Ontario can expect great things from full-day kindergarten, says York prof

There has been some debate, since Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s announcement of full-day kindergarten for all, about the benefits, wrote Stuart Shanker, director of the Milton & Ethel Harris Research Initiative at York and Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology in the Faculty of Health, in the Ottawa Citizen Dec. 13. As a scientist with decades of research experience into early childhood learning challenges, let me be clear: There is no debate over the benefits of quality early learning and care programs. Extensive research has consistently shown that quality preschool, taught by teachers trained in early childhood development, improves not only school readiness, but also the social and emotional skills that help children for a lifetime.

Growing the public education system down to welcome younger children does not mean subjecting those not yet ready for the rigours of a classroom environment. The government’s goal is…to create an environment of child-directed activity that mobilizes the child’s interest and imagination and is tailored to each child’s highly individual style of learning.

We are only just beginning to understand the many reasons why preschool not only greatly facilitates the transition into school, but helps lay the foundation for the social, emotional, cognitive, communicative, and even physical capacities that underpin healthy mental functioning.

Beginning around the age of four, children make a quantum leap in their ability to understand what others are thinking and feeling. The social interactions that a child experiences at this age are critical for the development of this ability to "mindread," and will become a core part of the child’s understanding of other people’s behaviour – and her own – for the rest of her life.

Universal full-day preschool, embedded in an established public education system, linked to community partners and delivered by well-trained professionals working from a sound curriculum – from this foundation Ontario can expect great things in its future.

Provincial transit plans include more service to York

The Ontario government will announce $400 million in new transit funding today, part of which will help the TTC maintain its fleet and GO Transit expand its service, according to stories in the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail and the Hamilton Spectator Dec. 13.

There will be $9 million for 10 new double-decker GO commuter buses to improve service on the Highway 407-Highway 403 corridor, and to York University. Sources say that is “a precursor to future Highway 407 east-west bus rapid transit.”

Board did right thing in denying Latimer parole, writes York prof

The National Parole Board is to be commended for not granting Robert Latimer day parole, wrote Geoffery Reaume, a professor in York’s Critical Disabilities Study Program, Faculty of Health, in a letter to The Globe and Mail Dec. 8. Your editorial’s emotional comparison of Latimer with two notorious murderers, ostensibly to show that he is not a threat like Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo, misses the crucial fact that leniency would signify a very real threat to people with disabilities. His crime and his refusal to acknowledge that killing his disabled daughter was wrong represent a danger in a world where far too many people think the life of Tracy Latimer was a life not worth living.

This attitude is not new; it dredges up memories of 20th-century atrocities committed under the guise of "compassion" against people who had no say in being killed, just as Tracy had no say. The parole board’s decision was right, given the crime, the unrepentant attitude of the perpetrator and the underlying contempt for people with disabilities all too evident in the responses of too many Canadians to this decision.

Schulich and Osgoode deans reappointed for fifth term

Dezsö J. Horváth, the long-serving dean of York University’s Schulich School of Business, has been reappointed for an unprecedented fifth five-year term, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 13. Horvath, 64, who was born in Hungary and educated in Sweden, first took the top job at Schulich in 1988. He has aggressively promoted Schulich, ranked as the top MBA school in Canada several times during his tenure. York also announced yesterday that it has reappointed Patrick Monahan as dean of its Osgoode Hall Law School. This will be Monahan’s second term.

Less help available for newcomers in suburbs

With a one-dimensional interest in helping newcomers with employment and language skills, governments are overlooking the importance of "soft" services such as family counselling, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 13, in a story about the death of Mississauga 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez.

A Ryerson-York University study released in July explains that, "There is a widespread misconception among both the general population and policy-makers that suburban regions are more affluent and do not have to deal with homelessness and other festering problems that exist in the city."

Why the hurry on FTA with Colombia?

Speaking before the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, NDP international trade critic Peter Julian said Canada shouldn’t continue the bilateral trade negotiations due to the continuous abuse of human rights by the government of Colombia, wrote the Hamilton Spectator Dec. 13.

Ricardo Grinspun, a former director of the Centre for Research on Latin America & the Caribbean at York University, thinks it is clear that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s foreign affairs agenda is aligned to the US administration. "The bad thing is that there are a great number of Canadians with other values and other views that should be taken into consideration when making deals with other countries."

While touring in South America last summer, Harper defended the agreement as a way of helping the economy of democratic countries such as Colombia. Grinspun maintains "it is not the right approach. In spite of what is said by their defenders, free-trade agreements such as the one signed with Chile have proven to be not a good way to create new jobs and sustainable development. This is not going to be the exception to that."

Pension freezes push up stock prices

Research conducted at York University reveals that on average, when pension plans of public companies in the US were frozen, stock prices increased over the next 20 days, wrote Employee Benefit News Canada Dec. 13.

Speaking at a seminar hosted by the Ontario regional council of the Association of Canadian Pension Management, Professor Moshe Milevsky of York’s Schulich School of Business, said, "There are so many companies doing this, I have a graduate student working on a thesis on this subject. He has documented that every 10 days to two weeks another publicly-traded company in the US announces it is freezing their DB [defined-benefits] plan."

PM vows to hold someone to account for shutdown

Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed yesterday that someone will be held to account for the shutdown of the reactor that produces half of the world’s medical isotopes as his government searched for culprits to blame in its battle with the country’s nuclear regulator, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 13.

The decision by the government and the three other political parties to order the aging reactor to resume operations, ignoring the expert advice of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, now means that MPs and the Conservative government will have to take the blame should anything go wrong, wrote the Globe.

"If we end up with Chernobyl on the Ottawa [River], they’ve all got to take responsibility for that," said Mark Winfield, a professor in York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies. "They’re rolling the dice."