Symbolic school law is bad law
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe:
Monthly Digital Subscription
$4.75 per week*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/11/2010 (4509 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There is abundant reason why parents do not crowd the halls of the Law Courts, waiting to defend themselves against charges of failing to force their adolescent children to go to school. Many youths effectively drop out of school before they turn 16, but authorities, educators and society in general see no real value in punitive measures when kids refuse to stay in school.
It is curious then that Education Minister Nancy Allan’s wrong-headed proposal to raise to 18 the age at which students can drop out will also stiffen penalties for parents who don’t comply. The legislation is wholly symbolic. It may help some parents make the argument with resistant children, but it seeks to force into a round hole those youth who simply see no point in the daily grind of school. They are better off learning real-life lessons in the labour force.
A 2009 report commissioned by the education department, and triggered by a rising concern among teachers, concluded that truancy in the province is a problem. The department, however, has no data on just how big or small. Manitoba does have a tough time keeping kids in school. Statistics Canada reports that only one province, Quebec, has a higher percentage of high school dropouts among its 20- to 24-year-olds.
There is elasticity now in the school curriculum for youth who find no promise in standard academics, but who may recognize the value of a high school diploma. There is an apprenticeship route to accommodate those who see a future in a trade. There is a good argument for expanding both options.
But the amendment to the Public Schools Act will hurt those who may find their own, alternative way in life and the working world. Further, Ms. Allan’s goal of raising the government’s strictly defined graduation rate to 100 per cent will prove elusive. The lack of data collection on truancy will make it difficult to follow the immediate impact of the bill, which may become law for the next school year.
In forcing youth who have fallen out of love with school to sit at their desks, the government functionally closes one route of learning life’s lessons. That will make some parents’ jobs tougher. This is especially true of city-dwelling aboriginal families who are attached to First Nations reserves where the law has no jurisdiction, because it can make going back to isolated communities look like an easy escape to a teenager.
It is unlikely that prosecution, which has never been much of a factor, will become a practical means of enforcement, and in that the new law’s threat of heightened penalties is toothless.
Ms. Allan’s proposed amendment sets out a laudable philosophy, but gives no hope for improving the lot of teenagers who turn hostile to conventional education. Threatening punitive action against parents who have lost the argument in favour of a high school diploma cannot make teenagers better learners.
Manitoba’s dropout problem most obviously lies with aboriginal youth, which points to the need for strategies that target their lives and their needs. This must start very early in the lives of children most likely to be at risk due to defined characteristics — factors that are well described in good research done locally. In the absence of that, law becomes meaningless and symbolism, vacuous.