Three wishes for the North: number three.

Author:Robinson, David
Position:Economically Speaking
 
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Remember the game. Doug Ford is a good fairy and he has offered the North three wishes. For the first, I showed how to increase value-added from the forestry sector. For wish two, I suggested that the research and educational facilities that support our Northern industries should be located in the North. We have one wish left. Let's ask to run our own schools.

A community has to understand itself to develop. Communities and nations have used their school systems to develop a sense of identity. The French teach French history and geography. The Germans teach German art and literature. Les Quebecois have their own version of history. American students memorize the names of all the U.S. states and even the names of their presidents.

But Northerners don't study Northern geography, or Northern history. The schoolbooks don't showcase Northern poets or Northern musicians. The content of education in Northern Ontario is what southern Ontario wants it to be. The system does nothing to create a Northern community or to support a Northern culture. In fact, our education system seems to be designed to keep Northern Ontario divided.

And it is probably not an accident. Writing in 1971, Robert Stamp noted that while American schooling aimed to produce "good little Americans," prominent Canadian educators focused on "inculcating loyalty to Britain and British institutions." Upper Canada was then a colony of Britain, and Northern Ontario was becoming a colony of Upper Canada.

Adolphus Egerton Ryerson's name is now associated with Ryerson University and the design of the Canadian Indian residential school system. As superintendent of schools for Upper Canada, Ryerson promoted the centralized and basically colonial education system we still live with.

Northern Ontario now has a population larger than the 400,000 in Ryerson's Upper Canada. Our region is radically different from Ryerson's southern agricultural society. We have far more Francophones and people of Aboriginal descent, and far fewer recent immigrants than the south now has. We have a different geology, biology and even climate, and an economy based on resource extraction instead of farming and manufacturing. Even Ryerson wouldn't approve of a Northern Ontario curriculum so ill-fitted to the people and the economy.

If you were the minister of education for Northern Ontario, you would have two clear goals. You would want to prepare Northern kids...

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