The Last Summer we saw the Sun

The last summer we saw the sun

we didn’t camp

since it would have been no fun

without the fire



while marshmallows

carefully were


burned orange sun


The last summer we saw the sun

we watched trees become



flinging flames

onto roofs,

racing unrelentingly

across fields and forests.


The last time we saw the sun

bright in a blue sky,

casting shade,

growing shadows,

was before this time

of the burnt-orange disc

that sheds faint light

through a smoky dome.


The last summer we saw the sun

we recognized 

that Beijing’s skies

had become our own.

Musings under Smoky Skies

It was good to see sunlight and shadows today after too many days under a smoky dome. Days when I developed a soon-to-be-the-new-normal routine: check air quality readings before my first sip of morning tea.  A reading of 7 on the 10 point scale meant being inside all day; a reading of 2, some time outside, but not too much. Asthmatic lungs don’t breathe well in air filled with too much particulate.  

I have no idea what I would have done if I’d been where readings reached 49.  On a 10 point scale.

But I suppose people who live in Beijing would know what that’s like since they’ve been living under a dome of smoke for quite a while now.  There are even stores there that only sell products to help people, including infants, breathe.

Beijing’s smoky skies ‘inspired’ a Chinese mother to create a documentary, Under The Dome, after she became convinced that the tumour her child developed in utero was caused by the smoky air. 150 million people saw it before it was banned in China.

My few days of living under a smoky dome here in ‘supernatural, beautiful British Columbia’ has led me to wondering about the kind of world the Class of 2030 will inherit. They’ll be starting school in a few weeks, beginning a thirteen-year journey of preparation for a world that will hopefully soon be in full transition to a new economy, one that does not cost the earth.  

But how do we prepare them for that transition?

Should they learn about firescience so that they can protect their homes and families when wildfires are common? Perhaps they could learn what Indigenous people have known about wildfires for millennia, what they know about ensuring that fire doesn’t devour entire communities?

Should we tell them to think of about becoming a wind turbine mechanic, the fastest growing career in North America today? We should certainly tell them that jobs in 2030 will look nothing like jobs today because by then, if we are to survive, we’ll have to be well on our way to containing our cancerous consumption of our planet’s resources.

One of the signs that the transition has already started is the rapid growth in forest schools in Europe and North America. More and more parents want their children to have a different relationship with the earth, one based on reverence and respect. They know that children will protect what they have learned to love.

If I could plan the curriculum for the Class of 2030 it would certainly contain a course on ecological literacy because our children will need to learn to read the skies the way they read a book.

What do you think the Class of 2030 should learn?

Dear Reader…

Dear Reader,

Firstly, thank you for being here. I have appreciated all the responses to my writing since I started this blog in April 2014 at a time when the relationship between public school teachers and the provincial government in British Columbia was quite fractured.

Between then and May 2017, my writing focus was mainly on concerns about public education in our province although I occasionally explored ideas about the education project itself.

Now that we have a new government, one that does not see public education as a burden on the public purse, I intend to focus a bit more on the “life” part of the “essays on education and on life” in the sub-title for this blog. I’m doing so because I am not only a teacher.

I am also a daughter of a mother who has dementia.

I am someone who lives in co-housing, continually learning what it means to live in community.

I am also quite concerned about climate change and the kind of future we are creating for our children.

And in all these spaces in my life, there are ideas to explore. I’d like to do that more.

But, I will also continue to use writing to untangle the questions that come with being a teacher of teens from whom I learn so much.

I hope you continue to read what I write because without your presence all this will be an empty echo.


What shall I tell my students?

If Christy Clark wins the provincial election on Tuesday, what shall I tell my students? When corruption and callous disregard for the marginalized can be so richly rewarded, what incentive do my students have for being good? When cheating does not preclude you from occupying the highest office in the province, why should they listen to my warnings about plagiarism?

What happens to our society when what we teach about ethics and citizenship inside our schools is not reflected in the reality outside our classrooms?

We’re all familiar with the adage that children learn what they live, that they don’t pay as much attention to what we say but they’re always watching what we do.

What are we doing, British Columbia?

Are we really going to reward 16 years of malgovernance on Tuesday?

My students will be graduating soon in a province that has the “worst-performing economy” for young people and some of the highest tuition fees in Canada. They’re more than likely to join the increasing numbers of post-secondary students using food banks. They’re also unlikely to be able to afford a home and will have to seriously consider whether they can afford to have a family, daycare costs being what they are.

And while they’re dealing with all that, they’ll also soon be responsible for the massive debt that the BC Liberals have accrued over the past 16 years to say nothing about the huge contractual obligations they’ll be saddled with, courtesy of Christy Clark’s pay-for-play politics.

Are we collectively going to say that that’s all okay on Tuesday 9th May?

The BC Liberals inherited a surplus when they won the election in 2001. A surplus. This may be shocking to learn given the massive amount of disinformation about the NDP’s governance last century.

When the NDP were last in power, we did not have young people leaving the province in mass numbers for a better life somewhere else. We did not wait 6 hours in emergency rooms. We did not pay tolls to cross bridges. And we did not have 3-year waits for psychometric assessments for students with special needs.

Schools had libraries and librarians. People with disabilities had bus passes. Frail seniors in nursing homes did not wait hours to go to the toilet. No one died after waiting for help in a hospital emergency room.

This does not have to be so. We can be so much better.

For the sake of my students, please vote for a future they can believe in, one that gives them hope for a better B.C.

Let’s uninstall the malgovernance of Christy Clark

Parsimonious. That’s the word John Horgan used to describe the pattern of education funding over the past 16 years during a two hour discussion he had with a group of teachers yesterday.

If he had not already impressed us with his passion and genuine concern, his intellect and ability to articulate complex ideas would have sealed the deal.

It was so refreshing to have a conversation with a political leader who speaks in sentences that make sense, not in sound bites filled with lies and obfuscations.

It was enlightening to watch him be self-deprecating and witty while at the same time serious about the huge task he would have to turn around 16 years of malgovernance.

Like the malware that renders computers inoperable, Christy Clark’s governance is like a virus that has afflicted this province for too long.

John Horgan is the antidote we’ve been waiting for.

Portable Classrooms Catch 22

Imagine you and your family of 12 live in a home meant for a family of 5.

Imagine that you win a government grant that will allow you to build a bigger home.

But you can only get the money under certain conditions.

You will have to provide documented proof that your house is over-crowded by showing that every room, including the bathroom, the kitchen, and all the closets, are always in use, 24/7.

You will have to guarantee that none of the 12 family members will move out in the next 5 years.

And you will also have to guarantee that the new house will be ready for occupancy within 3 months despite the builders telling you that they need 9 months to build the home.

Given these conditions, would you believe that the government had any intention of actually providing the grant in the first place?

Well, imagine how teachers feel because this analogy describes how the Ministry of Education is going about implementing the Supreme Court of Canada ruling in at least two districts with overcrowded schools.

The Ministry says they’ll provide more classroom space in the form of portables but only if the District can prove the overcrowding by 28 April and also if the District can guarantee that the portables will be ready on 1 September.

They demand that all these conditions be met despite knowing full well that in order for portables to be ready by September, they should have been ordered by February this year.

Yes, the Ministry is complying with the Supreme Court ruling.

Just not in a way that will actually work for students in overcrowded classrooms.

For more details about this travesty, please read this piece by Laura Barker, First Vice President of the Surrey Teachers Association.

Whose future is bright?

The B.C. Liberals want voters to believe their promise of a future so bright they’ve got to wear shades, but all I can think about are the 331 children who have died in government care since Christy Clark was elected in 2013. There is certainly no bright future for them.

In the 2013 election we were promised “families first” but we soon discovered that it was only the families of the very wealthy, the ones who could afford $10 000 a plate dinners, whose concerns would be heard by the premier.

Families who could not afford daycare were not heard.

Families forced to choose between paying rent or buying food were ignored.

Families trying to survive on minimum wage did not factor into the premier’s concerns.

For whom is the premier promising a bright future?

Certainly not the children with learning disabilities who struggled to learn in overcrowded classrooms, the casualties of 15 years of deliberate defunding of public education.

Certainly not adults wanting to complete their high school education or those in post-secondary institutions who are increasingly using food banks to cope with high tuition fees.

Perhaps the bright future is only for students in private schools that have enjoyed a 66% increase in government funding since 2005?

The newspaper wraparound election ads promise us a “strong” B.C. but on what foundation is the future of our province being built?

The Mount Polley Spill. Image from THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Conventional wisdom has it that a society’s future is predicated on the strengths, skills and knowledge of the youth but if we look at the way young people in this province have been treated by the B.C. Liberals since 2001, our future has a shaky foundation.

Cracks in our future foundation are already evident with a new report revealing that we have the worst economy in the country for young people.

Unlike older generations who enjoyed steady employment, younger people will have to get used to a world of precarious employment: temporary, casual and seasonal work that make up the bulk of the jobs that the B.C. Liberals boast about.

And while they’re struggling to make a living, our younger generations will have to find a way to manage the burden of all the contractual obligations made by the B.C. Liberals when B.C. Hydro and I.C.B.C have been completed plundered in the cause of a “balanced budget”.

As if that’s not enough, they will also have to pay for the clean-up costs of environmental disasters, like the $40 000 000 for Mount Polley spill, since one of the advantages of those corporate donations is the deregulation that allows mining companies to siphon profits from our natural resources without concern for environmental destruction.

The more I think about it, a future under the B.C. Liberals is only bright if you happen to be a corporation, one of the many whose donations made international news.

If you can’t afford the $10 000 a plate dinners, the B.C. Liberals have little to offer you besides more of what we’ve been subjected to since 2001: increasing poverty, increasing housing costs, increasing deaths while waiting for ambulances, increasingly longer waits to see medical specialists, increasing deaths while waiting in hospital emergency rooms, increasing deaths of children in government care.

What the B.C. Liberals offer is so bleak that accepting their promises would be like paying for “protection” from the very mob who have already destroyed everything.

A decimated social safety net, a huge debt burden, and no viable plan to mitigate climate change  portends a future that is anything but bright for B.C. under Christy Clark’s leadership.