Empower parents, not the educational bureaucracy

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Appeared in the Epoch Times, July 7, 2023
Empower parents, not the educational bureaucracy

Hillary Clinton famously said it takes a village to raise a child. Was she right? It depends on what we mean by village.

On one hand, children benefit from the support of a broader community, particularly at school. Most parents appreciate it when teachers help their children acquire the knowledge and skills that they need now and in the future. But if we’re talking about the educational bureaucracy, then it certainly does not take a village. In far too many cases, bureaucrats have assumed too much power for themselves at the expense of parents. When this happens, children are harmed rather than helped.

That’s because parents in the public school system often find themselves at the mercy of decisions made by nameless and unaccountable bureaucrats. The recent decision by the Vancouver School Board to merge Ideal Mini School (a specialized school in Vancouver that caters to special needs students) with a much larger high school is a case in point. This forced relocation will likely be the death knell of Ideal Mini School. The students and their parents will suffer as a result.

Sadly, parents can’t expect much help from their local trustees when these same trustees typically defer to the educational bureaucrats. That’s exactly what is happening in Vancouver right now, where the trustees have shown no willingness to reverse course on this issue.

Elsewhere in Canada, school boards are closing schools even though parents and other community members want them to remain open. Few things are more devastating to the viability of small communities than the loss of its only school. And yet, school trustees still go ahead with these closures, which leads to a lot of tension between parents and school boards. The children are, unfortunately, caught in the middle.

Things get even more heated when parental rights get intertwined with controversial social issues. For example, right now in New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs has announced that his government will require parental consent before students under the age of 16 can change their names and gender identities at school. This has led to a full-blown debate about the extent of parental rights in New Brunswick.

Interestingly, the New Brunswick government is also proposing significant changes to its Education Act. Bill 46 would take away the decision-making authority of the Anglophone district education councils (school boards) and make councils purely advisory in nature. This would centralize education in the hands of the provincial educational bureaucracy.

However, all these controversies miss the larger issue. It doesn’t matter whether decisions are made by the provincial government or by school boards. In each of these cases, decision-making should reside in the hands of parents—not in the hands of politicians, trustees or bureaucrats.

No one benefits when parental input is dismissed by local school board trustees. Nor do parents gain anything when provincial governments replace school boards with unelected councils. The only way to fix this problem is to put parents more squarely in the driver’s seat.

Importantly, most independent schools, the alternative to bureaucratic public schools, don’t have endless layers of bureaucracy. The province of Alberta even allows parents and other interested community members to bypass school boards and apply directly to the province for a school charter. In this way, parents have direct control over the schools their children attend.

Something as simple as allowing parents to enroll their children in the school of their choice would do wonders to empower parents. When the money follows the student, it becomes impossible for politicians and bureaucrats to ignore parental concerns. It also means moving away from the one-size-fits-all straitjacket of the public school system.

Empowering parents with school choice would be a great way of resolving controversial social issues. Parents with one set of values can enroll their children in one school while those with different beliefs can choose a different school. Not only would this respect the multicultural fabric of Canada, but it makes much more sense than forcing one group or another to attend a school that doesn’t respect their beliefs.

It might take a village to raise a child, but not every child has to live in the same village. We need to empower parents, not the bureaucracy.

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