Democracy 101: The kids are all right
There’s a great line from a song by the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens that goes, “From the moment I could talk, I was ordered to listen.” Memories of that “Father and Son” anthem about the eternal generation gap were rekindled as high school students across Ontario walked out April 4 to protest the government’s education reforms.
Watching the one-hour, loud yet orderly, demonstration in Alexandria one could conclude that the kids -- well at least some kids -- are all right. It was refreshing to see young people getting their heads out of their apps, taking their cause to the streets, participating in the democratic process, exercising their right to express their views, denouncing draconian cruel government edicts.
They chanted, sang, waved colourful posters, said bad things about Premier Doug Ford.
Some non-student onlookers were undoubtedly envious, remembering scenes from “Ferris Buehler’s Day Off,” the movie about a trio of Chicago high school kids playing hooky and driving the principal crazy.
Envy may partly explain why many adults were so quick to condemn the province-wide walkouts. Premier Doug Ford led the verbal assault on the demonstrators, calling them lackeys who were being controlled by “union thugs,” who were only concerned with collecting union dues.
The chorus included Ford Nation disciples who smugly criticized the students as being pawns who did not fully understand the issues.
Wait a minute, folks. Is somebody trying to tell us that if you don’t comprehend a topic, you can’t comment on it?
If that rule applied to everyone all the time, imagine how peaceful the world would be.
People, adults, voters, newspaper columnists, wags are constantly jabbering about issues they do not fully understand. Most of the chatter on social media has little to do with “debate.” In fact, emoticoms are so frequently used that the exchanges are the graphic equivalent of grunts and middle fingers. Think of a society where only the informed could comment. The silence would be deafening, and so soothing. Yet, who would want to live like that?
If the demonstrators were condemned by the Premier, they know they must have been doing something right, or left.
Indifference is a more severe insult than an actual slur. The insecure tend to attack those they perceive as being threats.
At this point, we may put on the “Responsible Adult” hat and remind everyone that due diligence was demonstrated by school authorities who in no way and at no time condoned the protests.
“It is our very important task to maintain student safety at all times,” reads a stern missive from the Upper Canada District School Board. “This is made more difficult if students choose to leave their classrooms and/or school property for the purposes of a walkout.”
Boards did not appreciate members of the public cheering on the demonstrators.
“In no manner can we accept others advocating that students are properly cared for by walking out of their school rather than being in class. Students are supervised in their classrooms and inside the school,” the board stated.
There was a certain police presence during the marches. But there were few problems reported. Students from Le Relais in Alexandria had a police escort as they walked from their school to the North Glengarry municipal hall. The biggest source of trouble was a strong wind that battered the students’ hand-lettered posters.
School boards’ concerns about unsupervised students roaming in the community on a school day are understandable. School officials worry all the time.
“Staff will continue to bring to the attention of our students the appropriate channels available to them to express their views in a manner that promotes a balance between the interests of students and our obligation to safely operate our schools and supervise students. We hope that this information will prompt open dialogue with your children about appropriate means to give voice to matters such as these,” the board writes in a message to parents and guardians.
It does not take a math major to realize that the government’s school changes will have a huge impact.
The Conservatives are sticking with an election promise not to cut any public service jobs. The problem is that those who leave will not be replaced.
Some 3,475 full-time teaching posts will be eliminated through attrition between 2019-2020 and 2023, saving about $851 million.
Meanwhile, the average class size requirement for Grades 9 to 12 will be adjusted to 28, up from the current average of 22.
Fewer teachers and larger classes will not necessarily affect the quality of instruction, the government contends.
Granted, the education system could use a makeover in some respects. For instance, the release of the Sunshine Club list, the large group of public employees paid more than $100,000, confirms that school boards are bloated at the top.
But the reforms announced by the government will not affect any bureaucrats.
The fallout from the austerity moves will be felt at the classroom level. The cuts will affect students.
Perhaps that is an overly simplistic take on a very big complex subject which mere mortals have difficulty understanding. But that view is as valid as any other opinion. As the “debate” continues, students are benefiting from a practical learning experience in school politics.
So far, the basics have been covered. Lesson 1: Be wary of anyone who dismisses you as being a pawn of “union thugs.” Lesson 2: Adults can say the strangest things.