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The Erosion of Democracy in Education

Posted By: Mandira Raksit on February 5, 2002
In their review of The Erosion of Democracy in Education, Diana Hess and Anand Marri overlooked some valuable social and political contexts of educational reforms in Canada. First of all, Canadian educational reforms are provincial by nature. Contrary to national thrust on education South of the border, Canadian education system lacks national fervor. Since education is a provincial matter, often fragmentation is represented in educational policies. Second, Public education system in the Western Hemisphere is undergoing a sweeping change. A centralized reform has been implemented radically in a top-down fashion in Great Britain, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, and now in many provinces in Canada, including Ontario (currently where both the editors of the book reside). In order to understand this reforms, Whitty et al. (1998) are in search of comparisons and coherent trends in these transnational reforms, “In each, a range of policies has been introduced that seeks to reformulate the relationship between government, schools and parents” (p. 31).

In their effort not to endorse any grand theory, Whitty et al. (1998, p. 31) recognize that ‘contextual specificities’ cause the ‘degree of commonalties and coherence’ within the current educational reforms in the Western world. With the same token, they argue that this almost aligned uprise of reforms across many nations, and the recent changes they brought in education need to be looked at as global phenomena:

Indeed, it has been argued that this trend is part of a broader economic, political and cultural process of globalization in which traditional differences are eroded, state bureaucracies fragment and the notion of mass systems of public welfare, including education, disappears.

Many of the reviewed book’s articles are widely focused on the present educational reform in Ontario. Therefore, for the benefit of American readers, I will here provide a glimpse of how Ontario’s educational mapping is changed by the current conservative government. Joining the bandwagon of global reform, Ontario, one of Canada’s richest provinces - has been undergoing a sweeping educational change that impacts on the erosion of equity and social justice, the intensification of teachers’ working conditions, and the turn towards centralized curriculum and assessment (Delhi, 1998; Hargreaves et al., 2001; Portelli and Vibert, 2001). The mandated change initiatives of Bill 160 in Ontario (now Educational Improvement Act) were targeted to raise educational standards with back to basics course requirement and compulsory standardized testing programs. In addition, teachers were being challenged to revise conventional ideas of what should be taught in schools and how it should be taught. Other key features of this reform are, deregulation, parental choice, cost cutting, and economic rationalization.

Without these contextual delineations, The Erosion of Democracy in Education and the messages the book tries to get across would be incomplete.

Mandira Raksit
Graduate student
OIST/University of Toronto

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 The Erosion of Democracy in Education by Mandira Raksit on February 5, 2002
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