Don’t mess with (education in) Texas

Last month, the Texas Board of Education decided to change their history and economics curricula after days of fierce debate. The new revisions put a decidedly right-wing spin on the curriculum, taking out references to Thomas Jefferson’s call to separate church and state, and including Rush Limbaugh and John Wayne as “patriotic heroes.”

Reactions online were typically bipartisan, with responses ranging from “Liberals Running for the Hills in Texas” to “Dear Texas: Please shut up. Sincerely, History.”  These arguments over curriculum (think of the 2005 battle over teaching evolution in Kansas) seem confined to the US, but the question of what to teach our youth is central to every functioning democracy.

That question is being answered, emphatically, not only by the Ontario Ministry of Education, but also by a slew of social entrepreneurs working on education in Ontario. These entrepreneurs see gaps in a curriculum much like traditional entrepreneurs see gaps in a market and use them as an opportunity to grow a business.

Elephant Tale, a new not-for-profit based in London, Ontario, has recently begun a series of classroom workshops designed to enhance the curriculum of the Grade 10 Civics course. The course focuses on the structure of government and citizenship in Canada and is mandatory for all Ontario high school students. Elephant Tale seeks to engage the students in their own communities and imbue the teenagers with a sense of citizenship and social justice.

CIVIX is another growing organization, an amalgamation of two previous ventures, Student Vote and Operation Dialogue, that encourages kids to hold mock elections in their schools in order to understand the election cycle in Canada. BitStrips is a successful online tool for crafting educational comic strips that recently hosted their one millionth strip.

JUMP Math, a successful non-profit run by playwright John Mighton, has achieved enormous success in increasing math scores in classrooms all across the country. But battles of curriculum are not confined to board-rooms in Texas. Mighton has found it difficult to break into some school districts because of differences in mathematics pedagogy.

The question of what to teach and how to teach it has many answers: from tradespeople who want to see more electricians and bricklayers graduating, to knowledge economy employees who need students to graduate with the ability to think critically and creatively.  In Ontario, these answers are being implemented in a manner that seeks to engage the public and grow the economy, one entrepreneur at a time.

It’s certainly better than the bickering that’s going on in the board rooms in Texas.