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Let's Keep Fighting for an Ontario Built on Equity, Universality and Access

Sam Hammond

A teacher who presented at an ETFO workshop recently talked about how she had collected Hungarian children’s books for the newly arrived Roma Hungarian students in her school. She wanted to be able to invite their parents to read to their kids in the classroom after school. Because they were systematically discriminated against, many of these students and their families had had negative experiences within the education system and other public institutions in Hungary. The teacher knew creating a safe and welcoming space, one where parents could participate and were represented, was important to building her school community and transformative for many of her students and their families.

While her story of creating space and community for all her students is moving, it is not exceptional. It is part of the critical work educators do every day, work that does not get measured by tests and isn’t reported in the news, but that gets done nonetheless.

It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the hostility of this government towards working people, public services and public institutions. Just four months into their mandate, the effects of legislative changes are being felt in all aspects of life in Ontario; many anticipate that worse is yet to come. We know that the effects of legislation to repeal the gains workers achieved under Bill 148 will be felt both by our own OT members and by the families of the students we teach every day – many of whom are working multiple jobs just to make ends meet.

Those of you who participated in the education consultations, which came to an end on December 15, know how ideological and leading the questions were. These consultations were troubling and many of us are concerned about how the government plans to use them moving forward. Heartening however, were the responses we heard in the telephone town halls. People from all over the province called in to support educators, to acknowledge Ontario’s incredible education system and to implore the government to stop trying to fix a system that isn’t broken. As many said in those town halls, and as we at ETFO have called for over many years, if we want the public education system to work better we need adequate funding that meets student needs.

As we head into the new year, I want to propose that we don’t get distracted by the rhetoric of testing, meritocracy, austerity and privatization, which we will see more and more of in the coming months. These ideas are not neutral, they do not save money and they are not the only option for this province. Students, no matter where they live, are entitled to equal access to high-quality public education. We should all be entitled to high-quality public services. It is part of our social contract and an essential part of our democracy.

Let’s instead propose and imagine a society built on equity, universality and access. Let’s continue to work for a public education system that acknowledges and educates the whole child and insist that schools in our communities receive the funding they need and educators the respect they deserve. Our communities deeply feel the impacts of cuts and this government’s hostility towards the people of Ontario. Let’s commit to strengthening our connections, showing up and being there for one another.

I know that better schools start with you, that you create exemplary classrooms and learning conditions for your students every single day, that schools in many places function as hubs to meet a vast variety of needs. As we wind down for the winter break, I want to take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate your work. Thank you.

– Sam Hammond