When it comes to academic achievement, Canada is losing ground. That’s what results on the Programme for International Assessment (PISA) tests over the last 20 years show us.
While students in other G7 countries have stable or improving scores in math, science and reading, Canada’s scores are steadily declining. The steepest declines occurred in math, and this should concern all parents. Clearly, something must be done to reverse this trend.
One might think that this would lead to school boards doubling down on the academic basics. Sadly, many school administrators have something else in mind. They think students actually need more diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training.
For example, at a recent public budget meeting, the superintendent of a large Winnipeg school division emphasized that he would not reduce the nearly $1 million that his division spends on DEI programs every year. “We want our children to be anti-racist because you’re either a racist, or you’re an anti-racist,” he said. “I repeat: ‘You’re either a racist, or you’re an anti-racist, there is no other option,’ and that’s at the heart of the DEI initiative.”
In other words, this superintendent believes that DEI is at the heart of what schools are supposed to do. He’s far from the only one. Woke ideology has become dominant in school boards across the country. Students are now subjected to ongoing lessons about the perils of white privilege, systemic racism and heterosexism. They also learn to see everything through the lens of race, gender and sexual orientation.
Meanwhile, students continue to fall further behind academically. When even objective subjects such as math are co-opted by woke ideologues, the academic achievement of students is not going to improve anytime soon.
This is why school choice is more important than ever. If public schools are going to subject students to woke ideology, parents should be able to send their children elsewhere. Allowing money to follow students to the school of their choice would be an effective way of putting power back in the hands of parents.
Of course, if some parents truly agree that DEI programming is the most important thing that schools do, then they’re welcome to keep their kids in these schools. However, there’s mounting evidence that many parents are dissatisfied with what public schools are doing.
It would also be nice if all provinces allowed for the creation of charter schools, which are public schools that operate independently from school boards. Currently, Alberta is the only province with charter schools. With lengthy wait lists at many of these schools, charter schools are clearly filling an important need.
If public school boards wish to avoid a mass exodus of students, they must take parental concerns more seriously than they do now. Instead of turning public schools into indoctrination centres, teachers should be politically neutral. Teachers have no business using their position of influence to try to change their students’ beliefs. Rather, they should provide an excellent academic education to all students.
In reality, parents send their children to school to get educated—not to be indoctrinated. One of the fastest ways to lose the trust of a community is to push teachers to turn students into political activists. If students decide on their own that they wish to get involved in politics or attend protest rallies, they should be free to do so. But it should not be because they felt pressured by teachers or school administrators.
Unfortunately, many school board offices have become echo chambers for woke ideology. Genuine diversity isn’t about putting up pride flags, promoting critical race theory or reciting land acknowledgements. Rather, it’s about respecting the fact that students come from all walks of life and acknowledging that not everyone thinks the same way.
It’s time school boards start focusing on their core mandate—academic instruction. If they won’t do this, then at least make it easier for parents to enroll their children elsewhere. The last thing we need in Canada is another 20 years of academic decline.
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute.