It is no accident that education has been specifically targeted by Ontario’s Ford government. An uneducated population is much easier to control, and easier to manipulate in a re-election. It has been clear from the beginning of Ford’s term that he is targeting the most marginalized students. Right away, the Conservative government changed the sex education curriculum – a direct attack on queer, trans, Indigenous, female, and other vulnerable young people. This attack intensified with the March 15th policy statement increasing class sizes and cutting course options for students, confirmed in the April 11th budget.
Public education promotes a vision of society. It sends a message about the value of community and democracy. At its best, it teaches us to think critically about what we see in the world and in the media, to expand our horizons and tackle our fears. The Ontario Ford government intends to destroy this most valuable aspect of our public education system: to stop a critical analysis of inequality in the world; to stop the possibility of improving social conditions and equity in our cities and towns. Its cuts are sure to generate insecurity that will feed into discriminatory fears and race, sexuality, gender, and class oppression.
By cutting funding to the arts, social sciences, and other elective courses, Ford will be able to stop the spread of knowledge and analysis around global issues of injustice. He will leave students without opportunities to imagine the world differently, and to learn about activism and standing up for what you believe. Through increased class sizes, mandatory e-learning, and cuts to special education programs, this government will fuel apathy – not to mention the extreme equity concerns surrounding special-needs students and low-income households.
The Ford government’s agenda for post-secondary education is consistent with its attacks at the primary and secondary levels. The Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP ) is being restructured to reduce the support offered through grants that students don’t have to repay, and to ramp up the amount of student loans that must be repaid immediately upon graduation. These cuts will prevent low-income students from getting a post-secondary education. All of these cuts are purposeful, illuminating the Ford government’s desire to create an uneducated and fearful general public.
When such drastic
slashes are made to funding for education, it becomes clear that this
government expects nothing of us. They think parents are too busy,
disconnected, and weak to resist. They think teachers will give in and remain
loyal. They expect nothing of students, parents, and teachers. They believe us
to be uneducated pawns, who don’t know injustice when it’s staring us in the
face, and who won’t fight back.
They’re wrong. On April 4th, when upwards of one hundred thousand high school students walked out of their schools across Ontario, we showed them we are strong. On May 8th, with sit-ins and other actions. We are organized, mobilized, passionate, and educated, we are building our fight and will not back down.
Under the name Students Say No (@studentssayno), a group of high schoolers across Ontario has united to form a decentralized movement. SSN operates with a core organizing team and school leaders around the province. The purpose of this model is to connect with students in areas that we would not be able to access on our own, and to find and empower young organic leaders in their communities. SSN called what is thought to be the largest high school walkout in Canadian history on April 4th, and on May 8th we held coordinated sit-ins at Queens Park, Parliament Hill, and MPPs’ offices across the country. On May 8th MPPs from the governing Conservative Party closed their offices in droves, too afraid to face the students they know they are hurting. We are showing this government they can no longer rely on our compliance.
The most exciting aspect of this movement, and of the organizing we have done in the last few months, is seeing such strength from people who this government expects nothing of. They do not want to imagine that 14-year-olds whose parents voted for Ford are now in front of his office shouting for justice. We are organizing in Walkerton, in Sarina, in Etobicoke – places this government considers its strongholds. Students are there just beneath the surface, too young to vote but strong enough to fight back. This government does not want to believe that the 12-year-old in London with dyslexia knows she deserves better. But she does.
Our movement is not just fighting to recover a few resources in schools that are often already failing marginalised students. We are fighting for Indigenous students, consistently underfunded across this province. We are fighting for queer families, who still face bullying and ignorance. We are fighting for a truly public education. And we will keep fighting. You saw us in the streets yesterday and we will see you in the streets again and again. We are not giving up this fight.
Thea Baines and Amina Vance are two of the student walk-out organizers, and they are both students at Western Technical Commercial School in Toronto.