Sunday, November 8, 2009

Do Tories Really Hate Children or do They Just Not Care?

The title of an op-ed piece in the Globe and Mail got a bit of attention 'Why do Tories Hate Children', but maybe that's what we need to shake people out of their stupor. Those of us who were living in Ontario during Mike Harris's regime, remember just how horrible it was. And the new Cons leader Hudak, is a Mike Harris clone, so I suspect he will be just as bad if not worse, if we ever gave him the keys to the kingdom.

And Stephen Harper is certainly no different, though they all speak to the neo-conservative movement. Margaret Thatcher said 'There is no such thing as society', and neo-cons are driven by dollars, not humanity. Their message: Don't blink!

They also firmly believe in a social Darwinism, where universality is the enemy. In 1994 at an awards dinner for the National Citizens Coalition, Stephen Harper prided their work on this issue: "Universality has been greatly reduced; it is virtually dead as a concept in most areas of public policy." He took pride in that.

I was so glad that Michael Ignatieff came out and said that he was putting a national child care plan back on the table. Despite the recession we have to continue to move forward. Dalton McGinty is doing the same.

The Reformers may hate public education but at least we have two leaders who still believe in the importance of early childhood education for all Canadians. Good work guys.

Why do Tories hate children?
Conservatives of every stripe would deny all Canadian kids, including their own, the kind of early schooling that would set them on the path to success
Gerald Caplan
Special to The Globe and Mail
November 04, 2009

If it weren't for Mike Harris and his followers, Ontario would have begun receiving the blessings of early childhood education 15 years ago. I know. I was in the middle of the debacle.

As it tumbled towards inexorable defeat, Bob Rae's government created a Royal Commission on Learning. I was co-chair. We reported in early 1995, bare months before the doomed government was turfed out. One of our key recommendations was the introduction of early childhood education (ECE) for all Ontario children. The idea was swiftly embraced by the provincial Liberals, a significant development since they were clearly the government-in-waiting. I knew the key Liberal players and was confident they intended to implement our scheme.

Then there was Mean Mike Harris, the leader of the third place Progressive Conservatives at Queen's Park, a man whose bigotries and furies always trumped his knowledge. When asked about our ECE proposal, he replied that it was the stupidest idea he had ever heard. This was really something coming from a man who worked with the Tory caucus. Harris had a fine old time ridiculing the idea of 3-year-olds spending long days behind desks, demonstrating his complete ignorance of what ECE was really about. Soon after his surprise victory he slashed funds for existing JK and SK, not so subtly underlining his incomprehensible scorn for anything related to early childhood development.

But Harris was not alone. To our considerable surprise, ECE was considered a dangerous bogeyman by a large number of Canadian conservatives, not least those who yearned for the good old school days that never were. As one wit had noted, schools weren't as good as they used to be and never had been.

During our extensive public hearing, the paranoia about ECE hadn't been much in evidence. On the contrary. The research had demonstrated that the multiple benefits of ECE to all students, regardless of background, were so palpable that its introduction seemed a no-brainer.

The reality emerged in a series of phone-in shows I participated in soon after our report was released. I'm not easily shocked, but this time I was. ECE was seen by innumerable callers as some kind of plot to steal the minds of tiny children before they could think for themselves. Who were the plotters? What nefarious purpose did they have? To what end would helpless toddlers be brainwashed? There were no really good answers to these obvious questions. But in general, all ECE was seen as some kind of socialist/communist plot to forge Ontario's children into mindless little reds. (Obama's hearing the same nonsense)

Nothing, but nothing I could argue about the benefits of ECE and the lack of ulterior motives of any kind could sway this motley collection of paranoids. (I was not surprised to learn how many were also creationists.) It appeared they were getting ammunition for their wacky fears from organized conservative groups, some of them in the back-to-basics school movement. They made it easier for Mike Harris to deep-six ECE for many years to come.

A sidebar: One of the great unsolved mysteries of the Harris years was his later commissioning of Margaret McCain and Fraser Mustard to study early childhood development. They predictably recommended major investments in the early years of a child's life. Harris virtually ignored their report. No one, including McCain and Mustard, could ever explain Harris's actions.

A few years later Harris's federal kith and kin entered the picture. In his short tenure as prime minister, and after doing nothing about the issue as finance minister, Paul Martin began the task of developing a national child care system that would include early childhood development. But his early defeat left it to Stephen Harper to scuttle Martin's entire system and to introduce instead an allowance for parents of young children that is not remotely enough to get their kids into child care that doesn't exist.

I confess the entire tale baffles me. I want ECE not only for my family but for every child, including the children of Conservatives. Yet they would deny all Canadian children, including their own, the kind of early schooling that, research and experience confirms, would make them eager to go to school and learn, that would make them better learners, that would put all kids at a more equal advantage, that would keep them in school longer, that would make them more competent and help them to cope better, that would compensate for dysfunctional families (and heaven knows privileged families can be as dysfunctional as less privileged ones).
Why? What do these conservatives know that a generation of education researchers don't? I've been racking my brain over this one for almost 15 years now and still have no sensible answer.

So I can only say: Good for Dalton McGuinty.

No comments:

Post a Comment