#onpoli newsletter: From sex to math, who decides what your kid is taught

Tackling a question many parents have asked: why are you teaching that to my kid?
By Eric Bombicino - Published on June 10, 2019
Protesters outside Queen's Park
Protesters gather outside Queen's Park, 2015 (Photo: Darren Calabrese/CP/cbc.ca)



Hi, #onpoli people!

This week features our final podcast explainer of the season, by John Michael McGrath. But fear not: it won’t be our last episode!

We’re doing something a little different for that episode: we want to hear from you. Hosts Steve Paikin and John Michael McGrath will dig deep into our mailbag to answer questions and respond to comments. If you have anything you want to ask, please write to us at onpolitics@tvo.org.

And you can ask us anything! (And we mean that: anything.) Have a burning question from a previous episode? Or always wondered about one tiny detail about how Ontario politics work? Send us any and all questions. Bonus points if that question can stump our hosts and producers.

This week, John Michael takes on a question many parents have asked, and even protested about on the lawn of Queen’s Park: why are you teaching that to my kid?

Protesters gather outside Queen's Park, 2015 (Photo: Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press/cbc.ca)

From the nearly decade-long controversy over the sex-education curriculum to the criticism of so-called “discovery math” teaching techniques, what gets taught in schools, and how, has been a political hot potato at Queen’s Park.

But, as John Michael asks, why does the school curriculum get written at Queen’s Park in the first place?

It wasn’t always this way

Today, final word on what goes in the school curriculum — and what doesn’t — comes from the minister of education. But this wasn’t always the case. If you take a leap back to the middle of the last century, the provincial government’s role in the school curriculum was limited, and local school boards had much more control. Then, in the 1970s, a wave of education reforms saw hundreds of school boards collapsed into larger ones, and Queen’s Park took on a more active role.

Yonge Street in Toronto, 1972 (Photo: City of Toronto Planning and Development Department/dailyhive.com)

Fast forward to the 1990s and, as John Michael says, “the province is in nearly total control over everything from funding to curriculum.” After decades of centralized authority, “have those reforms been a good thing?” he asks.

The curriculum should always be in draft form

In theory, major school curriculums should be revised on 10-year cycles, but Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum went nearly 15 years without an update. Until recently, its Indigenous curriculum hadn’t been changed in two decades.

“When the government eventually gets around to it,” John Michael says, “it can be a very lengthy process.” It goes through rounds of consultations with experts, researchers, teachers, and stakeholders.

In this episode, Charles Pascal, an internationally recognized education expert who has worked with a number of provincial governments, argues that curriculum shouldn’t be set in stone.

“Couldn't we put the word 'draft’ on every curriculum document that we release? Because a curriculum should always be in the process of changing,” he says.

“It’s in its use with real students and real teachers that we continue to find ways of making it better, improving it, improving the examples, clarifying outcomes.”

What would it mean for the curriculum to be in permanent draft form?

John Michael explores that and more in today’s episode. He takes a giant step back from the controversy that has surrounded school curriculum and explains who decides what gets taught, why it matters, and what a curriculum even is to begin with. Check it out!

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