In the classrooms at my school, students who get a $60,000 car for their 16th birthday sit next to students who walk an hour each day to and from school because bus-fare is an unaffordable expense. Students who go home to their own bedrooms equipped with the latest technologies, collaborate on projects with students who don’t have a bed to call their own. And students who struggle to read a sentence in the third language they’ve had to learn grasp desperately for meaning when their fluent peers speak.
The conceit of public schools is that our classrooms will somehow be the levelling space of these stark socio-economic differences through the provision of an equitable education.
Teachers who spend an average of $1600 on classroom supplies each year do so in the hope that the right resources will magically bridge the chasm between what is funded and what is needed.
Stories of families who have had to sell their homes in order to pay for learning supports for their children are heart-wrenching. Now just imagine what happens to those children whose families have no such assets, whose parents are simultaneously battling the legacies of colonialism and poverty.
Because public schools are often the only places where marginalized people can access support, insisting on classroom composition language in teachers’ collective agreement should not be seen as a luxury the government cannot afford. Especially not a government boasting about billions of dollars in surplus.
It’s astounding that a government that launched a Poverty Reduction strategy to great fanfare continues to ignore calls for more funding for public schools, the very places where the 20% of children who live in poverty in BC get their only meal most days.
As a party in power, there must be at least 50 ways you can make billions of dollars disappear from where they’re supposed to be: delivering services to people. You could go the brutish route of Doug Ford in Ontario and slash billions from public health and education services.
Or could do it the Christy Clark way, smilingly, while she introduced legislation that would effectively remove four billion dollars from education funding over 15 years.
This latter strategy is a rather legally cumbersome way to disappear education funding though. It took the BC Liberals a lot of maneuvering through the legislature and the courts over a long period. And in the end, the Supreme Court called foul.
Besides, mimicking the BC Liberals shenanigans could not be your first choice because you campaigned on a platform to fully support public education, not to undermine a collective agreement with teachers. Definitely would not look good.
You’re in a tricky situation because you spent 15 years in Opposition, criticizing the short shrift that teachers and students in public schools were getting from the previous government. Over and over again you promised that you would do better, provide more funding, and fully support students with special needs.
But the accountants have declared that keeping your promises would cost about a billion dollars more than you have currently allocated for students’ education. That’s a lot of money. You have other priorities.
Back in 2001, when you last formed government, education funding comprised 20% of your budget. But things have changed.
But you can’t just blatantly state that there’s not enough money for education.
Your base would be enraged. They voted you in on your public service platform and they want to see results.
To be fair, you have increased funding by 12.4% for Level 1 Special Needs. That’s good news for 570 students. Level 2 funding (affecting 22,352 students) was increased by 4.1% and Level 3 Special Needs funding was increased by 4.6% for 8,390 students.
You are well aware that there are thousands more students who need learning support. They’re the ones who fell through the cracks over the 15 years when a lack of school psychologists meant that waits for a diagnosis averaged 3 years. A lifetime in a child’s development.
You know that your meagre funding increases do not even begin to address the impact of inflation on costs.
But $5.7 billion is such a big number. It sure looks like it should be enough.
You hope that parents don’t notice that the money allocated for education is actually only 11% of your total 2019/20 budget. They might begin asking questions about why you don’t invest more in students.
This would be an awkward question to answer. You know for your political image that you need to make it look as though you are increasing funding, even though you have no intention of doing so.
So, you announce that a group of experts will review the funding model. Thanks to the Supreme Court win, most parents are well aware that the model was drastically changed in 2002 and so they will have some familiarity with what was lost.
And, through the work of parent advocacy groups, many parents will also know that what was restored still left too many gaps for too many students.
You do not include a single teacher on the funding review panel.
It would be inconvenient for teachers to be represented there where they could remind everyone of how, throughout your tenure as the Official Opposition, you consistently agreed with teachers when they called for significant increases in funding .
You could do without teachers raising a ruckus when they discover your plan to implement a funding model that will essentially turn students into statistics.
You know that many harried and hurried parents may not have the time to study the details of the new funding model. You know that some feel intimidated by convoluted statistics and you know that you still need a slick way to get the public to think that prevalence funding is the way to go.
You know that terms like “accountability” and “equity” are popular with the public.
You don’t want any of your supporters to remember that “accountability” is exactly the reason Christy Clark gave for stripping teachers of their contract, leading to the loss of 2500 teachers within the system.
So long before you begin bargaining with teachers on a new collective agreement you start a stealth marketing campaign, ensuring that there is a widespread belief amongst the public that the current collective agreement with teachers is the reason that students are falling through the cracks and not getting the services and supports they need.
The message is spread that the newly-restored class size and composition language in the collective agreement is too restrictive, that it hamstrings school districts in their provision of services to students.
You would like parents to believe that if only teachers were more innovative, and more flexible, all students could have their learning needs met. You want parents to believe that it’s not the lack of funding for supports that’s the problem: it’s teachers’ lack of flexibility, creativity and empathy.
You would prefer that the public not know that teachers gave up salary increases from 1988 until 1994 in exchange for the establishment of minimal supports for students.
You would prefer the public not to know that the concepts of inclusion and integration are not new to teachers. That their commitment to inclusion goes far beyond any government policy.
You’d rather the public believe in the prevalence model even though it abdicates your government’s responsibility for delivering the public service of education to all students in public schools, regardless of learning difficulties.
You don’t want the public to ask questions about who collects the data that the prevalence model demands. You don’t want the public to ask about what parameters will be used to interpret the data.
You don’t want the public to know that “trends” in public education are hardly ever captured by statistics. If they were, thousands of parents would not be clamouring for more schools to be opened in areas where “statistical trends” decades ago predicted that no schools would be needed.
You don’t want the public to know that the map is not the territory, that no amount of statistics gathering can replace what teachers know is happening in their classrooms to students whose names they know.
But teachers can let the public know.
There are at least 50 ways to show parents what’s actually happening with education funding.
Just as in a shell game, those who watch carefully know under which cup the object is.
We’ll show parents where the billions disappeared.
In a recent article, candidate for Burnaby school board Laura-Lynn Tyler Thomson is quoted as saying that she was scared and cried every day when she attended a school in the Arctic where, as “the only white, blonde girl”, she “stood out like a sore thumb”.
When most of the dolls on the toy store shelf look like you, when entire rows of magazine covers have faces that look like you, when people who look like you have occupied multiple positions of power and influence for centuries, it takes a convoluted cognitive sequence to see yourself as a victim of the descendants of people who were starved to death and treaty-tricked out of the land you live on.
It’s not really convoluted though. It’s just regular racism but with a particularly Canadian nicety: implied, not stated.
Given what Tyler Thomson has said about her experiences in the Arctic, what can the 3% of Burnaby’s student population who identify as Aboriginal expect from her if she was elected trustee? Probably not any acknowledgement of the role of education in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.
Students who identify as trans or queer are supposed to expect that she will “love them to pieces” even while she denies their right to be educated about what all humans have in common: a sexual orientation, a gender identity.
As a teacher I’m curious about what Tyler Thomson means by us not being trained “to help students dealing with gender identity”.
Does she mean that teachers should ignore the 2016 directive from the B.C. Ministry of Education that “all B.C. school districts and independent schools are required to include specific references to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) in their anti-bullying policies”?
Does she mean that teachers are not trained to create safe learning environments for all students?
Does she mean that teachers should ignore the fact that “lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are seven times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide” ?
How exactly does one teach “manners, reading, writing and arithmetic” to students who are feeling unsafe?
How does one reduce bullying without educating students about human rights?
There is nothing ideological about teaching students that all humans have a sexual orientation and a gender identity just as there is nothing ideological about teaching students that all humans have a brain and a heart.
Some brains are different, some hearts are different. Sometimes one’s biological identity matches with one’s gender identity. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Why would anyone not want youth to know this?
Why would anyone, let alone a school trustee, want to deny students access to information that would reduce discrimination and increase safety, respect and acceptance in schools?
What purpose is served by keeping students ignorant of what it means to be a human with a sexual orientation and a gender identity?
Voters in the October municipal election should ponder these questions when they make their choices for school board trustees.
Schools should be safe places for all students.
No child should feel scared at school.
Not students who are the descendants of the First Peoples to occupy this land.
Not students who are blonde or brown or bisexual.
If you don’t believe that, you should not be running to be a school trustee.
I wish I could also experience the optimism you expressed in your recently published op-ed but I’m burdened by the memory of my dashed hopes over the past school year and also quite distracted by the absence of any acknowledgement of the work of teachers to ensure that our province continues to be a “world leader in education”.
I know that you are quite familiar with the work that teachers do because you had been the education critic since 2013 when you wereappointed education minister in July 2017. I was thrilled when that happened because finally there was someone who did not have to be convinced about what teachers and students needed. You had regularly raised our concerns at the Legislature and had made compelling arguments for the needs in our public education system. Your appointment felt like we teachers were finally within sight of the finish line after running an exhausting marathon.
When you said there wereurgent priorities we expected you to aggressively move to recruit teachers as soon as you occupied your new office in Victoria. But when the new school year began, recruitment of teachers seemed to have slipped off the urgent list because hundreds of students started the year without teachers. Although 3,700 teachers were eventually hired, there were too many students who had had to wait over 100 days before they had a teacher assigned to them.
On your watch, there were months of lost learning opportunities for students who had been eager to begin learning on the first day of the school year.
That this happened took us by surprise but we hoped that things would get better.
When 2018 was already a few months old and we were still waiting to benefit from our Supreme Court win through the full implementation of the Memorandum of Agreement, we suppressed our frustration. It was like we had won the race but could not claim a trophy because there weren’t enough teachers teaching on-call to relieve those who had been working through their prep time for months.
While we were desperately trying to cover the gaps created by a shortage of teachers, we were also being expected to implement the new curriculum.
Because you’ve listened to us for so many years, you must not have been surprised by one of the key findings of theCurriculum Change Survey: implementation of the new curriculum has been extraordinarily demanding on teachers. As one teacher who participated in the survey said:
I just want to note that I spent hundreds of hours developing content and instructional materials this year. I work part time and spend most of my days off working on school materials.
Surely you see that the continued teacher shortage coupled with a lack of supports for the new curriculum leaves teachers in an untenable situation?
It’s bad enough that we are not provided enough time to learn this massively changed curriculum, but we are also expected to teach the new curriculum with outdated textbooks and without the necessary equipment.
We don’t quite know what to say to students who notice their parents’ name in their social studies or science textbooks.
We are told by principals that we should consult “the Internet” for learning resources.
Particularly distressing is that after so many years of listening to us talk at our meetings about how underfunding was impacting our students, you did not included a single teacher on theFunding Model Reviewpanel.
Not a single teacher.
I had a kind of déjà vu experience when I listened to you recently on theCBC Early Edition interview of 20 August 2018. During that interview, I was dismayed that you dismissed concerns about outdated resources by saying that there may be “some anecdotes” of old textbooks but that most schools have what they need.
I wonder where your information comes from when theCurriculum Change Survey shows that teachers rate their access to necessary instructional materials at a 4 on a scale of 0 – 10.
More and more these days you sound just like our previous four education ministers who often shared their enthusiasm for new technologies without demonstrating any clear understanding of the challenges of theinfrastructure of our classrooms or the composition of ourstudent populations. Did you forget all the concerns we expressed about this when you were listening so intently at our meetings?
Last September I was looking forward to you turning your criticisms of the previous government into actions that would dramatically change what our students had had to endure for 16 years.
I usually spend August thinking about what I’ll do when I’m back at school again in September but lately all I can think about is 48°C rain. I keep wondering about what lessons would prepare my teen students for a world where hot water falls from the sky, where oceans are too warm to cool nuclear reactors, and when road surfaces from India to the U.K keep melting.
What kinds of skills will be needed in order to thrive if a domino effect of deforestation and thawing tundra turns our planet into a hothouse?
I suspect that knowing how to parse a sentence or how to solve for x aren’t going to be essential skills in such an environment.
But what will be?
I’d be willing to bet that teachers in 1918 were confident that a Liberal Arts curriculum would prepare students to fit socially and economically into a rapidly modernizing, industrializing world. An essential skill then was probably a sensibility to not stray too far beyond the boundaries of conformity while thinking critically about established ideas in literature, math and science. For most of the 20th century, high school graduates who had mastered this skill could look forward to decades of socio-economic rewards.
But is this skill still enough for students who will graduate into the third decade of the 21st century?
What do my fifteen-year-old students need to know?
Certainly there’ll be discussions about the socio-cultural impacts of artificial Intelligence and the economic outlook for a “world without work”, but I’m not quite sure where in our curriculum we’ll be addressing living in a world where new colours have to be added to weather maps to display unprecedented heat.
A century ago a few teachers may have encouraged teens to question militarism in the aftermath of The Great War but any suggestion that relentless economic growth would lead to millions of deaths and an uninhabitable planet would likely have resulted in a referral to an asylum. After all, the age of mass consumerism was just beginning and there were all those newly-electrified gadgets to buy.
Any day now the back-to-school ads will be popping up on screens everywhere. We’ll keep being reminded to buy, buy, buy. The tragic irony is that we have created an economy that is utterly dependent on consumer confidence and yet it’s mass consumption that is leading us to a new norm of rain that falls at 48.3 degrees Celsius and rivers too warm for salmon to spawn.
And there’s the rub, isn’t it? When our education system is a product of, and is sustained by a consumerist society, is it hypocritical to challenge our conformity to consumerism?
Within the next 24 months, my Grade 10 students are going to have to make choices about future education and careers. What should they know about how their lives may be affected given that many experts are predicting that the “oil bubble is about to burst”?
Because we believed you when you told us during the 2017 election campaign that you were committed to supporting all students in public schools, dozens of us spent hundreds of hours canvassing for your candidates in the nine ridings that fall within our school district. We moved making calls on behalf of your candidates to the top of our priority lists, above the myriad tasks we normally have as parents and as teachers.
We were highly motivated to do this because we could not bear the thought of yet another year of inadequate resources and overcrowded classrooms, yet another year of looking into the faces of our students who struggled to learn without the supports they desperately needed in their classrooms.
Before 2002 when our collective agreement was shredded by the BC Liberals, students in Surrey who needed help with their learning, whether they were designated or not, had access to resource rooms and tutorial rooms. There were also enough Learning Assistant Teachers and Education Assistants to support all students who needed it.
As you well know, almost all of that support disappeared during the 16 years that the BC Liberal government was in power.
And so, while we knocked on doors and spoke to voters in spring 2017, we hoped that, if an NDP government were in place, the level of support needed for our students would, at the very least, be restored to what it had been in 2001, the year before the BC Liberal government gutted funding.
On election night, we were thrilled when six out of the nine ridings in Surrey were won by your colleagues. We were especially ecstatic about the ousting of the former Minister of Education, Peter Fassbender, who had been deaf to our multiple appeals for support on behalf of our students. By the end of the school year in June 2017, we excitedly anticipated that our students’ suffering was time-limited, that there was light on the horizon.
There was indeed some light in the new school year. Your government announced more funding for a new school in our district where students had been subjected to gross overcrowding for too many years. We also happily welcomed all the newly hired teachers and looked forward to the relief they would bring to our schools.
But now, it’s a been a year since your Minister of Education said that it was an urgent issue to restore supports and funding to our schools and we are distressed that the situation for students with special needs in our district has gotten worse than it ever was under the BC Liberals!
We are shocked that your government has allowed BCPSEA to avoid fully implementing our restored language.
We are deeply disturbed by the number of students who are left without supports daily while their Learning Specialist Teachers are called to cover classes because of a shortage of teachers.
We are dismayed by the number of teachers who have had no prep time for weeks because they’ve had to cover other classes.
And we are extremely perplexed by your government not doing all that it can to honour the Memorandum of Agreement, the document that is meant to guide the restoration of what was lost in 2002.
Why are you not pressuring all stakeholders to take the actions necessary to remedy the situation in schools, not exacerbate it by preparing to monetize the lost hours of support that too many students endured for far too long?
Even in our worst nightmares we never thought we’d have to debate the morally repugnant issue of “cash for kids” with your government.
Starting this month, there’s going to be an historic demolition of a building in Vancouver. Historic not only because it’s the tallest building to be demolished in the city but also because it’s going to take concrete-crushing robots over a year to turn the Empire Hotel, floor by floor, into a pile of dust and debris.
Since March is also when we celebrate Women’s History and acknowledge International Women’s Day, news of this revolutionary form of demolition got me wondering about how long it’s been taking to dismantle the edifice of patriarchy.
You will also notice that not even unions, those bastions of social justice, are immune from patriarchy’s persistence. The BCTF has had just 8 female presidents in 100 years, 5 of them since 1986. Progress yes, but … .
Although we should be encouraged by the recently-started systematic remodelling of structures within the BCTF to include spaces for equity-seeking groups, we need to acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to be done to reveal how male privilege is interwoven into the way our union works.
Most often this male privilege goes unnoticed. For example, a colleague recently shared that, during an important meeting with a school board, he echoed a comment that a female colleague had just made but he didn’t notice that he was carefully listened to while she was ignored. He only realized that this had happened after she pointed it out to him later.
That’s the thing about male privilege in a patriarchy. It’s so carefully disguised as normal that it’s not even noticed. For many people, living in a patriarchy is like what water is to a fish. It’s so normal it’s invisible.
Perhaps this is why pointing out male privilege invokes a visceral reaction in some people. It’s a shock to realize that you have not actually been seeing what is right there in front of you. Like an elephant in this Magic Eye image. Can you see it?
Exposing male privilege is not to say that men never experience prejudice. Male teachers are well aware of the need to take extra precautions around female students because they remember stories like that of teacher Sean Lanigan whose life was torn apart after being falsely accused of molestation. Others who are routinely called upon to do the heavy lifting and snow-shovelling may also bristle at the suggestion that males are privileged. Male kindergarten teachers also have stories to share about how they are sometimes negatively received.
However, these examples of bias cannot discount the entrenchment of the power of males in decision-making positions across all sectors of our society. Discrimination among people may exist in a multitude of ways but the power to make decisions that affect entire populations within systems, whether political, financial, judicial or educational, is still largely controlled by males.
The 2017 BCTF AGM saw the passing of historic resolutions aimed at creating a space at the executive table for people of colour. It marked a time when many people agreed that the exclusion of people of colour from decision-making power could no longer be tolerated. This is commendable.
On the other hand, motions limiting the role of males on the executive failed by a large margin of the vote. This was disheartening.
Delegates at this month’s AGM, happening in the middle of Women’s History month, will once again be presented with resolutions aimed at limiting the roles of males on the executive committee of an organization whose membership is about 75% female.
What are the chances that delegates, inspired by this Women’s History Month’s stories of the long struggle to demolish the edifice of the 10 000-year-old patriarchy, will vote for an executive that, instead of concentrating power around males, disperses that power in favour of members from equity-seeking groups?
I hope delegates will see that, for male privilege, time is up.