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  • Writer's pictureDerek Stoppels

Open Letter to Stephen Lecce #2

Mr. Stephen Lecce,

The public education system in Ontario was designed with an outcome of “knowing.” Students go to school from kindergarten to grade 12 to learn things so that by the end of it, they know enough to get into a post secondary institution of “higher” learning. The discussions in schools might sound like “students need to learn [insert curriculum content here] to be successful in real life,” but what it actually looks like is “students need to know [insert curriculum content here] sot that they can be successful in real life.”

It’s a subtle difference, but it’s an incredibly important one. “Knowing,” to use a term I learned from Simon Sinek, is a finite outcome, whereas “learning” is infinite. The public education system in Ontario is a finite game. It’s about getting the right answer to get the best grades. It’s about ranking and sorting the youngest generation of Ontario citizens and forcing them to compete with each other, with their friends. But it should be about learning, and working together, and establishing reciprocal relationships with the people and the land around them.

Ontario’s public school system has created a society where answers are more important than questions. So that when people are asked questions that don’t have clear answers, Ontario citizens become uncomfortable. And that discomfort triggers a strong response by our egos. People are upset that “you can’t say anything anymore without offending someone,” because they don’t know what the new social structures should look like and they don’t have the skills or capacity to learn or grow.

Ontario’s public education system teaches students that things, people, and ideas belong in boxes. Subjects are taught in silos and students rarely get to discover the beauty of the world around them in school because they are led to believe that there are no connections between the things they are learning. You learn English in one classroom, where you get to read and write, and then you learn Math in another classroom where you get to crunch numbers (and letters), and then you go to Gym which is another classroom and you move your body, and then you go to Science which is in another classroom and you learn about chemical reactions, or about cells, or about motion; but rarely do students get to learn how all of those pieces fit together.

So when a person is confronted with a truth that doesn’t fit into the boxes they’ve learned to build into their mental models and their world view, they get uncomfortable, their ego jumps out and they shut the door to their brains because they already think that they’ve got it all figured out and they don’t want to deal with the thought that “I might be wrong.”

Ontario citizens have been nurtured to fear being wrong because of the education system. Fear might not even be a strong enough word. In school, when you get something wrong, you get punished for it. Socially, psychologically and academically. The worst thing a student can do in our Ontario classrooms is get the answer wrong. Is this the kind of Ontario we want to perpetuate?

You, Minister Lecce, have the power to make some powerful changes to Ontario’s education system that will be remembered for a very long time. Minister Lecce, you can help create and foster an education system where knowing is not as important as learning. You can help create learning environments that teach Ontario’s youngest generation that it’s okay to try and to fail because the lessons learned along the way are much more valuable than knowing that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. You can help rebuild an Ontario where people of differing world views and mental models can work together and be productive because you can create an education system that teaches collaboration and communication skills. You can help rebuild an Ontario where critical thinking is more important than rote memorization.

The challenge is that an education system that is going to succeed in fostering these skills is going to cost a lot of money. Let’s admit that. My challenge is that it seems like your plan for the public education system in Ontario is to actually dismantle public education. It seems like you want Ontario students to struggle academically and then blame it on the teachers so that they start thinking about sending their children to private or charter schools.

Is there an example where more private and charter schools is actually better for a province or a country? By dismantling the public school system you make a quality education harder to come by and you perpetuate the inequities that we are seeing and learning about more and more these days. Is it important to you and to the Premier to find ways to allow underserved students to continue to be underserved? Is the short term financial gain of dismantling public education worth the long term effects of an undereducated generation of Ontario students? It seems to me that the vision of the Ministry of Education in Ontario is awfully shortsighted and I am wondering if you could share with me, with Ontarians, what your vision is for Ontario students who will be graduating in 2040.

But more importantly, how do your actions today line up with the vision you have for Ontario students?

Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to your response.

Derek Stoppels

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