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#StudentsSayNo: The Kids Exercised Their Rights

Updated on April 5, 2019
Christina St-Jean profile image

I am a mom of two awesome children who teach me more daily than I ever thought possible. I love writing, exercise, movies, & LGBT advocacy.

Fighting For Their Education On Their Terms

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Think Kids Can't Organize? Think Again

When my oldest daughter was preparing for her first degree black belt test at nine years old, I was understandably concerned. Here was my nine-year-old baby girl, getting ready to take an hours-long test that would truly put her through her paces, and that was putting it politely.

Needless to say, she rose to the occasion, and now, she's 14 and getting ready for another significant test. She's been training and working hard for it, and while I am still worried for her - you never stop worrying about your kids, right? - I know she will come through.

I thought about that last night when I saw Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson's press release about April 4's #StudentsSayNo walkout. For the uninitiated, this was a student-led, student-planned walkout to protest the devastating cuts that Premier Doug Ford and his government are planning for education. These cuts will lead to thousands of teachers losing their jobs, which in turn could mean that courses that focus on the arts and the trades could be cut. These cuts will mean that kids will be forced into e-learning courses that they may not be able to appropriately learn from or even have time to do. These cuts will mean that class sizes will balloon in spite of physical classroom spaces already being stretched thin in many schools. These cuts will also mean that those who need special education support in whatever form that might take will likely not get that support in spite of a teacher's best efforts, simply because there will be far too many kids in a class. This, in turn, will also mean that some of our most valuable youth will slip through the cracks of the system.

Kids aren't stupid. Not by a long shot. Like we did when we were younger, they do like to take risks at times, but they are not stupid. Since March 15, when Thompson announced the cuts, kids have been asking anyone who will listen what will happen to their education as a result of these cuts. They've been doing research on their own time about what these cuts will mean to their ability to be successful, and the more they have discovered, the more deeply they are becoming concerned.

So rather than suggesting to the kids who were part of #StudentsSayNo on April 4, Thompson decided it was better to blame the teachers' unions instead of crediting kids with the ability to organize and to conduct a protest peacefully. She thought it was better to point fingers rather than telling the province's children and youth that she was moved by their ability to step forward and allow their voices to be heard in a safe and responsible manner.

In short, she discredited the future voters of Ontario and decided to blame the teachers' unions of Ontario for what was, by all accounts, a peaceful protest organized by and for the kids.

"We instead are seeing Ontario teachers' unions condoning a student walkout at schools across the province," Thompson said in a press release on April 4.

She then went on to effectively threaten teachers and school boards, who again had nothing to do with the protest. In fact, unions had told teachers to not be involved in the first place, and teachers were where they should have been - in the classroom.

"I also want to advise all school boards that I expect them to take action to discipline anyone who abandons their classroom responsibilities," she said. "In the private sector, people know that if you skip work without justification, you don't get paid."

She also spent a good lot of the press release stating that the government has a renewed focus on math and science, which is nice, but far from the only two subjects being taught in a school.

I'm appalled on two fronts. Firstly, I never thought I'd live in a world where the government would so openly threaten educators in a manner which reminded me quite frankly of Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter. Teachers are acutely aware of their responsibilities and believe me when I say that teachers work incredibly hard to ensure kids are safe and that education standards are being met on the daily.

Secondly, these kids involved in the protest knew what they were fighting for. They knew, and to suggest that they were somehow union pawns is incredibly insulting to their intelligence. Kids right now are scared of what could happen to their education because they are painfully aware that the changes that are coming will mean that school could potentially no longer be the safe haven it has been for some. It could mean that they will struggle more than they ever have, either because they aren't getting the academic support they need because so many students are in a classroom or because they are forced to take an e-learning class when they truly need someone at the front of a class to offer direct support and guidance. It could mean that if they thrive in an arts or trades related course, they no longer have those options and they may lose out in school if they are looking to pursue careers in those fields, particularly if these cuts mean that courses like these will be cancelled.

Don't discount the kids. They are well aware of what they are doing and aren't anyone's pawns.

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