The old adage that you can’t tell a book by its cover is born out by the illustration on the front of Be That As It May. Readers seeing the Statue of Liberty with an apple replacing her torch and the words “school text” adorning her tablet should naturally expect a treatise on education problems in the United States. Actually, although the U.S. is mentioned occasionally, the book is about how the Canadian government has negatively affected the instruction of its students, with an emphasis on western and rural provinces.
Roberta Maclise McDonald uses an anecdotal style to emphasize how educational practices have changed since her elementary school years in a one-room school, continuing through her 35 years as a substitute and full-time teacher and school board candidate. McDonald’s opinions are certainly controversial, regardless of the nationality of the reader, and, although many are backed up by references to articles and essays, most are based only on McDonald’s experiences.
Educators and parents might agree with the author’s stance that mastery of basic skills is more important than the student’s “self-image.” However, it’s doubtful that McDonald will find many teachers who will agree with her that they are overpaid and underworked.
Her opinions on dress codes (school uniforms are a good idea), her disappointment at the watering down or elimination of physical education and arts programs and the wastes involved with the proliferation of administrative positions make sense. However, her beliefs that “compulsory public education should be disbanded” and that all schooling should be supported only through voucher systems seem idealistic and impractical, given the entrenched tradition of education in North America and the inability of government entities to reach a consensus on difficult issues such as this.
While readers will discover few ideas that seem workable here, they may find McDonald’s anecdotes about growing up on the Canadian prairie nostalgic and thought provoking.