believe that systems should be as equal as possible, that we should not enjoy a benefit of any kind if others go without.  For this reason, these measures of standardization represent an objective that I have been taught to see as desirable.

At the same time, it could be argued that beauty and excellence cannot occur in a totally standardized world. Perhaps these egalitarian measures that seem so benign have  limited the luminescence of the bigger learning centres.

The old Overland was in many ways elitist and nepotistic, but at the same time, it was its exceptionality that generated the energy. Overland was a space to which teachers and students gravitated; we all brought our best skills, and somehow the school offered us a place where we could contribute the finest that we had to offer.  Is it possible to honour that, when other students and instructors  did not have the same opportunities?  I hope so, but I don’t have a conclusive answer.  I’m writing to find that answer, or at least to understand the question more clearly.

But also, I’m writing to preserve.

I’ve been reading Thomas Kuhn (says she casually, as if she had just picked up the Structure of Scientific Revolutions in a light hearted moment)**, and one of the few things that I managed to glean*** from an extremely intense and somewhat adversarial reading experience was the idea that new scientific knowledge didn’t just add to the pre-existing ideas, that truly revolutionary discoveries obliterated the previous concepts.  In other words,  after a major scientific revolution, the old ways of understanding previous theories were completely replaced.  Einstein, for instance, made it impossible for us to really understand Newtonian physics the way it had been understood before .  Thus, the history of science is very difficult to trace as every significant discovery involves the erasure  of earlier thought.

Now I don’t really see education as a science, as I mentioned in a previous post, but I do find that we sometimes mimic scientific culture.  I think there is a strong impulse to rewrite education history in a way that erases all the achievements of previous educators.****  This is something that is very much in the air at the moment. When we hear public statements  about immigration, about settlement, and immigrant education, we become aware that the very vocabulary of the conversation is shifting. **** *I fear that this re-writing of settlement education policy will change the terms of the discourse to such an extent that the grass-roots, Transformative-oriented education event that was Overland will be written out of the script.  Like a character in a time travel movie******, I am trying to hang on to my memories as the event itself disappears from the public consciousness .  The one thing I can do is write it out, and by doing so celebrate an education event that embodied many of the best qualities of community engagement, adult education, and just Canadianness.

The Overland that I am writing about is not the only way for a school to be, or even the only way that Overland could be, but it did represent the work of a talented group of people at the top of their game.  There was something in the atmosphere that encouraged us all to be our best selves and, as I said before, made us all so much more than the sum of our individual parts.  Policies will change; teachers and students will adapt; things may even be better than before.  However, there was much of value in those early years and we will lose it if we heedlessly over-write our local educational history.


*Hence all the Dufferin Grove stuff.

**If any Kuhnites should ever happen on this post, first, welcome, you have travelled far; second, please don’t yell at me in the comments.  I freely admit that I don’t understand the majority of what he’s talking about; I  am just using him to set up my argument.

*** Thanks, so much, Mark Zuckerberg for choosing this for A Year of Books, except not really.  Here’s an interesting post on that topic.

**** Real props to Chia Suan Chong for not  doing that in her 2012 webinar for The British Council

**** *If you need an example of this, have a look at this video.  Listen to how differently the topics are being framed than they would be today.



****** or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or Memento, or Inception, or..