Wednesday, 17 September 2014
On several occasions during the long hot summer of the school strike I heard people complain that the Premier’s child attends an independent school.
It was as if the Premier is in some way obliged to send her child to public school. No matter how the statement was put, it was always a criticism. It is as if the Premier could not possibly care - or care enough - about public schools if she didn’t make sure her child was a public school student. As if, somehow, this was the real reason the strike was dragging on.
There’s something dreadful about the suggestion that a premier can’t possibly care or know enough to make a decision about an issue of public policy unless he or she has some direct connection with it. As if a politician was somehow incapable of making criminal justice policy unless he had been arrested for an offence, or served time in a prison, or been a victim of a crime. Or that a premier could not legitimately make decisions about securities markets unless she owned shares in a publicly listed company, or had been defrauded by a rogue investment dealer. And so on. The temptation to continue the examples to point out the absurdity of the point is nearly irresistible.
But there’s another reason why this complaint is wrong-headed.
At the heart of our education law and policy is the principle of choice. Parents, and their children, have the freedom and the right to choose how and where they will be educated. The idea is as old as our education system. It is directly hard-wired into our law today. (It’s in the School Act, section 3) Students may attend public schools or independent schools. They may be home schooled. They may attend schools operated by the francophone education authority, or the federal government, or First Nations. All these choices are recognized, permitted and regulated by law.
All of these choices are equally legitimate. That is the policy of the law, as established by generations of legislators, representing every political party. As a matter of law and policy, no one choice is better than another. Choice simply recognizes that there is a value in difference; legislating choice allows parents to make education decisions that are the best fit for their child. By expressly legislating choice, our law celebrates difference.
Given that each education option is equally legitimate, on what possible basis could we criticize a politician for choosing one option over another? None. The premier of the province ought to be as free as the rest of us to exercise the right of choice of education for her child, a right given to us by our history, traditions, and legislation, and not to be criticized for whatever choice she and her family make.
I realized upon re-reading this post, that I had forgotten a point I originally intended to make. Clearly, the ability of many - if not most - parents to exercise the freedom to choose an education option other than public school will be constrained by their economic (and other) circumstances. But it is useful in this regard to point out that even the public school system itself embraces choice. It is far easier today in Vancouver to send your child to a school outside your catchment area than it was when I was growing up. This freedom of choice was deliberately established in order to encourage public schools to develop areas of expertise and provide students with a range of educational choices beyond simply attending their neighbourhood school.