October 2010 edition

Re: Pitfalls of a Postmedia World, September 2010

When I first read Sam Williams’ online “Media Watch” piece about the possible relationship between the City of Victoria’s advertising expenses and the Times Colonist’s depth-less coverage of the Blue Bridge debate, it seemed more than plausible. I didn’t want to believe it had to do with incompetent reporting and analysis, poor financial support for truly investigative journalism, or too little page space available for tough local issues. 

Leslie Campbell’s editorial provided greater illumination of a bigger issue by pointing out the general trend of how corporate media is interfering with quality journalism. This is noticeable in most media outlets, including the major Canadian and American television news and entertainment programs as well as once-revered newspapers. In the past, the sources reporters would turn to for in-depth commentary or insider viewpoints had a high degree of credibility and authenticity; now, reporters cite blogs, Facebook comments, tweets, and other social media as if these are credible and knowledgeable. And locally the same so-called “experts” are sought over and over again not because what they say is worthwhile, but because they already have a relationship with a reporter who doesn’t have to actually do anything to get a quote or even look up the expert’s contact details. Some of these so-called experts are willing to comment on almost anything regardless of whether they know anything about it. 

Related to this overuse of the same voices is the underuse of good questioning skills on the part of the reporter. Most reporters and their news bosses don’t want to lose their place at the table, the scrum, or press event so they resort to asking banal, irrelevant, or even stupid questions that mostly reveal the reporter’s lack of understanding of the issue. Sometimes their questions are agreed upon ahead of time and if they reveal such an agreement, they are refused future access. And what would happen to a reporter who actually persisted in getting an answer from a politician who was skilled at sidestepping, avoiding, or obfuscating a response?

Journalism has gone into significant decline in the last few years. With few exceptions entertainment news, for example, is so dominated by press agents, public relations managers, and publicists that virtually any article about or interview with a movie, TV, or music personality is totally managed and limited by predetermined conditions or agreements. One only has to listen to the questions Larry King asks, or read the details of an interview in the paper with an actor in a movie that has just been released to know that authenticity is at a minimum.

Rey Carr

 

Re: Fighting For the Teacher’s Attention, September 2010

Thank you for Rob Wipond’s timely article about educational funding for special needs students. I’m a retired school teacher and public librarian and I’ve spent the last 38 years teaching, visiting, and volunteering in public schools in BC. I taught school in the 1980s, when class sizes varied from 26 to 34 students, and let me tell you, even the maximum class size was manageable because special needs students had full funding and attention, and a separate space when necessary. 

I agree with the practice of including special needs students in a regular classroom because the school environment is then a model for the larger social setting. However, this is neither practical nor possible without full-time assistance for every child whose mental and physical needs require extra attention.

What I see now when I volunteer in every grade in my local public school are special needs children left to cope in full classrooms with teachers so busy trying to deal with split grades and the normal demands of teaching that it’s a wonder they make it through the school year. 

Yes, there is some assistance for the special needs students, but it’s terribly limited, and every year the funding is reduced despite evidence of increasing numbers of children coming to school with moderate to severe emotional, mental and physical problems. In a typical school day, one teacher may have up to three very needy children in the class. Extra help might be available for one or two of those children for only part of the day. For the rest of the class time, the children have to cope on their own while the teacher does his/her best to teach the curriculum.

Can you imagine having to develop a special IEP (Individual Education Plan) for up to three children, along with teaching a double curriculum to a split class? I watch teachers do this all the time, and wonder how they do it. I used to work every weekend just to keep up with one curriculum and a class of 34 “normal” students.

The principals don’t have it any easier because they are in the unenviable position of having to support the teachers while making their school boards happy. What this translates to is principals working triage for whatever classrooms need the most help and doing their administrative work long before and after the bell has rung (and on weekends). If they dare to say that a class with more than three IEP students is “not appropriate for student learning” (never mind teacher sanity) they risk the wrath of a Ministry that is quick to blame the messenger. 

I have friends with special needs children who have broken down in tears over this worsening situation, and it isn’t the teachers who can be blamed for the parents’ anguish. The government and its careless administrators are responsible.

Susan Yates