The following is an excerpt from Linwood Barclay’s new book, Ford AbomiNation, released this year by ECW Press.
If it’s one thing Progressive Conservative governments like to have fun with, it’s schools. Back when Mike Harris was premier, he had an education minister by the name of John Snobelen, and Snobelen was caught on video saying that the best thing you could do with the educational system was “create a crisis” in it.
Snobelen and the other education ministers who succeeded him in that administration were immensely successful in this regard. They didn’t just create one crisis. They created a slew of them. Ontario had education crises coming out of its ass.
It was a glorious time.
Clearly inspired by the PCs who had come before him, Premier Ford is eager to put his stamp on the province’s schools, and not just in the area of sex education, which we covered in an earlier chapter. If you skipped it, we’ll wait.
Perhaps the most obvious change that Ford is implementing is in the area of average class size. When his former education minister, Lisa Thompson, appeared on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning in March 2019, she came up with the most brilliant reason ever to increase the number of kids in Ontario classrooms.
She said that once kids move on to post-secondary institutions, they were going to encounter very large class sizes, so in an effort to make Ontario students more “resilient,” it made sense to increase, at the high school level, the average number of students any given teacher must deal with. In other words, get used to it. Not only would this make students more resilient, it would make teachers more resilient, too.
But why stop at class size? There are many other ways to give students a taste of what awaits them in the big, bad world. Let’s make them as resilient as possible — and see if we can’t cut some money out of the education budget at the same time.
For example, is it ever too early to teach a kid how to operate and maintain a boiler? If you start teaching children some engineering basics in, say, Grade 3, by the time they’re in Grade 5 they should be able to look after the school’s heating system. Sure, there’s a bit of blood, sweat, and tears involved, but isn’t that what building resilience is all about?
And the added bonus? Think how much money you can save when you fire all the janitors whose job it was to do this.
What about school buses? Shouldn’t students accept responsibility, as early as possible, for getting themselves to school and home again? Sure, the legal driving age is sixteen, but there’s no reason why the Ford government couldn’t make an exception in this case. As soon as kids are able to reach the pedals and see over the steering wheel, why not put them in the driver’s seat? In fact, why wait that long? If you have one kid working the pedals, and another up top working the wheel, what better way to teach teamwork and communication skills?
Kid One: There’s a cow in the road! Hit the brakes! Hit the brakes!
Kid Two: Why should I do all the work? Steer around it, asshole!
And, once again, we have the added bonus of firing all the school bus drivers. The potential savings to taxpayers are enormous.
What about Pizza Day? Plenty of schools organize pizza days, particularly in the lower grades. These days are often used as fundraisers to buy supplies or hold special activities, like field days. Some kids live for Pizza Days. They mark them on their calendars. Kids who are inclined to feign illness never get sick on a Pizza Day.
A Pizza Day can be a terrific way to teach resilience. It’s simple. Take the number of kids who are expecting to get a slice of pizza, then reduce the number of slices by 20 percent. So if there are twenty kids, make sure you have only sixteen slices. See what happens. This makes for an excellent “survival of the fittest” lesson.
Finally, let’s take a long, hard look at class outings.
The Ford government is preparing a new instructional handbook for teachers. It’s called “Taking Your Kids to Ripley’s Aquarium,” and outlines, in detail, how to get the students ready.
Needless to say, students will be pretty excited about going to Ripley’s Aquarium, one of the top tourist attractions in Toronto. It’ll be great fun and a terrific learning experience.
The handbook lays out several days of lesson plans leading up to the day of the excursion. There are units on various sea creatures, underwater plant life, how an aquarium is built, and how the fish are looked after.
When the teacher reaches the end of the handbook, for the very last lesson, you can bet she’ll be just as amazed as the students. Why?
Because there is no trip! There was never going to be a trip! The whole exercise was a trick!
What better way to prepare kids for the world — to build resilience — than to introduce them to two basic fundamentals of life:
- It’s full of disappointment.
- Even the people you think you can trust will lie their asses off to you.
And, as if you didn’t already know, the money the province has saved by not arranging transportation to the aquarium or buying the kids tickets will find its way, by way of a tax cut, into the pocket of some Bay Street stock trader so he can order the chilled seafood tower at the Shore Club.
Doug Ford, from the beginning, has warned the province’s teacher unions that they better not strike over anything he wants to do to the education system. Don’t even think about it. After all, he points out, teachers have got it pretty easy. They’ve got all summer off, plus all the other holidays. (It should be pointed out that the five-month 2019 summer recess Doug Ford gave himself made the teachers look like total amateurs.)
The truth is many teachers are trying to finagle their way out of the profession so they can get into a job with even better perks. They would like a job where you get paid twice as much, where you get nearly three months off in the winter, where you get a housing allowance, and where you can expense all your gas and travel costs.
That job, of course, is Member of Provincial Parliament.
For a long time now, Ontario schools have been embracing anti-bullying policies. They’ve been teaching kids strategies for how to deal with other kids who bully them and also have tried to drive home the message that being a bully is a very, very bad thing.
Well, you can kiss those lessons goodbye.
It’s a whole new ball game. Unless you’ve been living on Neptune for the last few years, you’ll have noticed that the world has gotten a whole lot tougher, and a whole lot meaner, and the general public is eating it up like rocky road ice cream. Check out a political rally these days, north or south of the border. You could be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into an arena featuring staged fights with costumed wrestlers.
Political leaders are often looked up to as role models. And the role models that children have today are sending out one message loud and clear: “I don’t give a rat’s ass about your precious feelings, you four-eyed, pencil-necked, butt-sniffing loser.”
This is the world we have to prepare our kids for, and let’s face it, if you’ve got a choice between being the one who holds the kid’s head in the toilet while you flush it, or the kid who’s getting flushed, who are you going to pick?
If you’re looking for a role model in this new world, you could do a lot worse than Doug Ford. Just ask any members of his caucus who have dared to speak out against him. They’ve been mocked and humiliated and, in some cases, kicked out. When Doug Ford thought he wasn’t going to get his way when it came to decimating Toronto City Council, he threatened to use the notwithstanding clause, the ultimate political bullying tool. Ditto on subways. What Doug wants, Doug gets.
But as is the case with any new curriculum, it must be carefully crafted, depending on the grade. The education ministry is setting out three basic levels of bullying instruction:
- Primary: Children in kindergarten through to Grade 6 will learn the basics. Simple taunting: “I know you are but what am I?”, tripping, pulling down a victim’s pants and running away, dipping a girl’s pigtails into the inkwell on your desk.
- Grades 7 and 8: By now, most kids have mastered their computer skills, know how to surf the net, and are active on social media. This is the best time to introduce students to bullying tactics that require no actual physical contact or face-to-face unpleasantness. Some of the terms that will be discussed include “piling on,” “public shaming,” and “mob mentality.”
- High School: Once students get to Grade 9, they’re ready to incorporate all the bullying methods they’ve learned up to now and to add a few new ones. This is when you can combine social media threats with actual physical intimidation. For example, a student could send a text to someone that reads “nxt time i c u im gonna rearrange ur ugly face,” and then, the following day, do exactly that. And a lot of the old standbys still work: locking a kid in his locker, Swirling 101 (see “head in toilet” paragraph above), a nippletwister in the boys’ change room.
The new curriculum can pretty much be summed up with an ever-so-slightly altered quote by somebody else from somewhere, sometime in the past:
“Do unto others before they have a chance to do it unto you.”
Linwood Barclay is an American-born Canadian author, noted as a novelist, humorist, and columnist. His popular detective novels are bestsellers in Canada and internationally, beginning with No Time for Goodbye in 2007.