The War on Education

Sadly Dearies, there are no winners in The War on Education.

I live in a country and a province that places very little value on Education and Educators. It has not always been thus.

A nation maintains its place in the world, and contributes to its well-being and progress, through educated citizens.

Canadians in general tend to look down their noses at the US. I have never been one of those people.

The fact that the US has a Cabinet Department devoted to Education, speaks volumes. Canada has none. The provinces are left to their own devices…

The US Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan, is as passionate about education as anyone on this planet. He has the greatest respect for students and educators. He once said “When I ask teachers why they teach, they almost always say that it is because they want to make a difference in the lives of children”. He is an advocate for both; he is passionate about his job.

Before becoming secretary of education, Duncan served as the chief executive officer of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), a position he held from June 2001 through December 2008. In that time, he won praise for uniting education reformers, teachers, principals and business stakeholders behind an aggressive education reform agenda that included opening more than 100 new schools, expanding after-school and summer learning programs, closing down underperforming schools, increasing early childhood and college access, dramatically boosting the caliber of teachers, and building public-private partnerships around a variety of education initiatives.

BC Education Minister Peter Fassbender has a background in broadcasting and PR. He went on to become a career politician. His initial run as a Socred (with apologies to the great Socrates, this defunct party had little to do with philosophical wisdom, and much to do with fiscal and social conservatism) failed. Mr. Fassbender’s passion is clinging to power. He has no experience, and it would seem no interest or understanding of the importance of education, unless it might be to ban a book or two.

Going back to the BC Socred party for a moment… It ruled British Columbia with an iron fist for nearly 30 years. Many see it as a precursor to the Alliance Party of Alberta, which underwent a miraculous transformation to become the Conservative Party of Canada. Forgive me if I am having a “Come to Jesus” moment here, but I sense a miraculous transformation taking place for the BC Liberal Party, under the leadership of Christy Clark. It has truly become the BC Conservative Party, in sheep’s clothing.

Who better then, to trample the teachers, in their unholy insurrection, than Peter Fassbender?

Teachers are talking about class sizes, programs for children with Special Needs, They want guaranteed levels of specialist teachers and extra lesson-planning time, as well as more one-on-one support for students who need extra help. They are asking for a fair wage and modest benefits. How Dare They!

The battle lines have been drawn, and as teachers walk the picket lines, Premier Clark and Mr. Fassbender hold “tough talk” photo ops while failing to understand the most basic elements of the discussion. It is ironic, that while Ms. Clark is busy courting investment from China and India, the immigrants from those very countries are swelling the ranks of students across all educational spectrums, to unprecedented levels in BC schools, while infrastructure and funding levels have failed to keep pace overall.

The cynicism of this government is breathtaking. Look no further than the 2012 TOIFA Awards. This 3 day Indian Film Awards Show cost taxpayers over $13 million (or is it closer to $20million as some have suggested), payable to The Times of India. You have to hand it to TOI, they have a great gig going on, sucking money away from Education and local Arts and Culture organizations, who have had their funding significantly cut back. TOIFA moves on to another city, another country, but not before the Premier and the Party pandered directly to the South Asian vote.

Under the Christy Clark regime, “there are “76,000 students attending British Columbia’s 348 private schools, accounting for about 12 per cent of the province’s total kindergarten to Grade 12 population. That figure has climbed steadily for decades, up from just 4.3 per cent in the late 1970s” says the nation’s Globe and Mail.

The Globe goes on to say that “B.C. has provided partial funding to private schools for nearly 40 years, since Social Credit premier Bill Bennett introduced the practice in 1977. Prior to that, private schools were unregulated and received no grants; today, they receive funding of up to 50 per cent of their local school district’s per-student operating grants.” THIS IS SHAMEFUL.

Rebuilding confidence in the public school system is critical, and this government is undermining it at every turn. We need a passionate advocate such as Arnie Duncan, to support and help innovate a strong and healthy public school system in British Columbia and across the country/

Education Secretary Duncan and President Obama fully understand the importance of education, and the growing challenges faced by all involved…

Premier Clark and Minister Fassbender (and de facto, Prime Minister Stephen Harper) see this as a Holy War, part of the attack on Unions, and those who support them. Education, students, educators and their families are the collateral damage in this campaign.

Jim Iker, President of the BCTF has held the line well, in the face of relentless government pressure. He has represented BC teachers, students and their families, with dignity and quietly firm resolve. As strike coffers run dry, fellow unions stepped in to contribute funds for needy teachers.

It has always been the Wild West out here. Perhaps that explains why the government has chosen to ignore the Rule of Law, as dictated by the courts after binding arbitration the last go round. The government’s failure to honestly sit down and bargain in good faith undermines the public trust and punishes all.

Forgive me Dearies for going back again to Socrates, for I fear that it will take nothing less than an act of Socratic wisdom to resolve this critical issue. Even though an agreement has been reached at this time, the future of education in BC is tenuous at best.

An all or nothing, scorched earth policy does not bode well for BC. Accepting nothing less than the complete defeat and annihilation of Unions is neither pragmatic nor wise. Unions at their best are the checks and balances against tyranny. They are changing with the times-they have had to. Those in power would be wise to follow suit.

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