Thursday, 7 June 2012

The schools as social engineering. Some ideas about revising the Ontario Accepting Schools Act.

Ontario amends and passes Bill 13: The Accepting Schools Act. These changes to an existing bill provide a stage for what?
by Tom Thorne  
Today I printed out and scrutinized the seven page amended Accepting Schools Act, the new Bill 13 that is now become a part of Ontario’s Education Act. Most of the bill is quite sensible when it comes to bullying issues.  However, then it attempts to set remedies  for correcting bullying and  especially the bullying associated with sexual preferences it falls short.  The Ontario government may have gone too far in using the schools for social engineering. 
A few decades ago the education ministries and school boards began to see that students have rights. Also a few decades ago Catholic Boards went to public funding for all years of their high schools. As all this happened, one of the rights that surfaced was to let everyone know the current state of your sexuality and what preference you had. When students attempted a more public expression of their sexual thoughts, emanating perhaps from Gay Pride ideas gaining momentum at the same time, educators, bureaucrats and politicians got on board. 
And so bullying was outlawed by the first incarnation of this Accepting Schools Act. Bullying was always outlawed by schools with sensitivity to the wiles of youth and growing up, but in the minds of bureaucratic administrators and Queen’s Park officials it now had to be codified into a set of Statute Law rules. Bullying entered the realm of social engineering political correctness. This year those rules were revised and the new amended law was called Bill 13: Accepting Schools Act, 2012. It's text is available on the Ontario Ministry web site.
What school in Ontario, or elsewhere in Canada for that matter, could ever be thought of as not accepting student differences? Even an examination of existing Catholic thought on this issue could only be seen as useful. The very existence of an Accepting Schools Act in this province implies that some schools were miscreant in their ability to accept all students and be equitable. Is the Catholic view of homosexuality being targeted by these amendments?  Surely in the past before this change, if students were nasty to each other then a good school put that right whether it was a Public or a Separate school?
This codification of what is normal was perhaps pushed by the diversity of all colours and creeds that now are in Ontario schools. However, to codify acceptance is a politically correct act. Of course all students in Ontario are acceptable and any school that doesn’t accept students or allows discrimination is out of touch to what happened in this province and the rest of Canada, and also they are out to lunch about the nature of educational enquiry and learning as demographic changes happened as Canada diversifying its human resource by bringing people from everywhere on this planet. 
The codification of teen issues and problems into an act designed to ensure acceptance is a testament not to equity but to the pressures of our me-generation society where the individual’s needs outstrip the common good of all. It is a state of mind that believes that a rule for everything will stop problems. This Act, before these 2012 amendments has been on the books for some time. If bullying in all its forms, sexual or for other reasons, is still happening and remains a problem, then these amendments won’t do much to stop it.
My point is basically that political correctness enables lazy school administrators to pillory people who break the rules that are codified in this document with more ease than having a discussion or using education to build respect, tolerance and equity for all. Now a student who feels they are being bullied or centred out for their views on sexual orientation can chapter and verse a remedy to  allegedly solve the problem.
I wish life was so simple. Read through the revised act. Section 1 provides three definitions for bullying. The only respite from this exhaustive list of causes of bullying is that the “bullying must be aggressive and typically repeated behavior” which might mean that a smart principal with leadership skills could still iron out a problem in their office. The scary part is that proof of alleged bullying can be “real or perceived”. 
The part of the act that enables students in a Separate school to form gay straight alliance clubs or activities seems to stand. Catholic teacher unions have endorsed this aspect of the bill. However, all Boards of Education do have to comply within the bounds of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is always a double edged sword if the board has problems with its rights and freedoms being trumped by one person’s rights or a group with an agenda. This may become the basis for a court challenge by Separate School Boards but it is politically unlikely there will be any challenge because it opens a can of worms about contemporary separate school relevance in a highly diversified Ontario.
Surely whether a board is Catholic or Public it should always be equitable. On one level this revised act simply enshrines language that we already know from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  However that too is always a double edged sword. Catholic values are also protected and a complaint could come from religious people who do not wish a Gay Alliance club or activity in the school where their children attend. That challenge might not come from a Catholic but from Muslims and other religious people who send their children to Ontario schools (often Catholic schools) expecting equity and their rights to be observed as much as those with gay sympathies or orientations.
Finally, some commentators have made the point that these revisions to The Accepting Schools Act put a coffin nail into Catholic education funded by public dollars. The biggest coffin nails have already been driven when Catholics accepted public funding for their high schools. Gay-straight alliances are not a problem for thinking Catholics. Separate Boards already have years of experience with all kinds of Ontario diversity. Fully 50 percent of students in so called Catholic education are not Catholics.
So that begs the question why do these non-Catholic parents choose the Separate School Boards? Maybe they have expectations for their children that is not covered by legislated gay straight alliance thinking of the current Ontario Government. That’s probably why the Conservatives ever mindful of gaining votes voted against Bill 13. It’s much more complicated than whether kids get a straight-gay alliance club in their school. It’s iceberg politics where most of the agenda remains below the water.
© Copyright 2012, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

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