Monday, 9 March 2015

School Choice is Great...But It's not Coming to Ontario Any Time Soon

Right now, the most popular topic concerning education in Ontario is the new, recently released sex-ed curriculum.  The curriculum came out to mixed reviews.  Some are praising it because it deals with subjects like "sexting" and gender identity, which were not addressed in the old guidelines dating back to the 1990s, but others are condemning it for exposing children to sexual material at an age that some would argue is too young and for contravening the values held by some of the parents who have children in the public school system.  Personally, I think the new curriculum has its pluses and minuses, but I'm not writing this post to discuss the new guidelines' merits and drawbacks.  I'm writing it to discuss what I think is a much bigger topic that I think this whole sex-ed debate exemplifies: the lack of choice in how parents want to educate their children.

The most vocal opposition to the new sex-ed curriculum seems to be coming from more socially conservative groups and parents who do not want children, or at least their children, exposed to material that goes against their values.  For example, there are still plenty of people in Ontario, many of whom have children in the public school system, who believe that homosexuality is morally wrong.  I strongly disagree with these folks, but I'm not about to impose my opinion on them or their children.  Unfortunately, however, the current provincial government seems adamant about imposing its views on children, regardless of what their parents think, and I believe that this wrong.

Now, just to be fair, parents in Ontario have long been given the right to pull their children out of lessons or school activities that they believe are wrong.  The best example I can give of this is the accommodations routinely given to students who are Jehovah's Witnesses.  These students are not required to stand for the national anthem or study evolution because doing either would contravene their religious beliefs and those of the parents who raise them.  In the same respect, parents who do not want their children being exposed to the new sex-ed curriculum, or parts of it, will have the right to remove their children from those lessons.  So there is no question of whether parents have the right to determine what their children are not exposed to in the public education system, because this right does indeed exist.  What does not exist, however, is a parent's right to determine what their children ARE exposed to when they receive their education.  Put more succinctly, parents do not have the right to choose the education that their children receive.

To this day, the right to educate your children as you see fit is something that only the privileged few have.  By privileged few, I mean those parents who can afford to send their children to private schools that offer alternative and/or enriched educational experiences.  As for the rest of you parents, sorry, but your choices are likely limited to your local public or Catholic school.  Want your child to have an education in music?  Too bad, your local school just can't afford it.  What about if you want your kid to receive a religious education?  Sorry, you're outta luck again, my friend (unless of course you're Catholic).  Your kid's just gonna have to make do with whatever the government wants and can afford to teach him or her, and to hell with what you want for your child!

Wouldn't it be great if you got to send your kids to whatever kind of school you wanted, regardless of your financial standing?  Sure it would, but don't hold your breath for it to happen, especially here in Ontario, because there's too much at stake for the powerful special interests to allow the provincial government to make it easier for parents to choose their child's education; too many union jobs to protect and too many values espoused by hardcore ideologues that would not be imposed on your children if you had the right to educate them as you please.  Former provincial Progressive Conservative Party leader John Tory wanted to help parents who preferred alternatives to the public education system, and look where that got him.  Oh wait, he eventually got to be the mayor of Toronto, so things turned out good for him in the end.  Too bad I can't say the same thing about many parents who continue to have little choice in how their children are educated.    


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