‘Lots of both.”
Richard Mostyn set off a firestorm with that line and R.S. Breithaupt was all over it.
Mostyn, in his December 13 editorial, “Chiefs must stop talking and start working,” challenged the educational and fiscal wisdom of establishing separate First Nations education.
“Building an education system takes time and money. Lots of both,” he wrote.
Breithaupt took up the challenge with a series of countercharges.
He suggested Mostyn demonstrated “unqualified ignorance” by being misleading, lurid, paternalistic, condescending, and — hidden in between the lines — racist.
As initial proof that Mostyn was missing the boat, Breithaupt points out the fact that the phrase ‘lots of both’ is not a sentence.
Is it or is it not?
If you happen to be an English scholar, thumbs down.
If, on the other hand, you are a savvy journalist, thumbs up.
‘Lots of both,’ used this way, is a dependent clause following closely on the heels of a main clause, which for additional emphasis is used as a separate sentence.
It flies, therefore, in the face of conventional wisdom, but it flies nonetheless.
But a discourse in grammatical law is not what is at issue here.
What is important here — extremely important — is that this discussion, and countless others just like it, go to the very heart of all education. It goes to the core of what it means to educe.
And it exposes, for all of us to see, just how far we have yet to travel in order to “learn” to cohabit a particular place.
Mostyn is neither racist nor unreasonable in claiming that First Nations educational reform is possible as integration rather than segregation.
Breithaupt is right on target in stating First Nations students have different educational needs from non-natives.
Breithaupt, in my opinion, should have stopped there.
He did not.
In so doing he went on to commit an immoral logical sin.
His conclusion — that First Nations needs are different — does not necessarily lead us to conclude therefore that First Nations students are better served within their own educational system.
The truth or falsity of any such claim is far from certain.
But this is not the real issue here either.
All education as we practice it today — native and non-native alike — is failing our young people.
That failure will not — cannot — be remedied by simply choosing to create more educational systems.
While doing so will certainly employ more teachers and give learners more options, it will neither make us more resourceful nor more insightful.
In light of our current environmental crisis, the educational stakes have increased exponentially.
Education as an institution, as a system of learning, and as cultural nourishment, must tie directly to the environmental health of the planet.
If it does not, if it serves any other singular purpose, no matter how narrow or broad, it is essentially a waste of our time and our talent.
To teach language — any language, be it native or scientific or artistic — that does not connect us directly and forcefully with the ecological and evolutionary systems in which we have to function is an ostentatious diversion; one in which we neither have the time nor luxury to take.
To teach curricula — any curricula be it native or non-native — that does not purport in both theory and practice to position all of us in good stead with the Earth, and all that it contains and needs, is frivolous at best, self-defeating at worst.
What we have to understand, and rather quickly I believe, is that while education can teach us how to get along with the planet, the more important thing is that the calamitous state of the environment will determine our educational needs.
Therefore, what is in the best interest of the planet will be in the best interest of all of us.
Any system of education — Elijah Smith Elementary to which Mostyn alludes or the Kwanlin Dun study model Breithaupt touts — that does not directly instruct us in living through the fragile experiment we call being human, is essentially null and void.
Make no doubt about it, if we do not get our educational hat on correctly, we may have to settle for being the first species on Earth to understand the causes of our own extinction.
If we are to survive, we must first begin by comprehending the silliest of words: cohabitation.
I believe strongly that cohabitation — the successful mixing of language, art, science and culture — is most probably, and certainly most quickly, realized within multicultural environments, under one roof.
Like air, humans’ other most urgent and useful need is other humans.
Lots of both.