What’s good for ED: resolutions for 2021
Where to begin? While we were all trying to cope with the repeated shocks of COVID- 19 this past year, our Ontario government was busy. Yes, you have reason to be very concerned. But there were also people out in the community doing good work like organizing opposition to the Ford government, maybe with the hopes that the Tories might all decide to join former Finance Minister Rod Phillips on an extended a holiday in St. Barts. Below, School Magazine has listed 10 New Year’s Resolutions that would improve and respect education in Ontario along with the people who are connected to it.
Take back Mike Harris’ Order of Ontario.
It’s like giving the guy who totalled your car an award for driving. He capitalized the NEO in neo-conservatism creating the megacity of Toronto, amalgamating school boards across the province and generally creating a “useful crisis” to take over school board funding so his government could cut it at will. Mike Harris introduced ridiculous provincial testing. Trustees were politically disembowelled. His “Common Sense Revolution” was a nightmare of healthcare cuts, big bites out of social assistance and – oh, right – tax cuts to balance it all out. His Social Service Minister David Tsubouchi even suggested a welfare shopping list including pasta without sauce, bread without butter and of course his famous 69-cent Tory tuna. Remember Walkerton and the e-coli crisis? Remember Ipperwash and the death of Dudley George?
Mike Harris has done just fine since he left what could be most perversely described as his public service. After cutting about 18 500 beds in chronic care facilities, it just made common sense that he’d head up Chartwell, one of the private long term care corporations that continued to pay out millions of dollars in dividends to shareholders while they received provincial and federal money to pay front-line workers in the midst of COVID. Meanwhile a Chartwell residence in Ancaster has just recorded 19 deaths after a COVID outbreak that began in October.
Give this award to practically anybody – give it to Mr. Potato Head! This keyboard is burning…
Walk the talk on anti-racism
Since the early 1990s school boards have been talking about anti-racism – about training teachers, staff, putting better books in libraries, having more discussion, writing detailed reports – it goes on. Yet we still see the kids of Black, Indigenous and other People of Colour (BIPOC) streamed into low level courses, suspended from school at higher rates that their White counterparts – even those in kindergarten. A trustee like Will Davies in Peel manages to get away with calling the predominantly BIPOC kids in McCrimmon Middle School – “McCriminals.”
Meanwhile, at the Toronto District School Board, parents at Queen Victoria Public School still wait for answers about a vicious piece of hate mail sent to the former Vice Principal, a Black woman who had the temerity to work with a group of parents trying to improve the lot of Black kids there. This was a year ago.
Restart the curriculum for Indigenous peoples
One of the first things the Ford government did after finding its way to right side of the legislature was to cancel a writing team made of Indigenous educators and elders tasked with developing a curriculum for Indigenous histories and cultures. That was 2 ½ years ago. Since then nothing has happened to get the team together again.
The writing team set out to revise the curriculum in 2016 under the Wynne government, after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) reported on its inquiry into the Residential Schools operated throughout Canada from its birth until 1996. In 2013 the Commission made 93 Calls to Action. One of them was for provincial governments to work with Indigenous peoples to develop a curriculum for grades K-12.
We’re still waiting for it. This has to get moving again.
Spend the money to make schools safer from COVID-19
There is no panacea for COVID-19 and gathering in public spaces, but the Ford government certainly could dip into unspent reserve funds of $12 billion dollars to make it easier to be safer at school. Schools across the province are closed again, probably indefinitely. Parents need the protection of adequate sick or caregiver leave as they stay home with their kids. When students do finally return to school, asymptomatic testing needs to be ramped up to make sure that some of them aren’t passing the virus on to others. Online learning is turning out to be a disaster. Neither students nor teachers are coping well with it. There are big questions about safety and privacy looming and there’s little to reassure the public that students are getting anything out of it.
Spend the money to make social distancing a reality: reduce sizes to 15 and make it easier for kids to go back to school.
Keep up solidarity
If there’s one good thing to come out of the first couple of years of the Ford government, it’s that, rather than fold under the shock of its many assaults, people connected to all aspect of social services, health and education are getting together to push back at this most retrograde of governments. Just a couple of days ago, in cool, gray downtown Toronto, Ontario Education Workers United (OEWU) and Ontario Parent Action Network (OPAN) joined to publicize the health and education mess wrought by COVID-19 and a government that is so clueless, some of its members can’t follow their own social distancing rules. Its moratorium on evictions was lifted last July and there’s nothing to replace it in the middle of winter, unless Doug Ford decides to issue an emergency order banning them.
Groups like OPAN and OEWU have been popping up across the province since it became clear, ten minutes after this government was elected that it would hurt not just schools, but the people and communities who send their children to them. This sort of alliance is critical as groups like Fix Our Schools, Ontario Autism Coalition, Decent Work and Health Network, Jane Finch Education Action and many others get together with teachers unions and CUPE education workers and others to work on the defeat of tis government in the next election.
Let’s keep this up and find ways to expand and ramp up the pressure while continuing to organize. Not that we’d ever put in a plug for ourselves, but School Magazine is always there to publicize and support the work of these groups.
One last point. Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT): get back to your activist roots. Schools, kids and communities need your focus and energy. You can’t continue to be just a business union and expect to hold on to any credibility from the community that has supported you for years. Come on!
Drop mandatory online learning
Stephen Lecce really likes online learning. From his government’s perspective it makes sense in a perverse way, because it isn’t interested in education as something good in its own right, but as a delivery vehicle for requisite skills and knowledge to service a neo-liberal economy with a vague future. The Ministry of Education embraced this Amazon approach with online education mandated for 4 courses in high school. After many job actions that got whittled down to 2.
There shouldn’t be any mandatory online courses, and it’s crystal clear why- even if only from a practical point of view. Thanks to COVID-19, we get an illustration of an online mess: kids getting lost in the system, not turning up for “screen-class”, no back and forth conversations that typify worthwhile interactions between teachers and students – the list goes on. Mandatory online learning was always about the Tories schools-as-business philosophy- not learning. Drop it.
Watch out for charter schools
As Michael Mindzak said back in October, Jason Kenny’s United Conservative Party (UCP) is giving charter schools another chance in Alberta, with his Choice in Education Act ( BTW: look askance at any government proposal with the work “choice” in it; it means “privatize”). Charter schools allow business groups and others to open up a school based on their particular philosophy of education – and get public funding for it. This is a major factor in U.S. education, where wealthy individuals or corporations may top up these public funds and run in competition with underfunded public schools. We need well-funded public education, not schools that work in competition with it.
Fix our schools
At least Stephen Lecce is consistent with all the education ministers preceding him, promising to fix
school buildings and then doing little about it. He told the Ontario legislature last in late 2019 that his government was going to spend the $1.4 billion the
y’re already spending per year on school maintenance. Then he proclaimed that the Ford government would spend an additional $13 billion over 10 years to bring school buildings back up to par. This is actually less than the $16 billion, the previous Liberal government promised – to deal with a backlog of repairs going back to – you guessed it – the Mike Harris, Order of Ontario era. It’s now twenty years later. It’s time.
This goes along with “Fix our Schools,” but is so important it needs its own resolution. When Mr. Order of Ontario – Mike Harris – took over schools in 1997 his government wrung them out with a funding formula that was one-size-fits-all. It never took into account, the widely varied needs of different boards – transportation, population, age of buildings and so on. It was designed to force boards to cut programmes and services, charge fees or even look for help from businesses. There was a consistent and growing gap between what school boards received and what they needed to do to meet the needs of their students. This didn’t change when the Liberals took over. The gap continued to grow.
The Tories will certainly be crying poor once COVID-19 is more or less under control and bills come due. All the more reason now to add protection against even deeper cuts by casting a funding formula to preserve schools, their programmes and communities.
And finally, just because it’s the right thing to do, don’t let Charles McVety offer “university” courses.
Okay, he helped Doug Ford become the Tory leader but that doesn’t mean Charles McVety gets to have his own university. Doug Ford’s friend runs Canada Christian College and, pending a review, may be allowed to offer arts and science degrees after the Tories passed Bill 213, which contains a provision opening up that door. McVety used to be a televangelist for the Christian television station Crossroads Television Ontario but ran afoul of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council in 2010, when he suggested that gay and lesbian people prefer young and underage individuals. McVety had already voiced his opposition to funding gay pride parades and discussing homosexuality in schools.
McVety’s Canada Christian College hosted a rally in February 2017 just after six Muslim men were killed and nineteen others injured as they said their evening prayers at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City. Organizers falsely claimed that a non-binding motion in the House of Commons calling for it to condemn “systemic racism and religious discrimination” was a move to make it illegal to criticize Muslims.
The Canada Christian College code of behavior tells its members to “Refrain from practices that are biblically condemned… abortion (Ex. 20:13; Ps. 139:13- 16), and sexual sins including premarital sex, adultery, all types of fornication and related behaviour, and viewing of pornography (I Cor. 6:12-20; Eph. 4:17-24; I Thess. 4:3-8; Rom. 2:26-27; I Tim. 1:9-10)….married members of the community agree to maintain the sanctity of marriage and to take every positive step possible to avoid divorce.”
Giving Charles McVety any creditability at all, makes it pretty clear how much contempt the Ford government has for learning.