Province “too cheap”
|The resumption of extracurricular activities in Ontario preoccupies many armchair critics of public education. Yet no one, not even those who can speak with some authority, is really confronting the issue.|
Outgoing Ontario Secondary School Teacher president Ken Coran correctly asserts that only 20 per cent of high school teachers will return to extracurricular activities.
But even he must admit that less than 100 per cent of students partake in these activities less than 100 per cent of the time. No one really wants to know how many students actually engage in after-school activities. Nor do we know how many kids must work after school and can never be involved in after-school life.
The real issue Premier Kathleen Wynne must address is this: Should the arts, sports and lifestyle clubs be extracurricular activities or should these be part of a properly funded educational system? If the skills that are learned after school from volunteers are so important, why are these not part of a full curriculum?
Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is not promising proper funding of education. He is merely aping what former premier Bob Rae stated 20 years ago: we must do less with less funding. In his tenure as premier, Mike Harris assumed the mantle of spending cuts from Rae, removed the right of local school boards to use property taxes to fund education and we now have an educational mess that is not being honestly addressed by Wynne or Education Minister Liz Sandals.
Why do high-school students not have four years of arts and four years of physical and lifestyle education during which musical appreciation is developed and respect for healthy living is promoted? The answer is quite simple: What Rae, Harris, Dalton McGuinty and Hudak know is that Ontario, as a culture, is too cheap to pay for the things we regard as superfluous to training for finding a job. This was the mantra of former premier Harris and neither the Liberals in power nor any other political party has dared to state otherwise.
The arts and physical education should be vital elements of a strong educational curriculum for all students. Currently in Ontario they are not. It is morally repugnant for Ontario to require poor kids to rely upon the “kindness of strangers” — welfare, donations, fundraising projects and school vouchers — to have the chance to learn an instrument or play a sport.
Sure, many can coach the well-to-do kid who can afford extracurricular fees ($200 or more for hockey, $75 or more for rugby and so on), but if those activities are unavailable to the student living in substandard housing, whose parents have low-wage jobs — or none at all — extracurricular enrichment is a moot point.
There is also the issue of qualification: I am a certified rugby coach — whatever that means. I am, however, not certain that I am doing a good job. My certification attests to that — two weekend courses with the National Coaching Certification Program — 20 years ago.
A well-skilled, properly certified athletics teacher or a teacher/musician might be better coaching or working in the arts than many who currently volunteer out of altruism or as a way to climb the ladder out of teaching toward administration.
Sadly, in Ontario we do not want to pay to hire that person. We do not want to make activities universally accessible. We are unable to help poorer students who want to participate but cannot afford even the shoes needed to play a sport.
What happens to students who do not have someone to buy their athletic equipment, pay their participation fees or sometimes even buy the food they need for healthy living? Teachers do that for some. For most poor kids, however, finding an after-school job and working at it is their extracurricular activity.
Ontario does not wish for excellence in arts or athletics — we merely want cheap child care in the form of cheap after-school activities. So we rely on volunteers from within the schools to offer playtime opportunities.
Until we fund arts and athletics appropriately, teachers, politicians, boards of education and parents are making hollow arguments about the merits of restoring activities for which Ontario will not pay. It’s not about the kids. It’s about a province being cheap.
Phil Allt teaches history, philosophy and politics at Kitchener Collegiate and Vocational Institute