How education cuts helped me teach my son to be an activist

The letter he wrote to the Minister of Education is a sneak peek into his mind—and heart—that I hadn't seen before.

Photo: iStockphoto

Last week, like he always does, my 14-year-old son came and stood in the doorway of my home office after school. We usually have a quick check-in, but this time he lingered.

“We had an assembly at school today,” he reported. “And they told us some of our teachers aren’t coming back.”

I could see he was upset. “Four of them taught me this year,” he explained. I asked if he understood why, and he wondered if it might have something to do with the education cuts that were recently implemented by the Ontario provincial government. I told him it probably did.

kids protesting the ontario education plan What exactly is happening to Ontario’s education system? What you need to knowHe just finished his first year of high school. It’s a big leap for any kid, an even bigger leap for a shy one like mine. He was careful to choose electives that suited his personality, like music and art, and felt disappointed to hear that two of those teachers had lost their positions.

In the spring, when the proposed cuts to education were all over the media, and students at high schools across Ontario were organizing protests and walk-outs, he opted not to participate. We told him it was his decision, but encouraged him to be sure he had a good understanding of the issues if he did leave class. It didn’t take long for him to decide he wouldn’t have much to add to a crowd of students and that more outspoken peers would be better suited to taking it on.

“Do you feel like you want to do something about what you’re feeling right now?” I asked him this time. I showed him some websites that would allow him to send a letter to our Member of Provincial Parliament, the Minister of Education, and Premier Doug Ford. When I explained how important it was for the decision-makers to know how individuals were being affected by these changes—kids included—he agreed, and later that night, he got to work.

When the letter was done, and I finally got to read it, I was deeply moved—it’s a sneak peek into his mind, and heart, that I haven’t had before:

I want you to know that each of those teachers made a big difference for me. My art teacher is an artist himself and brought a lot of enthusiasm to our classroom. He would play music, tell a lot of jokes, and made that period of school a time I looked forward to every day. We are also losing one of our music teachers, and I think it’s a big mistake. In my first year of music, there were a lot of students who took a lunch time band class. I don’t know how our school will be able to run that program with less teachers to manage it. Just like art, music is a place where even the quiet kids, like me, can participate and feel like they have a place to go.

Some classes mean a lot for certain students, and if we take those classes away, we also take away the happiness that some students need to have when they are at school. We need to remember students are people, too.

Taking away these teachers’ jobs might mean less of us have a goal of teaching art and music in the future. And if there’s less art and music in the world, then it won’t just be students that feel the loss. We all will.

As I read his words on the screen, I realized why he felt compelled to do something about what had happened at school that day. The protests earlier this year came at a time when the proposed changes were an abstract possibility, but now that staffing decisions are being communicated to kids and parents, the loss of his beloved teachers means he’s feeling the impact of those decisions directly. Bigger class sizes, fewer electives, and more online options for high school students are a threat to the well-being and success of the kinds of kids who can easily slip through the cracks—the shy kids, the quiet kids, kids with learning difficulties or those who struggle to find their place in the overwhelming environment of high school life.

When my son pressed “send” on his letter, I told him I was proud of him for taking his first step into the realm of activism, and for finding a way to make his voice count. It’s never too soon to help your child understand the power of their opinions and the importance of being a voice for others. I know he felt empowered. He believes his letter is valuable, and that it will be seen, and considered. And all I can do is hope that he’s right.

Read more:
How changes to the Ontario Autism Program will hurt kids like my son
How to raise a helper

 

 

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