Connecting the Classroom and the Campaign Trail: Why Political Involvement Matters

Vivian McCaffrey

Early in 2011, the five members of ETFO’s Political Action Committee (PAC) are focused on a test that is still several months away. These classroom teachers are thinking not about EQAO, but about the outcome of the next provincial election. They are weighing what needs to be done to ensure the best possible result for public education and for the social justice concerns they are committed to. They know that a positive election outcome will depend on the extent to which ETFO members get involved.

The benefits 

Dorothy Ramsay,  a grade 3/4 teacher, says being active politically gives educators the opportunity to influence public policy because they “can provide valuable insights and criticism regarding the effectiveness of current policies and legislation.” As an active member of a political party, she views herself as a lobbyist in the grassroots development of her party’s policies and election platform.

Jane Roberts,  a grade 2 teacher, believes that being politically informed and engaged gives educators the information to asses the impact of government policies and to voice concerns when necessary. “We are on the front line and know better than anyone how policies affect students and teachers. People listen to teachers.” Her political awareness, particularly of the critique of standardized testing, helps Roberts to avoid being pressured into the “trap” of focusing her teaching on EQAO tests.

The classroom connection 

Amanda Hardy  says it’s part of her job to prepare her grade 8 students for their future role as citizens: “By modelling political activism and awareness, we give students an understanding of the importance of their own future political involvement.”

Members say the civics lessons can start in the early grades. In her grade 3/4 class, Ramsay reports, “I encourage students to develop and share opinions, vote on the classroom rules, and elect team leaders for learning activities.” During the 2010 municipal election, “we had a mock city council meeting to debate an issue the students chose – whether Barrie could use more skateboard parks.”

Hardy’s grade 8 students have participated in Student Vote during municipal, provincial, and federal elections. Before the 2007 provincial election, her students studied the mixed member proportional representation system. “Some students didn’t understand why adults didn’t vote for a system that, to them, seemed fairer than the first-past-the-post system we have now,” Hardy says.

Pierre Martin,  a grade 7/8 extended French teacher, also shares his interest in electoral reform with his students. “When students saw that the Green Party, for example, received nearly a million votes in one election but got no representation in the House of Commons, they were shocked,” he reports.

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