The Ontario government has taken significant steps to promote equity in the province’s classrooms. In 2008 the Ministry of Education called for the development of Ontario's Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy, and began implementation in 2009. The Ministry stated that the strategy would contribute to the broader objectives of increasing student achievement, reducing achievement gaps between students and increasing confidence in publiclyfunded education. The implementation of specific policies at the local level fell to school boards as did navigating the public controversies over the strategy’s contested elements, such as student surveys and gay/straight alliance clubs. Other elements, such as the subjective evaluation of the board level policies and the continued reliance on outside community groups and activists to supplement the curriculum received far less attention.
Complimenting the equity strategy, the government more recently introduced Bill 13, An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters, in December of 2011. The bill proposes wider measures of discipline and mandates extracurricular groups supporting minorities. It specifically mandates gay/straight alliances. While gay/straight alliances have attracted the most attention, it is actually the bill’s definition of bullying that deserves greater scrutiny. The bill’s definition relies on a stereotypical understanding of bullying and fails to acknowledge the complexities of the issue.
The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada offers recommendations for parents, educators and the provincial government in creating safe learning environments through the equity strategy. Highlights include:
- As the primary educator, parents should be actively engaged in their child’s school-based education
- Parents should hold school boards and trustees accountable for ensuring that equity strategies encourage diversity of thought and opinion
- Ensure students are not coerced into activism
- As the key player in development and implementation of equity policies, school boards must work hard to engage parents and keep them informed of equity efforts in the classroom and encourage parents to continue the dialogue at home
- In acknowledging the victims of bullying, the government should avoid creating a hierarchy of victimhood that could lead to an inequitable availability of resources
- Create standard tools of measurement to evaluate the impact of the equity strategy and anti-bullying programs
Diversity will only flourish in Ontario schools when students are encouraged to respectfully interact with different thoughts and opinions. Ontario's Equity and Inclusion Strategy document states that students must move “beyond tolerance to acceptance and respect.”1 If tolerance is the respectful interaction of diverse viewpoints, then moving beyond it to acceptance will constrict both freedom and equality in Ontario schools.
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