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October 9, 2018

The Ontario Government’s Consultation on Public Education (or: WORST ONLINE SURVEY EVER)

As a woman who literally came of age reading magazines in the 1990s (graduating from Seventeen and YM to Glamour and Cosmo—in fundamental ways, Bonnie Fuller built me), one would think that I’d have more enthusiasm for an online quiz. Certainly, I’ve taken my fair share, including one that determined what kind of kisser I was based on the shape of my lipstick (“mostly a’s!”), which was particularly illuminating seeing as I was fourteen, had never kissed anyone, and didn’t wear lipstick.

And since then—particularly as my media consumption moved online—I’ve dutifully checked the boxes to discover if I was Blanche or Dorothy, Samantha or Carrie, what my ultimate travel destination was, or what new hot foodie trend I should be trying. Although I will admit my quiz-taking enthusiasms were dampened by recent disclosures that online surveys were actually harvesting data with which to undermine our online privacy—but by this point I had a good-enough grasp on what kind of kisser I am (STELLAR) and my Golden Girls character (Dorothy—I will own it) that quizzes in general were much less of a fascination. There was the question too of the value of my time—I charge a whole lot more than the chance to win a free iPod for a quarter hour, my friends, and so too should you.

But then along comes our new Provincial Government with their populist leanings and fervour for “consultation.” They want to be listening “to the people”—although not so much that I’ve yet received a response from my letters to the Premier and Minister of Municipal Affairs in August about their undermining of Toronto’s upcoming municipal election, or any engagement from my tweets to the Education Minister about her government’s decision to cut a $100 million fund for school repairs among many other issues. Alas, this is a government that prefers to communicate via online quiz, for better or for worse—but mostly for worse.

I know it’s mostly for worse because last month I attempted to fill in their survey on public services, my thinking being, “I’ve got lots of opinions, and I’ve been filling out quizzes since Bonnie Fuller was editor of Flare.” I was definitely feeling pretty quiz-confident, but when it came time for the survey, I actually just shut down. Because the quiz was really, really long, and asking my opinion on matters I know nothing about. I’d come to the survey through through my interest in early childcare education in Ontario—but here they were consulting me as well on social services, Northern affairs and mining, and unemployment benefits. And not to paint this government with the evil brush or anything, but I also couldn’t properly be sure that if I skipped the parts of the survey of which I have no knowledge, interest, or relationship that they mightn’t see my lack of engagement as a way to excuse government wriggling out of providing these services altogether. (“We consulted Kerry in Toronto, and based on her feedback, we will no longer be providing infrastructure to communities in Northern Ontario.”) As I failed to complete this survey, I also found myself wondering why I was being consulted about issues I know nothing about. Aren’t there experts on these matters? Mightn’t it be more valuable to be consulting with those experts instead of with me? Oh, wait

But not content with their very crappy online survey about public services, this government is back with their consultation about public education. “We invite everyone – parents, students, educators and interested individuals or organizations, and also that guy screaming at the sky and the woman obsessed with anal sex who ran for PC leadership – to provide feedback on the education system in Ontario,” the survey begins. They don’t care who you are—if you are a religious zealot who is convinced that the previous sex-ed curriculum was developed by a pedophile; if you are a father who’d prefer his daughter not know the name of her body parts than be protected from sexual abuse; if you are someone who’s been sending hate mail to LGBTQ families in your community. It really doesn’t matter—they want to hear from you.

Which makes it very important that they hear from me too, even though this survey is just as stupid as the other one, and even though it’s a giant waste of my time, and I can’t believe that I and even people who are stupider than me are being given a say in how our public education curriculum is developed—when we have teachers and other pedagogical experts who know a whole lot more about teaching and education than we do. Which was basically my answer to most of the questions in the survey—that teachers need to be the ones deciding the curriculum and that our educational system means nothing if teachers are not empowered, and also that I want my children to be learning about gender identity, LGBTQ families, about consent and protecting themselves online, because my children live in this world and not some imaginary one the anal sex lady is trapped inside (and somebody let her out, please? It doesn’t seem nice in there).

It truly was the worst online survey ever (“Mostly C’s: You are Burning With Rage at the Stumbling Incompetence of This Province’s Elected Representatives Who Should Be Too Embarrassed To Get Out of Bed in the Morning, Let Alone Posting Self-Congratulary Tweets That Have Nothing to Do With Their Portfolios“). But it’s our civic duty, my fellow Ontarians—particularly those of us without ideological axes to grind and children in the public system aka a stake in the game—to step up and do the work. Be consulted. Use your voice, and let the government know that you want a robust and well-funded public education system that supports teachers and the spectacular work they do for our children every single day. 

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