‘Now do education’

My post from the other day – calling for an end to the model that permits long-term care homes to be privately owned and administered by profiteering and shareholder dividends rather than care and quality of life – hit a few nerves here-and-there. Not nearly enough, in my opinion (working on expanding the reach – there will be letters and phone calls going out this weekend), but it’s a start.

In that post, I mentioned that I’m trying to focus on my particular wheelhouses as we figure out how best to move forward in this unprecedented time – and that statement led to some inquiries about education – and the obvious moves this provincial government is making toward its privatization.

I’m shuddering with anger right now.

The Minister of Education is continuing his campaign of obfuscation and hurdle-tossing as he outlines the ever-increasing nonsense that he wants us to call his ‘plan’ for the re-opening of schools come September.

I’ve been watching Cult 45 down south, and its leader (and his head of miseducation) is demanding the complete reopening of public schools. Failure to comply will lead to the full withdrawal of funding for those schools who place the health and safety of students and educators above the demands of ‘leadership’ that has demonstrated that they aren’t particularly concerned about anyone’s health and safety. Not really.

This ‘policy’ follows hard on the heels of the revelation that the US federal government’s Paycheque Protection Program (PPP) – aimed at ‘small businesses’ gave a whole lot of churches (don’t get me started on Kanye and Trump-affiliated companies…) a whole lot of money to ‘survive’ through the pandemic shut-down(s).

It is no secret that Betsy DeVos has no love of public schools. She tends to favour private schools that have greater freedom to force religious education on students. With increased public school closures, those who remain unable to access the private system(s) will be forced to resort to other options – such as homeschooling – to allow their children access to the education that should be a basic right in a civilized society.

I don’t love homeschooling for a few reasons:

  1. Homeschooling demands that one parent be in the home to provide the schooling – which is fine, provided that it is something the family can afford.
  2. Most homeschool curricula – especially those in the US – are created by Evangelical groups and are, unsurprisingly, not what would call educationally well-balanced.
  3. Even those curricula that aren’t religiously-based, tend to be created by those who live – and teach – in particular echo-chambers that permit the flourishing of ideologies that are out-of-step with those of the wider society (looking at you anti-vaxxers).

I also believe that socialization is a vital element in effective pedagogy – and exposure to different teaching styles and the wider perspectives that are present in adequately-funded public schools are the best environments to foster responsible citizens.

The situation in the States is clearly contrived to ensure that public schools are forced into closure – and opening the field for partisan education that will perpetuate the final stab at the absolute institution of conservative values that the religious right has been setting into place for the past few decades.

The goals of this provincial government are not dissimilar. As with our health care system, the privatization of the education system in Ontario is part of their agenda. We have seen it in the push to implement (pre-COVID) untested e-learning platforms (all designed in the US, BTW), the increase in class sizes, while cuts are made to Education Assistants and those who focus on learners with special needs – most obviously those children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

By forcing parents to decide to send their children back into classrooms without adequate safeguards in place or to stay home and continue the haphazard online schooling that has been the (necessary) result of the initial pandemic shut-down, puts us solidly on the same slippery slope as we are seeing in the States.

Again, as is the case with health care, Ontarians will be forced to pay to ensure access to education – one way or another. Homeschooling (even with public Board-produced curricula) again requires the presence of one parent – and the reality of this society dictates that that will be, in the main, mothers, who are forced to leave jobs due to lack of childcare/viable options for safe school.

Those who are forced to resort to all-online options – if they are not comfortable with sending their children to class – need the wherewithal for connectivity and the accoutrements that go along with online learning.

Families who can afford private schools will rush to get places in those facilities that offer, as a matter of course, smaller class sizes. Parents who can’t will have to make hard decisions about returning to work or managing the education of their children in a home-setting – often without access to home-schooling programs and curricula that aren’t produced by and for specific religions/ideologies.

It is increasingly evident that the US is a cautionary tale that the rest of the world ignores at its peril. Now that the height of the first wave of COVID is over here in Ontario, this government is reiterating its agenda to provide its corporate sponsors with opportunities to cash-in by getting in on the ground floor – or continuation – of its plans to privatize vital public programs and services.

We need to stop it before it before they can bring more of these plans to fruition – and we end up with the ideological divide that we are seeing in the States. That divide is here – there is no doubt about that – but it is not yet the gaping wound we are seeing south of the border (a border which must remain closed for the foreseeable future). I know everyone is very focused on coping and getting through the current lockdown/reopening scenarios as best they can, but it is vitally important that we actively call upon our leaders to ensure that our public programs and services – education and health care topping that list, right now – aren’t stolen out from under us as we are otherwise distracted with the realities of this time of pandemic.

Please write your representatives – at all levels of government – and let them know where you stand on the insidious creep toward the conservative-led privatization of our most valued institutions.

 

NOT for profit

In attempting to find an appropriate way in which to share my voice as more and more are raised in protest and demands for change, it can be tricky to stay in one’s lane while also acting as an ally and advocate of those with differing experiences to my own.

As such, I feel that the best way to participate is to magnify those voices who know about the things outside of my ken, while leading discussions about those things that fall into my wheelhouse/s.

So.

I’ve been trying to list out the potential positive new directions that might come out of this pandemic and the changes we will have to welcome in society as we begin to move forward to establish new norms that will protect the population AND permit it to thrive and work safely and effectively.

One of the biggest changes I’ve seen cited over and over is the shift from conspicuous consumption that has been the go-to for as long as I can remember. ‘Needs’ are being redefined all over the place – and the inability to just buy for the sake of buying has been nipped in the bud. Those people we call ‘influencers’ are having a more difficult time finding an audience that has any level of ‘disposable income’, and I feel like a lot of people are thinking more carefully about what they do with their money.

This is good. Keeping up with nebulous Joneses needn’t be a thing anymore.

We are looking at all things differently as we weather the changes – and taking the time to learn about the lack of equity and equality that permeates our social systems. To my mind that’s a much better use of time than binge-shopping because a pseudo-celeb being paid to promote a particular product (and now one’s husband is running for POTUS? Save me Jebus…).

If we extend that thinking out into the public sphere, we can start to look at the ways in which our public spending must change as well. This pandemic as demonstrated the incredibly poor ways in which necessary programs and facilities are funded and operated – to the detriment of some of the most vulnerable populations in our communities.

Institutions that are run for-profit off the backs of people who require their services for survival cannot be permitted to survive the necessary rejigging of our public economies. Any services having to do with the care and keeping of human beings should not be run according to a model that ensures stakeholder profiteering.

I could cite multiple examples of this egregious practice, but the one that I can’t let go of right now needs to be addressed immediately in this province.

Long-term Care.

CanNOT. Should NOT be for the enrichment of shareholders. The institution of this model (and the refusal of subsequent governments to repeal its institution – there is more than enough blame to go around on this issues) was the first step on the slippery slope to privatized health care. DoFo’s government is insuring that the incline of that slope is getting steeper and faster.

He has repeatedly cut funding to our most vulnerable populations – the autism community, those who relied on basic income, students, citizens with developmental disabilities…

I was hopeful – if you can call any change coming out of the reality of thousands of deaths – that this faulty model and its inherent bad message would be heavily scrutinized and overturned at the earliest opportunity.

It doesn’t seem like that is happening. A few days ago he was talking about the imperative need to get to the source of corruption in the tow truck industry and ensure its complete eradication.

This cannot be allowed to stand. We know – WE KNOW – that the industry is heavily supported by Conservatives, who sit on boards that direct these things. Hardly surprising, given that the for-profit model was supported – arguably, created – by the former premier of this province whose damage is (as yet) unparalleled. He now makes well over $200 000/year sitting on the board (plus the stocks he owns in the company) of Chartwell – one of these shareholder-driven profit-generating ‘care’ home organizations.

I won’t even begin to discuss the pitiful pay that is provided to the workers in these places – often part-time (to save the shareholders having to pay out their pockets for things like benefits – including time off for illness) contracts that mean that the workers have to work in multiple locations in order to eke out a living.

The Boards of these places do not have health care specialists among their numbers. They are made up of bankers, real estate agents, investment corporations (hedge funds) – and lack seniors advocates or anyone who has any background in oversight and accountability – let alone gerontology or social work.

They describe themselves as a ‘real estate’ trust. They aren’t even trying to disguise the fact that seniors’ care is not top of their agenda.

How is this permissible? How is this a functional model that permits us, as a society, to ensure the best possible care – that permits the maintenance of privacy and dignity – for our family members as they age?

I didn’t want to live in a room with three other people when I was in university. My stint as a camp counsellor, sharing a tent for two months, ended when I was a teenager – and that sort of togetherness is not something I look forward to recreating when I’m in my 80s.

Oh these companies have great PR. Spin-people who create the glossy pamphlets that highlight the advantages of communal living for those who require additional care. Hired guns who set up photo-ops in which the underpaid staff wave to passing family members not permitted into the facility over the course of the pandemic for which they will ill-prepared. Vultures, all of them.

The prices commanded are exorbitant – and out of reach for significant portions of the population, who are then left to be claimed by the public system (such as it) which is even more under-staffed, under-funded and under-inspected under this government.

Their answer seems to be to be to permit MORE privatization in the space – without addressing the lack of oversight that led to the horrific situations in the LTC homes as the COVID-19 pandemic spread through the province.

I feel VERY strongly about this. My Dad spent much of his time in his last years working on advancing access and improvements to long-term care for older people . He would be appalled at the state of things – and would point to the abject failure of the current model that commodifies the lives of people – often those who are most vulnerable and in need of intervention.

In addition to the inherent crimes in a system that monetizes and profiteers from the care of our elders, for-profit long-term care is solid shove down that slippery slope toward privatized health care – a goal of Conservative governments across the board (check out what’s happening this week in Alberta, if you need an example).

The evident, complete and utter failure of private health care that is playing itself out to the south of us is the cautionary tale WE need to take on board. While this current government is not, right now, making progress with their mandate of privatization (in health care, anyway – education is another story – and another post) since the pandemic is slowing down the move to two-tier health care, LTC needs to be the canary in the coal mine that ensures that it is not permitted to happen.

In order to ensure the integrity of our public health care, we need to begin with the re-institution of integrity in LTC. We must deconstruct and rebuild the model so that oversight and standardization and equitable pay and quality of life are the elements of care brought into focus. Not the profit-margins of shareholders.

LTC should NOT be for-profit. Ever.

 

*I should add, here, that this blog in general, and this post in particular, in no way represents the opinion/s of my employer or anyone but me – and those who can see that people are not commodities.

 

 

 

 

An Open Letter to the Deputy Premier of Ontario

Dear Minister Elliott,

I am writing to you as a citizen of Ontario regarding my deep and thoroughly-examined concerns regarding the direction of this province that I love and have been, generally, proud to call home. I have a particular perspective – as a former educator (from a family of educators) and as someone who now works within the public health care system – that I’d like to share with you.

Please note that this letter is directed to you as Deputy Premier, not as Minister of Health and Long-Term Care (although that is pertinent to my concerns, as you’ll see), since I see no value in writing to the Minister of Education or the Premier, as neither has demonstrated any depth of experience or pertinent insight in the roles to which they have, beyond all understanding, been elected and/or appointed. I’ll abstain from any further comment about their lack of overall competency, since such is self-evident and clearly demonstrated every time they open their mouths.

As health care workers and community members gather in front of Queen’s Park to demonstrate their outrage at the closing of overdose prevention sites, and as Ontario students prepare to use their informed and concerned voices and walk out of classes across the province this afternoon, I feel I can no longer remain silent without asking you – an experienced public servant – to provide the rationale behind your continued support of this government’s increasingly-egregious agenda.

Despite differences in political ideology, I have held you in a position of respect over the course of your career, particularly as you acted as Patient Ombudsman for the province of Ontario. In that role, you acted as a non-partisan representative of the people of Ontario, providing us with a strong voice to express concerns about the direction of our public-funded health care system. I watched the leadership race last year with the hope that your experience and preparedness would assure us of competent direction (despite our differences of opinion – the carbon tax, for one) as we entered a sure-to-be-contentious election.

I was dumbfounded and disheartened by your defeat – not least because, as a resident of Toronto I have far too much experience of the type of politics played and the “leadership” displayed by your opponent. The lack of relevant experience and sound-bite-based campaigning, along with ill-examined irregularities in the voting system, permitted a questionable ‘businessman’ to lead the Ontario PC Party to the Legislative Assembly.

I admit that I, like many who found this turn of events inexplicable, took some comfort in your appointment as Deputy Premier and Minister of the MOHLTC, counting on your knowledge and background to mitigate the most dangerous planks of the newly-elected Premier’s heretofore unexpressed platform. It has taken a remarkably short time for such hopes to be dashed, and I, along with much of the rest of the province, are left to wonder, with concern, at the silencing of the integrity and ethics you demonstrated previously as a long-time participant in public service.

I could go on for page after page regarding my concerns about the policy decisions this government has made (the change to our license plates would barely merit a paragraph – nonsense of that nature is hardly worth the effort of commentary – although I’d like to propose DoFoMustGo as an alternative to the crassly-commercial and self-interested ‘open for business’, since one is as nonsensical as the other), but I will focus on those two perspectives I referenced above – education and health care.

It is more and more apparent that this government is interested in preparing our children for futures that seemingly require no exposure to higher critical thinking skills or to a balance of STEM courses and humanities classes that teach important values that help to describe our society and to highlight the places that call out for improvement. In making cuts to university funding, and imposing online courses for high school students, this government seems to be supporting the creation a future population that would be disconnected from the larger community and what it means to be citizens of Ontario, Canada and the wider world, and blindly accepting of the political rhetoric used to defend policies geared toward the benefit of a minority of citizens.

In my time teaching undergraduate courses at a number of Ontario universities, I saw a steady decline in some basic skills – reading comprehension, argument-support, effective citation of sources, as examples – with the removal of grade 13/OAC under a previous Conservative government. I fear that the results of your government’s proposed changes to our education system will have deeper and more problematic consequences than even that decision.

That said, the students are best-placed to vocalize their concerns about their education, and, despite the claims of the Premier that the walk out is a political contrivance of ‘the unions’, they are making it clear that they will not be ignored when detrimental decisions are being made on their behalf. They demonstrated that with a similar walk out to express opinions regarding the province’s health education curriculum. They were heard then, and once again they are saying ‘no’ – emphatically – and if Ontario Conservatives decline to hear that declaration, I don’t believe that this government’s relationship with the people responsible for the education of our children – or the children themselves – will permit anything other than considered and intentional regression.

I ask you, as Deputy Premier, to ensure that this government starts listening to the relevant stakeholders – with the most to gain or lose – regarding changes to education in Ontario. It seems that the Premier and Minister of Education are unwilling to do so, and it is increasingly apparent that they do not have the expertise to guide progressive reforms without more informed – and educated – support.

With respect to changes coming (regardless of input) to our health care system, I have only one request to share at this time. Please uphold the necessity of consultation with relevant stakeholders prior to the institution of Bill 74. Two-days notice (I’m being generous there) for public hearings – ONLY held in Toronto – is appalling. As is the fact that over 1400 requests to present were received, and 30 representatives were invited to participate. And the fact that the rush to pass this legislation seems unprecedented in its haste. To say more than that may endanger my current job, and being jobless in this government’s Ontario is a terrifying prospect.

I ask you, as one professional, engaged Ontarian to another, to hold to account the Premier and his Ministers in the same way that you have done in your past, much-appreciated, public service incarnations. If you cannot do so, I’d appreciate hearing your reasons why, outside of the environment that requires standing ovations and toeing of party lines, regardless of evidence-based assessment.

Many thanks for your time,

A concerned citizen of Ontario