“Equity” the new buzz word in education

Words and related policies come and go in education.  In the last thirty-five years alone, since I have been involved in the field, there has been “discovery learning,” “individualization,” “student centered,” “maximizing potential,” “performance-based,” “competency-based,” “mastery learning,” “ethnocentric” and “ethnodiversity.” And now, coming to you in school boards across Ontario, will be the latest buzz word — “EQUITY.”Now, let’s just figure out what that word actually means. To me it means that all children will be provided with the same opportunities for learning. That is what equal opportunity means, right?

Wrong. According to Ontario Education Minister, Kathleen Wynn, “equity” is what we are not doing that is causing kids, usually those who are minorities, to fail in the system and why youth violence is on the upswing. And, can you guess whose fault that is? None other than the nasty Mike Harris. For example, in an article in last weekend’s London Free Press, Wynne, 55 is quoted as saying to a ballroom full of teachers: 

“In 1996, Mike Harris expunged the word ‘equity’ from ministry documents…  [Therefore] we have to introduce that so teachers, parents and kids can function in this diverse society.”

Well, I was working for a Mike Harris MPP at that time, who also happened to be a Parliamentary Assistant to the Education Minister. I read every curriculum document that ever passed his desk and I don’t remember anything about that. In fact, the whole idea is ridiculous. And, the notion that words on a curriculum document’s page can change how people in our society function is extremely naive and simplistic. 

Wynne also emphasized the importance of the Safe Schools Act, which was enacted by the same Mike Harris government she is condemning and $43 million dollars the McGuinty government is going to spend for social workers and psychologists to work in certain schools to prevent violence. While I am all for the availability of counselling, interestingly, Wynn did not talk about the purpose of the Act in the first place — which was safety and security in schools and zero tolerance for any violence. 

But, instead of zero tolerance policies she says: “We’re not going to have kids suspended or expelled and then send them to the mall.” Now, what actually would that mean in real life? It would mean that kids who are violent will be allowed to stay in school, threatening and bullying other children, so that they (both the student who is violent and the victims) can spend time with a social worker. Wynn also says: “We need to look at some of the roots of the behaviours that are going on at our schools and what we can do about them.” Should that not be what the parents and the youth themselves should do about bad behaviours?

Yesterday, Moira MacDonald of the Toronto Sun responded in a different way, that what the kids need is to be taught how to respect themselves and each other, not another report on “equity” and “diversity.” While I am 100% behind giving all children an equal chance, of teaching respect and the nature of our multicultural society, I am not behind excuses for youth violence. It is as though the powers that be are afraid to tell it like it is.

Some kids are acting out, not because of equity but because they are finding an affiliation in gangs that they don’t have in their homes. They are also acting out because there are few boundaries and consequences for bad behaviour. As a result, boards of education across this country can have as many “equity” programs as they want but until the kids learn about respect for themselves and others and the importance of an education, nothing is going to change.

Equity should not be about the colour of ones skin, what MacDonald refers to as “ism-loaded equity programs.” It is about respect — for self, family, others, the rule of law, the importance of education — a notion that has to be modelled and taught in the home.


5 thoughts on ““Equity” the new buzz word in education

  1. As a mother I agree with your statement,
    It is about respect — for self, family, others, the rule of law, the importance of education – a notion that has to be modelled and taught in the home.
    It certainly does start at home, extends into the community, the churches, the schools, the businesses and into the government levels. Respect should be a given, but you will find many examples daily that certainly does not show respect for another human being. I expect my children to respect others and their opinions, but my job is made more difficult when a teacher ignores concerns of parents, when the bureuacrat won’t answer a simple question, or the neighbour feels that they can bully you into a reconfiguaration of your property boundaries. I sometimes wonder if I should start acting like them, and maybe some of my problems would be solve.
    A government can make all the changes they want. Put in new words. But it still will not solve the basic problem in today’s society and that is mutual respect.


  2. It cracks me up when Catholic school representatives and Kathleen Wynne champion equity and diversity awareness. Last year I attended a workshop that included the Equity and Diversity officer from the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board. He spoke eloquently about the need to serve the diverse student body and ways to better opportunities for all. After the talk I emailed him asking if he felt his board would stop discriminating in favour of Catholic students and teachers (using softer terms of course). He responded that Catholic schools will remain until the Constitution is changed. They really side step the question and avoid acknowledging that the Catholic system chooses to discriminate and the Ontario government chooses to support them. There is no need for any constitutional change to simply amend their admission and employment practices. Some of the boards are already more open to enrolling non-catholic students because as enrolment declines their funding declines so any body is better than none. We don’t need a separate system for Catholic people- there’s no evidence- and no reason to suspect- that Catholics can’t learn in real public schools- but if our gov’t continues to lack the intestinal fortitude to merge the systems they can at least end the blatant discrimination.
    Some of your readers may be aware that the Catholic secondary schools are required to have open admissions, so they do have a number of non-Catholic students, but the elementary schools discriminate in enrolment, and all Catholic boards discriminate in employment and advancement at all grade levels- there’s a case before the UN about the employment discrimination- no ruling as yet- the Canadian gov’t ignored the first 2 UN rulings about discrimination in Ontario’s school funding- I’m hoping this one will be more effective in prompting them to act.


  3. Paula — You’ve a real bone there and it is a hard one because Catholic schools have always had an exemption in terms of hiring, etc. In fact, a number of organizations have such exemptions.

    I would be interested in hearing more about this because what does EQUITY really mean? Is it equity for what the government says is equity? Or, is it equity everywhere?


  4. You’re absolutely right that Equity is a buzz word in education. My understanding of it is as a term for fairness for all people. Distinct from Equality because if you treat everyone equally you will neglect individual or minority needs. Also distinct from inclusion, as to ‘include’ the minority in the group does not meet the minorities needs. Equity examples would be providing special programming for Muslim students at lunchtime during Ramaddan, so they are not excluded while others are eating, or avoid scheduling tests on holy days of students in your class. I’m no expert on this- just my interpretation of the term.
    Interesting thing about the Catholics long standing exemption from the Charter equality rules. When they agreed to the deal to have funding extended thru econdary school, one article of that deal was that they would end the employment discrimination within 10 years. Rather than fufill this requirement, they got their funding and years later they went to the Supreme Court of Canada to have their right to discriminate restated. The law is clear that nothing in the Charter nullifies treaties or agreements that existed prior to Confederation so the Supreme Court had no choice but to agree that the Catholic system can legally discriminate. I’d love to see a case brought forward by the parliment of Ontario because they are the injured party withwhom the Catholic violated their contractual agreement to stop discriminating. But no party- except maybe the Greens- will ever do this. I just think that when you sign an agreement you should fulfill your part of the deal- not take the money, then change the terms. I’ll find you the reference for this- just need to dig a bit.


  5. referencefor the ’10 years’ deal;

    From: http://www.pch.gc.ca/progs/pdp-hrp/docs/cesc/on_e.cfm Canadian Heritage Website
    Human Rights Program
    Distinctions not considered discriminatory
    871. Under the Constitution Act, 1867, Roman Catholics in Ontario are guaranteed continuation of the education rights they had by law at the time of Confederation. A condition of the extension of public funding to all grades of the Roman Catholic school system was that 10 years after a Roman Catholic school board had expanded to offer the full secondary school program, it was required to consider all applicants for employment and promotion in its secondary schools. As of the date of this Report, the constitutionality of this requirement is before the courts.

    Reference for denomination as factor for consideration in employment- http://www.oneschoolsystem.org/faq.html#FAQ_Q6 I mistakenly said the case was federal, but it’s provincial- my mistake.;
    The religion of a candidate for employment was affirmed by Ontario courts (Re Daly et al. and Attorney General of Ontario; Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association et al. December 17, 1997) as a denominational aspect of education that separate schools can control.


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