Learning to read – a saga

We were horrified to find that, well into Grade 2, our son could not read.

We had come from Alberta, whose education system had been recognized for many decades (and still is) as the best in Canada and one of the best in the world. We had naively assumed that our son would be getting the same kind of education in Ontario.

Upon learning that our assumption was wrong, we demanded that the local school correct the problem. They did: and, bless Special Ed. teacher Fred Featherstone, our son was up-to-speed in six months. Yet the sad legacy is that he does not read for pleasure; there are no books in his home; and his bright and capable kids have no example of reading parents.

Later, in a parent-teacher interview, I was told that, “You know, Mr. XXX, your son is at best a General Level student. You mustn’t consider him University material … ” I told this teacher that our son needed three things: brains, opportunity, and motivation; and that motivation was missing. Again, the school responded very well. Our son was placed in a class of “exceptional” students. He earned Ontario Scholar throughout high school, was always on the Dean’s Honors List at McMaster U., studied on scholarships through his Engineering courses, has a high-tech MBA, and is a Director of a major industrial corporation. (At the end of Gr, 13 his comment was, “We spent most of our time at the Sherwood”. The Sherwood was a watering hole near the school.) He refused to attend a banquet for Ontario Scholars, saying, “I didn’t do anything.”

(Our daughter, also a top scholar, felt similarly about Gr. 13, commenting, “We just goofed off.”)

There are lessons here for anxious parents which fortunately can be applied immediately:

1. Do not believe publicity to the effect that Ontario’s school system is among the best in the world. It isn’t. International comparisons like TIMSS do not prove that the Ontario system results in subject mastery: they merely put the Ontario system somewhere in the pack – ahead of this country, behind that. Perhaps neither gets good results.

2. Research where your school ranks with others in your District, using EQAO results or Fraser Institute analyses (recognizing that organizations like the Fraser Institute who do calm, objective, non-political analyses of available information are always dubbed “right wing”; as you will be). Schools in any one system differ dramatically. If your kid is performing poorly in a poor school, insist on corrective action. You may encounter stiff resistance; most educators hate comparison and will not even use the word “results”. You must persist.

3. Ask hard questions of your kids’ teachers, principals, and Trustees, basing your questions on results. Expect to be helped by some (as we luckily were) and rebuffed angrily by others, some of whom will treat you as an ignorant interfering busybody. The Society for Quality Education website has much help including home-study materials for reading, etc.

4. Take “guidance” with a grain of salt. Unfortunately “guidance” given by schools is notorious for being, to put it kindly, of mixed quality.

5. Insist on special help if your kid can’t add 3+7 or write a coherent sentence. Many schools and systems can provide it.

6. Tune your ear for tell-tale words. Good ones include, “phonics”, “direct instruction”, and “results”. Bad ones include “Constructivism”, “discovery learning”, “whole language”, and “spiral curriculum”. Educate yourself about education. Tell your critics among the educators that you aren’t an expert in education, but that you are an expert in results; and that you make a big investment in education. Resources for this self-education are enormous. An example is the often-quoted standard on why Constructivism can’t work:

Kirschner, P.A.; Sweller, J.; Clark, R.E, “Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: an analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching.”

Just Google it using “Kirschner”.

Summary: Be active, knowledgeable, informed, insistent, and persistent.



Big banks get downgraded, Spectator 12 Aug 14

Date: 12 Aug 14
By: Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P.Eng.,
2252 Joyce St.,
Burlington, ON L7R 2B5
905 634 9538
To: Mr. Howard Elliott, Chair of the Ed. Board,
The Spectator, Hamilton
Re: “Big banks get downgraded” and “Big banks get
warning shot on stability”, Aug. 12 Spec.
592 words

Dear Howard

This is a logical follow-up to mine of Jan. 26, 2008 in which I forecast (accurately) the big meltdown and gave the reasons for it. That article got me a lot of good feedback; I don’t know about yours. Hope you can use it. It is, as usual, an effort to put into lay language some of the jargon we hear constantly, and adds a suggestion of what the reader personally might contribute.



Suggested headline: What “That bank is too big to fail” means to us

Suggested key-word block: You and I paid for 2008 and will pay for the next one too.


What “That bank is too big to fail” means to us

Year after year the battle continues. There are three main contenders:

Banks wish to maximize the big profits from using borrowed rather than their own money to invest in their (often risky) choices of assets; example, the dubious mortgages that caused the 2008 meltdown. They want ever-smaller reserve capital of their own money, or “their own skin in the game”.

Regulators and rating agencies like S&P are criticized for laxity as these reserves became so tiny (less than 1% of assets in some US 2008 cases), and press banks to raise them.

The third member of this triangle is bank self-regulators like the Basel group; these try to pretend they can serve both interests, the public’s and the banks’, using semantics such as curious definitions of “risk” to confuse us.

Circling happily above the chaos are the financial vultures like Goldman Sachs (G&S), waiting to swoop down upon the carrion left by failed banks, indebted governments, and hapless defrauded investors. They use clever devices like G&S’s can’t-lose double-bet on mortgage securities they knew to be far sub-prime: “unethical but not illegal”, said the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Washington Post is quoted as again bringing up the “too big to fail” argument that implies that governments will always
back up big banks that fail, using taxpayer money to do it. This directly puts “your skin in the game”, my fellow citizen. You know, I am sure, that you and I, by devious routes, paid and are paying still for the latest crash, in 2008, and will pay for the next one too under the “too big to fail” mantra. We do hope you still have a job.

But natural justice screams for a better rule, one that protects taxpayers from this kind of theft. Try this: “If a bank is too big to fail, it must buy an insurance policy too big to ignore”. This could well require, for instance, that a given bank carry a reserve of its own money proportional to its share of the assets of all the banks in its group, plus a “safety reserve”. They could thus together, internally, “bail out” a bank that failed using their own, not tax, money (called a “bail in” in the jargon).

Can’t you hear the screams of anguish from the financial community? Among the loudest would be that the relatively huge capital reserves required would result in illiquidity (the unavailability of capital to invest in productive enterprises). That, however, is a specious argument; 2008 resulted anyway in the loss of liquidity from which we are still suffering. Insurance policies do, indeed, cost money; and the greater the risk the more they cost. The risk of another 2008-style meltdown under today’s banking rules is simply enormous; therefore the cost of the insurance to protect citizens against a bank-failure raid on their domestic finances is correspondingly large. In fact, murmurings in some corners of the financial community are suggesting reserves as large as 30%, contrasting starkly with the less-than-1% often seen in 2008. The banks will probably succeed in fighting this off; but they (and we) should note which way those winds are blowing.

Our government should discard the fiction that matters such as the setting of interest rates and reserve ratios is done at arm’s length by others: instead they should lean heavily on the banks to install safeguards against the “too big to fail” disasters that impoverish us, the undeserving citizenry.

Do you know who your federal MP is?

– 30 –

Peace in the middle East

Date: 12 Aug 14
By: Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P.Eng.,
2252 Joyce St.,
Burlington, ON L7R 2B5
905 634 9538
To: Editor, Spectator
Re: “Jewish state should not have been founded through warfare”, Aug. 12 Spec

Dear Editor:

A commentator on socio-economic affairs once wrote: “All possession of property is based upon the use of force.” Now follow me through a conversation I had with myself upon reading that:

Hey, now, wait a minute. I bought this property free and clear, without using force at all, from Developer X. He bought is from Mrs Y, who bought it from Mr. Z, who got it as a grant from the Queen in 1889. Where did the Queen get it? Well, a group of politicians like John Simcoe and soldiers like Sir Isaac Brock came and, in the name of the Queen, built and protected towns like Wellington Square and shipping ports like Dundas, and so on. They divided up the adjoining lands among people who had been loyal during the wars and insurrections of the previous few decades. Who was here before that? Oh, well, some native people had settlements like those at Crawford Lake Park west of Lowville. What happened to them? We let them have their own reservations elsewhere. So we took this land by force? Well, uh … yes, I suppose you could say so. I just did. But that was then, this is now. Right. So what would happen if someone came to your door and said, This is now my place? Oh, no one could do that. They’d encounter the full force of the law ….. Aha. There’s that word “force” again. Pops up sooner or later, doesn’t it? Thickly veiled though it may be, it is force that got you this land and enables you to keep it, right? Well … uh … yes, I suppose so.

Perhaps we can face the fact that Canada fought two huge wars and several lesser ones in the past century because we opposed the use of force to commandeer others’ property.

Now snap back to 2014. Israel occupies land taken from others by force of will, arms, and brains, legalized by some British and UN pieces of paper. Right or wrong, moral or immoral, approved or not, historically justified or not, are irrelevant considerations. Any “settlement” of Mid-East questions must start from there. It will consist of a series of compromises that will have to be ENFORCED by someone’s army, hopefully a UN one. To have any probability of success, discussions leading up to any such hopeful outcome will have to be held after stripping away and ignoring the irrelevancies named above. Israel is what it is, where it is. Start from there.