COLUMN

Goat meat is in, smart kids out

BARBARA AMIEL June 21 1993
COLUMN

Goat meat is in, smart kids out

BARBARA AMIEL June 21 1993

Goat meat is in, smart kids out

COLUMN

BARBARA AMIEL

OK, I’m biased. The first reason I like University of Toronto Schools (UTS) is because it tolerated me. Back in the late 1970s, when to be a classical liberal or a neo-conservative was intellectual death, the only school that asked me to come and talk to its students was UTS. Though virtually no one agreed with my ideas on such diverse matters as the wretched North-South dialogue or the future of feminism, the students were all uneerily clean, bespectacled and quite acute in their questions. They debated well, too, rather like the old days of the Oxford Union. liking a school because it encourages diversity of thought is, come to think of it, not such a biased view at all.

The second reason I like the school is because two of my three nephews have attended it, and they seem to have turned out rather well. The school had only four computers when my first nephew graduated from it about four years ago. All the same, he ended up being headhunted by Seattle-based Microsoft. The second nephew, David, has been a bit of a family problem because of his absentmindedness: thus, he forgets to put shoes on occasionally when he goes out. His father sweated through the day David wrote his entrance exams for UTS and, not wanting to fall into the category of pushy parent, tried to be cool. “Exams OK?” he finally managed after 10 minutes of silence on the way home. “Sure,” replied David, “but I didn’t finish the arithmetic questions—I went to the bathroom and got lost on the way back.” Even though he was admitted to the school, there is a family tradition now of keeping all children off liquids for five hours prior to exams.

Subsidizing the brightest kids is Canada’s best, if not only, chance of building a better world

UTS is affiliated with the University of Toronto. The school began in 1910 as a sort of laboratory for teaching methods. Each year it takes in 78 kids at Grade 7 level from the more than 900 who write the entrance exams. Places are awarded strictly on merit. The fees are $3,500 a year. If the parents can’t afford it, there are full or partial bursaries. Half the stu-

dents are girls; one-third are Orientals (they, currently, being the most highly motivated group—30 years ago it would have been Jews, and in a few years time it may be Ethiopians). The only thing they have in common is that they are smart as blazes.

Actually, they have something else in common. Their school is under threat because the Ontario government has said that starting in 1994 its $1.35-million-a-year UTS subsidy will be stopped. In the year of the social contract, brainy schools are out. Go figure.

In fact, I can’t argue with the policy direction of Ontario’s NDP government. Budget cuts are a fiscal imperative. One can remark on the irony of a situation in which the NDP comes to power just when all the policies it advocated and helped into being have come home to roost, economically speaking. Spend, spend, spend was the cry of the Opposition NDP as they called for new ministries, new entitlements, new layers of bureaucracy and got them. Now, everyone has their own special bit of patronage or interest they want protected from swingeing cuts. And I can’t even say that I am absolutely sure that UTS has the best teachers in Ontario or that its ambitious programs (such as the model UN assembly or

its courses entitled “Thinking”) are entirely successful. All I know is this: minimally, this school is making an attempt to educate the brightest kids in the province. After abolishing half of the Ontario government’s ministries, this would be one of the last 10 expenditures I’d touch. And if the government doesn’t see what else can be cut first, let me offer some suggestions.

According to the Ontario budget, the Office Responsible for Women’s Issues has a 1993-1994 budget of $24 million. As well, pay equity will cost the province $448 million in 1993 and, when fully implemented, $1 billion in order “to promote greater equity for women.” Given that 50 per cent of the students at UTS are female, perhaps a teeny cut could be made in that billion-plus budget. Meanwhile, anti-racism will cost an “additional” $10 million; aboriginal land claims, selfgovernment negotiations and infrastructure will cost $49 million, which is an increase of $36 million over the aboriginal budget for 1990—which may account for some of the need (see above) for that increased antiracism budget.

Myself, I could see cuts being made in the Sustainable Forest Initiative or perhaps the Accelerated Waste Reduction program even though Ontario will be the first province in Canada to enact an Environmental Bill of Rights (budget $4.5 million and 15 new bureaucrats, plus one commissioner). Perhaps bright kids need a bill of rights even more than trees. Then, there is the $4 million being spent on turning our road signs bilingual. I do not know what the Goat Red Meat Advisory Board does, nor do I know about the Wolf Damage Assessment Board nor, indeed, the Ontario Winery Adjustment Program. I suppose every group in Ontario needs shelter, aid and its own therapist so why shouldn’t potatoes have a Financial Protection Board, which would explain the competitive need for a Vegetable Financial Protection Board.

Finally, (though not comprehensively), I have an invitation from the lieutenant-governor of Ontario, the Hon. Henry N. B. Jackman, requesting the pleasure of my company at a reception on June 28, “Honouring Friends of the Lesbian and Gay Community Appeal.” I don’t really care if human beings couple with men, women or beached whales, but in these tough times, perhaps this is one reception too many. Come to think of it, why does Ontario need a lieutenantgovernor at all? Mr. Jackman, a clever, accomplished and wealthy man in his own right, would probably pay to do the job. And his sacrifice could help the nation far more than any plumed hat. Because subsidizing the kids at UTS—perhaps with his office’s savings—is Canada’s best, if not only, chance of building a better world. From Hal Jackman to Bob Rae, from Michele Landsberg, who wrote in favor of UTS in The Toronto Star, to myself, the fix has to be in—for our kids, for the school that caters to brain power and for $1.35 million to the deserving innocents who may yet save this land.