Transcript: Why are you teaching that to my kid? | Jun 10, 2019

STEVE PAIKIN:
Hey.
Just before we get to the show,
I want to tell you about
something brand new
from the
#onpoli
team.
It's the
#onpoli
newsletter,
and you can get it in your inbox
twice a week.
Subscribe now to go
behind the scenes
with our award-winning
current affairs team.
Go to tvo.org/onpolinewsletter
and subscribe to
the brand-new
#onpoli
newsletter.
Now, let's get to the podcast.

Welcome, everybody,
to the
#onpoli
podcast,
a show all about
Ontario politics.
I'm Steve Paikin...
JOHN MICHAEL MCGRATH:
...and I'm John Michael McGrath.
STEVE:
John Michael, this is
our second-last episode
of the season,
which means this will be
one of our last times together
down here in the cozy
recording bunker at TVO.
No, no, no. Stop crying.
(John Michael laughing)
Come on. Stop crying.
That's not--
It's going to be okay.
Honestly.
JOHN MICHAEL:
It's overwhelming, Steve.
STEVE:
Yes, I can see that
in your face. I know.
Get your Kleenex out.
Dry your tears.
(John Michael laughing)
Are you feeling okay?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Uh, I'm going to move on.
STEVE (Laughing):
That is a good idea.
Well, we're not done, after all.
JOHN MICHAEL:
No. We'll be back in the fall
with a new season
of the podcast.
STEVE:
I want to introduce somebody
who's at the table with us
here today.
I don't know
if you recognize him,
but this person sitting two feet
to your right,
his name is Eric Bombicino,
and he is--
What's your title?
ERIC:
Uh, my title is "producer."
(Chuckling)
STEVE:
I'm not familiar with
that title.
Is that a--
ERIC:
Yes.
I have been a producer on your
television show for, I believe,
seven years now.
STEVE (Laughing):
Is that who you are?
ERIC:
Yes, yes.
And about two or three years
ago,
I think you started liking me.
STEVE:
Oh, I wouldn't assume that.
ERIC:
I think you have found
a growing respect for me.
STEVE:
I would not assume that, either.
ERIC:
You might even call me a friend.
STEVE:
Well, now you're definitely
crossing the line. Yeah.
ERIC:
Okay. Well, I'll edit that out
'cause I have a final edit
on this, so--
(Steve chuckling)
STEVE:
Eric, it's a delight to have you
at the table.
Why are you at the table now,
anyway?
ERIC:
Well, I'm actually at the table
every recording;
just not on the mic.
STEVE:
Yeah. You're on the mic
this week, though.
ERIC:
Yeah. I am on the mic this week.
So, I've got a few things.
I've come to talk about
our twice-weekly newsletter.
But before we get there,
I think I've come to resolve
a season-long debate
between you two nerds.
STEVE:
Ooh. What could that be about?
ERIC:
Uh, well, who's the bigger nerd?
I've thought a lot about this.
STEVE:
Do you mean in kilograms,
or what do you mean?
(John Michael chuckling)
ERIC:
I mean in nerd weight.
STEVE:
Ah. Okay.
ERIC:
Which I believe is kilojoules.
(Everyone laughing)
The sheer energy
of your nerdery.
STEVE:
Okay. What are the metrics
by which you're measuring this?
ERIC:
Okay.
So, I actually just have
a question to ask John Michael
that's just going to
resolve this for our listeners.
John Michael, can you describe
your wedding for us?
(John Michael laughing)
And what that was like?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Um, I believe
what you are referring to
is that my wedding included
Stormtroopers,
like the kind one would see
from
Star Wars.
Um, that was not part of my plan
and it was not part of
my wife's plan.
My sister-in-law arranged that,
and we had two Stormtroopers
show up.
And they were, like, "Yeah,
we're here for the wedding,"
And I was, like,
"Uh, who invited you?"
ERIC:
Okay, but what were your vows?
JOHN MICHAEL:
The vows were standard.
What was different was when
the ceremony was concluding,
we got the officiant to say,
"By the power vested in me
by the Province of Ontario
"and the Castle Grayskull,
"we now pronounce you
husband and wife.
"Live long and prosper.
May the force be with you.
So say we all."
STEVE:
Oh, my.
ERIC:
Marone!
STEVE:
That is deeply disturbing.
ERIC:
Uh, well--
STEVE:
There's a whole bunch of things
going on there.
Okay. "Live long and prosper,"
that's a
Star Trek
thing.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yes.
STEVE:
"May the force be with you,"
that's a
Star Wars
thing.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yes.
STEVE:
What's the Grayskull?
I don't know that.
JOHN MICHAEL:
That was from
He-Man and the
Masters of the Universe,
which was a cartoon
when I was a young lad.
STEVE:
Lordy Lord.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And then of course,
"so say we all"
is from the recent remake
of
Battlestar Galactica.
(Steve chuckling)
STEVE:
I saw the original,
incidentally.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yeah.
We're ecumenical in my house.
We borrow from
all faith traditions.
(Laughing)
STEVE:
From all science fiction shows.
Okay.
ERIC:
So, may I ordain you,
John Michael,
the king of all--
Well, I guess not
#onpoli
nerds.
Just nerds.
STEVE:
Yeah. I--
ERIC:
In general nerdery,
he beats you out.
STEVE:
I yield to his greater nerdery.
There's no question about that.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Does this come with
any kind of cash award?
ERIC:
Well, what it will--
The award--
And look at this perfect segue.
The award will come
in our upcoming newsletter,
where I will take that photo
you put on Facebook,
which is public,
and I can just take it.
This is basic law.
(Steve and John Michael
laughing)
That will be
in our next newsletter.
It will be John Michael
and his lovely wife
surrounded by two, uh,
Startroopers.
STEVE:
Stormtroopers.
Even I got that right.
ERIC:
God. Stormtroopers.
Anyways, I'm here for a reason.
STEVE:
Yes. You need to talk about
the newsletter, which you write,
and which, frankly,
is a terrific read.
I had no idea
you were that talented.
ERIC:
It's heavily copy-edited.
(Steve chuckling)
That's my deep inability
to take a compliment, but yeah.
Every week,
on Monday and Thursday,
we have two newsletters
that sort of take the hard work
from both of you--
Your explainers are just this.
I mean, the script itself,
I have access to.
It's just 4,000 words
of wonderful stuff.
And I take out some nuggets
and I put them in the newsletter
for people to enjoy.
And we want to hear from you,
our listeners.
And everything you're sending to
onpolitics@tvo.org, I'm reading,
and a few of them
end up in the newsletter
and a few of them, we talk about
here.
STEVE:
And I--
Truly, yes. I did want to
humiliate you earlier.
(Eric laughing)
But truly now,
I do want to praise you,
because the newsletter
is beautifully written.
I read it when it comes out
twice a week
and you do a very nice job
on it.
So, how do people subscribe
to it?
ERIC:
You go to
tvo.org/onpolinewsletter.
STEVE:
Sounds simple.
ERIC:
Before we get to
this week's episode,
which is a lovely explainer
from John Michael,
I wanted you two
to finally talk about
the actual physical object
of your nerdery, Queen's Park.
The building.
STEVE:
The building itself?
The pink palace?
I don't know. John Michael,
I think
it's the most beautiful building
in the whole capital city
of Ontario,
and as I think about
the entire province itself,
I might even go further.
I might say it's
the most beautiful building
in the whole province.
I'm not saying what goes on
inside;
I'm saying the exterior.
The exterior is--
I find it gorgeous.
JOHN MICHAEL:
It is a--
It's a very pretty building.
I mean, I was born in Ottawa,
so I also have some love for
the federal Parliament.
My favourite part
of Queen's Park?
On the ground floor of
the east side of Queen's Park,
they have an enormous map
of Ontario, the province.
STEVE:
Mm-hmm. Yes.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And for what--
You know, I have--
I did not go into my 20s
without ever seeing
a map of Ontario before. I knew
what the province looked like.
But it was something about
seeing that enormous map
for the first time
that I looked at it
and I realized my entire life
has been between Ottawa
and Toronto.
(Chuckling)
And I just realized what a tiny
part of this province that is.
Ever since then,
I just sort of realized, like,
I need to do a better job
of getting out and seeing
more parts of this province.
STEVE:
Going in the front doors and
looking at that grand staircase,
and then looking up
and seeing four floors--
I don't know. I think
the whole thing is just--
It's a beautiful place that,
um--
And I hear people--
I hear members of the
Legislature
say this all the time:
"The day I walk into this place
"and I am no longer dazzled by
the grandeur of it
is the day when I have to
hang 'em up."
And I feel the same way.
I feel as long as I can keep
walking into that building
and just be in awe
of how beautiful it is,
how physically beautiful it is,
that's grand.
I'll keep doing it.
ERIC:
Do you remember your first time
walking into Queen's Park?
STEVE:
I actually do, yeah.
It was in the middle 1970s.
And believe it or not,
my parents--
ERIC:
You were, what, 40 at the time?
(Steve laughing)
That's not even--
That's such an easy,
low-hanging-fruit of a joke.
I take that back.
STEVE:
You just took that softball,
fat pitch over the plate
and knocked it
right out of here.
ERIC:
The fact is,
I'm better than that.
I am so much better than that
as a human being.
STEVE:
Yeah.
It was in the middle 1970s.
Stuart Smith was the leader
of the Ontario Liberal Party,
and we lived in Hamilton and he
represented a Hamilton riding.
And we purchased-- My parents,
I guess, purchased
the opportunity to have lunch
with the leader of
the Official Opposition
at a charity auction.
And so, my brother and I,
a couple of teenage kids,
I think we took the bus in
to Toronto, to Queen's Park,
and we had lunch with
Stuart Smith.
And what's crazy is, you know,
that was--
How long ago was that?
Well, whatever. 45 years ago?
And I still see Stuart Smith
once a year
and we reminisce
about that lunch,
which we remember,
not surprisingly.
But crazily enough,
he even remembers it.
And it was really delightful.
And I have no doubt that
some kind of seed was planted
at that lunch, for me, anyway.
Not my brother,
who can't stand politics,
but for me, who quite enjoys it.
ERIC:
Okay. So, let's get to
today's episode.
John Michael, what are we doing
this week?
JOHN MICHAEL:
This week we've got an explainer
about how school curriculums
are developed in Ontario.
There's been a few incidents
already
in this first year
of the Ford government
that education policy,
and specifically
the school curriculum,
has been in the news.
And so, I thought, you know,
a lot of people don't know
how it gets made into policy
at Queen's Park.
So, the explainer
is just sort of about that
and why, even if education
policy isn't your bag,
this is something
worth knowing about.
STEVE:
If you go back over time
and you look at the history
of education in Ontario,
there are few things as toxic
as the mix of education,
politics and religion as well.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yeah.
STEVE:
And there have been numerous
examples over the years.
You know, go back to the 1980s
with the--
Actually, go back
to the 1960s if you want.
The attempts
by the Catholic community
to get extended funding
for the separate school system.
Gay-straight alliances,
as we continue on
through more present-day.
It's all there.
So, I'm looking forward
to hearing this,
'cause I'm not sure I know
how the decisions
are actually made
around how the curriculum
is made, so--
JOHN MICHAEL:
Good. Okay. So, let's get to it.
PROTESTERS (Chanting):
We say no!
WOMAN 1:
Because I am a teacher
and a parent,
I actually really believe in
this new curriculum.
I think it's been
well researched.
WOMAN 2:
It's my responsibility
and my right
to teach my child what I want
about sexuality.
WOMAN 3:
It's important to have
a health curriculum
that promotes the safety
and well-being of all students,
and in my opinion, the repeal
of the 2015 health curriculum
is irresponsible.
WOMAN 4:
The media loves to
talk about it.
On a personal level, do I think
it's overblown? Absolutely.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Sex ed in Ontario
is a political hot potato.
It's been that way
for almost 10 years.
Back in 2010, when
Dalton McGuinty was premier,
the Liberals announced an update
to the sex-ed curriculum,
the first in more than a decade.
These changes sparked outrage
from religious conservative
groups,
and the curriculum
didn't get rolled out.
Fast-forward to 2015.
Kathleen Wynne is the leader
of the Ontario Liberal Party
and the first female premier
in Ontario's history.
She was also the first premier
in Canada
to be openly LGBTQ.
And when she brought back
the sex-ed curriculum
that was basically just
sitting in a drawer for years,
it was as controversial as ever.
REPORTER:
Hundreds of parents filling
the lawn here at Queen's Park
for the afternoon protest,
speaking out against
the sex-ed curriculum
recently implemented by
the provincial government.
And these parents are loud,
they're passionate,
and they certainly have
a lot to say.
PROTEST LEADER:
Put it in the garbage!
Put it in the garbage.
There it goes. Into the garbage.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Tory MPP Monte McNaughton
had said to a crowd, quote,
"It's not the Premier of
Ontario's job,
"especially Kathleen Wynne,
"to tell parents
what's age-appropriate
for their children."
Here's Premier Wynne's response
the next day in Question Period.
HON. KATHLEEN WYNNE:
Let me just ask
the member opposite:
What is it
that especially disqualifies me
for the job that I'm doing?
Is it that I'm a woman?
Is it that I'm a mother?
Is it that I have
a master's of education?
Mr. Speaker, is it that
I was a school council chair?
Is it that I was
the Minister of Education?
What is it exactly
that the member opposite
thinks disqualifies me...
GOVERNMENT MEMBERS:
Yeah!
HON. KATHLEEN WYNNE:
...from doing the job
that I'm doing? What is that?
GOVERNMENT MPP:
Hear, hear!
JOHN MICHAEL:
McNaughton's comment
that Premier Wynne "especially"
didn't have the right
to make education policy
was widely seen as homophobic.
But for the record,
McNaughton strongly denied
any such intent in his remarks.
This is how hot
the political issue was in 2015.
And quite frankly,
what kids learn in class
is still a hot topic.
Ontario's school curriculum has
repeatedly been a lightning rod
for the new Tory government,
led by Premier Doug Ford.
Now, to be clear, today's
episode is not about sex ed,
but it is about
what kids learn in class,
all the things they learn.
So, let's take a big step back
and ask a few key questions.
Who decides what gets taught
in class?
And why does school curriculum
get written at Queen's Park,
anyway?
Let's start with definitions.
What is a curriculum?
(Mellow jazz playing)
School curriculums
lay out all the expectations
for what a student in Ontario
will learn
as they move through the public
or Catholic school system.
Ontario has many different
school curriculums
on all the topics students would
be expected to learn about.
These are public documents.
You can find them online
at the Ministry of Education's
website.
They contain both mandatory
and optional elements,
and the final word on what's in
the curriculum and what isn't
comes from
the Minister of Education.
Today, that's MPP Lisa Thompson.
(Mellow jazz playing)
Before the 1970s, Queen's Park's
role in the school curriculum
was much more limited.
Local school boards
played a much bigger role
in determining what was and
wasn't taught in the classroom.
The Province set guidelines,
but didn't necessarily dictate.
Then, in the '70s, the Province
unleashed a wave of reforms
in education.
The government of the day
wanted to make sure
Ontario students were prepared
to be workers
in the new economy.
So, "modernization"
was the word of the day.
Hundreds of school boards
were consolidated
into fewer, larger boards.
The Province built more colleges
and universities.
And Queen's Park started to take
a more active role
in directing things
like curriculum.
Later governments continued
the trend
of centralizing authority
at Queen's Park.
By the 1990s, the provincial
government took away
school boards' taxing powers
and made school trustees
part-time positions.
(Mellow jazz playing)
Charles Pascal, one of
the leading education experts
in Ontario
who has worked for a number of
provincial governments,
says one of
the most important things
provincial control has done
is provide a high-quality
school system
no matter where you live
in the province.
It's not perfect, but the goal
is to make sure that
a student graduating
from high school
in Kenora or Chatham or Timmins
has as many opportunities
as a kid going to school
in Toronto or Ottawa.
CHARLES PASCAL:
What different things mean
in Hamilton
versus Picton or North Bay
can be subject to
major misinterpretation
or different interpretation.
And when it comes to
things like, you know,
how we treat each other,
the kind of social side
of things,
how we look at problem-solving
in math
or how we look at
health-related things,
you don't want to leave
those things up for grabs
if you're trying to build
a healthy and safe
and prosperous society.
JOHN MICHAEL:
It's not just
high-minded principle
that saw Queen's Park take
a more active role
in education policy;
there's always politics.
In particular, labour politics.
In the 1980s and 1990s,
provincial governments saw
more and more political downside
from teachers' strikes,
especially in Ontario's
biggest cities.
So, they took a more active role
in managing relations
with the big teachers' unions.
Both forces,
principle and politics,
pushed government
in the same direction,
and by the 1990s the Province
is in nearly total control
over everything,
from funding to curriculum.
But now what?
How does the government decide
what goes into a curriculum
and what comes out?
In theory,
major school curriculums
are supposed to be revised
on roughly 10-year cycles.
But this doesn't always happen
so neatly.
That sex-ed curriculum
went nearly 15 years
without revision.
When the government eventually
gets around to it,
the Ministry of Education
engages teachers,
academic researchers
and other experts
on what needs to be added
to the curriculum.
They'll look at what's happening
in other provinces
or even other countries
to consider what will work
for Ontario.
It can be
a very lengthy process.
Pascal was deputy minister of
education under the Liberals,
and he never wanted
the curriculum
to be written in stone.
Instead,
he says a good curriculum
is more like a garden.
New flowers need planting.
Old ones need pruning.
And the work is never done.
CHARLES:
I said, "Couldn't we put
'draft,' the word 'draft,
on every curriculum document
that we release?"
Because a curriculum
should always be in the process
of changing.
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.
Thinking about
how the world has changed,
to add things
and subtract things.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I love it.
Why didn't they do it?
CHARLES:
My colleagues
never liked the idea
of a government releasing
something that said "draft,"
because they thought
it sent a notion
that we didn't know
what we were doing.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Let's say that you've got
a kid in school,
and you think
the classroom instruction
is missing something.
What if you wanted to get
something added
to the curriculum?
I called Pascal back
after our initial interview
to ask him that.
CHARLES:
So, if the MPP is a backbencher
in the government in power,
she or he could go to the
minister of education directly
to say, you know,
"Let's have an
adult conversation about this."
If it's a backbencher,
not part of the government,
they can still go to
the same people.
Or they can start--
You know, if things
aren't moving along,
they can do--
They can get involved themselves
in small-p political activities,
and you build, you know,
public support for that.
JOHN MICHAEL:
There's no substitute
for engaged citizens
putting pressure on
their government.
Even with consultation,
even with research,
government decisions
can be controversial,
and the controversies
can be surprising.
For example, grade-school math
isn't usually
a lightning-rod issue,
but it has been in Ontario
for many years now.
After sex ed, it's probably been
one of the most
controversial topics
in education, especially
so-called discovery math.
When they were in opposition,
the PC Party
accused the Liberals
of abandoning classic
instruction methods for a fad,
hurting student achievement
in the process.
Here's Doug Ford in May 2018,
before becoming premier.
DOUG FORD:
Kids used to learn math
by doing things like memorizing
a multiplication table,
and it worked.
Kathleen Wynne scrapped that.
Instead, our kids are left with
experimental discovery math
that hardly teaches math at all.
Instead, everyone gets
a participation ribbon.
JOHN MICHAEL:
We wanted to find someone
who knows something about
math instruction,
the kind of person
who might actually write
one of those math questions
kids bring home
to frustrated parents.
So, we did.
MaryLou Kestell
worked for the Province
under both PC
and Liberal governments.
She's also worked specifically
for TVO
on our digital learning side.
Kestell says the real story
about discovery math
isn't as simple
as critics claim.
There's a method to teaching
that isn't always obvious
to people outside the classroom.
Kestell is retired now,
but she's worked in education
since 1973
and says that math
has always been a struggle.
One big difference between
Ontario and other countries
in the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development,
she says, is that we're
just not as committed to math
as some countries are.
MARYLOU KESTELL:
What we want in instruction
is a question that the children
can engage in.
So, for example, we were in
a Grade 2 classroom
and we said to the children,
"We made brownies,
and we have 10 brownies here.
"If four of your friends
came to your house,
"our four friends are here.
How could we share
the 10 brownies?"
JOHN MICHAEL:
Brownies?
Oh, you've got my attention.
MARYLOU:
So, we give the children
concrete materials
to figure that out.
So, they can imagine
the brownies
and they can think of
the four children.
So, I come across
these three little girls,
and they're pulling
their hair out, going,
"We tried two, and it doesn't
work, and we tried three."
And I said, "Well, what if
we were at your house
and you had 10 brownies
and four friends?"
And they said,
"Can we break them?"
And we said, "Yes,"
and they said, "Okay.
"So, we're going to break
all the brownies.
"So, now there's 20 brownies,
"and 20 can be shared
even fairly with four,
but 10 can't be shared fairly
with four."
JOHN MICHAEL:
I'm getting hungry,
but it isn't actually about the
delicious, delicious brownies.
MARYLOU:
So then, the teacher's job
is to synthesize.
Get the children
to talk about that,
because children at other tables
had come up with 2-1/2
themselves.
They had already figured out
you could break it.
So, what's the relationship
between 20 fourths and 2-1/2?
So, the instruction
is where the language comes in.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Kestell is retired now,
but she's worked in education
since 1973
and says that math
has always been a struggle.
One big difference between
Ontario and other countries
in the Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development
or OECD, she says, is that we're
just not as committed to math
as some countries are.
MARYLOU:
And in Ontario, we don't value--
We're not afraid to say,
"I hated math."
We don't value deep thinking.
When the last OECD results
came out,
the Chinese students were
really high, and the rest--
And it mentioned in the articles
that the Ontario teachers
didn't have
as much formal training.
Even though Ontario, by the way,
did quite well in OECD.
Ontario teachers didn't have
the same formal training
as teachers around the world.
JOHN MICHAEL:
The government can have the
best curriculum in the world,
but if it doesn't take teachers
into account,
it doesn't mean much.
It's thousands of teachers
across the province
that are doing the work
every day
of turning government policy
into real-world lesson plans.
Jerica Fraser is a teacher
with the Hamilton-Wentworth
District School Board,
and she also works for TVO,
developing Indigenous content
here.
She says that integrating
changing curriculum requirements
into the classroom
is just part of the job,
and she embraces that part
of her job.
JERICA FRASER:
So, I never find it to be, like,
super challenging in that sense.
I find it very, like, positive.
And I would say it kind of, um,
it gives me a lot of hope,
because when things change,
I think that there--
It's like we just can't stick
with the same thing
all the time.
Like, it's good to have growth
so that in the end,
students really benefit
from that.
From not learning the same thing
that, you know,
their grandparents learned
or their parents learned.
They don't live in
that same world, either.
JOHN MICHAEL:
But the flexibility
that teachers have
in adapting the curriculum
to the classroom
is key to making the whole thing
work.
JERICA:
I teach what are
the overall expectations,
and ensure that whatever--
I'm building
a course from scratch.
It doesn't always happen
that way,
because sometimes they work it
so, like, every Grade 9 teacher
teaches, like, the same thing.
In my case, I put in--
Like, I built in--
I was working with
the Indigenous history course
this year,
and putting in the topics that
meet the overall expectations,
but in selecting--
And I selected things
that I wanted them to learn
that I thought that they
would not have had experience
learning before.
I use the curriculum
pretty well,
but if there's an event
and, like,
I feel more comfortable
talking about this one
rather than that one,
it gives you leeway to do that.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Jerica is an Indigenous teacher
who works with
Indigenous students,
and she knows herself
what it's like to grow up
in a school system
where the Indigenous content
is either one-sided
or entirely missing.
JERICA:
I've experienced it, I guess.
As a person who grew up
in the system,
of, like, an education system,
I didn't learn anything
about it.
And when I did, it was, like,
uh, non-existent.
It was just, like, "Okay, they
were here and then they left."
Or "They were here
and then they died."
"They were here, and then
we put them somewhere."
Um, so it wasn't covered
in a way that was good.
Like, I just remember
that firsthand being, like,
I didn't learn a lot.
I just knew that
there were people here before,
and I didn't even put it
together
that it was my people, you know?
JOHN MICHAEL:
When we spoke with her
earlier this year,
Jerica had high hopes for
the Indigenous curriculum
the Province was working on.
JERICA:
The new Indigenous curriculum
comes out in September,
and I think will provide
better insight
into Indigenous people
that balances out, um,
I would say challenges,
but also resiliency.
Sometimes there can be
a really big focus on
all the negative things
that have happened
to Indigenous people
without talking about
any of the positives.
So, some of the students
might think
that there are no positives
because of how it's been written
and also interpreted
by a teacher to be taught.
And that's my biggest fear.
I don't like when that happens,
because there's a lot of times
that Indigenous people
proved to be so resilient
in the face of
all this oppression,
and how that we're still here
today is living proof of that.
And I think that
the new curriculum impacts that
in a positive way.
And that's how it should work,
is that we're going to
get better
at making kids feel
safe and happy in school
by making the changes
in the curriculum
that reflect that.
JOHN MICHAEL:
After we spoke with her,
however,
the government announced that
the new Indigenous curriculum
would be optional for students,
not mandatory as called for by
the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission.
Indigenous groups
also criticized the government
for not consulting
with Indigenous people
on the implementation
of the new curriculum.
As Jerica explained to us before
the new curriculum was released,
the changes in a document
like this
flow into the classroom in real
ways that matter to students.
JERICA:
There is opportunities
for students to feel like
when the curriculum changes,
that everybody wants, I think,
to feel reflected
in what they learn.
In that the students who don't
see themselves in the curriculum
struggle to connect
with the school,
struggle to connect with
the community
because they feel like
an outsider.
And when we refine it,
it gives us, like, through the--
Even when I'm talking about
those steering committees
and how they're getting
feedback sessions from parents,
that's diverse people
and diverse perspectives
going into that.
So, it's things that
I would never have considered,
being maybe an Indigenous person
who's also very white-passing,
that a newcomer family
might experience, you know?
Like, there's no harm in having
more perspectives
to get a better document
that can better support kids.
JOHN MICHAEL:
The provincial government
might yet change
some of its decisions:
whether the curriculum
should be mandatory or not,
or whether they should consult
more widely.
That's something that will
play out in the future,
after this podcast is published.
But one thing to remember is
that decisions at Queen's Park
aren't the final word on
what happens in the classroom.
JERICA:
But the teacher
is the main person
who is, like, the conduit
of not just curriculum,
but of relationships and caring
and being a caring adult
to students, and to make them
trust, you know--
Have trust
in the education system
and comfort and everything else.
That comes from people.
As much as we want to say
it comes from a document,
it really can't.
It's for that teacher
to bring that to life
and to make them feel like
they are part.
And knowing their class,
to know who's in the class.
How to make all those kids
feel included
in what they're talking about.

JOHN MICHAEL:
Now, maybe you're listening
to this
and you don't care
about education policy.
Maybe you don't have kids
in school and don't plan to.
This is still
an important lesson,
because one of the secrets about
decisions made at Queen's Park
is they're not really made
at Queen's Park at all.
Or at least, not entirely.
Look at the chain we followed
with the education curriculum.
It can start at
the minister's office
or somewhere else,
but gets developed
in consultation with experts
both inside
and out of government.
Then it gets sent to
school boards and then teachers,
who turn it into
real lesson plans
that end up in the classroom
and maybe at your dinner table
at home.
When the government wants to
change public health policy,
it needs to work with
public health boards
and municipalities.
When they want to change roles
around policing,
that can mean working with
police service boards.
Healthcare means negotiating
with hospitals and doctors.
In most areas where
the government makes policy,
they can't just issue an order
and expect it to be followed.
Instead, it's a bit of a game
of broken telephone.
The government makes a decision.
That decision is sent out
to some kind of agency
in the middle,
who then tell their employees
what the new change
is going to mean day to day.
It gets even more complicated
when some of the groups
the Province is giving orders to
are their own
elected governments.
Cities and school boards
haven't been shy
about pushing back against
changes in provincial policy
they don't like.
We've already seen that
this year,
with Ontario municipalities
successfully fighting
funding cuts from Queen's Park.
So, even if you don't care a lot
about schools and classrooms,
understanding something like
the school curriculum
is a good way of understanding
a lot more than just that.
In a real way, this is how
nearly all of the government
in Ontario works.
STEVE:
Okay. My first impressions?
That's a really, really smart
way of reminding everybody
that just 'cause somebody
at Queen's Park
makes a decision,
that doesn't mean that's the way
it's going to be.
It is a big world out there,
and there are a lot of cooks
in that kitchen, aren't there?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, and we've already
seen that this year.
You know, I mentioned
the municipalities pushing back
against funding cuts
from Queen's Park,
and one of the things
the government said
about those funding cuts that
they later stepped back from
was that 90% of the dollars
that Queen's Park spends,
it doesn't have
direct control over.
They get sent to other agencies,
other boards, commissions,
cities, school boards.
It's something that, frankly,
all governments
have talked about,
is that once that money
is out of their hands,
they don't necessarily
have a lot of control
over how it gets spent.
STEVE:
And that is quite an irritant
to the current premier
of Ontario, I think.
(John Michael chuckling)
At least I've heard him say so.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Uh, yes. He has not been shy
about saying that.
But they did also back off
on those funding cuts.
STEVE:
Yeah, for the public health.
Municipal public health.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yes, some of them.
STEVE:
Some of it. Yes, indeed.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Has your daughter brought home
extremely difficult
math questions that you haven't
been able to help her with?
STEVE:
Well, that would go for
all my kids.
JOHN MICHAEL (Laughing):
Okay.
STEVE:
I think all my kids brought
home math homework that,
even at the earliest grades--
Ugh. Do I want to admit this?
Grade 8, Grade 9, Grade 10 math.
I'd look at the stuff and say,
"That's not the way
we learned it.
I'm sorry. I can't help you
with your homework."
But that's just incredibly
embarrassing to myself.
JOHN MICHAEL:
No. I mean--
STEVE:
And therefore,
Eric will certainly include it
in this podcast.
JOHN MICHAEL:
I know.
But it's not something
that I'm looking forward to.
My daughter is not yet
in the school system yet,
so I've got a few years before I
think the math gets really hard.
STEVE:
You wait. It's coming.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yeah, but I think about it,
right?
STEVE:
Yeah. It's coming.
One day, she's going to
come home with something,
and you're going to look at it
and you're going to yell,
"Honey, what does this mean?
I can't help her with this."
(John Michael laughing)
ERIC:
Uh, guys,
what is nine times eight?
STEVE:
72.
JOHN MICHAEL:
What he said.
ERIC:
I'm not even sure.
(Everyone laughing)
I'm just going to assume
that's right.
I'll fact-check that later.
(Everyone laughing)
ERIC:
Early on in that explainer,
there's something that stuck out
for me.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Okay. Was that--
ERIC:
When you were interviewing
Charles Pascal,
who I think we should--
I want Steve to take this,
actually, really quickly.
Can you explain Charles Pascal's
relevance in Ontario
as someone who really has been
an expert
that's been consulted with
for decades?
STEVE:
Charles Pascal, I think probably
for five decades, anyway,
has been really at the centre
of education policy
in this province
for governments of all stripes.
He used to be
a university president.
He was Dalton McGuinty's
early childhood education czar.
He might not like the use
of the word "czar,"
but he certainly was the guy
right at the centre of things,
offering advice.
He's a former
deputy minister of education.
You know, he just knows a heck
of a lot about this stuff.
And even more than that,
he knows a lot about baseball.
(Everyone laughing)
ERIC:
Very important. Very important.
STEVE:
He was a catcher at
the University of Michigan,
I think, for baseball.
Grew up in Chicago
and was a big fan of
the White Sox.
ERIC:
So, the thing that he said
that stuck out for me is that
the curriculum should be
in draft form, right?
That it's a living,
breathing document.
I think the analogy you made
was to a garden.
There's a few things I know
that get you really angry.
(John Michael chuckling)
Scarborough subway.
(John Michael laughing)
STEVE:
Confusing
Star Trek
for
Star Wars.
(Everyone laughing)
ERIC:
But this is something
that I wouldn't--
It's not quite up there
with transit planning issues
in Toronto,
to put it diplomatically.
But this is something
that bothered you a bit,
that they don't do this.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Yeah.
I mean, I understand why
at the end of the day
the government runs on
making decisions.
Right?
That's fundamentally what
we have the government to do.
And the problem is that
almost by definition,
any decision you make--
You know,
you draw a line somewhere,
and that line is arbitrary,
right?
We can go 100 kilometres an hour
in our car; we can't go 101.
Charles Pascal's point was that
there has to be
some flexibility.
There has to be some give
to the reality
that people are living.
And so, the curriculum needs to
have that flexibility.
It needs to be able to change,
and it needs to be able
to change, frankly,
more often than the government
is willing to, you know,
revise these documents in its
formal sort of process, right?
The government is, in theory,
supposed to do it
once every 10 years.
Sometimes, it happens
once every 15.
The Indigenous curriculum
that has just been released
is, I think,
replacing a document
that originally goes back to
2000.
So, it's nearly 20 years old.
Obviously, I think
whether you think it should be
a draft or not,
it should certainly be revised
more often than that.
ERIC:
So, if they did
kind of create the curriculum
as an open document,
you know, a draft
that could be changed,
what would that actually mean?
How would that change
how things are updated?
JOHN MICHAEL:
Well, I think in one sense,
if you were trying to do this,
again, in the real world,
it would probably look a lot
like it did 40 years ago,
when all of the various
local school boards
had a lot more control over what
was taught in the classroom.
It would just have to.
You don't have enough people
in the Ministry of Education
to revise every single topic
of the curriculum
every year, say.
So, if it were going to be
more flexible,
if it were going to be
more adaptable,
you would sort of have to push
it out to the school boards.
I think Charles Pascal is right
in the sense that
we should treat this
like a draft.
We should be more willing
to revise it and to adapt it
to classroom circumstances.
On the other hand,
I kind of get why we don't.
STEVE:
Okay.
Let's put this puppy to bed.
Oh, actually, Eric,
just before we do that,
tell us one more time:
how do we get to read
your beautiful newsletter
that comes out
every Monday and Thursday?
ERIC:
You can go to
tvo.org/onpolinewsletter,
and I'll just remind you all,
I'm reading all your e-mails.
So, you can e-mail us
at onpolitics@tvo.org.
I read them all
and I look forward to hearing
from you guys.
STEVE:
You can also hit us up
on Twitter.
I'm @spaikin.
That's S-P-A-I-K-I-N.
JOHN MICHAEL:
And I'm @jm_mcgrath.
STEVE:
If you like what you heard,
rate and review us
on Apple Podcasts.
John Michael and Eric and I
read all of your comments,
so tell us what you think.
JOHN MICHAEL:
If you haven't already,
subscribe to the
#onpoli
podcast
on Apple Podcasts, Google Play,
Spotify
or your favourite podcast app,
and share it with your friends.
STEVE:
Today's episode was produced
by Cara Stern
and John Michael McGrath.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Audio and editing
by Matthew O'Mara.
STEVE:
The producer of the series
is sitting two feet
to my left.
That's Eric Bombicino.
JOHN MICHAEL:
The
#onpoli
team
is rounded out by
Harrison Lowman
and Daniel Kitts.
STEVE:
Hannah Sung is manager
of digital video and podcasts
here at TVO.
And remember,
politics comes at you fast,
so we're here to give you
the bigger picture.
JOHN MICHAEL:
Thanks for listening.

Watch: Why are you teaching that to my kid?