President and CEO
With the NHL season in full swing, our usual passions are aroused in favour of future NHL franchises in Canada.
What can we observe from these tensions that may shine a light on learning conditions in this country?
One of the main themes of the Canadian Council on Learning is that learning is a lifelong, continuous process. It is so much more than what we absorb in a classroom.
Learning across the life cycle comprises Learning to Do, Learning to Live Together, and Learning to Be, as well as the formal education characterized by Learning to Know.
Among important indicators in the Learning to Be dimension are those relating to participation in sports and in the cultural, social and recreational life of a community. When participation is high, learning conditions are better and individual opportunities for learning enhanced.
Canadians are outraged that a New York-based hockey plutocracy can deny adequate representation among NHL teams. There exists an intuitive sense that both community—Learning to Live Together indicator—and participation in sporting and cultural life—Learning to Be indicator—hang in the balance.
What is striking is that the struggle between Canadian tycoons and the closed hockey shop is a mere proxy for an astonishing fact: hockey-mad Canada, which styles itself as the birthplace of the sport, is in fact the only hockey-playing country without a top-level national league. What is even more surprising is that very few Canadians seem even to have noticed this anomaly.
Russians, Slovaks, Swedes and Czechs have national professional leagues which serve both to heighten skill levels in their lands and to provide many members of their national teams. Even B- and C-level hockey countries in Norway, Poland or Japan have steadily improving national leagues. Many of these leagues are careful to ensure a substantial majority of players originate in the home country of the league.
The U.S. also has such a league. It is called the National Hockey League. Policies of that league favour the development of endemic American talent, including in those gentler climes where the sport has no history.
National leagues have two crucial features: they are controlled by, and perform their function largely for the benefit of populations in their countries. And they compete at or near the highest international level at which citizens of their country can play. For example, there is rough comparability between Russian or Swedish leagues and the American (National Hockey) League. In cases of lesser hockey countries like Switzerland or Germany, the aspiration is to reach that international level.
This absence of Canadian identity in our principal sporting passion is one reason for which overseas visitors tend to confuse Canadians with Americans. We fret about whether a New York hockey czar will permit a symbolic victory by permitting a team in Hamilton or Quebec. Surely, a proud country would permanently solve the anguish by establishing its own world-class national league.
The lessons from our hockey drama for Canadian learning are not encouraging. Our seeming impotence when confronted with external control diminishes a sense of community empowerment and participation. It conveys the message: we can aspire to the highest levels of achievement in learning (in this case hockey skills) but we cannot mesh our individual ambition with any expression of community pride. The road is blocked. It belongs to others.
Sporting participation at high levels is a form of community engagement. When it is externally controlled, it may be more difficult to motivate people to create those local conditions that favour positive learning environments outside school. Lacking that motivational drive, it will be challenging to improve the key dimensions of Learning to Be and Learning to Live Together.
The Balsillie/NHL struggle was a sideshow to the real Canadian drama. The real issue: will Canadians decide for themselves what their learning, recreational and community activities will look like?
Will Canadians create a world-class league of their own?
President & CEO
Canadian Council on Learning