There’s nothing ‘conservative’ about overstuffed classrooms
NationalPost.com – Full Comment
May 22, 2014. Tasha Kheiriddin
Feminists may be wrong about many things, but they are right about this: The personal is political. Personal experience shapes your views because it immerses you in realities you would otherwise not see. People survive terrible diseases, and devote their lives to helping find a cure. People choose a profession, and become advocates for change within their field. People lose their freedom, and emerge with a new understanding of the corrections system (that’s a shout out to you, Conrad Black).
When people become parents, issues that commanded less, if any, attention in their childless years — debates on breastfeeding in public, the state of local playground equipment, and the quality of primary education — suddenly matter. You often wish they didn’t, but they do. You are forced to care, and to learn.
And when you have a child with “special” needs, you enter another universe. It’s not just about your child, but the kids you meet who have even greater challenges, and in many cases, whose parents cannot afford help. If those children had a fractured leg, they’d get treatment. A fractured mind, not so much. Yet by ignoring their needs at the front end, we all pay at the back end, when they’re adults, can’t hold a job, and depend on the state for ongoing support.
Contrary to what my colleague Jesse Kline suggested in his May 20 op-ed column (‘Leaner Government For You, But Not For Me’), I still believe in personal responsibility. And that includes fiscal responsibility. But I don’t believe in governments making wrong-headed choices that cost more money in the long run. And that includes increasing class size in public schools.
Contrary to what Mr. Kline suggests, I would pay for private school for my Asperger syndrome-affected daughter — if one suited to her learning style existed within an hour-and-a-half rush-hour commute. But none does. My partner and I cannot move to Toronto, which offers more options, because he has two children who also attend school in our region.
My daughter’s therapist recommended the play-based public school curriculum for her needs. So I spent months hunting for the school that, in theory, should exist regardless of my daughter’s issues: a public SK with a class size in the low 20’s, a school that would serve her and most kids, even many with learning disabilities.
What I found instead were classes of upwards of 30 children. Mothers told me their kids weren’t learning anything because the classes were so big. And school administrators confided that they wouldn’t send their children to the very institutions at which they worked!
Forgive me for being human, but such an experience makes a parent angry. Not just for your kid, but your neighbours’ kids as well. Not just as a parent, but as a taxpayer, too.
And yes, the current government bears the responsibility for this situation. The Liberals have been in power for 11 years in Ontario. They have wasted billions on gas-plant closures and other debacles. They have made bad choices with public money, money that could have improved education for all students.
If Tim Hudak becomes the next premier of Ontario, I hope he rethinks his plans for education
But knowing that classes are already overstuffed, why on earth would a politician propose to make them bigger, as Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives are doing in Ontario? There are no caps now, nor do the Tories advocate any. Add to that the increased presence of kids with self-regulation issues, and it only makes it more important to ensure that classes are kept to a manageable size, with adequate support staff in place.
Contrary to what Mr. Kline states, kids with behavioural and attention problems don’t represent a “small” number, but 18% of Ontario students. As for merit pay for teachers, what’s wrong with that? Should seniority count instead?
On another point, though, Mr. Kline is spot-on: Charter schools are a route the government should pursue. Yet discussion of these is also absent from the PC, or any, platform in this election.
If Tim Hudak becomes the next premier of Ontario, I hope he rethinks his plans for education. And for advocating for the wellbeing of kids, mine included, I make no apologies.
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