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Judging From a DistanceJudging From a Distance

Judging From a Distance

The newspaper's tall foreheads have taken a licking after their weekend editorial spanked the Supreme Court (calmly and just once on the tuckus, of course) for "overstepping its authority" in a recent decision. The Globe perspicaciously saw the danger of a distant court dictating to a very local level of government how it should spend scarce tax dollars.

Peter Stockland
2 minute read
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I normally reserve frosty Fridays for rushing to support the Globe and Mail's editorial writers, but sometimes a chilly November Tuesday must do.

The newspaper's tall foreheads have taken a licking after their weekend editorial spanked the Supreme Court (calmly and just once on the tuckus, of course) for "overstepping its authority" in a recent decision.

The court found a B.C. school district illegally discriminated against a dyslexic student when it shut down a special education centre that offered intensive help learning to read. School authorities, facing a budget crunch, still provided the pupil with assistance but not to a previous level. This drew the ire of our nine omniscient eminences in ermine, who criticized the district for maintaining an outdoor education program while cutting the special education centre.

The Globe perspicaciously saw the danger of a distant court dictating to a very local level of government how it should spend scarce tax dollars.

"Is it the court's business to choose a school district's programs, or prescribe the required intensity of extra help?" the editorial asked. "[G]overnments, accountable to voters, should be the ones making those choices."

A sensible answer to a sensible question, devotees of liberal democracy might think, but what ho! Witness the indignation, the ululations, the jeremiads that have poured forth from Globe letter writers. All of them begin with minor variations on the theme of "Child X has a terrible condition Y, and is entitled by right in law to the fullest and finest educational assistance I or anyone else can imagine . . . " The instantaneous leap is then made to condemning the Globe for wanting to condemn special needs children to lives of learning disabled misery.

Now, no human with a heart still beating could fault parents, or compassionate educators, for defending the interests of those they love and teach. And no one who has even minimally encountered children struggling with the frustration and searing self-doubt caused by learning disabilities would ever begrudge them all reasonable resources.

Yet the Globe editorial never suggested otherwise. It argued only that in our system the allocation of such resources is, and must be, a political, not a legal, matter. The negative response of readers to this argument reflects a debilitating democratic dyslexia in which the letter of the law is confused with the laborious spelling out of public policy and political choice.

It is a democratic good thing to help children overcome obstacles to success. It is the democratic best thing to ensure such help originates, is delivered, and is managed at the level of community closest to the child. This is so for at least two reasons.

First, it provides for the balancing of one child's interests against the interests of other children in the specific community. Second, it obliges citizens to engage directly in the process of economic providing and political balancing, which is otherwise known as democratic life.

The process matters. The alternative is the shouting of huzzahs only when "our side" wins the approval of abstracted eminences far removed from where we live. In other words, it's the triumph of civic selfishness over what political scientist John von Heyking calls "friendship as the form of politics." Tyrants, von Heyking notes in the upcoming issue of Convivium magazine, are invariably lonely because while they can temporarily wield power to compel, they lack the lifelong qualities of friendship necessary to persuade.

Persuasion is not necessarily a hallmark of Globe and Mail editorials, either. In this case, however, Globe editorialists deserve the warm support of all Canadian democrats. Frost is forecast for Friday. But why wait?

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