Advice to Ontario's New Education Minister

Article excerpt

Ontario now has a woman minister of education. Her name is Marion Boyd. We've had a woman minister of education before under the long-in-power Conservative government. She was not a feminist. Marion Boyd is a feminist and activist. So I thought I'd like to tell her some of the things I've been thinking about, partly because I'm now teaching a graduate course in women and education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, and partly because I've observed and supported women's activism in Ontario education for quite a while.

I think we have an emergency situation. Since its beginning, the school system has been in the business of giving girls and boys unequal chances on the job market. It has not stopped. But now what we see is an increasingly divided labour force. One part of it earns well. The other does not. It carries a lot of part-time work, low pay, and poor working conditions. Some have to work two part-time jobs to make a living. There are a lot of women in this group. There are a lot of women on welfare. Experts think the differences between the two groups are sharpening.

There's quite a bit of talk these days about the importance of 'training.' Experts talk about what they call the new techno-economic paradigm. This means fewer but better jobs calling for skills in computerized technologies.

Business wants up to pay for the new training. Government wants business to pay. Government hopes that a skilled labour force will attract, keep, and increase the productivity of capital. Though who knows?

Talk of training and new technology backs only the high earning side of the divided labour force. It takes for granted the school system that has already divided women and men in terms of their future jobs skills. Few are talking about this. Few are talking about education and training to increase opportunities for the marginalized and disadvantaged and how that might contribute to the economy (Rianne Mahon writing in the Ontario government Vision 2000 report on community colleges is an exception.)

And there isn't anyone who represents this issue politically. Unions are concerned with education and training, but mostly they represent the better-off side of the labour force. Business isn't interested. And the women's movement is nowhere on this issue. It has never given much support to women's issues in education -- I've never figured out why.

The school system routinely bottles up the abilities and potentialities of girls and young women. It does so by streaming them into a narrow range of occupational skills.

Throughout their schooling girls learn that they don't matters as much as boys. They know their future is going to depend economically on the increasingly uncertain support of men. In their relations with boys they already experience the careless violence and contempt with which boys have learned to relate to women. Boys and girls learn that girls don't matter as much because society teaches that. Where in the society will either girls or boys learn differently?

Of course the school didn't invent this message. But is surely passes it on. It also bottles up and explosively competent and committent group of women teachers. About twelve of them are taking the graduate course I'm teaching. They are administrators, secondary and elementary classroom teachers, and consultants. Most are from Ontario. One or two are from out of province (giving us an outsiders' view on a lot we take from granted here. …