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Freedom of Expression Committee

Letter to UofO Pres. Gilles Patry, from Graeme O'Farrell, 25 March 2007

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Graeme O'Farrell,
High-school student

Dear Mr.Patry

My name is Graeme O'Farrell. I am a high school student taking correspondence courses at home, working towards my diploma. I have never enjoyed public education, and when I was very young I longed for a way to become involved in my society, because I felt I had so much to contribute. I wished that someone would realize I was a bright and hopeful young individual with lots to offer, and somehow speed up the process to get me into University as fast as possible.

Of course, these were idle dreams and no one whisked me away into higher education and real action. I am eighteen years old now and still working away at patronizing high school courses that educate me in unremarkable ways and do little on the verge of nothing to move me towards my goals.

Last fall your University offered a course that was free to all community members, a course of broad subject matter that was democratically run by the professor and the students together. The course covered material that was taboo in many cases, and often the lecturers presented at the course were subjectively biased. This did not deter students or the professor, but instead encouraged all participants to assess the information they were being exposed to, to do follow-up research to discern the validity of that information, and to in some way act upon that information.

Students were strongly encouraged by the professor to question what they were learning, to make their own conclusions, and to act on those conclusions in some way. The course made direct attempts to foster intrinsic motivation in students by making the marking scheme a simple pass or fail (satisfactory/non-satisfactory) or absent. Students merely had to take control of their own education and show the professor what they had gained from the course to pass. The exam involved students expressing their individual success in learning throughout the course. All of this was a far cry from what I had been used to in high school: competitive marking schemes and externally defined goals for success.

I have all my life believed that the education system is inherently flawed in the way that it treats students as subordinates and, in many ways, as fools. It relies on an assumption that without externally defined goals, motivations, and successes, students will not pursue their own education or careers. The truth is that students are fully capable of defining their own needs for a proper education. They are fully capable of making goals and motivating themselves to find success. The course I attended last fall, affectionately known as the Activism Course, officially known as Science In Society, was a testament to that fact. I would openly challenge anyone who attended the course and participated in the workgroups to defy that it was a living example of student integrity and perseverance.

The Activism Course was the kind of schooling I had been waiting for all my life, and there are so many many students out there like me who wish they could be given the same kind of freedom to learn as is provided in SCI 101. I considered the creation of this course to be the first step in the right direction by education professionals to creating an equitable and dynamic education system. However, the more involved I became in the course, the more I realized how strong the resistance to it was.

Perhaps it is because the course material is often controversial and taboo that the University feels it is undeserving. Perhaps it is because the style of learning and assessment is unorthodox. Perhaps it is because Denis Rancourt openly disagrees with the structure of University funding and the way students are prepared for life outside of public and private education. For some reason, the University is absolutely phobic towards the idea of having a course that is designed to meet the demand of the students. But there is no reason that is so valuable that it can outweigh the most important reason the Activism Course MUST exist: it is the demand of the students.

The times are changing Mr.Patry, surely you must notice that. You may be completely satisfied with the education system and the way your students are being treated at the University of Ottawa and beforehand. But I AM a student, and I am here to tell you, that I am completely dissatisfied. Everyone I've ever talked to at school is completely dissatisfied, save for a small number of students I can count on one hand who just so happen to fit in really well with the way things are.

Your job is not to demand things of the students or the professors. Your job is to MEET the demands of the students and professors to the best of your ability. Instead you have fought with Denis Rancourt and the students that support him, and in doing so you have taken a step backward from the kind of ideal education we would like to have. Students need the Activism Course, not just the students of the University of Ottawa, but high school students, and students who have long ago graduated from University.

This is a course for everybody, and you have no right to take it away from a public that so sorely wishes it to exist. If the Activism Course does not exist at the University of Ottawa, it will exist elsewhere. The public demand is too great for it to simply disappear. One way or another, people are going to learn that education can be done differently, that it can be done democratically. You want to be a part of this change Mr.Patry. You should be working with us to co-operatively create an equitable education system, not stopping the progress of innovative minds at every turn. The only other option is to be left behind in a kind of education system that offers students far too little for it to prosper.

Mr.Patry, I do not wish to aggravate you. I know you are a good man and that you have the greatest of intentions for yourself and your fellow human being. But you must know that I and many others like me are out there, and until you decide to work with us in favour of an inclusive, open-minded and democratically-designed education system, we will be putting pressure on you to change at every possible turn. We are not trying to fight you, we are trying to work with you in a progressive way that benefits all of us. Please, keep this in mind over the coming weeks as the advocates of Denis Rancourt's Activism Course impress upon you the need for his work to continue.

Please respond to my comments and concerns as soon as possible. I request that you acknowledge you have read this e-mail in full at the very least. If no acknowledgement or reply is received, I will assume you have ignored me and will be making a visit to see you in person very soon to raise these issues face to face.

Finally, I make one last plea: Be the change that we all wish to see in the world, and help us change the education system to benefit everyone!

In loving kindness, of the sort that only a humble student can be capable of,
Graeme

see also: from Graeme O'Farrell, 29 May 2007

back to: Letters to Patry 2007