A couple of days ago, I suggested that the choice of Kathleen Wynne as the new leader of Ontario’s Liberal Party (and, by default, the province’s new premier) signalled an opportunity to engage in important conversations around our vision for public education. Some have suggested that it’s important to get our fiscal house in order before engaging in some sort of vision quest. Others have suggested that a speedy resolution to the labour unrest among some of the province’s largest teacher associations is the number one priority.
I have no doubt that these two concerns are close to the top of the list for Ms. Wynne as she prepares to move into the premier’s office at Queen’s Park. But, again, I would argue that they should not overshadow the important opportunity that is waiting on our doorstep. Instead, I would suggest that moments of tension and conflict can be perfect climates to get things moving.
Ontario is one of several provinces that is experiencing economic pressures as well as ideological and political divides around how best to continue to support a strong and viable public service. The fault lines that have been exposed during these times, troubling as they may seem, are a sign of movement. And although the ground may seem to be shaking beneath our feet, the landscape that we once new is destined to be changed forever.
We are on the edge of new personal, social and political realities—realities that call us to gaze skywards to new possibilities. But before we look up, I’m thinking that we need to look down at the values and principles that ground our vision of public education.
Over the past couple of decades we seem to have been satisfied with building more and more layers of expectation and responsibility into our school system. But with each new layer, we get further and further away from being able to recognize what the fundamental purpose of public education actually is.
To be sure, there is heavy lifting to be done in Ontario’s school system. It’s lifting, however, that is best done with shovels and not cranes. Before we layer another solution on top of what is already there, I’m convinced that we need to do some excavation—some digging around the foundations in order to ensure that the principles and values that are revealed are the ones that we need—and are committed to—as we move further into the 21st century.
Lest you think that I’m just having playing with metaphors here, I’m committed to suggesting what is fundamentally important to me as a parent, as an educator and as a tax-payer. I’m hoping that you will join me in the discussion and in the process of reconecting with our sense of vision and purpose when it comes to public education.
Next: My “bottom three” principles for a renewed vision of public education.