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(You hit the wrong note) Billy Goat

April 11, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Anthony Carnovale

From wailing goats to singing goats to goats suffering from a mid-life crisis, it would appear that goats are having themselves a moment. If you believe the hype, goats are the new ‘cats’ of the internet. A simple online search will net you thousands of pics and videos of goats in pajamas, goat memes, puns and gifs; goats having paralytic attacks are all the rage on YouTube. Instagram appears to be the go-to spot for goat owners to share their goat tales. They’re spotted on walks, on trampolines, rocking sunglasses and snuggling. Goats of Anarchy, a New Jersey rescue for goats with special needs, is a mecca for soft-hearted goat lovers, with half a million followers and an extensive line of goat merch. We’ve gone from sacrificing goats in order to procure favours from the gods to taking selfies with goats to appease our followers. 

I’ve been thinking about goats ever since Lisa Thompson was appointed Education Minister in Doug Ford’s cabinet. I had heard that Thompson was a goat farmer and that she had previously served as the general manager of The Ontario Dairy Goat Cooperative. I wanted to see what, if anything, about her background qualified her to govern over Ontario’s education system. In the process of doing that, I learned some fascinating things about goats. For example, I learned that every goat has a unique personality; they can be loving, loyal and demanding. I learned that goats are curious. I also learned that goats can be a little high maintenance. For example, it’s important for a goat to have plenty of space to fully mature and develop. Ideally, a goat needs 20 square feet for a good, healthy sleep, and 30 square feet for exercise. Overcrowding causes a goat to feel stress, and goats at the bottom of the herd can get pushed outside the pen if there isn’t enough room. Goats will ram and head-butt each other if they get anxious or feel threatened. Also, big goats tend to pick on the smaller goats, especially if they are new to the herd. It would appear that goats are not very resilient when they find themselves in a jam-packed environment. Another thing I learned about goats is that female goats are also called does; males are called bucks; and, juvenile goats are called kids. 

Now that I’ve gone out of my way to learn about goats, I’m hoping that Ms. Thompson will got out of her way to learn about Ontario’s high school students. If she had done so already, she would have learned that these kids are already resilient, and that class sizes wouldn’t have to increase to make them so. 

I mean, I’ve seen resilient students walking through my classroom door every day for the past 18 years. Each of these kids, in their own way, is the embodiment of resiliency. Like the kid whose father is recovering from a gunshot wound; like the young man whose father was shot and killed in Ghana; there’s the young woman fleeing the war in Syria (she’s just been accepted into the Police Foundations program at a local college); a young woman is helping her mother deal with her mental-health issues; there’s the grade 9 student whose mother is fighting cancer; a 17-year-old student with a 32-year-old mother; there’s the young boy who takes a different path to class every day, so that he can make it to class and still avoid his tormentors; there’s the Filipino student working two jobs to send money back home to his family; a young woman whose father was kidnapped, murdered and dismembered. There’s also those students with an Individual Education Plan (I recently taught a class of 30 students; 14 of them had an IEP). Many of these kids come from broken homes. Many come from families that came to this province because of its educational opportunities. And despite all these issues and traumas, they still show up for class. They are resilient.  

When we talk about class sizes, we talk in numbers; we need to talk in people. When I hear about classes being capped at 28 (actual numbers will reach 40), I hear and see and feel 28 (40) different lived experiences, all sharing a single, tiny space. This means, that over the next four years, 10 more kids and their unique, individual experiences, will walk into my classroom that currently holds 30. It’s not just bodies that will occupy the space. So too will their voices, thoughts, needs and desires. As class sizes grow, and there are less and less adults to help out, some students, like goats, will invariably be pushed out – out of class, out into the hallways, out into the streets and out of the system. The costs, literally and figuratively, will be enormous. They don’t have to be.  

In 2017, Frontier College published its Discussion Paper on Literacy and Poverty. The paper highlights the connection between poverty and literacy. It concludes that “higher literacy can boost the economic and financial success of individuals and the economy as a whole. It can reduce poverty, improve health, lift community engagement and lead to a higher standard of living. In fact, it is hard to identify any other single issue that can have such a large payoff to individuals, the economy and society.” The 2011 Report From Poverty to Prosperity: Literacy’s Impact on Canada’s Economic Success placed the annual savings in social assistance alone of raising every Canadian adult to the second highest level of literacy at $542,000,000”. 

The problem with this strategy is that it just isn’t loud enough or disruptive enough. Doug Ford doesn’t want neat and tidy. Doug Ford wants to destroy, make noise, to beat his chest and show everybody who’s boss. We all know what Doug Ford is; I’ve taught many ‘Doug Ford’ types over the years; the type that speak the language of bullies and thugs. The type that preach an us versus them mantra to those who feel disenfranchised, angry and, dare I say, confused. I can imagine Doug Ford never having had a problem getting the teacher’s attention in a crowded classroom. Not much has changed; Ford is the kid that refuses to grow up. In 2014, Doug Ford was absent for 53% of Toronto city council votes. If a student were to miss 53% of my class, they’d be referred to an attendance councilor. 

Conservatives like to throw out words like streamlining and efficiency. Students aren’t numbers; their lives aren’t spreadsheets. They PCs have presented zero evidence that larger class sizes will produce the results they say it will. Recently, a CBC report found that there was little evidence to suggest that bigger classes help students become more resilient. The report quoted The Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University that found “…the single most common factor for children who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or adult.” This includes teachers. 

In four years time, high schools and classrooms are going to look a lot different than they do today; four years in high school is a generation. A generation of students that are not going to be getting the education they need to navigate and thrive in the 21st century economy. Once these kids leave us, they’re gone for good. We’re not dealing with manufactured goods, something that can be recalled, fixed and sent back into the market. 

Despite what they say, Progressive Conservatives aren’t concerned about the future. Instead, the PCs are doing what conservatives do best: fighting for a world and a way of living that no longer exists. That’s just the way it is with them. I just wish they would have stuck to sacrificing their goats, instead of sacrificing our kids.



         

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