Hard right – harsh reality. Lisa Thompson and “resiliency”

William Paul  – 2019-04-05

“There’s not a Hand in this town, sir, man, woman, or child, but has one ultimate object in life. That object is, to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon. Now, they’re not a-going—none of ’em—ever to be fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon.”
― Charles Dickens, Hard Times

“We’re hearing from professors and employers alike, they’re lacking coping skills and they’re lacking resiliency (sic)…by increasing class size in high school we’re preparing them for the reality of post-secondary as well as the world of work” –Lisa Thompson, Minister of Education.


The main difference between these two quotations is that the first was published 160 years ago and meant as satire.

There’s been a lot said, most of it negative, about Ms. Thompson’s interview with Matt Galloway of CBC’s Metro Morning last month. She turned the whole issue of class size on its head when she claimed that kids are better off in larger ones, that somehow it will toughen them up and get them ready for a right-wing, competitive Ontario, a province whose license plates in future will proclaim “Open for Business” – for those who graduate from these new resilient classes. Doug Ford thinks it’s a better slogan than “Yours to Discover”  – something that suits people interested in learning.

It’s just not what the Tories are about.

Increasing class size

The class size increases demonstrate this clearly. Grades 1 to 3 remain the same. Grades 4 to 8 increase by one student per class. High school classes will go from 22 to 28. For now.

Across the province we can expect to lose about 10 000 teachers, despite the Ford government’s claim that the cut will be just 3 475 jobs. The Tories are notoriously bad at Math, unable to provide a proper estimate say, of the provincial deficit.

At the Toronto District School Board, for example, that looks like a loss of 800 teachers in high schools and 216 in grades 4 to 8. This comes from a system that already lost programs when the Education Program- Other (EPO) was cut. It’s the same system that has little support for students with special needs and a big question mark hanging over the support kids on the autism spectrum can expect once their 6-month therapy money runs out and they sit in a school system with fewer teachers than ever.

In spite of the fact that Lisa Thompson said that no teachers would lose their jobs over this debacle, 54 teachers with the Upper Grand District School Board recently opened letters telling them they’d be laid off.

How the numbers work

It’s worth taking a closer look at the numbers. First, those numbers specify an average class size, meaning that you could have classes with well over 28 kids in them. Let’s say you have a special needs class in the secondary school with only 20 kids. Well, the ministry is only going to pay for one teacher for each 28 kids. So, you have to raise other class sizes higher to meet that average. For that one class of 20, the board would have to raise three other classes to 29, 30 and 33 – so they average out to 28.

If Ms. Thompson had just been honest about what she was doing….

But it gets worse. For every secondary teacher you take away from a school, you cut back on what you can offer in the way of courses. You have to have enough teachers at a school to teach the courses students need to get their secondary school diplomas. These focus mostly on English, Math and Science, though there are single credits kids need for history, geography, phys-ed, French and the arts.  So, what happens if smaller schools – that help vulnerable young people – no longer have the teachers they need to cover the compulsory courses? Too bad. Maybe they will close. Those kids can go to a larger school and learn to compete, toughen up and buckle down.

As Graham, one student who attends such a school said last week at meeting in the east end, it will make it much harder for the “people who go to my school (and) struggle with their own issues.” Think about attention and learning problems, mental health issues brought on by stress, finding it hard to fit in and other concerns typical of young people his age.

No “golden spoons” for kids

But that doesn’t fit the self-serving Tory myth of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Ms. Thompson’s remarks are deeply significant when you take some time to mull them over. This person with a background in farming, not education, seems to think that kids are soft and molly-coddled. They can’t handle life in the real world and need some smartening up. Larger class sizes are just the ticket – except of course she neglects to mention that the Tories want to cut 4 percent from the provincial expenses to help pay for a $3 billion loss in cap and trade revenue while cutting taxes. She doesn’t mention that her government is heading toward privatization of schools and vouchers for parents who have the means to get their kids out of a gutted public-school system.

It never was about kids getting the education with the “golden spoon.”

It’s the same thinking that drives closure of safe injection sites, then reopening them under restrictive rules, then closing many of them on a weekend’s notice. What Tory cares about heroin addicts? Just more people wanting something. Or the “guaranteed income pilot” started by the Liberals and cancelled with little notice. Good Tories must think: more people with those “golden spoons” wanting something they didn’t earn.

And speaking of golden spoons, take for example, that giant of rectitude Doug Ford, raised in a well-to-do and well-connected family who didn’t need to study much past high school because he was given a job in his family business. Is that resilience?

Real resilience

Not really. At the University of Melbourne in Australia, a team led by Professor Helen Cahill says it’s about providing a safe and supportive learning environment – one in which you don’t have to compete for attention – one where students don’t fear other students and have good relationships with teachers. It occurs in schools with effective classroom management, time for remedial teaching of topics kids didn’t understand the first time, time to fill in gaps of learning so they don’t feel left behind.

Resilience is not a mystery written around some strange notion of hardship.

Here’s a good example of it. Yesterday, about 100 000 elementary and secondary students across the province left their classes to protest the teacher cuts Ms. Thompson plans to make. Out in front of Bloor Collegiate, about 300 students showed what resilience is all about – displaying the confidence as well as the joy of being together and yelling themselves hoarse about a government that would take away their teachers, cut their options and reduce their chances of success.

What will happen if class sizes go up? Their answers were thoughtful and well-informed:

“ I think I will seeing a lot less of the arts and humanities.”

“ I think I won’t be seeing many of my teachers who are first year teachers. They’ll be forced to go back into supply teaching.”

What a sad lesson in politics…