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Alarming erosion of Ontario school system by Ministry of Education | Marvin Zuker

Wednesday, September 28, 2022 @ 10:33 AM | By Marvin Zuker

Marvin Zuker %>
Marvin Zuker
Step by step, larger and larger, the Ontario Ministry of Education can provide a convincing argument that it has been on a continuing mission, the indiscriminate promotion of school choice at the expense of public education in this province.

The day-to-day provisions of public education services fall to public school boards and arguably the Ministry of Education is generally not responsible for the operation of these boards or individual schools.

Three daily newspaper articles just within the last number of days alone can be identified with the continued erosion of public education. “Public Education protects Mediocrity — students, parents and teachers deserve better.” “... The pay scale for teachers is determined by seniority and accreditation. There are exactly zero incentives for teachers who go above and beyond for students and parents.” This was written by John Snobolen, cabinet minister under former Ontario premier Mike Harris. Other popular sentiments: “Untried and untested”; “Exams becoming thing of the past at Ontario high schools”; and “Schools told to hold moment of silence,” “Provincial order follows York public board’s guidance that royal tributes “can be triggering.”

Are these stories aimed at each and every school in Ontario? Of course NOT. Private and independent schools are NOT regulated. Worries about accreditation of teachers? NOT required.  

Worries about testing? NOT required. 

Worries about an Ontario Student Record? NOT required.

A moment of silence to honour Queen Elizabeth? NOT required.

Curriculum approval? NOT required.

Any room in public school boards for the non-conformist?

For the majority of human history, most people did’t go to school. Formal education was a privilege for the Alexander the Greats of the world who could hire Aristotles as private tutors. In the mid-19th century, one person, Horace Mann, the first U.S. state secretary of education, forged for reciprocal commitment. He championed schools as the crucible of democracy, his guiding principle was that citizens cannot sustain both ignorance and freedom. 

An essential part of Mann’s vision was that public schools should be for everyone, and that children of different class backgrounds should learn together. He pushed to draw wealthier students away from private schools, establish “normal schools” to train teachers (primarily women), have the state take over charitable schools and increase taxes to pay for it all! Without public education delivered as a public good, the asylum seeker in detention, the teenager in jail, not to mention children growing up in poverty, will have no realistic way to get the instruction they need to participate or support themselves. We will lose the most powerful social innovation that helps us construct a common reality and try, imperfectly, to understand one another.

Mann’s vision of public schools is at stake. Not only his vision of school as the great equalizer, the place where disadvantaged groups gain access to social and economic capital, which is important enough, but also his view of school as the place where we can give up ignorance in exchange for freedom.

Is it so hard embracing a shared reality or believing in common values? Parents who show up at school yelling about “critical race theory” and pronouns are trying to get public schools to bend history, reality and values to their liking. 

If we lose public education, flawed as it is, the foundations of our democracy will slip. Not only the shared knowledge base but also the skills of citizenship itself: communication, empathy and compromise across differences. 

Concealing sexuality is consistent with self-respect if it’s motivated not by shame but by prudence. Nor are our deepest convictions exactly volitional: Could you choose to see abortion as wrong? People can keep quiet about their views concerning abortion when they’re among colleagues — views that are not relevant to their professional competence anyway — and still hold those views with full moral seriousness.

Someone once said our courts should never be affected by the weather of the day but the climate of the era. Climate reflects our neighbours, our children, what the press is doing. The feminist movement, the LGBTQ2S+ rights movement, the #MeToo movement are all examples of how social change can be produced by political activism from the ground up.

Courts follow after movements in our larger society. That is true with respect to social justice. It’s true with the LGBTQ2S+ movement. How long that discrimination lingered when people were hiding in closets. Change occurs only when they came out and said, “This is who we are, and we are proud of it.”

In order to overcome trauma people need to feel safe enough to open up their hearts and minds to others and become engaged with new possibilities. This can only be done if trauma survivors, and their communities, are helped to confront and confess the reality of what has happened and are helped to feel safe again.

As a society we cannot afford to ignore trauma and keep our heads in the sand. The vast majority of traumas occur within families, schools and neighbourhoods, the very people whom they depend on for safety and security. Most traumatized women and children, for example, are traumatized by their intimates.

Educators and school systems must implement trauma-based interventions for children who come from abuse and neglect, and thereby become agents of change to help all children become productive members of society. The four R’s: reading, writing, arithmetics and self-regulation.

There isn’t a “before” and “after” that has endured. There are a multitude of systemic failures, including those by institutions that are supposedly put in place to protect and benefit children. Now sexual misconduct is seen as a cultural problem in the sport of hockey. What took so long?

Some factors that leave children especially vulnerable include lack of education, domestic violence, poverty, low socioeconomic status, disabilities, substance abuse and other pervasive issues. These allow so many children to be preyed upon and ultimately forgotten, as they slip through the cracks of society. Where are the funds to support the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness? How many homeless children are in your child’s school? Does the government really care? Thus shelters must beg for support?

More people, especially the most vulnerable, need to be made more aware of the situations and predispositions that enable children to be taken advantage of. Parents, coaches, teachers, individuals within government organizations, law enforcement and municipal workers must be educated and armed with the right tools so that they have a holistic awareness and knowledge of abuse and homelessness. Identify one, one Outreach and Identification program in this province? Identify wraparound service for them?

This is the first part of a four-part series.

Marvin Zuker was a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice, where he presided over the small claims, family and criminal courts from 1978 until his retirement in 2016. He is associate professor at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education/University of Toronto, where he teaches education law. Zuker is the author and co-author of many books and publications, including The Law is Not for Women and The Law is (Not) for Kids.

The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's firm, its clients, 
The Lawyer’s Daily, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

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