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Notes from Canada about education: Tuition tax credits could be a vehicle for true pluralism in Ontario
By Mark Wegierski
Ontario is Canada's most populous province (over 10 million people), with Canada's largest city, Toronto. The Progressive Conservative Party (led by Mike Harris) won the provincial election in 1995 (and was re-elected in 1999) -- and has inaugurated the so-called Common Sense Revolution. The Ontario P.C.s are definitely more right-wing than the federal wing of the Party, currently led by Joe Clark (who was Prime Minister of Canada for nine months in 1979-80). The advancement of the Common Sense Revolution has met with the ferocious opposition of the media, the unions, the educational establishment, the liberal and socialist opposition parties, some municipal governments (notably, Toronto), and radical left activists. In Canada, education is constitutionally designated as a provincial responsibility. The attempts by Mike Harris to reform education in Ontario met fierce resistance.
In May 2001, the provincial government introduced legislation allowing for substantial tuition tax credits for parents of children attending private schools. The public educational establishment has reacted with fury. In this article, the author looks at the role of education in current-day Ontario.
First of all, it may be taken as given that, from the standpoint of a society's future, the education of the young (whether by parents, religious bodies, schools, or media) is of enormous importance. And the education being offered in today's public schools in Ontario is clearly neither truly "value neutral" (i.e., imparting only purely factual knowledge without belief-content) -- nor tending to reinforce traditions derived from one's home and family. (Ontario's Catholic or so-called "separate schools" have increasingly tended in the direction of a public school model, losing most of their distinguishing characteristics and distinctiveness over the last three decades.)
It could argued that the real crisis in Ontario education today -- as opposed to the common complaint of "underfunding" -- is the overwhelming atmosphere of political-correctness, which contributes to ever-deepening nihilism amongst young people. The typical large-urban high school is indeed set, by many teachers and education policy administrators, on a course of pitiless war against "normal," "mainstream," and "majority" outlooks. These trends were, to a large extent, launched by the Dennis-Hall Report on Education of the 1960s, in the first flush of Sixties radicalism, which has now worked itself into many areas of life in Ontario.
It can be assumed that, among the programs of study available at the high school level, history is one of the most important for the future of society. It is the study of history which gives people a coherent sense of the past, as well as of a national, collective sense of meaning and purpose. It could be argued that a society with no real sense and love of its past, is as abnormal as an individual who has no cherished personal memories.
It appears that, in the last three decades, the relatively little amount of Canadian, British, Western and European history that has been taught in the public high school system tended to portray traditional Canada, Britain, and all of the West as a repository of racism, sexism, and oppression. Was anything positive ever said about the Canada that existed before 1965? Was anything, for example, ever said in praise of the monarchy? Wasn't Canadian history and national identity essentially defined as the struggle of various "designated groups" against various kinds of oppressive majorities? It could be argued that young Canadians of British/European descent were systematically stripped of a coherent community identity, and taught to hate themselves and their history. Today, they might well end up tending to nihilism.
It could be further argued that, in the last three decades, anything smacking of a genuinely conservative or traditionalist outlook has been largely removed from the main tendencies of large-urban municipal politics, from the public education systems in large urban areas, and from most of the hyper-urban popular culture, especially as experienced by young people. The education system did not in fact provide a counterweight to all the media and pop-culture trends. In the last three decades, even if some students could be found in the typical large-urban high school who could intelligently express a conservative or traditionalist viewpoint, how encouraged were they to express it? Were they not generally derided by their teachers and peers? Wasn't the education offered often directed to bleaching out any vestiges of social conservatism and traditionalism that could be identified among the students? One could challenge the educational experts to point to even one large-urban public high school in which a lively and truly diverse political debate takes place today.
It also appears that in the last three decades, much of the sense of norms, ethics, and standards in the public education system and the public sphere has been thrown overboard, in the name of "permissiveness" and the attack on the so-called "authoritarian personality." There can be seen a general breakdown of manners, school and social discipline. However, whereas death-metal music, voodoo, and transgressive body-piercings are permissible, the expression of any more robust or substantive traditionalism is typically seen as "hateful" or "insensitive" -- and therefore proscribed.
Also, in the last three decades, virtually all forms of traditional Christianity have been hounded from the public square, and from the public education system. The Christian ethos could indeed be seen as an excellent form of inoculation against many types of nastiness and incivility. The ongoing, current-day assault on Christianity encourages ever more nihilism and violence.
Many educational bureaucrats in Ontario have especially encouraged the conversion of public education in the direction of a very pronounced left-liberal agenda. They have tried to put into practice, overtly and covertly, explicitly and implicitly, a highly anti-traditional, anti-historical, and anti-religious set of educational policies. They are very consciously and deliberately trying to control the shape of the future by means of controlling the education of the young. A social conservative would see this as a struggle between ever more intensively applied social engineering and human nature itself.
Although the Ontario Progressive Conservative party (which is now under the leadership of "ultra-moderate" Ernie Eves) is probably unwilling and unprepared for a raw, credal battle over ethos, perhaps some reinforcement of real diversity and pluralism of belief in the Ontario education system, particularly in the large urban centres where the need for it is the greatest, could occur as a result of a "cost-effectiveness" and "value for taxpayers' money" approach. The extension of tuition tax credits towards a full-scale system of parent-directed educational vouchers (as opposed to the current-day compulsory levies) -- would probably result in ever larger numbers of more truly diverse, private educational institutions. This could be enough to persuade the education policy administrators and education unions' radical leaders to behave more responsibly, and with greater commitment to true intellectual freedom.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher, published
in Alberta Report, American Enterprise, American Outlook, Books in Canada,
Calgary Herald, New Brunswick Reader, Review of Metaphysics, Telos, and The
World & I, among others. An article of his about Canada was reprinted
in Annual Editions: World Politics, 1998-99 (Dushkin/McGraw-Hill, 1998).
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