Building Education Action: Toronto Grass-Roots Policy and a Political Network

Article excerpt

Education Action: Toronto is an organization just getting off the ground. It hopes to bring together a broad network of education activists in the city to take on local organizing in our schools and to develop ways in which Toronto's school boards -public and catholic - can reflect the realities and concerns of their constituents. It is especially focused on Toronto's working-class communities, which are increasingly poor, immigrant and racialized. EA.TO hopes to build on Toronto's activist past in education and to link it with the work now being done among community and tenant groups, parent, student and school board employee organizations, and the wider labour movement. The organization comes at a moment when, finally, there is a sense that the broader Toronto community is starting to rethink the impact of the neo-liberal thrust in our schools. How far that rethinking will take us is hard to tell. But - among those who are resisting the current government's education policies - there is a little more optimism in the air. This paper is a response to the discussions that have revolved around EA:TO in the last year or so.


I understand the pitfalls of dreaming too large these days.

There is so much need for concrete action and a beginning to serious organizing in our schools.

It is also crucial that progressive social movements and organizations in our society take on education as a fundamental concern and work through their own precise demands for school reform.

That said, I still see no way around coming to grips with a larger vision for our work in Education Action: Toronto - how what we do can help in the building of a caring and purposeful future for our schools and for the society as a whole.

We have to know where we are going.

We have to know the kind of society we want to build with the curriculum we support.

We have to know what a democratic public school system might realistically look like in the future.

We have to how much money the public system really needs and where it will come from.

And we have to know the vehicle through which the answers to these primary questions can be implemented in our public schools.

We don't start from scratch on any of these points. There is, in fact, a surprising degree of agreement among us in all these policy areas, which we hope Education Action: Toronto can pull together into a coherent program and plan of action.

At the same time, as we all know, there is an equally surprising inability to act on school reform - given our knowledge of what's wrong and what should be done about it.

One reason for our failure to act is the dramatic growth of corporate power - the growth of capitalist social relations - in all aspects of our lives, including the education of our children.

In response to the intensity of this onslaught, what has emerged among citizens and workers (in our case among parents, students, teachers and school board workers) is not only a real loss of power but also what Michael Lerner used to call "surplus powerlessness." The loss of real power makes us forget the power we still have. It strips the life out of thought, abstracting it from the real world, and encourages, instead, a mix of irony, cynicism and despair. Perhaps the most fundamental and effective message delivered by global capitalism is that "You can't beat City Hall" and you shouldn't try. It makes us want to give up before we start. Which is why I want to begin with the last point on the list above - considering the vehicle through which we eventually carry our policies through to implementation.


The discussion of what we want to do in our schools can't really go forward without a sense that we are moving in a direction that will allow us to deliver on our conclusions.

What this means, more than anything else, is that we have to think through our relationship to political parties. …