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In search of a long-range education policy and strategy for Ontario

By Mark Wegierski
Web posted May 21, 2007

In Canada, education is an area formally under the jurisdiction of the respective provinces. So, it is at least theoretically possible that a right-leaning government in a given province could introduce substantial changes in educational policy.

However, when Premier Mike Harris attempted considerable changes in Ontario's education system, the resistance from the teachers' unions, the educational bureaucracy, the liberal and socialist opposition parties, and indeed, the media as a whole was ferocious.

Nevertheless, the authentic reform of the education system may be the key to society and the future.

Among the most salient ideas introduced by Harris was the proposal for tax-credits for tuition paid by parents to private primary and secondary schools. In the rage of the public education establishment against the tax-credits, it was forgotten that, for example, Muslims and Hindus may wish to send their children to private denominational schools, and that there should be some tax-relief for all parents who send children to private primary and secondary schools.

Ontario is also unfortunate in the huge hostility of the public education establishment to any type of home-schooling. Could there not be considered some kind of tax credits for parents who choose to home-school their children?

At the post-secondary level, the most important initiative would probably be the creation of a very friendly legal framework for the establishment of private, post-secondary institutions.

It may be remembered that there are hundreds of private, mostly-denominationally based colleges in the United States, which greatly increases the true intellectual diversity of the Academy in the U.S.

In terms of a long-range education policy and strategy, what may be needed above all in Ontario is something that could be the neo-traditionalist equivalent of the Dennis-Hall Report. Emmett Hall and Lloyd Dennis, a pair of determined progressives, charted the development, in this province, of many of the tendencies  which had been criticized in earlier articles.

It would be highly felicitous for the Progressive Conservative party in Ontario today, to set for itself the eventual goal of effecting as great a change in the education system of Ontario, as was once effected by the trends and directions set by Dennis-Hall.

Ironically enough, it was William Davis, as Education Minister, and later Premier, who enthusiastically accepted and began implementation of the Dennis-Hall reforms. William Davis was the almost stereotypical "ultra-moderate" Progressive Conservative, who held the government of Ontario from 1971-1985, while in all those years, the more traditional and socially conservative base of Ontario on which future Conservative victories might have been based melted and dissolved into almost nothing, sometimes with the direct assistance of the aptly named Ontario Progressive Conservatives.

In Mel Hurtig's Canadian Encyclopedia, J. L. Granastein writes:

"As Minister of Education, William Davis presided over extraordinary growth and change in Ontario's education system... the most extraordinary period of change since Egerton Ryerson's day. Universities such as Trent and Brock were created. Rural schools were consolidated, forcing students to be bussed long distances twice a day. And a new attitude, that schools should be co-operative, not competitive, took root in public schools. Over this frenetic change, the calm, unflappable Davis presided, and by 1971 education in the province had been transformed."
                                                                                                                                      (Vol. I, p. 473)

Professor Granatstein is being too kind in describing Davis' achievements. A more pointed description of the events that transpired could be rendered as follows.

The education system was transformed totally in a direction set by the social peripheries and the left. Academic standards were diluted. The rural heartland was "urbanized" and liberalized. Standards of ethical discipline, excellence, and merit were, to a large extent, thrown out the window. And Davis aided and abetted the whole process, stifling Tory criticism of it.

It was almost singularly unfortunate that the period of the largest-ever expansion of the university and college system occurred at a time, the late Sixties', when the so-called counterculture was at its virtual height. Almost anyone with a Ph.D. could be hired at that time, and most of those persons in a few short years indeed became the so-called tenured radicals.

The combination of the tenured radicals at the top (especially in faculties of education), combined with the increasing antinomianism of an evermore degraded pop-culture among ever larger sectors of the continually growing post-secondary student population, has created problems of almost intractable magnitude, for those who would wish for more true intellectual diversity in the primary schools, secondary schools, and college campuses of Ontario.

At the same time, true humanistic scholarly endeavour is increasingly sneered upon as utterly irrelevant and not leading to real job prospects for students. Doubtless, today's stereotypical humanities' professors, with their "ultra-political-correctness", impenetrable jargon, and disdain for anything resembling Canada's authentic roots, share much of the blame for the perceived irrelevance of their disciplines.

In today's Academy, the "conservative arts geek" is a truly unhappy figure. Students in the hard sciences and especially engineering stereotypically look at them as useless "artsies", whereas students in the humanities stereotypically see them as dangerous "fascists" or "reactionaries".

Can there be a place found in Ontario today for serious humanistic scholarly endeavour that is to some extent traditionalist and is at least somewhat respectful of a more traditional Canada?

This is not just a question for the Academy, but a question which may have highly important consequences for the kind of society that Canada will become in the future.

If traditionalism is represented only by strictly religious conservatives and the untutored instincts of the majority population, its future cannot be expected to be too dynamic and hopeful.

In today's Canada, where persons have grown so accustomed to a long era of prosperity and peace, and where traditional institutions such as the military and the churches have withered to almost nothing, education – especially such as that effected through the mass education system of the administrative state -- really may be the central key to society and the future. ESR

Mark Wegierski is Canadian writer and historical researcher.






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