In this episode, we’re starting the discussion on what, in the opinion of Education is a Right, an Education friendly government means.
Teachers and education workers in Ontario are being called upon to elect an education-friendly government. This is a lofty goal. However, what does this mean in real terms? How can this be achieved today?
Educators are very united in a desire to elect a government that views education as an investment rather than a cost. A government that views education as an investment would naturally respect those who deliver it as a valuable resource rather than a “labour cost” to be reduced by raising class sizes to eliminate educators and support staff, or by farming out aspects of education to private tech enterprises, so as to reduce the number of educators required to assist students in their learning and use this technology to increase educators’ workload.
An education-friendly government would establish mechanisms for teachers and educators on the front lines to have a direct say over the education system, through commissions or other structures where they can play a real role in the decisions over the direction of education, both in emergency situations like a pandemic and on a regular basis with respect to policies in schools, curriculum, class sizes, funding, etc.
An education-friendly government would base its budget to fund social programs not on what is left after paying off private interests of all kinds, but on affirming the right of every youth in Ontario to the highest standard of education the society can provide. It would then organize the economy to generate the investments required, including by requiring the private enterprises that benefit from the highly trained graduates of Ontario’s education system to pay for the education of each and every graduate they hire so that the value created by the education system can be realized and recouped for new investments to be made in education.
An education-friendly government would also work to affirm the right of Ontarians to all the social programs they require, such as healthcare and public health services, child care, housing, etc. in order to make their contribution to the economy, as well as dignified pensions and seniors’ care in retirement. In other words, a government cannot be education-friendly while working to undermine, underfund or organize other areas of social investment to serve private profit-taking. The pandemic has shown that there is no such thing as schools or education isolated from their communities and the conditions of those who live and work in those communities.
A problem that emerges when trying to elect an education-friendly government is that all the parties in the Legislature and their sister parties that govern in different provinces across Canada and federally all stand for a direction for the economy that views education, healthcare and other social investments, including those who provide the services that people require, as a cost to be “tackled” either through government dictate, technological efficiencies and/or public relations exercises that present the workers who provide social programs as the biggest problem in their delivery. These parties stand for handing over billions of dollars in public funds to private enterprises in the name of fostering economic development, “greening the economy” and other high ideals said to require using the public purse to provide “incentives” to these private interests. In this election, all the parties with seats in the Legislature are united in this overall direction.
This raises a serious problem: how will all these payoffs and handouts be paid for and by whom? Are we to believe that after paying out billions to the rich in various ways, with little or no accountability, during the pandemic and after that, whoever is elected to form the government will not then demand a renewed period of “moderation” or “restraint” or “austerity” when working people, who are facing crushing price inflation, demand wages and working conditions that are acceptable to them? Moderation and restraint for the working people who are already struggling, while the rich get paid, has been the mantra of neo-liberal governments of all stripes in Canada for years now. The post-pandemic situation, with predictions of an impending recession, will make this situation even more acute.
In the opinion of Education is a Right, teachers and education workers have to work out what an education-friendly government looks like to them, and not take it for granted, as if this is already known. This starts from affirming their own right to have a say over the direction of the economy alongside all other working people, and speaking out for their own demands and concerns. Illusions that the right to education can be affirmed by simply making the right “choice” at the ballot box are harmful. There is no alternative to the neo-liberal direction at this time amongst the parties vying for power.
This is not to say that there are not ways to make a difference in the elections. Far from it! Working out what favours the working people is a matter of how, not if. The campaign of Laura Chesnik, a teacher and independent candidate in the Windsor-Tecumseh riding, who represents the demands of teachers and education workers for a say over their wages and working conditions, shows that advances are being made by the working people in breaking new ground and finding ways to use the elections to advance their own vision for a new direction for the economy and the political process.
In previous elections, teachers and education workers have been at the forefront of campaigns to vote in a manner that establishes a minority government. This stand was based on the understanding that blocking a majority government will block the ability of any government to dictate their demands for restraint to the working people – through concessions-based public sector contract negotiations, privatization and cuts to social programs and in other ways. Such a stand does not fall prey to illusions about putting “saviours” into office, but instead is based on empowering the working people under difficult circumstances, to find ways to limit the effects of the absolute power majority governments wield. This is all to say that alternatives do exist that favour society and the people, but they must be worked out by those who are favoured by them and be implemented by these same forces. This requires a process for discussion and deliberation that would also establish a solid framework for holding whoever is elected to account after the election. Either way, simply voting for this or that party based on a promise it will be “education-friendly” has been shown to lead, time and time again, to history repeating itself.
Either way, this discussion of what to do in the election is an urgent matter for everyone who is concerned to take up. Join in!
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We look forward to hearing from you.