Foolin' with Our Schoolin'

By Goldenthal-Walters, Justin Woza | Our Schools, Our Selves, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview
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Foolin' with Our Schoolin'


Goldenthal-Walters, Justin Woza, Our Schools, Our Selves


What the dominant educational philosophies want is to educate people to adapt to those social forms rather than critically interrogate them. Democracy is a celebration of difference, the politics of difference, and the dominant philosophies fear this. (Henry A. Giroux)

I have seen discriminatory attitudes spread systemically when thought-provoking Black Studies and Multicultural programs were axed. A staff member for the Ministry of Education under John Snobelen once said to me "We cannot afford public education for everyone." This is NOT democracy!

Ontario schools have just emerged from eight years of an aggressively anti-democratic regime. The McGuinty Liberals are slowly beginning to undo the attitude that young people aren't worth the money - that in fact, they have too much! For some time now, students have been the target of overzealous right wing governments and the systems they perpetuate systems which make learning and questioning a threat and education a privilege and not a right. Shame!

The provincial governments of Mike Harris in Ontario and Ralph Klein in Alberta called their campaigns of destruction, ironically, "common sense". A newly released report on tax spending by Fraser Institute "associates" Mike Harris and Preston Manning states that only 33% of 18-34 year olds believe they should pay less taxes for education. In effect, the report suggests it would only make common sense, Mike, that if we are to see any democracy in our schools, we need MORE spending and LESS fooling with our schooling!

Another example of anti-democracy is streaming, the fundamentally flawed policy of slotting young children into an "education plan" in early grades - pressuring young kids to choose one direction and follow in line! Unfortunately, I was caught in this and other anti-democratic philosophies in Grades 7-8 in Ontario under the Harris government with the introduction of the "Action Plan." Action at the age of 13-14? How in the hell does any kid know about a plan, or what they want to do in life? Never let them limit your potential! I'll tell you what my action plan reads to this day: I can be whatever I want to be at whatever point I choose, punk!

Standardized testing was aggressively instituted in 1999 in Ontario. Imagine an 11 year old child with 200 pages of a test designed for failure, with rigid and ridiculous standards that pit different learning abilities against each other. This practice results in the public ranking of schools which then compete against each other in the hunt for funding just to stay alive. Private enterprise is served as U.S. testing companies get big contracts to create the tests and the public is convinced that public schools are failing and more private schools are needed. The people that get hurt are children writing these tests, held back because the curriculum has a fiercely narrow view of "correct" answers. Furthermore scores are now linked to streaming children's futures. Orwellian thinking or what!

The "Safe Schools Act" of 2001 (funny how meticulously these bills are named, like the "Tenant Protection Act" which was designed to enable more evictions and get rid of rent control) legislates zero tolerance. Instead of issuing suspensions, schools are ordered to expel students - thus cutting them off from any help they might obtain within the school system. In many cases it is those with marginalized backgrounds who are targeted and not given a second chance. Recently the Ontario Human Rights Commission initiated a complaint against the Ministry of Education and the Toronto District School Board alleging that the application of the Safe Schools Act is having a disproportional impact on racialized students and students with disabilities.

Conservative governments preach less governance and somehow pretend to get the same healthy democracy. Bill 104 improved the accountability, effectiveness and quality of Ontario's school system by reducing the number of school boards and establishing an Education "Improvement" Commission to regulate and manage "improvement".

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