By Gerard Di Trolio
A little over a week since the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) announced that it would defend teachers who taught the now abolished 2015 sex-ed curriculum, Doug Ford has responded with a website encouraging parents to snitch on teachers. The website also instructs parents that they can also complain to the Ministry of Education over the phone and to the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT).
Following in Harris’s footsteps, the “small government” Tories are further centralizing power over education. Currently, only local school boards and the OCT have the power to investigate teachers for misconduct that does not violate the criminal code. Ontario is one of the few provinces that publicly discloses disciplinary cases against teachers, in the infamous “blue pages” of OCT’s lousy magazine “Professionally Speaking”.
The interim sex ed curriculum that the government is forcing upon teachers omits any mention of same-sex marriage, all other LGBTQ2S issues, gender identity, and even consent. These are serious omissions, that if not quickly rectified could harm an entire generation of students.
On top of all this, the newly-minted government has demonstrated they do not actually know what is in the updated “sex ed” curriculum, let alone the entire curriculum. As ETFO President Sam Hammond tweeted, Education Minister Lisa Thompson seemed unaware that financial literacy was already taught as early as primary school.
The Ontario Tories are manufacturing this crisis to further extend its reactionary interference into other areas of the curriculum as well. While Ford promised the “largest consultation ever in Ontario’s history when it comes to education,” the Tories unilaterally scrapped workshops to incorporate Indigenous history and knowledge into the curriculum.
Beyond the classroom
If this snitch website gets a sizeable number of complaints from parents, the government could easily expand this approach this to create snitch sites for other public sector workers. The Harris Tories have also used this approach in the late 1990s for “welfare fraud”.
There is no doubt the announcement will mobilize the small number of loudmouthed reactionaries who wanted the 2015 curriculum repealed. The Ford Tories are hoping for a witchhunt and like all witchhunts, the snitch line will be used by reactionaries to go far beyond complaints about the sex ed curriculum.
The push back so far from teachers and the ETFO and OSSTF leaderships is a good sign, but a pushback must be sustained, especially in the face of a hostile government.
And any sort of resistance will have to be community-based as well, and that’s where rank-and-file trade unionists can play their part, especially by talking with others in their local community. There are many teachers vowing to defy the government and defence campaigns may have to be built. Coalitions like this can be the site of powerful student-parent-teacher alliances.
Disrupting the snitch line is another route of resistance. Social media is already buzzing with people saying they plan to flood the snitch line with nonsense comments to overload whatever system is in place.
In 1997 when Ontario’s teachers mobilized and “protested” (aka: illegal walkout) against the authoritarian Bill 160, public momentum swung in their favour. However, this was not enough to prevent the strike from eventually being called off by union leaders two weeks later with no concessions from the government. The earlier that community support for teachers can be built, the longer teacher resistance can last, and the greater the power and confidence necessary for that resistance to escalate.
How Ford is actually going to govern is increasingly becoming clear. It is resembling the Harris years in ways that remind one of Marx’s quote about history repeating itself “first as tragedy, then as farce.”
But if Ford is going to be stupid enough to borrow from Harris’ constant crisis mode of governing, then it will be far from impossible for the labour movement to learn from its mistakes in the 1990s and present a resistance that can actually win.