Slippery Slope of ‘Going Woke’: Ontario Teachers’ Union Now Opting for Votes Based on Race

November 25, 2021 Updated: November 29, 2021


When teachers’ unions came into existence more than a century ago, they had their work cut out for them. Salaries were low, job security was non-existent, working conditions were very poor, and teachers had virtually no professional autonomy.

By forming unions, teachers were able to be heard. Over time, unions negotiated reasonable salaries and benefits, secured tenure for permanent employees, improved working conditions, and gave teachers considerable say over their classroom environments.

This happened because unions stayed focused on the things that mattered. Virtually all teachers could agree on bread-and-butter issues such as salaries and benefits. As a result, union leaders knew that when they pushed for better wages and working conditions, they had the firm backing of their entire union membership.

Too bad union leaders appear to have lost this focus. All too often, teachers’ unions are getting sidetracked by issues that have little, if anything, to do with actual teaching. Nowhere is this more obvious than in their desire to be “woke.”

Today, teachers’ unions spend inordinate amounts of time drafting so-called equity statements, endorsing various social justice causes, and lending support to their preferred political candidates. With all this activism taking place, it’s not surprising that many grassroots teachers wonder whether their union leaders have lost sight of the main goal.

As a case in point, District 20 of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) recently adopted a rule that gives more voting powers to non-white teachers than to white teachers.

In a series of slides explaining the change to “weighted voting,” union leadership claimed that the votes of non-white teachers must equal at least 50 percent of the total votes cast. The slides give a hypothetical example where teachers are voting on whether or not to recognize Diwali as an official holiday. This hypothetical scenario posits 20 voters, 16 of whom are white and 4 non-white.

Under the weighted voting system, the votes of the 4 non-white teachers would receive equal value as those of the 16 white teachers. Thus, even if most white teachers vote against recognizing Diwali, the motion wouldn’t be defeated if most of the non-white teachers voted in favour. This voting scheme allegedly “allows for further conversation and growth together” for all the teachers.

If this sounds absurd, that’s because it is. Assigning votes based on race is the antithesis of racial equality. Not only that, but it also forces teachers to identify themselves based on their race. Instead of having their opinions considered based on merit, everything is filtered through a racial lens.

It should come as little surprise that the weighted voting system was not well received at a recent OSSTF District 20 union meeting. When some teachers objected that this system was “reverse racism,” others filed an official complaint against these teachers with the school principal. This obviously did little to foster professional dialogue in the district.

One of the fastest ways to destroy professional relationships is to slot people into racial categories and make race the most important aspect of their identity. Stereotyping people is one of the surest ways to breed mistrust.

Ironically, OSSTF had, until recently, been one of the more reasonable teacher unions in the country. It was, for example, OSSTF that led the charge against the nonsensical no-zero policies a decade ago that prevented teachers from grading students accurately.

In 2018, OSSTF even sponsored researchED Ontario, a professional development conference organized by teachers, for teachers. Unlike so many other professional development conferences, researchED encourages teachers to look at the evidence and to, in fact, reject ideas that lack sufficient evidence for their effectiveness.

Sadly, OSSTF recently ended its partnership with researchED under pressure from some of its more activist members who felt that researchED went against their woke sensibilities. Instead of standing up for teachers who are resisting nonsensical education fads, OSSTF is now dividing teachers according to race. This is not the way to improve public education in Ontario or any other province for that matter.

Teachers’ unions have a choice. They can focus on things that matter to all teachers such as salaries, benefits, and working conditions. Or they can head further down the path of wokeness and racial division.

If OSSTF and other teachers’ unions want to be woke, they had better be prepared to go broke. Because that’s where this politically correct foolishness eventually leads.

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

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of “A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.”