New Brunswick is (mostly) lit*, folks. Pass it on.

*Editor’s Note: The writer’s kids tell him that that the word ‘lit’ was previously used to define the state of a person who is mildly intoxicated. Now, it has evolved to generally mean something that is cool or amazing.

The other night my wife and I were out enjoying a nice meal at Gusto restaurant in Moncton when she casually mentioned that an ESL student of hers was surprised at how far behind the New Brunswick school system was compared to her home country in Latin America. I won’t mention the country in question because I don’t want to make this personal – I have a broader point to make. Apparently her eight-year-old son was doing advanced calculus in his home country while the New Brunswick eight-year-old kids were fashioning play dough during class time*.

*Editor’s Note: The writer is exaggerating here for effect. The eight-year-old student in question was actually performing three-digit multiplication back in his home country while the New Brunswick kids were supposedly still working on basic multiplication tables (e.g. five times five).

I proceeded to lash out at my wife with a tirade such as “if things are so great in that country…..” why is it’s GDP per capita 80% less than New Brunswick? If the education system is so great in that country, why are its PISA scores so much lower than New Brunswick?*

*Editor’s Note: The agitated defender of New Brunswick didn’t know at the time the country in question’s PISA scores. He is not Cliff Clavin from the old TV show Cheers. He just assumed. A quick check later confirmed that indeed this Latin American country’s PISA scores (while improving) are dramatically lower than New Brunswick for both reading and math. For those that know the PISA, an 80 or 100 point spread is substantial.

My wife made what was likely a series of sensible responses, but I was too busy angrily defending New Brunswick and expressing moral outrage.

Later, of course, I apologized to her and we had a rational conversation about my spontaneous outburst of rage.

The truth is that because of what I do for a living every day I hear constantly about New Brunswick’s challenges. We pay too much tax. New Brunswickers are lazy, entitled and hooked on EI. Young NBers have lost the work ethic of previous generations. We are resistant to immigration, technology and any kind of change in general. Governments are slow, lethargic and lack ambition. Our education system is in the toilet. We have terrible health care and health outcomes. People are fleeing the province in droves. On, and on, and on.  I guess it finally got to me and I took it out on my poor wife.

Give your head a shake*. I did. It helps put things back in perspective.

*Editor’s Note: Do not shake too hard. With the apparently outrageous wait times at the ER you might end up with a permanently addled brain.

We must be able to talk honestly and openly about our challenges in New Brunswick without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Having folks from other countries move here and question things is a good thing. It is reasonably obvious that this lady’s young eight-year-old Einstein was likely attending a private school back in her home country*. When you compare apples to apples the outcomes from the NB education system are much higher than this unnamed Latin American country (not Brazil, by the way, for my outsized number of Brazilian readers).

*Editor’s Note: With my relatively limited exposure to international education systems it does seem certain countries still place a much higher focus on rote learning than in New Brunswick.  I’m not sure a majority of Grade 12 students here could rhyme off their multiplication table through 12 x 12 = 144.  

This doesn’t mean we don’t have work to do. We have lots of work to do in our education system. The risk in public education systems is towards a ‘leveling down’ to ensure everyone gets the same chance but the system – even a public system – should allow those with more drive to be far more challenged in school – pushed harder. There are ways to do this without compromising the vision of good quality public education. As I have said before, I think we could use a little more private K-12 education to keep the public system on its toes.

We have real issues facing us in the health care area but the gross domestic product (GDP) in New Brunswick generated by the health care is higher than the entire GDP from all sectors in the aforementioned but anonymous Latin American country. We spend a lot of money – private and public – on health care. We have eight health care workers for every 100 people living New Brunswick. There are certainly ways to improve and we need to do so but to equate New Brunswick’s health care system with 3rd world or emerging world countries is crazy.

The bottom line is that New Brunswick is a great place to live. Is it the best place in the world to live? I would be skeptical about any place that made such a claim*.

*Editor’s Note: Except La Jolla, California – that place seems to be just about perfect – if, and this is a big if, you can afford it. If you haven’t visited there, you should.

I have visited every U.S. state except Hawaii. I have visited every Canadian province multiple times. I have made over 30 international trips to nearly 20 countries and I would say that IMO (and, by the way, it is always IMO) New Brunswick is a pretty great place to live. The cost of living here is comparatively good. The commute times to work are hard to beat.  Crime rates are low (at least for violent crime). There is little corruption in government*.

*Editor’s Note: Yes, for you cynics, this is true. In a lot of places in the world, people go into politics poor and come out rich. In New Brunswick, people go into politics poor and mostly come out poor. After politics a few have gone on to become wealthy but for the most part politicians in New Brunswick don’t get rich because of their political connections.

So, let us continue to work on this place. It is a definitely a work-in-progress. We need stronger and larger urban centres. We need to flow in tens of thousands of immigrants and, yes, be able to take a little criticism from folks that have a different perspective. We need to rejuvenate our rural economy with more focus on agriculture, tourism and natural resources development. We need to reform EI – at least for the next generation.  We need to be more innovative and realize we are competing now on a global scale for people, investment, export markets and entrepreneurs.

But when it comes right down to it, fellow New Brunswicker, you are living in a place that affords most people a comparatively good quality of life.

Your situation might even be ‘lit’.

Ask a teenager to be sure.

3 thoughts on “New Brunswick is (mostly) lit*, folks. Pass it on.

  1. I’ve been educated in the New-Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario and every time I moved to a bigger place, I was warned by New-Brunswickers that I would have to level up to keep up with the big city people. When I arrived there, if anything it was the opposite. The larger institutions seemed bogged down by more politics, by difficult parents, teachers, professors and administrators pulling in different directions which resulted in holding back the quality of the education. In NB there seemed to be more of an attitude of letting the schools do their thing and it worked. Maybe partly because I was scared into bracing myself, I found the “big city” programs surprisingly easy. Given what I’ve seen moving around, it didn’t surprise me not long ago when I read that UofT’s medical school, supposedly one of the best in the world, was caught teaching an anti-vaccine, homeopathy course to medical students and they even tried to defend it when caught.

    This is not the only anecdotes I have. I was part of the first cohort in International Baccalaureate in Mathieu Martin. I didn’t finish it because I moved to Montreal but I remember the meetings telling us that we were going to be graded on international level exams, that we would have to spend hours doing homeworks every day (no body did this) and that we had catching up to do compared to other places where they start the program earlier.

    When the cohort I started with reached 12th grade, on these international exams, Mathieu Martin ended up having some of the highest IB scores in the world. I think in particular, the cohort had surpassed all other class averages in the world for Chemistry scores.

    New-Brunswick has problems but my experience is that the smaller population density has some advantages when it comes to education. It seems to be more frictionless if anything.

    One of my past employer was head quartered in La Jolla. I’ve been there. Except for the weather, it’s a place like any other. We can go to the beach from Moncton too. At least for a month a year 🙂

  2. Thanks for all your ‘editorial injections’ – and thanks for speaking frankly. We have lots of work to do but a little reaseRch & travel will reveal we are not broken. We do need some serious improvement & intervention & foci on particular points of ‘lagging’ but open & frank dialogue, courage, & collaboration to get it done can make a huge difference.

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