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Editorial: Parent group’s priorities raise questions about choice

November 22, 2016 Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

Direct instruction, parental consent and school choice. Putting these three distinct items in the same sentence is sort of like constructing a terribly difficult common bonds question for Jeopardy.

“What are the three advocacy priorities of Parents for Choice in Education, Alex?”

“Correct. You have the board.”

In common bonds clues, Jeopardy contestants have to identify the thread that connects three distinct items. Aside from learning that the three items I listed above are the three priorities for advocacy on the Parents for Choice in Education (PCE) website (parentchoice
). I had some initial difficulty finding the common element linking them. But it started to become clearer as I explored them further.

To be fair, the section on PCE’s website related to direct instruction is entitled Resources and Methodology, but the links within are overwhelmingly focused on discrediting “discovery math” while advocating for back-to-basics and more direct instruction.

On curriculum, PCE advocates for a reverse-engineered curriculum in which the final outcomes of education are determined based on their economic imperative — what do post-secondary institutions and employers require — and then a system designed to include regular standardized testing to ensure that students are progressing well toward the finished product. It is a pretty 1950s-style assembly-line view of education, with the website even referring to employers as “end users” of the newly educated students.

The parental consent section of the website is used to push back against efforts to support the safety and inclusion of sexual and gender minority students and to resist changes to sex education programs that might introduce discussions related to consent, sexual orientation, pornography or sexting. While the content on the site tries way too hard to present the issue as one of informed consent for parents, it doesn’t take long to clearly see how its aggressive attacks on everything related to GSAs, Bill 10, Alberta Education’s inclusive education guidelines and the ATA’s PRISM toolkit are designed to build fear related to the supported inclusion of gender and sexual minority students. The content regularly notes that PCE does not oppose GSAs in school, but given the rest of the content, it is reminiscent of people who start sentences by saying, “I’m not racist, but …”

The school choice section of the group’s website is the smallest, despite the name of the organization, and it devotes essentially all of its space and links to promoting private schools and the public funding of such. There is little to nothing said about the programming choices available in public, separate and francophone schools — choice is instead presented merely as the ability to access private schools. In fact, the majority of linked articles from this section are authored by Mark Milke, who has spent years working on a privatization agenda with organizations like the Fraser Institute and the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Which brought me to a realization about the common bonds between these three advocacy priorities for PCE: the common bond is the advancement of privatization. School choice is used to promote private schools while the other two issues are used to undermine confidence in public education.

Ironically, much of what this organization is railing against should be seen as consistent with the values of choice. Inquiry-based learning is about students choosing the contexts from which they draw their learning; competency-focused curriculum embraces the choices students have to apply their knowledge and skills after school; and supports for including students of diverse backgrounds means students have the freedom to choose if, when and how they express their sexual or gender orientations.

Public education does a great job of bringing students from a variety of backgrounds together to learn with and from one another in a way that, reflective of society, embraces diversity and celebrates pluralism. This sentiment is much more closely aligned with the elements of choice than is the privatization agenda being advanced by PCE.

I’m left to wonder whether their advocacy about choice includes choices made by children or whether the freedom to make choices is left just with the parent. ❚

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