On the Reopening of BC Schools

As a teacher, I would feel less anxious about schools reopening next week if the Public Health Office expressed confidence in a return to in-school instruction after they had conducted random checks of a sample of schools in a range of socio-economic areas to see first-hand the facilities that public schools in British Columbia actually have.

Restaurants are regularly inspected to ensure that meal preparation is hygienic and safe; all businesses frequented by the public know that their facilities have to be in safety compliance or their reputation will suffer and they will lose clients.  Public schools in B.C. seem to exist in a different category when it comes to health and safety. 

It’s only recently that there has been progress toward seismic safety but ongoing problems with mice infestation and the lack of drinkable water in many schools seems to be an inconvenient truth that we should all just learn to live with.

For almost two decades under the BC Liberals, there was little money for failing and inadequate infrastructure. It’s understandable that the current  BC NDP government cannot reverse the damage of  decades of neglect within a short time. 

That neglect was at best tolerable during the Before times. But then Covid-19 came along and shed blinding sunlight into the darkest of health and safety corners within the public education system in B.C.

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Like many people in B.C. I’ve been riveted to regular Covid-19 updates by Dr. Henry. I admire her calm demeanor and steadfast handling of an unprecedented crisis.  I have been especially impressed by the way she responds when concerns are raised about the number of people lining up to board a ferry or the number of people enjoying the sun at a local beach.

She refuses to fan any frustration that some may feel at the apparent violation of her orders. Instead she expresses confidence, backed by data, that people are in fact following her orders. 

Dr. Henry is reasonable and expects people to be as well. She has instructed the Ministry of Education to ensure that schools are safe for students’ return. I’m sure she expects that the Ministry of Education will be reasonable in its execution of her orders.

The problem is that teachers have vivid memories of the Ministry of Education being anything but reasonable.  Whether it was when they demanded concessions to our collective agreement in recent bargaining or when they ignored pleas for more funding for students with special needs, being unreasonable has been the Ministry’s default setting for quite a while.

For years teachers have said that it’s not reasonable to expect students to learn in hot and stuffy portable classrooms; that it’s not reasonable to expect teachers to spend their own money on supplies for their classrooms. 

And teachers know that it’s not reasonable for the Ministry of Education to expect that after decades of cuts to budgets that there will be enough money in each school district to ensure that all Dr. Henry’s protocols are followed.   

Covid-19’s presence has led to the opening of the government’s purse in ways unseen since the Great Depression with many programs available to support various sectors of society during this challenging time.

So where’s the money for schools? 

In fulfilling Dr. Henry’s orders, how does one ensure thorough hand hygiene when taps have to be held down to get a 4-second spurt of cold water? 

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How will overworked, skeletal custodial staff manage with the much longer list of cleaning tasks when they barely had enough time for cleaning classrooms during the Before times? 

In BC we can expect that any hospital in the province has standardized facilities to protect the health of patients and staff. No such standardization exists in BC schools.

Whereas one school may have a mice infestation and warnings posted at drinking fountains not to drink the water,  another school may have ergonomically designed classrooms with beautiful bathrooms in wide hallways, lots of natural light everywhere, and easy access to outdoor classrooms.

Teachers all across the province know that, in some schools, it will be easy to follow all the guidelines for a safe return to school but in too many schools it will not be. 

When all schools have lead-free drinkable water, when all school washrooms have taps that don’t have to be held down in order to work, when all schools have fully-functioning ventilation systems, then we can be confident in there being reduced opportunities for viruses to spread when we return to schools.

That would take money though. And the education budget, as a percentage of our GDP, has been kept low by both major political parties when they’re in power.

In the Before times, the impacts of regular reductions to education budgets have been borne by students who have fallen through the cracks in the system.

In this time of a pandemic, the impacts of neglected infrastructure could spread well beyond classroom walls. 

And that is not reasonable at all. 

Our Opportunity is Here

Sometimes I enjoy watching ads. I look forward to seeing Westjet’s latest Christmas surprise and I never tire of watching the Tangerine ad that honours difficult work days. I especially enjoyed the pro-diversity Superbowl ads this year from AirBnB, Coco Cola, Budweiser and 84Lumber. Their messages pushed against rising xenophobia and instead promoted human decency, the idea of one human family, the concept of “we”.

There’s another ad on regular repeat on our screens these days that also attempts to evoke a common sense of purpose: the B.C. Liberal government “Our Opportunity is Here” ad. This is not an ad I enjoy watching at all.

Launched in late November last year, the ad campaign is supposed to be about informing citizens about government services and programs.  

But I wonder if citizens see the irony in the launching of a campaign focused on government services and programs just weeks after the Supreme Court of Canada rebuked the B.C. Liberals for cheating a generation of students out of critically important services they needed for their education?

It takes a significant depth of cynicism to launch a $15 000 000 advertising campaign weeks after your government has been censured for actions that resulted in the removal of $4 billion in funding for education, a critically important government program.

But what is particularly galling is Premier Clark’s professed “excitement” at having the opportunity to invest in education that the ruling supposedly gave her, the same opportunity she discarded when, as Minister of Education, she introduced the legislation that the Supreme Court found in violation of the constitutional rights of teachers.

Piles of discarded opportunities dot the landscape of the BC Liberal’s legacy.

Some of these discarded opportunities have dollar figures attached to them: the $3.02 billion that we lose by shipping raw logs out of the province; the billions we lose in revenue each year because the royalty we collect for our natural gas resource is almost negligible.

But some of the discarded opportunities cannot be calculated in dollars: these are the lost opportunities to have made a difference to an entire generation of students with learning disabilities, and students with mental health needs, while they struggled to keep up in overcrowded, under-resourced schools.

Some discarded opportunities are simply heartbreaking as when the Ministry of Children and Families prioritizes the balancing of their budget above saving the lives of the 120 children who died in government care last year alone.

It’s for reasons like these that I see something different whenever those bright shiny “opportunity” ads flash on my TV screen.

http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/home/featured-services/featured-services-language/english

OUR

Everyone working two or three jobs at minimum wage because one is not enough to keep up with the rising cost of living.

Everyone on social assistance trying to survive on $610 per month.

All first responders burnt out from dealing with the healthcare crisis in the streets.

Everyone who has spent 5 hours in an emergency waiting room.

Everyone disgusted by the “pay for play” $10 000/plate dinners.

Everyone distraught by the environmental destruction from Mount Polley, anxious about the threat of burst pipelines, angry at the obscenity of the grizzly bear hunt, frustrated with the state of BC Parks.

Everyone annoyed by the hidden taxes in BC Hydro increases, MSP fees, ICBC rates.

OPPORTUNITY

Imagine a province where people, not profiteering, come first. Where politicians actually behave like public servants, not sycophants for corporations.

Where politicians spend more than 30 days a year in the Legislature.

Imagine a province where foreign billionaires can’t buy political favours.

Imagine a province with a Poverty Reduction Plan.

With $15/hour minimum wage.

With $10/day daycare

With public education funded to the Canadian average.

HERE

Early voting begins on 29 April.

OUR OPPORTUNITY IS HERE

The B.C. NDP: ‘Good Enough’ to do better than B.C. Liberals ever did

Years ago I used to lament all the times I had stayed late at work while my daughter fended for herself at home. I couldn’t forgive myself for the times I had yelled when I should have just taken a deep breath. I still cringe when I remember how I didn’t recognize how much she was struggling with the changes in her life.  I was definitely not a perfect parent.  

But I came to realize that I was a good enough one.

Everything I did must have been good enough because she’s turned out perfectly fine after all.

I’m thinking a lot about the concept of “good enough” these days in the lead up to the election in May.  After 16 years of a government that focused on slashing social services and enriching the already rich, I’d love nothing more than a new government to right all those wrongs, to put people before profit, to restore the threads of our shredded social safety net and to do all that it possibly can to protect our air, land and water from pollution and desecration.

I want a government that prioritizes all the issues that I think are important.

But I know that I’m going to have to settle for a good enough one.

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I used to vote for the Green Party and the NDP alternately. I voted Green when two friends ran provincially and federally for office at a time when the evidence about human-made climate change was mounting. Voting for a party that put the environment first seemed logical given the fact that without a liveable environment, all other issues are moot.

When other friends raised questions about the social and economic policies of Green candidates, I ignored them.  I didn’t want to hear that a party that would protect the environment had any flaws in its platform.

And then came the attacks by the Minister of Education on the Vancouver School board and I took note of how the Green Party member on the board responded. How she sided with those who bought into the Minister’s vilification of board members.

Later I started to notice how often Andrew Weaver supports the BC Liberals and Christy Clark, and how much time he spends attacking John Horgan.

Given Christy Clark’s political record since 2001, starting with the gutting of all social service budgets when she was Deputy Premier and her government’s tarnished environmental stewardship reputation, I find it difficult to understand why Horgan is the target of Weaver’s attacks.

These days social media is abuzz with prognostications about the election in May. There are all kinds of predictions about how voting for the Green Party is really a vote for four more years of the BC Liberals.  There are also lots of vehement rebuttals of this argument but, given that some ridings were won by the BC Liberals with just a few hundred votes in 2013, it’s hard not to consider the impact of a Green Party vote.

And so I’m going to vote for the BCNDP, not because they’re the perfect party, and not because I expect them to undo 16 years of BC Liberal rule anytime soon, or even that they will work right away on my personal top priorities.

I’m going to vote for them because they’re a team of good enough politicians who I expect to do the very best they can given the massive provincial debt they will inherit from the BC Liberals.

And I expect that when they can do better, they will.

I came to Canada the last time the NDP was in government in BC and I watched in fascination the unfolding on television of Glen Clark’s resignation over a deck.

If the same standards of intolerance for malfeasance were applied to the BC Liberals today, Christy Clark should have resigned when the first reports of the deaths of children in government care began to surface. She should have resigned when the lies about the health care researchers were revealed. She should have resigned when the New York Times’s revelations about her “pay for play” finally forced local media to look at our “wild west” of electioneering. And she certainly should have resigned last week when she was caught in a Trump-like lie about hacking.

It would be a challenge to make a credible argument that Christy Clark and the BC Liberals are good enough for BC by any measure, including fiscal management. The BC Liberal record is riddled with fiscal fumbling and a failure to be anything even close to “transparent“.

On the 10th May, I hope to be waking up to a new day in B.C. with a ‘good enough for now’ government working hard to be better at governing this province than the BC Liberals ever were.

Dear Minister De Jong

Dear Minister De Jong,

Thank you for your voicemail message expressing your regret that I was not home to share with you my priorities for a balanced budget. Perhaps it was a good thing that I was not available for your call because I have a feeling you don’t really want to hear what I have to say about your government’s fiscal management record.

Firstly, I don’t think we could even agree about the topic of our conversation since I see a balanced budget as an oxymoron, like fresh-frozen or pretty-ugly. A budget is a forecast, not a fixed entity. It’s a projection that is at best an estimation of what spending will be.

Remember when you budgeted $63 million for fighting forest fires in 2015 but ended up spending $198 million instead? Didn’t that “unbalance” your budget? I noticed the “unbalanced budget” did not end the world as we know it, for some reason.

Secondly, for a political party that continually boasts about its fiscal management, you have a really shoddy record when it comes to taking care of our public purse. How could good fiscal managers have ballooned the debt by 45%? What did the citizens of BC get for the extra $20 billion that’s been added to the debt since 2011?

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http://bit.ly/2lw4emf

I know what corporations have received: tax cuts that they don’t need because they can already defer the payment of their taxes, hide their money in tax havens, and use tax loopholes to avoid paying taxes altogether. So they don’t really need your help, do they?

Come to think of it, I actually do know what the citizens of BC got for the tax cuts: a shift to hidden taxes with increases in BC Hydro, ICBC and MSP rates, and more tolls to pay for crossing bridges on the way to work.

We also got longer waits for ambulances. We were turned away from medical clinics. We had to find money to spend on tutors for our children who were not getting learning support in overcrowded classrooms, courtesy of your gutting of public education funding.

Would a good fiscal manager have spent money  on lawyers for a 15-year fight over teachers’ constitutional rights, a fight that your government knew it would not win?

There are many examples that clearly show your government’s fiscal fumbling but I think the most perfect example of this is the recent car windshield repair issue.

When your party took power in 2001 you scrapped the NDP policy that ensured that ICBC would pay for windshields to be repaired.  Your BC Liberal government only wanted to pay for windshield replacements. And now, 15 years later, you discover that your policy actually cost more money than the NDP policy did.

I suspect that if we took a close look at the budgets of all BC government ministries, we would find multiple examples of the “windshields” that could have been “repaired” for a fraction of the cost of “replacement”.

Take the Ministry of Children and Family Development, for example. I’m sure a forensic audit of the ministry would reveal a lot of cracks that, had they been repaired, as Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond suggested in 92 reports over 10 years,  the kind of calamities that no child should ever have to endure, could have been prevented.

But, the top priority in Minister Stephanie Cadieux’s 2015 mandate letter is to balance her budget.

When 120 children die while in government care and more than 740 receive critical injuries, I hope you can understand why what you see as a balanced budget, I see as a death sentence.

The moment you can explain how a balanced budget can prevent another Paige dying on the streets, then I would love to have a conversation with you about budgets and priorities.

Sincerely,

A. Taxpayer-Citizen

Where is your outrage, citizens of BC?

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http://imcreator.com/free/people/rebel

Yesterday it felt good to be one of thousands marching in BC to challenge the misogynist rhetoric of a narcissistic president. It was cathartic to walk with so many whose protest was displayed on signs philosophic and poetic all around the planet, from Alaska to Antarctica.

But today, when I think about what is happening in our own province, I wonder when we will see thousands take to the streets to protest the egregious actions of the BC Liberal government and Christy Clark?

While big money gets to feast at her table, children with learning disabilities struggle to keep up with lessons in mouldy portables, waiting for the crumbs she was so “excited” to promise.

While 914 dead bodies pile up in morgues, she ignores the health crisis in our streets, refusing the common sense solutions suggested. 

While people are turned away from clinics and waiting in emergency rooms starts at 3 hours, she flits around the province meeting with billionaires who benefit from tax cuts.

While youth who have aged-out of care die alone on the street, and while teens in government care  “fall” out of windows in hotel rooms, she grins at more funding-by-photo-op events.

And lets never forget that there is an entire generation of students who were subjected to overcrowded classrooms and decreasing resources while, for 15 years, her government spent millions in attacks on the constitutional rights of teachers. 

This list could go on and on. There are over a 146 examples of the  BC Liberals’ callous disregard for ordinary citizens in this province.

But, where is the outrage?

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People around the planet are afraid that Trump will reverse all progress to mitigate the effects of climate change, while here in BC, alarm bells warning about increasing fossil fuel emissions with LNG are largely ignored.

Yesterday, parents around the world marched with their children, future citizens,  who will inherit the world we leave them, while here in BC the fact that one in five children lives in poverty seems to not be enough to demand more of a government whose “families first” campaign slogan rang hollow.

We seem to be dazzled by the ads promising us a world of opportunities while all around us the suffering of the sick, the poor, the disabled and the elderly at the hands of Christy Clark’s crew barely registers acknowledgement.

The seed for yesterday’s march was planted by Teresa Shook, a grandmother who refused to allow her despair about Trump’s election victory to lull her into apathy. She wrote on her Facebook page: I think we should march.

What words will it take to shake the citizens of BC out of their apathy?

Essential Time for Education

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Dear Minister of Education Peter  Fassbender,

Now that Bill 11 has become law and you have the power to determine what I do for my professional development, I wonder if you could spare a few moments to help me with some concerns I have?

What do I do if an Individual Education Plan (IEP) calls for a student to have a scribe but there are no Education Assistants assigned to that student? What should I do? Do I leave the other 29 students to their own devices while I write the student’s responses to an assignment?

When I have fifteen of thirty students in a class with IEPs that all call for different adaptations, which of those IEPs should I attend to first during each 70 minute period with the students?

Do you have any suggestions about what I should have the students without IEPs do while I set up the students with IEPs when I do not have an Education Assistant in the classroom?

And what do I do when I am lucky enough to have one Education Assistant in a class where there is a student who is autistic, a student with dysgraphia, a student with hearing difficulties, a student with severe behaviour issues and a student with ADHD who needs to constantly pace? To whom should the Education Assistant and I address our attention?

There are so many more situations I need advice on. I hope you have some suggestions.

Does your plan for my professional development include having time to analyze my lessons and discuss my observations with colleagues like teachers in Finland and Japan do?  I have noticed so many things about the way my teen students learn. I would love to have time to do more research and to find ways to adapt my teaching practice to accommodate what my students need.

I must confess that I envy teachers in Finland who are allowed to spend 40% of their time at work in analyzing lessons! I have so many questions about what happens in my classroom that I’d  love to have the time to discuss with colleagues.

As it is, the situation now is that I can snatch a few minutes with a colleague while we wait for our photocopying to finish. Sometimes we are lucky and get a few minutes during lunch if we don’t have students to meet with or department meetings to attend. We have become experts at eating while multitasking!

Having only five Pro-D days a year means that by the time the Pro-D day arrives, there’s so much more that needs to be discussed and so on those days we can only chip away at the mountain of curiosities we have about teaching and learning. Imagine having interesting things happen each hour over 180 days and then having just 5 days to discuss all that has happened.

As you know, back in the 1980s teachers gave up vacation time in order to have Pro-D days so I know that adding more Pro-D days by extending the school year will definitely not be popular! It seems to me that a much more effective approach would be for professional development to be built into each instructional day as is done elsewhere. That way there is a timely addressing of the issues, wouldn’t you agree? Children can change so much over a short period of time through their development. But, being that you’re a grandfather, I’m sure you know this.

As a mother, there’s lots that I learned about child development while my daughter was growing up. Her questions often flummoxed me! Young children can be so smart, can’t they?

Through all my undergraduate and graduate studies it was wonderful to be able put my experiences as a mother into the context of research in Psychology, Sociology and Philosophy. Nowadays I draw from my 6 years of university studies in education to make decisions about what the best approach would be to increase the chances of my students being successful. But sometimes not even my Master’s degree  is enough to deal with some of the challenges and that’s when I wish I had time to discuss possible responses with my colleagues.

When I do happen to carve out enough time to talk to a colleague, I’m always amazed how a different perspective can help me to see more clearly what is happening in my classroom. It’s as though my colleague has cleaned up my glasses so that I can see through them more clearly!

By the way, I don’t mean to be rude, but  what education qualifications will you be drawing upon when you make determinations about what I should learn in order to develop professionally? Just curious…

I really hope that when you determine what I should do for my professional development that you consider that what teachers need most are enough Education Assistants for every student with an IEP and time with colleagues to discuss ways to help our students to be successful learners in the 21st century.

Sincerely,

A. Teacher

Prison Reading

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http://www.imcreator.com/free/education/iceberg-4

My heart skipped a beat when I saw your face on the front page of the newspaper, my mind racing back to the day that photo was taken at school. Your smile is so brilliant. Your eyes have that mischievous look I remember well. You would use that smile to charm yourself out of trouble so often. But that smile won’t charm the warden when you join the prison population this week.

Many within that population have something in common with you. 77% of them had learning disabilities when they were at school.

When I first met you when you entered high school, I remember how hard you struggled to pay attention in class. You could not sit still! Your body wanted to move and so I let you leave the classroom whenever you needed to. But you could not do that in all your classes in high school where paying attention means sitting still.

I remember all those drawings you made instead of writing notes. The creatures you drew were fantastical, the products of a very creative mind. But for some reason, that mind could not make sense of what you read, no matter how hard you tried.

Your learning disability had been recognized by teachers while you were in elementary school but that was at the time when the new funding formula for school districts was starting to have an impact. With cuts to the number of school psychologists, waiting lists got longer and longer. And when choices had to be made between you and a student exhibiting violent behaviour in the classroom, your suspected reading disability was seen as less urgent. After all, you were funny and kind, not violent.

You were well-loved by your friends who helped you with your school work more than they should have. But they were also charmed by that smile and all the cartoons you drew. Your skills were always in demand whenever there were group projects that demanded creativity. That was something that you could do even if you could not write an essay.

With the help of your friends and your teachers who did what they could, you struggled through each year of high school, without any support, without an Education Assistant to help you, without a Learning Support teacher, without an IEP ( Individual Education Plan) which would have helped your teachers to know how best to help you.

Your parents too were at a loss with what to do. They could not afford the costs of having you assessed by a private psychologist, the only alternative to the long waiting lists in schools. They both had minimum wage jobs and tried the best they could for you and your siblings.

You seemed changed the last time I saw you when you were in Grade 11. You were waiting to see a Vice-Principal, after being caught smoking marijuana. Your eyes had lost their sparkle, and you only smiled ruefully in response to my question about why you had been doing drugs. Later, I wondered if it was a way you found to numb your frustration.

What else was numbed in you on your journey from student to armed robber? Was it a part of you that needed nurturing while you were still at school? Would your journey have been different if you had had the support you needed to learn? Could we have prevented your role as an armed robber if we could have prevented your becoming a school drop-out?

As a prisoner, taxpayers are going to spend $117 788 on you each year.

As a high school student, you were funded at $6900 per year, $988 less than the Canadian average

During the 2014 labour dispute, the government of Christy Clark maintained that funding students to the Canadian average was outside of the affordability zone for taxpayers. Could taxpayers have been spared having to pay $117 788 each year for your housing as an inmate if your school district had been able to provide the help you needed to learn to read and to write?

It’s a pathetic irony that you’ll likely get more help for your learning disability in prison than you ever received in school. But perhaps it will be in prison that you will finally be freed from the frustration you felt whenever you tried to read and write in school.

A Week in the Life of a Public School Teacher

Teachers in countries where the privatization agenda is fully engaged, will recognize much of what happens in the week of a public school teacher in the United States.

Kafkateach

teachers-cartoon 1st grade

Monday: I don’t remember anything about Monday. I am so mentally exhausted by Friday that Monday may as well have been three years ago.

Tuesday: The only reason I remember anything about Tuesdays is because there is always a faculty meeting to remind me of how little educators’ time and opinions are valued. This Tuesday was extra special because it started with a bomb threat. There is never a dull moment (save for faculty meetings) in the life a public school teacher. In what other profession does one have to immediately drop what they’re doing and be herded into an auditorium because of an unattended box? The timing of this event was spectacular. I just started teaching the Cold War and my students were having a good laugh over an old Duck and Cover PSA video I showed them when all of sudden the school cop bursts in and…

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Fracking their Future

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Pumpjack Reindeer were part of a Christmas parade in nothern BC last night. The normalizing of an environmentally destructive industry continues unchecked. Image courtesy of Destiny Ashdown

Why are we allowing the BC Liberal government to hijack our education system to provide workers for the fracking industry at a time when climate change, caused by massive emissions of greenhouse gases, is already wreaking havoc in the lives of millions of people around the planet?

Why we are funnelling our children toward an industry that is associated with environmental death and destruction, an industry that has a long track record of contaminating waterways?

I can understand why adults who already work in oil and gas industries would continue to do so, but why, at a time when there are viable alternative energy industries, are we not preparing our children to live in an age of climate change?  

Evidence that the  BC Skills for Jobs Blueprint is nothing more than a fracking industry recruitment drive is abundantly clear in the LNG seminars that are currently touring our province. Designed to spin all the benefits of the fracking industry, there will be a lot that will not be mentioned in the presentations to our children.

Groundwater being contaminated by undisclosed chemicals won’t be mentioned.   The folly of pursuing training for a single industry won’t be mentioned either. And certainly the fact that fracking wells leak dangerous methane gases daily, won’t be mentioned.

What will be mentioned is how much money our children will make in the jobs not taken by the many Temporary Foreign Workers we are to expect.

But even when money is the topic, what won’t be mentioned is how many billions oil and gas corporations will make and how little of that will actually be collected in taxes, how little they will pay for the extraction of our collective resources and the destruction of our environment.

Why are we standing by while profit is prioritized above ensuring there is  a livable planet for our children? 

With the money that they will earn, where will our children go to buy a new planet once the oil and gas industry has destroyed the possibility of human life on this one?

Why is it so difficult for people to understand that we are not in the environment, that the environment is in us.

Whatever we put into our water, we put into our bodies. 

Whatever we put into the air, we put into our bodies.

Whatever we put into the soil, we put into our bodies.

Is the fact that there are PCBs and other pesticides in the breastmilk of nursing mothers not enough to cause us to pause and to reflect upon what we are doing in the name of the economy?

There can be no economy if there is no healthy environment.

Our children are entering a world they did not create. What kind of world is our education preparing them for?

When enormous resources are being spent in a spin machine that is trying to persuade our children that the only viable option for employment is an industry that destroys the environment, what are we doing? 

Why are we not insisting that our children are trained for skills in green technology industries?  Why are we not demanding that our governments follow the example of countries like Denmark that are rapidly moving away from fossil fuel dependence?

Why not teach our children a new way of being in the world, a way of living that does not destroy what our lives depend on?

Why are we fracking our children’s future?

Would a poem elucidate our options more clearly?

The Ark of Consequence by Marge Piercy

The classic rainbow shows an arc,
a bridge strung in thinning clouds,
but I have seen it flash a perfect circle,
rising and falling and rising again
through the octave of colours,
a sun shape rolling like a wheel of light.

Commonly it is a fraction of a circle,
a promise only partial, not a banal
Sign of safety like a smile pin,
that rainbow cartoon affixed to vans
and baby carriages. No, it promises
only, this world will not self-destruct.

Account the rainbow a boomerang of liquid
light, foretelling rather that what we
toss out returns in the water table;
flows from the faucet into our bones.
What we shoot up into orbit falls
to earth one night through the roof.

Think of it as a promise that what
we do continues in an arc
of consequence, flickers in our
children’s genes, collects in each
spine and liver, gleams in the apple,
coats the down of the drowning auk.

When you see the rainbow iridescence
shiver in the oil slick, smeared
on the waves of the poisoned river,
shudder for the covenant broken, for we
are given only this floating round ark
with the dead moon for company and warning.

From Mars and Her Children, Knopf, 1992

Holding the Line for Democracy

poppies
http://www.imcreator.com/free/nature/red-flowers

Right at this very moment, millions of people dream of having the right to vote. Thousands are in prison or being tortured for daring to demand the franchise, the right to participate in the governing of their countries. The fight for the franchise is often a prolonged struggle, as we saw with the Arab Spring that seemed to hold so much promise but has yet to deliver fully the democracy it promised.

The holy grail of so many is what we already have.

Today, four days after Remembrance Day, there is an election for local governments throughout our province. Traditionally the turnout for these elections has been low with only around 30 per cent of eligible voters casting a ballot. The successful candidates will be those who win 50 percent of those votes. They will then spend their mandate representing 100 per cent of the citizens within cities and towns after having won the approval of only a fraction of the electorate.

Is this what our democracy has come to?

During the prolonged labour dispute between the B.C. Liberal government and our union, we teachers had our flagging spirits boosted when we received a message from a Canadian soldier.

Here is part of what he said to us:

When I enlisted, and from time to time thereafter, I remember reading the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms so that I would gain a sense of the values and rules I would be fighting, and even dying, to protect. Some of those values are under assault today, and while I may be on the other side of our great nation, and while you have my gratitude and highest regard for the efforts you have made so far, I have one seemingly impossible request to make — for those minds of tomorrow: Hold the line.

I am thinking of that message a lot these days. I think about it when I hear people say that it is important to show respect for all soldiers, past and present, that it’s important to honour their sacrifices.

I hope that our respect goes beyond pinning the poppy on our lapels.

I hope our respect goes beyond standing at attention at the cenotaph.

I hope our respect extends to standing in line at a polling booth.

Our leaders speak about our democracy whenever they tell us about the reason they need to send our soldiers, our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, our sons and daughters, into battle. They tell us that it’s our democratic values that are under attack, that they need to be defended.

But perhaps sending our soldiers into battle is just one way to defend our democracy. Perhaps another way is by exercising our right to vote.

The soldier who wrote to teachers urged us to hold the line in the defence of public education in B.C.  Now that public education has been successfully defended from the most recent attack, I am suggesting that the new “line” we need to hold is the one that we stand in when we line up at polling booths.

I believe that one of the most powerful ways to respect our soldiers, past and present,  is  to participate fully in our democracy.

Let’s hold the line for democracy.

Please vote.