Friday, March 8, 2013

ExtraCurricular Activities: the Straw Man No One Wants to Confront

by Phil Allt

There are many issues associated with teachers withholding extra curricular activities as a protest against the Ontario government violating the principles of free collective bargaining:

- Ontario Secondary School Teacher President Ken Coran’s correct assertion about who will resume these activities (20%), who won’t (20%) and those who are in the mushy middle (60% or most teachers);
- the less than 100 percent of students who partake in these activities less than 100 percent of the time. No one can precisely, or even “guesstimate”, the number of students who actually engage in extra curricular activities throughout the year. The reason? No one wants to find out the answer;
- the exorbitant cost for activities that is incurred by the families of those who can afford them (for example playing hockey at many schools can cost upward of 200 dollars per season and then there is football, basketball, rugby, swimming and the list goes on;
- the exorbitant cost of these activities that cannot be afforded by most families in Ontario;

are but a few of the concerns that should be taken seriously.

But there is another issue too and that is the elephant in the room. Should music, art, drama, physical education and lifestyle clubs be extra curricular activities at all? Should these not be part of a curriculum that is fully supported through taxation? Should these activities be taught by properly qualified teachers staff in classrooms, on playing fields and elsewhere?

Teachers who believe that extra curricular activities are just that, are missing a great opportunity to press for full funding for education. Similarly the hue and cry that is heard from those demanding more after school activities should be replaced with a demand for fully funding of all activities within the school - funding that was always inadequate but was chopped years ago by the Conservatives and never restored by the Liberals.

If those skills that are developed by children partaking in extra curricular activities are so important, why are these not part of a full curriculum? 

Why do high school students not have 4 mandatory years of arts and 4 mandatory years of physical and lifestyle education where musical appreciation is developed and respect for healthy living is promoted? The answer is quite simple: Ontario as a culture is too cheap to pay for the things we regard as superfluous to training for a job.

I do not think that I am alone in wanting physical education restored and properly funded. I also want art and music appreciation and education made mandatory in all schools and provision made for musical instruments in all schools. As a culture it is morally repugnant to require poor kids to rely upon the “kindness of strangers” i.e. welfare, donations and school vouchers to have the chance to learn an instrument or play a sport. 

Sure, many can coach the well-to-do kid who can afford the extra curricular fees - I, for one, am a certified rugby coach - whatever that means. I am, however, not certain that I am doing a good job anymore and my certification attests to that - 2 weekend courses with the National Coaching Certification Programme - 20 years ago.

A well skilled athlete or musician might be better at the job than many of those who currently coach out of altruism and pressure from inside the school. Furthermore, we are not helping the kid who cannot afford even the shoes to play a sport (and as I write, I am looking at the desk where sits a student who cannot afford athletic shoes). I wonder what will happen to students like him who do not have someone to buy athletic equipment for them, pay their participation fees and maybe even buy them the food they often do not have to eat.

Sadly, we do not want to pay to hire a person with the skills to properly promote music, the arts or athletics. We do not want to make the activities that are lost to better off kids universally accessible. We do not wish for excellence in arts or athletics - we merely want cheap childcare and cheap extra school activities to fill the gap before parents get home for supper. Hence we rely upon volunteers and coercion within the schools in order to offer playtime opportunities to kids.

Until we fund arts and athletics appropriately, teachers, politicians, boards of education and parents are making hollow arguments about the merits of restoring extra curricular activities for which Ontario does not wish to pay. Please, do not tell me it’s about the kids. Its about a province being cheap.

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