McGuinty’s missed opportunity
February 21, 2012 · By Jonathan McLeod
Ontario missed a great opportunity last week. Heading into the previous weekend, Ontarians were teased with the idea that the Liberal Party’s full-day kindergarten initiative would be scrapped. It was a chance to reduce waste and improve our educational system at the same time. Unfortunately, instead of taking the province’s fiscal problems as an opportunity to offer some flexibility to Ontario students and parents, Premier McGuinty will continue to clutch at his treasured program, deficits and child development be damned.
It is reported that Economist Don Drummond, who is trying to determine a way out of the financial mess the Liberals have made this past decade, will recommend that Ontario abandon full-day kindergarten. This is an eminently sensible idea.
Ontario’s books are not in order. Deficits are standard fare, and no longer can the province be considered Canada’s economic engine. It is a sad tale that brings us to our current status, that of Ontario being a Have Not province. There’s a solid economic case for ridding ourselves of this costly program.
But the economics of the situation are only a side issue. The full-day kindergarten regime foisted on Ontario was never a sound move for children. Critics have argued that it is little more than a publically-sponsored daycare system. If were true, that would be bad enough, sadly, it is a system that can be expected to do as much, if not more, harm than good.
There is no research indicating that immersing younger and younger students in rigorous academic exercises is beneficial. Quite the contrary, in fact. Kindergarten may not seem an environment of ‘rigorous academic exercises’, and that would not be the kindergarten that today’s parents remember. But today’s kindergarten classes are steeped in curriculum, programming and “structured” play (as if 4 year olds gain nothing from unstructured play with their peers). It seeks to turn children into good little students, rather than allowing them to develop towards adolescence.
Kindergarten, and the public school system, is not geared towards the needs of the children. It is primarily focused on the desires of bureaucrats and the demands of unions. Schooling is rigid and inflexible. Parents have little say in the manner in which their children are educated. There is no choice in regards to teachers, schools, pedagogy or curriculum. It is a one-size-fits-all formula that fits no one, except those who are paid to deliver it.
The Liberal government could have taken a cue from Mr. Drummond and re-worked their education plans. They could have looked at far superior school systems as models. They could have followed Norway’s relative un-schooling techniques. They could have looked to set up a robust network of charter schools. They could have turned to vouchers, as have been successful in cities like Washington D.C. and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They could have offered financial assistance to parents so that they could make their own child care decisions. Or they could have gotten out of the way, and let parents be parents.
But, no. They have decided that full-day kindergarten is the way to go. One could be cynical and suggest that there’s an element of social engineering to this, that the government reaps the most benefit from absorbing the greatest number of students at the earliest age. Certainly, Progressivism has displayed such nefarious instincts, as in the Early Years Study 3 that was released last fall. But I doubt this is the case.
This is a matter of simple politics. The McGuinty Liberals have determined that there is sufficient political benefit to maintaining this undesirable program. This is little more than a welfare program, but unlike most social assistance, this is a welfare program that directly benefits members of the middle class.
The Liberal government’s calculus is clear. A party headed by “Premier Dad” is naturally inclined to taking on a greater role in raising our children. To be able to do that while also gaining electoral support in the middle class is just too good to pass up.
Forget our wallets. This program is a direct grab for our kids.