|Public School Board Association of Alberta
Annual General Meeting
November 17, 2002
Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to join you
this weekend. As a former trustee, this is one event I absolutely refused
to miss. The work you’re doing is absolutely vital, not just to the
students you serve, but to the very future of this country.
Like you, I believe that public education serves two very
important purposes. The first, the one that the general public already
knows, is that public education gives students a huge storehouse of
useful information as well as the fundamental ability to learn. Public
education provides the basics; reading, writing, arithmetic, history,
the fine arts, science, and all the rest.
And I believe that public education does this job better
than any private institution and I’m not afraid to say it. To be sure,
there are many fine private schools, but the public schools will always
be my first choice for any young Albertan because there’s something
public schools provide that private schools cannot.
Public schools welcome people of all cultures, all economic
backgrounds, of any religion or no religion at all. And by providing
an environment where people of very different natures can mix and become
friends, public schools provide a great service to this country.
It’s very hard for a Muslim to hate an atheist if he makes
friends with an atheist study partner in science class – and for
her part, the atheist learns something about the Moslem faith. Similarly,
when you put blacks and Chinese on the same basketball team, an important
bond is formed. Cultural walls are slowly taken down, and the basis
of a pluralist society is strengthened.
The destruction of the public school system would be a
catastrophe beyond anything this country has ever experienced. As trustees,
you are on the front lines of the fight to keep our public schools viable.
You are the ones who have to fight for the funding for teacher librarians,
for music programs, for physical education facilities, for updated textbooks.
You are the guardians of a sacred public
trust. You hold the keys to a better future. And I
say, thank goodness you’re willing to take up the cause. Our governments
know very well that the only way Canada can compete with other nations
is to maintain a public education system that’s the best in the world.
Well that takes money, and if it means that our taxes need to be a little
higher, then so be it. Public education isn’t some kind of luxury item,
teacher–librarians aren’t a frill, music education isn’t just for the
rich. I’ll say it again: these are fundamentals. They are as vital to
the economic and cultural future of this country as our oil and gas
reserves, as our freshwater supply, as our international trading partners.
We simply cannot compete without a robust public school
system. And if we don’t invest in public education now, we’ll all be
paying a terrible price just a few years down the road.
Public education is nothing less than the cornerstone
of culture, peace and prosperity. Henry Adams said, “A teacher
affects eternity; he can never tell where is influence stops.”
That’s the absolute truth.
Let me give you an example. People like to look at big
companies and gauge their success by saying, “Wow, look at how
much money they made this year.” But where would those companies
be without their employees, from their CEO right down to the people
in the mailroom, the vast majority of whom were educated by the public
school system? We all know where they would be, and it wouldn’t be on
the Fortune 500 list.
The staggering truth is, almost everything that we’ve
accomplished in the 20th Century can be attributed to our
public education system. And I’m not just talking about our great advancements
in science, medicine, engineering and so on.
I’m talking about the vast wealth of great new literature
and film, art and dance, music and sculpture and photography and all
the rest of it. I firmly believe that the historians of the future will
look back and consider the concept of public education the most important
instrument of social progress the human race has yet produced.
That is, if we make sure that concept
remains true to its roots. Public education has a bit of an image problem
these days, and it’s up to us to make sure that the public realizes
how important public education is to our continued peace and prosperity.
Listen, you people – in a perfect world, trustees
would have all the resources they need to ensure that each and every
student gets the education they deserve. In a perfect world, all you
would have to focus on is the students.
But we live an an imperfect world, and that means that
we all need to be more outspoken about the work that teachers do. We
need to help them take some of the credit for the success of those big
companies, because they deserve a large percentage
of that credit. And so do you, the trustees that enable those teachers
to do that vital work.
Take every opportunity you can to show business and political
leaders the statistics that prove that where public education is properly
supported, crime rates go down and more income tax flows into government
coffers. Get the message out in any way you possibly can, because we’re
talking about nothing less than the future of our country. It’s that important.
The respect and love I have for trustees, teachers, school
administrators, librarians, and support staff is boundless, because
I know of no other profession in which the participants are more wholly
dedicated to their job. There’s an old saying: “If a doctor,
lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom
had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were
causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance,
had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months,
then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher’s job.”
Isn’t that the truth? And isn’t that the message we need
to get out? Not that teaching is a tough job – everyone knows
that – but that teaching is a job that’s easily as important as
the law, dentistry, or medicine. Heck, make no bones about it; teaching
is more important. Public educators should never, ever take a back seat
And while we’re at it, we should also be speaking out
in support of our public libraries and school libraries. Students, no
matter what their age, must have free access to books, and the public
library is the only source of that access.
If we are to maintain a high rate of literacy, if we are
to continue to expand the depth and breadth of our cultural knowledge,
we must ensure that libraries are given at least as much funding, care,
and attention as our sports stadiums. Frankly, I dream of a day when
teachers and librarians are paid as much as hockey players.
So listen, everyone: I want to make it clear that you
people are my heroes. You should take enormous pride in your work. You
are the shepherds of our destiny, and I cannot thank you enough for
educating me, my children, my grandchildren, and countless others.
Trustees do affect eternity, for the
better, I believe, and the influence of the public educators you support
will be felt through the ages.
It is an awesome duty, and I am glad that you people are
the ones who have taken it up. Before I leave you today, I want to thank
you for creating the Lois E. Hole Annual Lecture. When I first heard
about it, I have to to tell you, I was absolutely overwhelmed. It’s
certainly among my proudest honours, and I can’t wait to hear the first
There’s nothing I care about more than public education,
and I’m thrilled that this lecture series will give Albertans the chance
to hear more about the critical importance of public education to the
fabric of our culture.
Thank you all again so much, and enjoy the AGM. I know
you’ll return to your schools with your heads full of new ideas and
solutions, and most of all, a renewed determination to defend our public
–Her Honour the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta,
Lois E. Hole