Political Numbers Game

So this weekend the Wildrose party held a march on the legislature for people who want a “back to basics” math approach.  I tried to find a panoramic shot of the crowds to get a better idea as to numbers in attendance but this was as close as I could get….although I may have missed something somewhere….



Some news outlets reported “dozens had attended”, others reported about 150, I saw the number 200 somewhere and David Staples from the Edmonton Journal swears it was about 400 over the course of 2 hours.  He says he personally did a head count.

“When will the government stand up and listen to us?” seems to be the prevailing question.  Well, we all know that politics is a numbers game.  So let’s crunch some numbers.

The “Back to Basics” math petition has been signed by just under 13,000 people I believe.  It has pretty much had it’s day I think.  While there are a few more signatures added each day, I think we can say that in terms of it’s momentum, it’s pretty much done unless there is a resurgence.  I’ve looked at the signatures.  Not all of them are Albertan.  Heck, not all of them are even Canadian!  But let’s use that 13,000 to say that there are 13,000 “Albertans” who want action.  Well that’s 13,000 people out of a population of about 3.8 million people.  Now not all of those are adults.  So let’s say that half of them are children under the age of 18 (or non-voters).  That takes us down to about 1.9 million.  So 13,000 signatures out of a potential 1.9 million is roughly 0.68% of the Alberta population.  Yikes….not super overwhelming…..

Let’s use Staples’ number of 400 attendees at the march on the legislature.  400 people out of a potential 817,000 (roughly the size of the city of Edmonton. But again, let’s assumer that half of that number is the non-voting population.  Oh, but wait….I see kids in the photo so nope, we have to include everyone.  So 400 out of 817,000 people were counted as attendees.  That would be roughly 0.05% of the population of Edmonton took the time to come to the march.  And you have to wonder how many were there because they were legitimately interested vs. dragged there by family/friends/etc…. vs. how many people came over to just simply take a look at what the heck was going on while they were out for a walk.  But again…not super overwhelming.

Anyways…..like I said though, politics is about numbers.  And based on these numbers I think the Wildrose Party is about to turn their attention to something else.  Because clearly this “flavour of the week” battle isn’t going to gain them the votes they need to win the next election.  Especially since they likely acknowledge that most of these people supported them already anyways.

It has been posed that parents are speaking up against “discovery math” and they are making sure their voices are heard.  Where are the voices of those in favour of it? We’re not hearing THEM speak up!

Well it’s simple really.  It’s also a very common trend.  Our school used to hand out surveys to parents and the results were seriously depressing when we looked at them.  There were some very negative comments and it seemed like no one had anything positive to say about our school.  And then I was told, “You have to remember, we rarely hear from the people who are happy.  The ones who have a complaint or a criticsm are usually the ones who take the time to fill out the survey, because they want to be heard and this is their opportunity.”

Those who disagree with the current math curriculum have definitely made their voices heard.  If you live in Alberta and don’t know about this issue, it isn’t for their lack of trying.  It’s had media/press coverage, a full online petition, numerous blog postings, and has ruined my Facebook feed numerous times as well.  And you do need to hear from these people.  They are the ones who will provide you with a different viewpoint.  We can’t live in a vacuum.  So no, I’m not at all saying that these people should be ignored or that they are not important.  They are definitely passionate, I will give them that.

But numbers are numbers and we all know that political parties are about the numbers.  So as far as being a political issue?  I have a suspicion this will likely be regarded as little more than a blip on their political radar.  Come election time the focus will likely turn to health care, the oil sands, and other more high profile issues.  Based on the people behind “Back to Basics”math movement, I think it’s likely to be shuffled aside.  Oh I’m sure it will get a nod and a mention, but it isn’t likely to be the driving force behind an election campaign.  Does that mean the debate and the conversation is not important?  Absolutely not.  But as a political bullet…….?  I think it just doesn’t have the power.

That being said, I don’t have a degree in political science.  My assumptions could be dead wrong, after all….they are only inferences based on what I know from the past and what I see happening in front of me.  I would call myself politically aware but certainly not a political expert.  But then again, I don’t seem to be an expert in anything.  Not even education.  Nope….my 12+ years of classroom experience, my degree in education, the hundreds of parents I have talked to over the years, the 1000+ students that have walked through my classroom…..none of it seems to count.  I am dismissed as “just another teacher” who “doesn’t get it.”  I was referred to the other day as a teacher with a “cute” little blog and a nice “smattering” of followers.  Ouch.  I’m 37.  I’m far too old to be “cute”.

But as far as my teaching math goes….

One of the proudest moments I’ve ever had was a couple years ago when I was in the middle of teaching a math concept when one of my students put up her hand.

“Mrs. Olthof, I normally like the way you teach math but today I don’t like the way you’re teaching this.  I’m not getting it.  Can you teach it different?”

Talk about the level of trust it takes between a teacher and a student in order for THAT to happen mid-lesson.  And I stumbled for a bit and thought for a second before I said…..”Sure, let’s try it this way…..”  But what if I hadn’t known another way to teach it? Or had the freedom to teach it another way?


“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn.”  This notion holds true for BOTH sides of the debate….those who push the “back to basics” approach AND those who support inquiry based teaching.


About Cherra-Lynne Olthof

I've been a middle school teacher for my entire career (which began in 2001). Like my students, I too am a life long learner. My goals include helping my students to achieve their goals, support them in their learning, and to encourage them to think "beyond the grade".
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