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.