The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Party line trumps free speech, privacy and democracy: NDP education apparatchik

Like most in Winnipeg, we were first shocked, then titillated by the news stories about the damning report into the Winnipeg School Division by John Wiens, "dean emeritus and professor, faculty of education, University of Manitoba," that was  released last week.

Then we read the report.

We can't recall ever reading a more alarming political document in recent Manitoba history.

Instead of what we had been lead to believe from the news accounts --- that Wiens found the school board so dysfunctional that the province may have to seize control -- we found a biased attack by an NDP insider with a major personal conflict of interest whose intention was to discredit the school board to set up a hostile takeover by the NDP government.

But that's not even the unnerving part.

A careful reading of  the 106-page report revealed a chilling mindset of authoritarian governance that would be perfectly normal in North Korea or Soviet Russia---but never, ever in a free and democratic society like Canada.

What left us shocked was that a poisonous report like this ever came out; that the government of the day accepted it, adopted it and circulated it; and that, knowing that Wiens was (and may still be) an NDP policy analyst and was appointed by the NDP to produce this report, it likely reflects the dark heart of the New Democratic Party.

That - and the fact that Wiens can't spell.

At the core of Wiens' report is that (cue The Internationale) the "common good"-- in this case, education--supercedes everything---human rights, privacy, democracy, even conscience.  These exist only to further the common good, and if they don't, they must be suppressed or guided by education commissars onto the proper path.

Oh, you exaggerate Black Rod. Oh yeah?  Here are some excerpts:

On human rights:

Wiens scoffs at the idea that humans have inalienable rights, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights be damned.
"When it comes to schools, our society says that the public, or common, good supersedes private goods and our young must learn this in order to live together well."
"Rights are not an unalienable right, the optimum goodThey exist to permit, encourage and promote the good which, in the case of School Boards, is education. In other words, rights exist for the good of education, not education for the rights to political participation."
"In a slightly different vein, some political theorists including me worry that the right, or “rights,” have overwhelmed the good. For example, in the past, rights like the freedom of expression and association have been misused by trustees insisting on their right to make public their personal disagreements and grievances in whatever way is available to them; and to form alliances within Boards which, in effect, take the decision-making power away from the Board..."    
"What is clear is that rights are not necessarily goods in themselves, and certainly not by themselves; they are intended to promote and protect the greater good, not supplant it. In short, the Board imperative of making the right or good, educational decisions overrides the right to make decisions."
On Democracy:

In his most jaw-dropping declaration, Wiens says school trustees are only elected to represent geographical areas, not the residents in those areas.  Can you find one other person in the entire province with that bizarre interpretation of school board elections?

"Part of the confusion...comes from misunderstanding the corporate nature of School Boards...The ward system, however, allows trustees to confuse their rights and responsibilities – are they representatives as in a parliamentary system or are they members of a corporate unity?"

"They are clearly the latter
 in both the literal and spirit sense of The Public Schools Act. In other words, while the wards are there to ensure that someone from a geographical area is present on the Board, trustees clearly are representatives “at large,” representing a priori all citizens in the Division and the idea and ideal of education rather than the constituents of a particular electoral district."
"In regards to public stewardship, it has become common for politicians of all stripes to promote and pursue those individual platforms which they claim “got them elected.” While it is not at all clear whether voters elect people for their platforms, their personalities, their perceived moral character or past associations and experience, it is clear that most people voting for school trustees expect their elected representatives to place the interests (in other words, the education) of children, young people and schools above their own. It is exactly what trustees pledge to do when they take office by signing an Oath of Office and declaring all conflicts of interest. While it is not necessarily easy to choose between keeping ostensible political promises one thinks one made, it is abundantly clear what the duties and tasks are when one assumes the office of trustee and Board member. It is an ethical and political imperative to promote and pursue educational excellence in all its forms, including by example as a democratic role model to the young."
On Democracy in Action:
Wiens hates it. He provides a textbook description of how democracy works, then condemns it as dysfunctional. 
The lines of division are complex and continuously shifting but, in general terms, they
consist of layers of mistrust and seemingly irreconcilable differences:
• between individual trustees
• between small, sometimes temporary, alliances of some trustees and other trustees;
• between the Board, trustees and senior administration; and,
• between, and among, senior administration.

But he loves imposing central mind control.

"It is hard to determine what a remedy might be for this particular situation but it would
certainly include the use of ruling some motions out of order
 or suppressing motions in the
general interest
 of the educational enterprise..."

On Privacy:

Board members must respect the limitations of their personal privacy regarding matters of interest or importance to the Board – any behaviour or actions which exclude or publicly impugn the Superintendent/CEO have the potential to undermine the necessary trust relationship.  p.14
In a page straight out of the Stasi handbook, Wiens and the NDP want total control of everybody Trustees meet and a report on why.
That the Board require trustees to file a written monthly report of activities undertaken by each trustee as a member of the Board, including who they met with, for what purposes they met and, if they chose to meet outside the usual meeting structure, why they chose to do so; and,
Similarly, that each trustee file a written monthly report of activities undertaken on behalf of the Board, like school visitations, community events and parent council meeting attendance.

That the Board immediately review its roles and responsibilities under The Public Schools Act, and discuss how its individual and collective practices must change in order to align them with the Act, particularly those regarding acting and speaking on behalf of the Board.
Wiens was particularly upset at trustee Mike Babinsky.
"As for the formal reporting relationship it is continuously being violated. One trustee regularly engages with parents..."
Gasp.  And nobody knows what he says or who he meets with. That will soon be outlawed by the NDP.
.1.3 Other Matters of Concern
In addition to the above concerns, Trustee Babinsky:
1) Maintains, or has been allowed to maintain, his own personal Hotmail account with
which he continues to conduct all trustee-related activity, but on which he declares
himself a school trustee of Winnipeg School Division – his justification is that the email account he has been issued is not private and confidential, 
That all trustees be required to use the Winnipeg School Division email system for their email

Wiens fails to discuss whether division emails are private and confidential or not. Obviously, not, which is why he wants school Superintendants to be able to access the communications of all trustees.

"In my view, the By-laws and practices can be brought into alignment with the letter and spirit of The Public Schools Act, The Education Administration Act and the new political reality and ought to be. Failing to do so will result in a continued fractured and dysfunctional Board...Nevertheless this will require a considerable effort and vigilance in change of both inclination and practice. And, I suspect that, until it becomes a new culture in the Division, it will require frequent minders by trustee colleagues and the Superintendent/CEO."
Translation: trustees will be expected to rat each other out for stepping outside the control zone.
Wiens peppers his report with references to the Public Schools Act to bolster his viewpoint. 

The only thing wrong is that his references are often only fantasy or worse.

"The Public Schools Act addresses this dissonance by insisting that individual trustees have no power as individuals and that the school board, as a corporate body, acts as an individual, placing the duties of the trustees and school boards over and above their individual prerogative and, even, conscience."
The Public Schools Act makes no reference whatsoever to trustees having to abandon their conscience to the collective.

"On quite a different but related matter, who speaks for the Board, when and under what conditions, is a particularly vexing problem... Several of the Board members act as if they enjoy parliamentary-like privilege which entails four related matters: first, they can act like ministers of the Crown for the committees they chair, speaking as if they represent the Board views and interests, and they do so without prior Board knowledge or approval; second, they believe they can act as representatives and advocates of one ward at the expense of another with impunity; third, that they can speak out as ward representatives on any matter whatsoever, claiming rights as individual trustees as opposed to members of a corporate Board; and fourth, that they can shed their trustee identity in favour of identities like community member and/or parent, and speak in that role against Board actions and decisions. The latter is particularly pernicious but, together, they form a lethal cocktail, leaving the public wondering what the Board will do next or where the “Board” truth lies. The consequence is a kind of assumed parliamentary prerogative without checks and balances like caucus solidarity and codes of ethics. The result is that the Board can be undermined, or made to look foolish by anyone of their number wishing to create a scene or pursue personal grievances and goals. And that is exactly what happens."
The Public Schools Act contains this section specifically addressing the right of trustees to speak on any matter:

Right to appear  

39.5(1) Notwithstanding anything in this Act but subject to subsection (3), a trustee has the same right as any other resident of the school division or school district to appear before a meeting of the school board thereof for the purpose of representing the trustee's personal interests in any matter within the jurisdiction of the school board. 
"Meeting" defined 
39.5(2) In subsection (1), "meeting" includes 
(a) a school board meeting; 
(b) a meeting of any committee or subcommittee of a school board or any subcommittee of a committee; and 
(c) a meeting of any commission, board or agency that has jurisdiction in the matter.
The common law of representative democracy, which Wiens and the NDP want to quash, addresses the rest.
Wiens is big on the suppression of opposition.
"Similarly, any actions which override or bypass the responsibility and authority of the Superintendent/CEO in regard to management of the Division, and/or carrying out the wishes of the Board as opposed to the wishes of an individual trustee, undermine not only the trust relationship but also the ability to effectively and efficiently carry out managerial responsibilities. The inability to “do her/his job,” whether because of micro-management, interference or insufficient oversight, reverberates throughout a system and can amount to unreasonable, inappropriate or arbitrary demands placed on other employees as well. It is what Larry Cuban, a renowned educational leadership and change theorist, calls “accountability by bullying,” whereby rights, predetermined and unwarranted outcomes, and procedural demands are used to “beat people up.”
We never heard of Larry Cuban, but, as they say, 'Google is your friend.' 

Thank you Google. 

We were able to learn exactly what Larry Cuban means when he says "accountability by bullying", the slogan adopted by John Wiens.

"Accountability can also be documented by concentrating on outcomes such as test scores, dropout rates, and similar markers."

"By examining such numbers, educators and noneducators can supposedly  determine whether teachers and administrators have met their responsibilities." 

"Focusing upon outcomes has decided benefits for policymakers with fewer benefits less apparent for those who work in classrooms."

"Some policymakers have wedded this concentration upon results to the sharing of these outcomes with the public through publishing school by school test scores and other performance comparisons using varied measures." 

"The premise is that teachers and administrators will become more responsible if results are available to the community." 

"Undesirable outcomes would trigger community pressure for improvement." 

"This is accountability by bullying."

"The substantial negatives linked to concentrating upon outcome measures and having them become public signs of success have already begun to emerge."
Larry Cuban means public pressure for results! 

In a province with the lowest performance in the country in reading, science, and math, accountability from educators is anathema. 

No wonder the NDP rushed to adopt the report.

Something obviously happened between the time Wiens was appointed to do his report by then-Education Minister Peter Bjornson and the release of the report by current Education Minister James Allum.  

The report as submitted not only fails to address issues specified by Bjornson (such as the validity of in-camera meetings) but Wiens is openly dismissive to other directives.
Does the school board follow best practices in ensuring, to the greatest extent possible,
board business is conducted openly with in-camera sessions held only as necessary (for
example, to deal with legal and personnel issues, student discipline, and labour relations)?
Are the reasons for in-camera sessions sufficiently understood and defensible? Are board
meetings conducted professionally and with appropriate decorum?

Best practices get a single mention by Wiens before being relegated to the trash bin.

"The much overused term “best practices” assumes that if certain predetermined procedures are followed reasonable, defensible ends will be achieved. What this presumes is a kind of technical-rational resolution of human concerns. While there are certainly better, more promising and more responsible practices, no prescription or formula will ever supplant the need for sound judgment when it comes to the affairs of human beings. As education is both a political and ethical enterprise, best practices essentially defines minimum expectations and standards about how people will organize themselves, how they will interact with each other and the public, and what educational aims are legitimate and essential.

Most of these so-called best practices for trustees are laid out in the aforementioned provincial legislation and Board policies and By-laws, and no duly elected trustee has a legitimate reason for not knowing about them and following them to the best of her/his ability. The real lesson here is that the political ends do not justify unethical means."
Wiens is even less responsive to the question of whether in-camera meetings of the Winnipeg School Board are all necessary. Skipping any details he says he has no evidence that in-camera meetings are inappropriate.  He said in-camera meetings should be held before regular board meetings. 

Why? So that decisions made behind closed doors could be "dealt with" in open session? Does that makes any sense?
Finally, a bus is a transit vehicle.

buss is a kiss.

Busing is the act of providing transit service.

Bussing is the act of kissing.

John Wiens, "dean emeritus and professor, faculty of education, University of Manitoba," earns an F in spelling.

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