Illustration: Amy Yan

Note: The Bill of Rights proposal can be found here.

The Canadian education system is flawed. In Ontario alone, students face problems such as inconsistent grading, mark inflation, and a limited selection of courses. In order to address these issues, the Federation of Canadian Secondary Students (FCSS) recently published a draft of their “Student Bill of Rights” for public consultation [1]. FCSS is an organization dedicated to empowering high school students and raising awareness for student issues; the Student Bill of Rights is just one of their initiatives. The bill seeks to enumerate five categories of rights throughout all ten provinces: fundamental rights, accessibility rights, equality rights, rights to fair standards, and utility rights.

In principle, the bill is refreshing—even uplifting—to see. Students often feel that their problems are overlooked by their school administrations, or even their school boards. FCSS’ Bill of Rights acknowledges many of these problems and proposes structural reforms on behalf of secondary students. For example, Article IV Section VI addresses the issue of students not receiving updated marks. School employees may not view this as a significant problem, but for students, marks can act as a motivator to either improve or maintain their level of success.

However, at times it becomes painfully obvious that this bill was written by students—students who apparently put little consideration into the feasibility of the bill’s clauses. For instance, Article IV Section III guarantees consistent grading of assignments, tests, and exams across a province, with Subsection A requiring the implementation of new standards if grading becomes consistently variable. While this clause sounds plausible in theory, inconsistencies in grading would inevitably occur. Provinces have neither the time nor money to redevelop education standards every few years, so this clause would likely be ignored, or quickly repealed.

FCSS did attempt to make their bill sound “professional,” but in doing this they only managed to make sections vague and inaccessible to the average student. Most notably, Article V Section II refers to a student’s right to “all skills necessary and prerequisite to their individual self-actualization as human beings” [1]. As to what “individual self-actualization as a human being” means, your guess is as good as ours.

Vague legislation causes a number of problems. Students who do not understand what “self-actualization” entails will not understand what rights they are guaranteed. The reason pieces of legislation, such as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, use concise and simple language is to guarantee everyone’s understanding of their rights. FCSS claims the bill was made to make student rights more accessible. But if the target audience can’t even understand what it says, the bill will never be a publication that students across Canada can refer to.

None of this is to say that FCSS isn’t making an effort. Their leaders seem to genuinely care about the issues that they pursue, and if nothing else, they are ambitious. However, when one tries to become the champion of two million people, noble intentions alone are not good enough. The actions of FCSS reflect high school students as a whole, which is why it becomes problematic when they are such amateur attempts at change.

Teenagers have long been subjected to the belief that their ideas are naive, and “not realistic.” As a result, the opinions of students are often pushed aside from serious conversation, seen as the idealistic ramblings of mere children. For this reason, when a serious proposal is submitted by a federation representing all students, it becomes even more important that the proposal be as polished as possible. A sloppy piece of work will only serve to reinforce biases against young adults.

The problem here is not just that FCSS has written a bill that is somewhat naive in nature. The problem, rather, is twofold. First, FCSS has taken up the role of advocate for Canadian high school students without actually ensuring that they are working towards the interests of all students throughout the country. Just as importantly, by creating such a flawed piece of legislation while taking on this role, FCSS only perpetuates the prejudice against our demographic. Rather than acting as a loudspeaker for change, they are turning the world deaf to our plight.

Works Cited

[1] https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53c2060ae4b0db3d3fa5937f/t/586c644d3e00bec12e820d9f/1483498574765/Student+Bill+of+Rights+Consultation.pdf

[2] https://www.getfeedback.com/r/kxXft6f2/

[3] https://static1.squarespace.com/static/53c2060ae4b0db3d3fa5937f/t/58b8f022579fb3d0c4d6fba8/1488515107414/Education+Relevance+Report+-+FCSS%3AFESC.pdf

[4] http://www.ccsd.ca/factsheets/demographics/

[5] http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/educationFacts.html

[6] http://www.stat.gouv.qc.ca/statistiques/population-demographie/structure/index_an.html