[T]he task is to articulate…an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis – embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy. …Because in the hot and stormy future we have already made inevitable through our past emissions, an unshakeable belief in the equal rights of all people and a capacity for deep compassion will be the only things standing between civilization and barbarism. (This Changes Everything, page 462)
Naomi Klein may not have had our public education system in mind when she made this call to action in the final chapter of her book This Changes Everything but let’s consider the possibility that our public schools could provide a place for the exploration and practice of an an alternative worldview, one that could save civilization.
What if, to prepare our children for the complete restructuring of our political, economic and social systems necessitated by the climate change crisis, the dominant paradigm in schools was not competition for grades but instead collaboration to solve real problems?
What if, instead of preparing students to be careerists and consumers in an extractivist economy, schools focused instead on preparing our children to be global citizens, aware of how their choices and actions impacted the lives of all other global citizens?
What if, instead of teaching our children the traditional literacies – reading, writing, numeracy – we also taught them ecological literacy, social literacy and emotional literacy, and other ways of “reading the world“?
And what if we did all this within the framework of ubuntu, the African philosophy that suggests that I am because we are, that my ongoing existence depends on the existence of others?
Imagine a school where students are competent not only in reading, writing and arithmetic, but are also able to “read” the land around the school, noticing when there are changes in the natural environment and what those changes mean.
Imagine schools where diverse groups of students, guided by teacher-mentors, worked collaboratively on projects that solved actual problems, gaining valuable experiences while doing meaningful work.
Imagine schools where project-based learning and place-based education were not the exceptions that they are now but instead were part of a seamless connection between classrooms and the communities surrounding schools.
These innovative teaching practices are just a few of many that teachers have developed while simultaneously having to contend with multiple challenges in public schools brought about by a neoconservatist assault on public education everywhere.
Teachers are always keenly aware that they are midwives for their students’ futures. Now, more than ever, they need to be supported in the work that they do to prepare students for a chaotic and challenging future.
Instead of defunding public schools and bashing teachers, wise politicians, guided by an enlightened public, should realize that teachers, not corporations, are critically important to our future.
There is no economy without an environment.
Our children’s future lives depend first on there being a livable environment. In contrast, corporate profits depend on the denuding of our land, the pollution of our water and of our air.
The kind of world we will all live in by the time our kindergarteners graduate will depend on who and what we as a society choose to support on the road to the future.
The choice we collectively make will change everything.
Anyone who spends time with children or teens knows that they sometimes say the most profound things, perhaps without actually meaning to. It’s as though their eyes can see the world in ways no longer possible for those of us who have fully conformed to conventional ways of thinking, those of us who no longer see the ordinary magic that surrounds us.
Each year I am reminded of this ordinary magic when I take my students on a three-day camping field trip. Even though it’s the most exhausting and stressful thing I do – imagine being responsible for 30 teens for 72 hours – I know that their experiences at camp will be what they remember for the rest of their lives. They come back to school each year to tell me so.
There is nothing extraordinary about the camping field trip. They canoe, complete a high ropes course and engage in various teamwork challenges. But it’s what happens to them in between these activities that they remember most of all.
In teenspeak it’s called bonding. And, as in all words that teens repurpose, its meaning goes beyond what may conventionally come to mind, of two or more things being fused together.
When I first heard the term I had to ask a lot of questions before I fully understood what it meant. Teens don’t always articulate clearly the full meaning of what they’re trying to express.
Bonding, I learned, is what happens when they stay up all night (despite my best efforts to discourage this) talking to each other. The topics of these talks range from the silly to the sublime but no matter where they begin, they end in a deeper understanding of each other. They get to this place of understanding when they learn how much they have in common with each other; how so many of them have similar struggles, the same concerns and worries. They learn that they’re more alike than not, that their families and circumstances are similar despite cultural divides. It’s this deep understanding of each other that leads them to experience what they call bonding.
Scientists would have a different way of describing these “bonds”, the ties that bind us to each other.
“Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life. So that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically and to the rest of the universe atomically. That’s kinda cool! That makes me smile and I actually feel quite large at the end of that. It’s not that we are better than the universe, we are part of the universe. We are in the universe and the universe is in us.”
Christmas is a perfect time to consider this most astounding fact about our existence.
Consider that our biological connection to each other extends far beyond the family with whom we share the Christmas meal. It can be traced all the way back, through thousands of generations, to our first home in Africa. The food we eat during this time of feasting connects us to the earth chemically and those chemicals themselves are the result of the atoms spewed by stars into the universe.
Science has long provided the evidence for this most astounding fact. Why then do we live each day oblivious of it?
If we walked through our days acting on this fact, we would not still be engaged in debates about whether we should protect our environment or not. Engaging in such debates is akin to wondering whether we should protect our bodies from the cold or whether we should breathe air free of smoke.
If the education of our children was based on this fact, we would radically change what we call school and would do all that we could to prepare our children to survive through the age of climate change.
If we shaped our economic activities based on this fact, any action that could lead to the poisoning of waterways, the pollution of airsheds and the extinction of species would not only be rejected but not conceived of in the first place.
If our individual and collective decisions, whether political, social or economic were based on this fact, we would be living in a far different world, one where consumption was not cancerous, one without poverty or pollution, one where peace was more than a pipe dream.
We would be living in the kind of world we wish for each other in the greeting cards we exchange at this time of year.
At this time of celebration of family and of joyful feasting, I hope we will pause to consider this most astounding fact and that we then resolve to act on it in the new year.
This is a reposting of my friend Cecelia Griffiths’s post on her blog, Especially About Students. This is a long read but after you read it, you will have a comprehensive understanding of why we teachers are willing to forgo salary for this fight we are in with a government that does not seem to care about our most precious “resource” – our children.
As everyone probably knows, when doctors become qualified physicians, they take the Hippocratic Oath, in which they are required to vow never to do any harm. But doctors are always having to do harm. They have to cut into people’s bodies to repair what lies within, or they have to poke needles into their arms to get information to help the person. Sometimes, in horrible circumstances, usually with mass casualties, they have to choose between patients, knowing they can save only one of two or more. These are the life and death situations that face doctors routinely, and nobody expects that they would do other than what they do: their very best to help people to survive to continue their lives.
Nobody will ever confuse teachers with doctors. Nobody will ever see teachers as performing a life or death service (except, of course, when they’re shielding children with their bodies in mass shootings and things), and nor should they. Teachers don’t maintain life; they contribute to its quality. At their best, they give their students broadened horizons, wider ranges of thought, and deeper compassion. But they don’t, by and large save lives. Not in a measurable way, anyway.
But teachers do have to make choices, and some of those choices feel very, very important. For me, as a special education teacher, although I probably do not singlehandedly keep anyone alive, I do indeed make choices that have the power to truly affect kids and their parents. About fifteen years ago, when I taught a tiny class of five students with profound disabilities, and had three Educational Assistants (EAs), I made a whole lot of choices. I experimented with different communication strategies for the nonverbal teens (all but one had no speech). I, together with my EAs, used sophisticated technology to work out how much they did and did not understand. We thought carefully about ways to teach them to cope in public places, which they often found frightening or uninteresting. We dug deep and explored the ranges of their capabilities, and as we worked, we learned. It was a wonderful time. One of the EAs in that class told me, a while back, that another had remarked to him that it was the best job he’d ever had.
It was exhilarating to see the kids learn, and grow. We wanted to teach some of them how to take control over their environment, because their disabilities were so severe they’d had no way of making anything happen independently. So we brought in a whole lot of green fabric of all sorts: green whole cloth, green jeans, green tshirts, anything green that we could get, and we wove a jungle. We hung long braided cords of green from the ceiling to simulate jungle vines. We made draping leaves and created a fantastic jungle world in our classroom. Then I went out and bought a bunch of battery operated toys; parrots, and monkeys, and snakes, which we hung strategically amidst our fabric foliage. We ran wires from the battery cases, carefully hidden, to a bank of large, colourful, switches. If you went up to a switch and hit it, something happened in the jungle: a parrot cawed, or a monkey chuckled and spun, or a snake hissed, or whatever. Soon we were wheeling the kids up to the switches, and they would hit one and watch the result, and one would smile, and another would laugh, and laugh. They could make things happen!
We went on to experiment with a whole bunch of fancy technology. We tried galvanic skin switching, with which a severely disabled person can use biofeedback to change the switch by controlling the surface of their skin. We tried mercury switching, where the slightest movement changes the position of the mercury and closes the switch. Always, the switches were attached to things the kids loved: recorded music, or special toys, or a visual treat.
Those kids thrived. They were happy, and we knew it, because they laughed, and smiled, and lit up when they saw us. Their parents were happy because their children were happy. It was a wonderful time in my life, and although those kids were never going to be elected to office, or granted degrees, or even live independently, we knew that we were making a difference, and they knew they could, too. I only left that job because an amazing opportunity arose for me to go off to Australia to get my Masters degree in Special Education.
When I resumed teaching in British Columbia, it was 2002. That was the year that the current run of attacks on our public education system began. I had a lovely little class of primary aged children (5-9 years old) with significant special needs. We did some good things with that group, and many have gone on to do very nicely. But there were clouds gathering on the horizon.
Since that time, year, after year, after year, the cuts have come. Relentlessly, the services we could provide became fewer. Wait times for evaluation became longer. I went to work for an online school, thinking it could help kids who has been medically excluded because of their severe behaviour. These were children and teens with acting out, due to disabilities, so severe, that they could not be housed in the education system, and they had been offered hospital home bound services instead. But for these children, mostly with autism, hospital home bound was a poor fit, so we tried something innovative, called blended learning. It involved some carefully chosen work in a centre with behaviour management staff, and a lot of online study and interaction. It showed real promise for children who had huge trouble attending to human faces, but who did well with computer screens.
When the focus of that online program changed in the direction of catering for paying foreign students, and more ‘typical’ students looking to pick up some coursework at home, I went to work as a Learning Support Teacher in an inner city school. What I saw there was devastating. In the online school, we had had a good budget, which I now realize was partly because various people were looking to commercialize it. But this little elementary school had very, very little. The children were mostly immigrants, and many, immigrant or not, were living well below the poverty line. It was routine for most of us to keep healthy snacks at hand, because so many came without breakfast or lunch. Many of the children spoke little or no English. Some had no winter coats. School supplies? That wasn’t on anyone’s radar, so a lot of us bought them ourselves. One year, we ran out of white photocopy paper in March. A friend of mine taught her class to garden so they could grow their own food.
Things were getting worse. It was taking longer to get kids evaluated by the school psychologists, and the wait list was growing. In a given year, we might have up to twenty five names to propose for urgent assessment, but we could get maybe three or four completed at best. The psychologists, you see, were being spread thinner and thinner, covering more and more different schools. One little girl whom I knew for sure would qualify as learning disabled, never did get assessed while I was there, and I know there were many others.
At that point, the commute was killing me, as it was an hour and a half each way, as long as there were no road accidents. I chose, therefore, to switch to a semi-rural high school. By now, so much damage had been done due to underfunding, that the job I took would have been two and a half people’s work, fifteen years previously.
Now, there are three counsellors for fifteen hundred students. Three. And they do all of the necessary timetabling and juggling of courses for all fifteen hundred, so that everyone will be assured of taking what they need to graduate. This means, that if a student is suicidal, or if a student is grieving, or if they have a very serious illness, or depression, or bipolar, or an addictions issue, or teen pregnancy, or any of the myriad issues that can befall teens, that they must wait to get in to see a counsellor who is tasked with four hundred and ninety nine other kids. When they do get in – and the counsellors do their utmost best, working crazy hours day after day – they mostly get triaged, and referred. There isn’t much counselling anyone can do with those caseloads. But of course, the same cuts that are literally destroying the public education system, are also attacking other social services. The social safety net is very, very thin, and many young people are falling through the holes.
Now, there is one consistent Learning Assistance Teacher, to support the needs of a school of fifteen hundred. There is a little more time allotted, so the rest is filled by various teachers who have a block in their schedule for working with the kids with learning disabilities. That teacher, an extraordinarily passionate and dedicated person, is often in the building after six o’clock PM, because in addition to her teaching load, she has a massive case management load.
Now, we have no sensory room to help our student, who is so easily overstimulated, soothe himself and calm into a state where he can learn. The building is just too full. I actually bought a tent this year from Canadian Tire to try to give him his own comfortable space. We lined it with foam padding on the floor and put in bean bag chairs, but it didn’t block out noise so it wasn’t really what he needed.
Now, students with learning disabilities receive no funding at all. Neither do students with mild intellectual disabilities (what used to be called “mild mental retardation”), or those with mild to moderate behaviour or mental health concerns. These children are supposed to be ‘managed’ without funding for EA support, specialist teacher support, or any extra mental health services. So children with anxiety attacks, for example, or depression, are left without any funding for services at all. Teachers and counsellors, who know and care about these kids, move heaven and earth to try to ‘fit them in’ as best they can.
Now, it is much harder to get a ‘designation’ that will get funding for a child. The Ministry of Education requires that any child with special needs who will receive funding, be ‘designated’ according to the nature of their need. So a student can be designated ‘dependent handicapped’ or ‘chronic health’ or ‘severe behaviour/mental illness’. There are fixed amounts attached to these designations, no matter what the particulars of the circumstances actually look like. So, for example, a student designated ‘chronic health’ receives roughly the amount of money it would cost to hire a half time EA. What we do, then, is whenever we have a child who gets that kind of funding, we load his or her classes with other students who urgently need help, but are not funded. We try very hard to take into account how this will look for the classroom teacher, but essentially, because so many students have high needs but do not qualify for funding, we have to group these with kids who do qualify, to get them any help. This means that the students who have funding often share their EAs with those who do not. The EAs can be stretched pretty thin, and so can the classroom teachers.
There are a very great many more changes in the BC public education system that I have seen over the past twelve years, and none of them are good. Many, many teachers are genuinely exhausted. I have always been pretty healthy, but this year, towards the end of the year, just before the job action began, I got a bad cold. Not wanting to stay home, because my students are all intellectually disabled and the uncertainty of the situation needed a familiar face to provide support, I pushed through what became bronchitis, then laryngitis, and finally pneumonia. Long before the school year would have ended, had it ended normally, I was far too ill to work. Ultimately, I seem to have had pneumonia or its precursor illnesses for around two and a half months when I was finally hospitalised. I am not unusual; more and more teachers are getting physically ill. There is a great deal of stress in knowing you work with some of society’s most vulnerable people, and you cannot possibly meet their needs.
However, like physicians, we make the best choices we can. And after an enormous amount of distress, a great deal of pain and a lot of guilt because we see no other way, we chose to strike. Unlike other public sector workers, we are told that the cost of EAs is one of our ‘benefits’. Unlike other public sector workers, the conditions under which we work directly affects our ‘clientele’. You won’t see car salesmen on strike for bigger show rooms. You won’t see plumbers and pipe fitters striking to raise money for their clients to afford pipes. But we are on strike because we know that the kids, our kids, need books, and rooms, and smaller classes, and timely assessments, and specialist teaching, and libraries and so much more. And only we have a way to stand up, draw a line in the sand, and say, ‘Enough. This is enough. The children need your help.’
So we are on strike. And no matter how many people say that we are greedy, and we are lazy, we know the truth. We walk together, and we write signs, and we grieve. We grieve that children are hurt by our action, but that we know no other way to prevent continued ongoing harm. We grieve that we know how to help, but cannot. We talk to each other, and we hold each other up, and we take turns supporting our colleagues in their fear and sadness. But we strike, we make the hard choice, because it is the right thing to do. Even if it hurts.
Did you know that the BC government now considers learning supports for students with special needs in public education a “wage benefit” for teachers that is “too expensive” for taxpayers to afford?
Better read that again… I know it’s a bit of a mindtwist. It would make sense though if you remember that this is the same group of people who have redefined what “essential” means… but I digress.
Back to benefits. Now you and I may expect employee benefits to be about medical coverage or a dental plan or a car or travel expenses. We’d be wrong, according to Premier Christy Clark. Benefits now include having other workers around you to do the work that must be done. By this definition, a nurse is a salary benefit to a doctor; a secretary is a salary benefit to an executive, and a dental assistant is a salary benefit to a dentist.
So, according this framing of our proposals for a wage increase in an attempt to decrease the blow our salaries have taken over the past 8 years due to the increase in the cost of living, if an Education Assistant helps a student in our classrooms, or if our school has learning specialist teachers, their work in the school is costed as a benefit to our salaries.
I wonder if the Premier counts the cost of her assistants in the same way, or are they just considered the perks of the job like dining out and iTunes purchases?
But what if we looked at the whole concept of benefits in a different way. Who actually benefits when we support students whose brains work differently?
We all do…
In fact people who ‘think differently’ have completely changed the world in the past. They are also presently changing the world and, if we give the students in our classrooms now the support they need, they will change the world of the future.
Take Michael Faraday for example. As a child he stuttered and struggled in school at a time when the very concept of support for students with special needs was unheard of. Luckily for us, his mother took him out of school and provided what she could in spite of their poverty. When he grew up, even with an incomplete formal education, he discovered electromagnetism.
Imagine what more Faraday might have given us if he had had support at school?
Here’s another example. I’d never heard of Dean Kamen, the inventor of the iBot wheelchair and the Segway, before I watched an interview with him. In it he explained how he struggled in school because, he said, as soon as the teacher opened her mouth he felt like a fire hose was coming at him. His mind would be still processing the first thing the teacher said while she kept moving on, and he felt flooded with information. I imagine that this is how the mind of an incredible inventor works – taking a tiny bit of information and seeing infinite possibilities.
Thomas Edison’s inventions provide another example of how much we have gained from creative thinkers. The way Edison learned in school was so different to what other students did that his teacher said his mind was “addled”. Despite only three months of formal schooling, he gave us the light bulb, the phonograph and the moving picture camera. All inventions that radically changed the world.
We are very lucky when people who think differently have mentors or people who support them. How much poorer in ideas would our world have been without the mind of Helen Keller, who although deaf and blind contributed so much through her writing and talks. Her success due in no small way to the support she received from her teacher, Anne Sullivan.
In this century, when all our chickens are coming home to roost in the form of dramatic climate change sparking the rapid spread of diseases once limited to small areas of the planet, we are going to need out-of-the-box kinds of thinking that students with special needs do naturally all the time. We are going to need special solutions to the special challenges we all face. Students with special needs may grow up to be the very people who will help us solve our most intractable problems.
So I guess in some sense, the BC government is right when they say that support for students with special needs is a benefit.
The part they got wrong however is that it’s a benefit for us all, not just to teachers. Supporting students with special needs will benefit humankind in ways we can’t even imagine yet.
But what about the costs if we don’t support these students? Well, apart from never knowing what the inventions or discoveries of students with special needs could have been, we will also continue to spend billions of dollars on a population of incarcerated people, many of whom are illiterate or have learning disabilities.
Since 2002 the number of Learning Specialists in BC schools has been cut by 20% and the cuts will increase again in 2014/15, a direct result of chronic underfunding. I’m not sure how much our Premier believes she is saving and for what purpose when she continues to cut approximately $250 million per year from the education budget, but that money is not really a savings if it has to be spent dealing with the costs of the consequences of those cuts.
Supporting all our students in all ways possible is not a cost when seen in this light. It’s an investment in benefits that we will all share.
It must be so difficult being Premier of the province these days. What with having to deal with all the complaints about oil sands pipelines, and worrying about the changes in the LNG market, putting all your plans for our economy in jeopardy. It must give you many headaches to have to think about all that.
I can imagine also that you must be very busy and hardly getting any sleep as you fly around the province to the various fundraisers for your 2017 re-election campaign. It can never be too early to work on the next election campaign, can it?
But what I wanted to write to you about was this fight you’re having with the teachers and the BCTF.See, I’m not a politician but you may want to re-think your strategy with the teachers. Something happened when you locked them out of their classrooms in June….
Usually during lunch time they are too busy photocopying and working with kids and they don’t have much time to talk to each other but when the lockout forced them to eat their lunch out on the sidewalk, they suddenly discovered that they had lots of time on their hands and that they could have conversations in a way that is not possible in a busy school day or even on a Pro-D or in a staff meeting.
You see, normally in a typical secondary school that has a teaching staff of about 80 teachers, most teachers only ever talk to about 5 teachers daily and then perhaps about 10 others on other occasions but during the lockout, that changed. There was lots more conversation and, I’m sorry to say, those conversations were mostly about you and what your real agenda is when it comes to public education. Teachers shared information and experiences and built up relationships that had not existed before.
The other thing the lockout did was that it freed up time on weekends that would normally be used for marking and preparation of lessons but because you forbad teachers from doing any of that, they found it very difficult to break old habits.They were so used to the kinds of tasks they had done for years on weekends, they looked for outlets for all that pent-up energy and that’s how they discovered social media in a way that was unprecedented.
They started pages on Facebook, they joined pages on Facebook and they set up blogs and wrote and blogged and tweeted.They wrote letters to the media, they wrote letters to MLA’s. They commented on each other’s posts on the various pages set up to support teachers. They shared blog posts so much, they were noticed by alternative media like Huffington Post and Rabble.ca. They started Twitter tags like #thisismystrikepay that went viral across the world.Bit by bit they built up this network of connections and information that is proving to be quite resilient and resistant to anything that BCPSEA says or does.
I’m afraid that your lockout, the one they tagged #Christyclarkslockout on Twitter, has been the catalyst for the creation of a network focused on resisting any attempts to privatize public education in BC.
I’m sorry to have to tell you this but all the work you’ve been doing for the past 12 years to save taxpayers money by shifting money away from the education budget and toward other investments may be all for nought as this network continues to grow and strengthen.
You should see what they’re talking about on all the pages! They’ve dug up all kinds of facts and statistics and information that makes a compelling case for their assertion that a well-funded public education system is critical to a democracy.They are now also attacking your economic policies and are referring to studies that show that government austerity measures actually kill economies. This is dangerous information when you’ve been trying so hard to focus on balancing the budget. Do you know that they have the audacity to suggest that the whole concept of a balanced budget is just a myth and that there is enough money for schools if there is enough money for investments in mills and pipelines?
I think the best thing for you to do is to get teachers back into classrooms as soon as possible. Start the year early to make up for all the time that was lost in June!Get teachers busy with lesson preparation and teaching again so that they can stop talking to each other and to the public about public education.It’s actually quite scary the number of parents that are now talking to teachers!
Some of these parents are really very angry that they are only now realizing what has been happening in schools for the past 12 years!They have been talking about working on a recall campaign and they have started so many petitions!
Oh! I should not leave out the students! Have you seen the letters they’ve been writing in support of teachers? And all those videos on YouTube? Some of them are quite clever and funny. Sorry, but they are! And they’re getting lots of views too!
So you see, if you get teachers back into classrooms you may be able to stop this network from growing and getting stronger.
I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, I know it must be quite stressful, but I really do think that you poked a hornets’ nest when you attacked public school teachers and their union.
To save yourself and your party’s chances for re-election,you should do whatever it takes to get those hornets back into the nest. Give them whatever they say they need for their working conditions because you know they’ve argued quite successfully that their working conditions are students’ learning conditions and now parents agree with them. I don’t think you’d want to have thousands of parents angry with you when you promised to put their families first during your last election campaign. Best to do what you promised last time before you work on your promises for 2017.
I hope this helps and that you have a good rest before your next fundraiser!
I cannot believe that everyone who voted for Premier Christy Clark completely supports what she is doing to public education in British Columbia.
I cannot believe that there are no people of integrity and ethics within the BC Liberal party.
I cannot believe that all BC Liberals are ignorant followers of a leader whose views they do not question.
I cannot believe that all BC Liberals think it’s a good idea to consult with a corporation, Cisco Systems, instead of professional teachers, about what is best for children in schools.
I can believe is that there are BC Liberals who are economic conservatives but social progressives, people who believe in the importance of access to a good public education as critical to the strength of a democracy.
I can believe that there are many BC Liberals who have had teachers in their lives who made a significant positive contribution to the adults they became.
I can imagine that there are BC Liberals who are wondering how they can support teachers without leaving their political party.
In any fight for social or economic justice, it is those on the “inside” who can make a huge difference when they reach out to those on the “other side”.
In South Africa it was White people who worked with other White people and also with Black people who were critical to ending Apartheid.
It is men who talk to other men who can end the scourge of violence against women.
In Rwanda it is the Hutu women working together with Tutsi women who are continuing to rebuild their country.
Even in the world of finance, these conversations happen, as when billionaires not only tell other billionaires that massive economic inequality is not good for anyone, but who do something about bridging that gap.
Those kinds of conversations can happen here too. We would love to have conversations with people who voted for the BC Liberals in the last election but who are feeling squeamish and uncomfortable with what is happening in the courts, in our public schools.
We are appealing to BC Liberals of conscience, BC Liberals who walk with integrity, who uphold Canadian values of fairness and equity, to speak to your peers in the party. Speak to them about what you feel is at stake if public education continues to be underfunded and your leader continues her crash and burn attack on the BCTF that started 12 years ago.
Are you truly okay with school districts having to close school libraries? Are you okay with students in distress not having access to a counsellor? Is it fair that students who need support for their learning do not have a learning specialist teacher?
Is it what you wanted when you voted for your leader?
Do you really want a two-tier education system in the province where only those who can afford $18 000 per year tuition have access to small classes and full learning support? Can all BC Liberal supporters afford to put their children into private schools?
We know that you are shocked when you realize that a beginning teacher, after 5 years of post-secondary education, only makes $48 000 per year and that it takes that teacher 10 years to get to their maximum salary.
We understand why you would not have known this. Given what you are told on the news, it’s understandable that there are many aspects about the labour dispute with the teachers that you do not know about.
We understand that it is often confusing and frustrating to sort out the truth from all the rhetoric and posturing and sound bites. But we know that you have been trying to do that, to listen to teachers tell about their experiences in classrooms, how they can’t help all the students who need help.
We are asking you to help to ensure that all businesses, not just the LNG industry, have well-educated, skilled workers.
We are asking you to remember that the investment that pays the biggest longterm return for a company and for a country is the investment in the education of children.
We are asking you to do what you can to protect all that made us feel so proud to be Canadian two weeks ago on Canada Day.
We are asking you to help to keep our democracy strong, to keep Canada as a beacon of hope in the world.
You know we really don’t understand what all you parents and teachers are upset about! You’re complaining all over social media, being so critical of all the wonderful changes we have planned for the education system in B.C. You make it seem so personal! We wish you could see that it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.
Let us just tell you a bit about how business works. It’s all quite simple, you see.
We all participate in a capitalist economy, the kind of economy that thrives when corporations make profits. Now, profits are based on economic growth which comes from investing in places that yield profits.
Unfortunately, since the 2008 recession, growth worldwide has slowed down… you must have heard about this on the news? But the good news is that one of the “sectors” that is still ripe for investment/growth/profit is the “education sector” as the billionaire Rupert Murdoch calls it.
What’s so annoying and frustrating though is that standing in the way of corporations making profits in this “sector” are old fashioned institutions like unions! The BCTF has for many years been fighting the privatization of education in the province. So annoying!
And, by the way, we really don’t understand why people think that public education should be free in the first place! Why should public funds be used for public education? That’s such a stupid idea! We need public funds to stimulate the economy. It’s public funds we use to bail out corporations that stop making profits. We need to keep helping them! Can’t you see that?
If you could just do your own research, you will come to see that what we’re doing is the best thing for our province.
One corporation that studied how much money could be made in the education sector was Cisco Systems. They came up with this very helpful document. In fact Cisco’s document was so helpful, we incorporated a lot of ideas from it into our BC ED Plan. No one seems grateful for all the taxpayer money we saved by doing that! We didn’t have to do all that research and writing ourselves! That would have taken so much more time!
Apart from looking to corporations for guidance on how to re-design our education system, we’ve been working really hard to try to save taxpayers money by cutting funding for expensive things like school librarians and school psychologists. We’ve saved about $4billion from the education budget since 2002. It was so helpful to have that extra money for the 2010 Olympics! That was fun, wasn’t it?
Oh! And, can we please get some gratitude for our BC Jobs Blueprint, our plan to re-engineer education in the province? People should be so happy that we will be ensuring that children are thinking about careers right from kindergarten! Children will no longer have to waste time in classrooms learning about things like visual arts or poetry, or music or anything that will not directly train them for working in industries like LNG. Isn’t that great?
Teachers like to go on about how they educate the “whole” child, intellectually and socially, But, with our plan, it will be parents who will be teaching their children about things like healthy lifestyles and media literacy. We’ve been tweaking all curricula so that complicated things like the environment have been taken out and we’ve put in lots of stuff relevant only to working in industries like LNG!
With all the courses that will be only available online (thanks Cisco!) parents will be spending a lot more time with their children! That’s so good for families! All parents will need is a really good computer and reliable access to the Internet.
And, can you see how the need to regularly upgrade your computer to keep up with new technologies will provide lots of profit for corporations? Another good thing for our economy! And don’t worry about the cost of all that software – we’ve negotiated with corporations for great deals …
So please, stop the hysteria! It’s not a conspiracy! We actually really like children…we just think that turning children in public schools into pre-workers, starting in kindergarten, is the best thing for our economy.
After all, the real worth of a child is in their potential to buy stuff so that corporations make more profits, but we should not forget their potential also to pay taxes too so that there can be more public funds to ensure that corporations keep making lots of profits.
Of course we don’t want corporations to pay a lot of taxes and that’s why we’ve been cutting corporate taxes over the past decade so that all the profit they make will trickle down to everyone. You’ve all benefitted from that trickle, haven’t you? We certainly have with all those donations to our election campaigns!
So why don’t you just stop all that whining! We really are doing what’s best for the economy. Forget all that stuff about free access to public education being important for democracy. Forget all that stuff about a citizen’s duty to contribute to the common good. Forget all that complaining about Charter Rights! Let’s just make some money!
I was not here in 1884 to protest our government’s banning of the Aboriginal potlatch ceremony which made criminals of people who were practicing an ancient culture.
I was not here in 1885 to protest the extortionate Chinese head tax aimed at reducing Chinese immigration to Canada.
I was not here in 1914 to protest when the ship, the Komagatu Maru, carrying 376 Asian immigrants was refused permission to dock in Vancouver because the exclusion laws of this land were “violated”.
I was not here to work alongside all the non-white women who fought for decades, until the late 1940’s, for the right to vote after white women won that right in 1921.
I was not here in 1942 when Canadians of Japanese descent, had their homes and businesses expropriated and were interned in the country of their birth.
I was not part of many fights for civil and human rights here in Canada.
When teachers here first began to fight for more funding for public education in B.C. in the 1980’s, I was living in South Africa. At the time the struggle against Apartheid had been ongoing for almost three decades. People of my skin colour were born into the fight for democracy, for full citizenship.
At birth we were all “classified” into races. I was classified “coloured”. This meant that there was a limitation of my choices in life, but not as many as I would have experienced had I been classified ‘Native/Bantu’, a term used to refer to aboriginal Africans.
Politically, it meant that I could not vote, since only White people could vote in parliamentary elections.
Economically, it meant that I could only consider work and careers designated for me under laws that controlled access to employment for all ‘races’.
Socially, it meant that I could only visit certain beaches, attend certain cinemas, ride on certain buses, eat in certain restaurants, enter post offices at certain entrances and sit on certain park benches, inconveniences shared by all non-Whites.
Being born brown-skinned in a country whose government used the legislature to pass heinous laws that robbed people of basic human rights gave me a profound education in the use and abuse of political power. My experiences in South Africa provided me with a particular political lens through which I view the actions of the B.C. Liberal government. So much of what is done in the legislature in Victoria seems familiar. Politics here may not be as black and white as they were in South Africa but sometimes the laws that the BC Liberals pass seem like just a different shade of grey when compared to the laws passed in South Africa during Apartheid.
And so, at a time when all South Africans enjoy the rights of full democratic citizenship, I find myself here, on the opposite side of the world, where democracy and civil rights are under attack.
I find myself here at a time when workers’ rights, won over many struggles over a century ago, are in danger. I am here now, when the very concept of a free, equitable, public education system is being threatened. I am here now, one of thousands, making history for the textbooks of tomorrow.
Students in the future will learn that a government in a democracy not only attempted to disregard two Supreme Court rulings but also the highest law in the land, the Charter of Rights and Freedom. They will learn that over several decades, teachers in British Columbia fought to ensure there was a fully funded public education system. They will also learn of the particularly difficult fight that began in 2002 when the government attempted to eradicate the rights of teachers to negotiate the learning conditions of students and the working conditions of teachers.
In South Africa I did not have a choice about which side I would be on in the struggle for justice. That was determined at birth. But here, in Canada, where all citizens in this province have a choice, I will one day be proud to say that I was on the side that fought to save public education from attempts to gut it financially. I was on the side that fought to save one of the most important pillars of democracy: an education system that provides for the needs of all citizens, not just those born into affluence.
Yes, when I look back on my life someday, I will be able to say, I was also there then.
It’s easy to watch progress being made when a road is being built. You can look at the whole process as it unfolds through all stages. You can take a photo of what the land looked like before the road was built and what it looks like after the building is complete.
You can drive on a road as soon as it’s completed. Its use is immediately obvious. It’s plain to see where the money went, why it was spent.
It’s unfortunate that you can’t do the same with students. There are no before and after photos of the transformation in their thinking, in their knowledge, in their awareness of themselves, of the world around them.
There is no ticker tape unravelling as their minds shift to accommodate new information, a different way of being. There are no stock market type numbers to announce each day.
Which is too bad.
We live in an age where the highest value attributed to any accomplishment is measured in dollars. This makes it problematic to see and to show the value of what happens in classrooms.
Perhaps an extract from a Grade 11 student’s self-evaluation would help you to see what I see in classrooms? She wrote this at the end of a semester in my class:
When I came to the class and saw my enemy N I was so angry. We had been enemies since elementary school. I wanted to switch out of the class because I couldn’t stand looking at her miserable, lying face.
But I got up the confidence to stay because I had been looking forward to this class all summer and I didn’t want to blow it off over some girl who thought she was all that.
So, H and I decided to sit at a different table from N. But my plan did not work because the teacher moved us all into our Myers-Briggs personality groups and guess who was in my group? N! I got so frustrated and mad. I wondered how she could possibly share the same personality traits as me. I was completely shocked. I talked to my other classmates in my group and ignored her.
The second day N asked me a question about how to do an assignment. I was so close to just walking away but I answered her question and she thanked me! I was really surprised that after all the fights and arguments she had the nerve to ask me a question.
After that day everything changed. The teacher assigned more and more group projects and we would not only get marked on the quality of our work but also we would get evaluated on how well the group worked together. So this meant that if I wanted to get a good mark, I would actually have to talk to N.
At one point I wanted to ask the teacher to switch me or N into another group but again I decided to give it another try. Soon after this we all got together to prepare a skit and everybody got along fine including me and N.
A month into the course N and I were talking like we were best friends, I don’t know if I changed or if she changed but we never brought up the rumour or fights again.
This class doesn’t only help you to work better in academic courses, but it also helps to give other people a chance to express themselves. The more group work the class did, the more I found out about the strengths and weaknesses of everybody along the way.
If it wasn’t for this class I would not have had the chance to know a lot of cool people that I didn’t know before.
What is is worth to society when a teen can learn how to see her “enemies” as humans just like herself and learn to work with them? What worth is it to society when children learn empathy and learn to work collaboratively?
Whenever there is some crisis in the nation, and answers are sought, education is always in the spotlight.
High rates of divorce? Schools should teach relationship and communication skills.
High rates of debt and bankruptcy? Schools should teach financial literacy.
Huge demand for skilled trades? Schools should provide opportunities for apprenticeships.
Low voter turnout during elections? Schools should spend more time teaching the responsibilities of citizenship.
You task us with the preparation of our young for their roles and responsibilities as adult citizens who will take over the reins of society. We are to prepare them to fix what is broken; to sustain what needs to continue.
But you want us to do this with outdated resources and overcrowded classrooms. You want us to perform miracles when there is no support for students who have difficulty learning or who have mental health issues. You want us to somehow teach children who have not had anything to eat in days.
Is that really what public education is worth to you?
If only students were made of concrete and steel that could be moulded into things like roads, bridges, pipelines or sports arenas for Olympic events. Things that would be seen to be worth it, a good investment of taxpayer money.
It’s common practice during political debates like the one we are currently engaged in over the future of public education in BC, to present numbers, facts and figures. But, as Maya Angelou so eloquently said, facts can obscure truths. Truths that are far more disturbing. Our human minds have a much harder time weighing abstract numbers than we do understanding the human stories behind the numbers.
I have been deeply moved by the stories that have emerged in the comments on my Casualty of Christy Clark’s Cuts post. I am stunned that, as of this writing, the post has 16 000 views ( and counting) over 3 days. What that tells me is that there are many people out there who can put names to the numbers of students who have fallen through the cracks caused by the gutting of public education funding in the province of BC.
I think their stories, the stories of the students behind the numbers, need to be told. Any casualty of Christy Clark’s cuts to education funding over the past 12 years has a story that needs to be told.
Teachers know lots of these stories. It’s what we think about when we’re out on the picket line. It’s what we think about when we spend an average of $1000 a year on classroom supplies.
Parents of the children who have fallen through the cracks know these stories too.
There is the story of a student who is both gifted and has a learning disability and who managed to get all the way to Grade 10 because his giftedness hid his disability.
There is the story of a student for whom English was a third language and whose learning disability went undiagnosed for years because it was assumed he was not successful due to a language barrier.
Then there’s the story of a profoundly gifted student whose development was stunted because of a lack of adequate nutrition in his home. This story is the most heartbreaking of all because students with this story have one preventable deficit.
Teachers who work in some areas of the province see too many students each day who simply cannot focus on learning because they have not eaten in days.
I continue to be perplexed by why there is no hue and cry about the fact that school breakfast programs are funded by a newspaper’s Adopt-A-School campaign. Why is such a campaign necessary at all? Why does it exist in a province that found enough money to fund a Winter Olympics but does not have enough money to fully fund breakfast programs in schools?
BC has the highest child poverty rate in Canada. And yes, this is another set of numbers but behind those numbers are names of students and those names have stories. Heartbreaking stories. Last year I did not know that a teen girl’s periods could stop due to a lack of adequate nutrition. I do now.
It is unconscionable that one of the richest provinces in Canada, one of the richest countries in the world, has such high rates of childhood poverty.
It is unconscionable that B.C. students are funded $1000 less each year than students in every other province in Canada except P.E.I.
It is beyond unconscionable that this government spends more time and energy on LNG than on the true vital resource of this province, its children.
Perhaps what will penetrate the conscience of politicians who hide the truth behind figures, is to tell the stories behind the numbers.
We need to name the numbers. Let’s tell the stories of the casualties that have fallen through the gaping holes in the public eduction system left by huge funding cuts.
If you are a parent of a child who did not get the help that was needed due to a lack of learning specialists or a long waiting list to see a school psychologist, please tell your story.
Reveal the stories that the numbers obscure.
You can do this by leaving a comment here or you could send your story to a local newspaper or you could send it to your MLA.
Our children are not just numbers.
Our children should be seen and their stories should be heard.