Education Is Today’s Civil Rights Issue

A Conservative manifesto for the high-tech economy
April 10, 2022 Updated: April 11, 2022


Across the political spectrum, a new orthodoxy on indigenous issues has taken hold since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the one for murdered and missing women. Reconciliation and compensation require ever more taxpayers’ money, and elimination of accountability for how it’s spent.

My problem is that incontinent compassion doesn’t cut it. The political left wants to close down most natural resource development, especially the petroleum industry. They believe that money cures poverty and finances affordable housing. Those on the right, as well as some indigenous leaders, expect natural resource development to generate money and jobs. But which jobs? For real conservatives, escaping poverty means acquiring employment skills that are sufficiently rewarding to pay for housing along with having a healthy and rewarding life. But there’s no vestige anywhere of an implementation plan for enabling marginalized youth to have a place in the high-tech economy.

Hundreds of thousands of multi-generational welfare recipients, largely but not only indigenous, live in violence-wracked slums. Pauktuutit, the national Inuit women’s organization, has reported horrendous incidence of sexual abuse that’s also documented in books by Ruth Teichroeb and Mark Milke. Too often community leaders, sometimes abusers themselves, shield perpetrators from accountability and shame victims. Abuse and neglect may be more pervasive today than it ever was in residential schools.

It eluded indigenous TRC commissioners that today there are more indigenous inmates in hell-hole prisons, about 15,000, than there were students at peak enrolment in residential schools. They never suggested that the marginalized indigenous should get the education and skills training, sports and recreation, and opportunities for a rewarding career that they had in their own childhood and youth. It eluded them that those who are educated, skilled, and engaged in or preparing for gainful employment seldom commit suicide or disappear, and seldom become unemployable addicts or go to jail.

Given the overwhelming number of indigenous children in care, the TRC called for more money to fund child welfare services. But they didn’t examine causation for its need. With delivery apparently ranging from excellent to shocking, residential schools took in orphans and children from neglectful homes. Others were adopted out during the so-called Sixties Scoop. A friend of mine was adopted out after his indigenous mother, aged 13, gave birth. In due course, his degree in computer engineering and a master’s in business administration led to a rewarding career. Ethnicity has nothing to do with capacity for achievement.

In parallel with the challenge of long-term welfare dependency, trades and high-tech have labour shortages. Education is then the civil rights issue as well as the economic challenge of our time. It can do the heavy lifting in the most marginalized communities as well as for the general population. Several books, including “The Education of Eva Moskowitz: A Memoir,” describe what’s possible beyond teachers’ unions and state-delivered education. In the United States there are numerous charter schools, mostly targeting the poorest areas. Applications for admission by lottery can outrun places by ten to one. Not getting a winning ticket is losing out on life.

Students thrive on high expectations and structure. Charter schools’ test scores far outperform even those of state-run schools in affluent areas. They generally have larger class size so there’s more money to pay teachers better. They hire those who love the subjects they teach and can inspire confidence and achievement. They don’t require a time-wasted education degree, and they can hire and fire on the basis of performance. These schools usually have a longer school day and some also function on Saturday mornings. They assign homework and work with parents to see that it’s done.

Once generally available, instruction in woodwork, metalwork, carpentry, and auto mechanics is largely missing from today’s schools. Given indigenous peoples’ evident creativity and manual dexterity, “shops” and intensive education seem certain to bring out aptitude for trades and STEM disciplines. Unfortunately, indigenous leaders don’t suggest that next generations should become the doctors and dentists, mining engineers or geologists, in the lands they claim.

With the fur trade extinct, Ontario’s Royal Commission on the Northern Environment heard, decades ago, that aboriginals in remote communities wanted education for the mainstream economy. And they said it was compatible with learning land-based skills. Of course, university-educated wildlife biologists and game managers accomplish both objectives. The reality today, however, is that many schools serving the indigenous don’t enforce attendance. And some adults don’t speak any language proficiently.

With some 60 percent of all indigenous people living in urban centres, and Ottawa having Canada’s largest Inuit community, there’s a case for enabling more to leave settlements that have no economic reason to exist. The challenge then is that the marginalized need help, but don’t get help that works. That brings us back to what schools need to do.

In sum, depriving marginalized youth of the opportunity for maximizing their potential, as required by the U.N.’s Declaration on the Rights of the Child, is unconscionable. And the cost to taxpayers and the high-tech economy is unsustainable.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Colin Alexander was formerly publisher of the Yellowknife News of the North. He was the adviser on education for Ontario’s Royal Commission on the Northern Environment.