My daughter is in her final year of high school, so our family has a stake in the outcome of the dispute between the B.C. Liberals and the teachers. Media in the province mostly lean toward blaming the teachers or suggest that both are at fault for failing to "get along," as if this were some playground spat. Rarely is there an analysis seeking to discover whether or not there is an agenda at work.
In the more than 10 years of Liberal rule, education budgets have been cut; crippling costs have been downloaded onto school boards – $25 million in the case of Vancouver School Board alone – and class size and composition constraints obliterated. From the outset when the Liberals formed government in 2001 they set a collision course with B.C. teachers by reversing raises that had been agreed to with the outgoing NDP government. When Christy Clark was education minister in 2002, they stripped teachers of bargaining rights and took away their say in teaching conditions in bills 27 and 28.
Even though the B.C. Supreme Court ruled – nine years later – that bills 27 and 28 were illegal, the Liberals enacted virtually the same set of measures in Bill 22 on March 15, 2012. Significantly, Premier Christy Clark chose the first day of the teacher's strike, March 6, to visit a school – a private school.
Just as they refused to increase the minimum wage for nearly 10 years, the Liberal government stonewalled educational funding in good times and bad. Now with their "net zero mandate" they claim the financial cupboard is bare. Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives economist, Iglika Ivanova, disputes that. She asserts that the Liberals have underestimated revenues and hidden large contingencies in their budget. It appears they are hoping to pull a balanced budget out of the hat just before the next election.
Meanwhile worried parents are frustrated. Perhaps unaware of the true direction of Liberal educational policy, they tend to blame both teachers and government for a broken educational system. And that is exactly where a government bent on privatization would like things to be. So they can then say: "The system is broken; we'll give you a new one with better teachers, more accountability and parental choice." How many parents would leap at that? Too many, I'm afraid. And if they go down that road they will find at the end a system that serves only the wealthy.
Privatization would mean teachers competing with each other in a race to the bottom of the wage scale. As corporations take over schools they will cut costs and services wherever they can. The losers will be the lower and middle class schools districts. They will get poorly paid, overworked teachers; little or no extracurricular enrichment and poorly maintained facilities. The lucky and well-to-do few will get government support for their schools plus fees from rich parents. They will be able, as they do now, to afford the extras. They will pay their schools' teachers better than their poorer counterparts. But the teachers in elite schools will be trading higher salaries for "net zero" job protection and will have no voice in the students' education. The only bright spot in this scenario for those of us who support public education is that the B.C. Liberals are unlikely to form the next government.
Students and supporters in Quebec continue to fight for the right to accessible education after three months of striking. The Liberal government in Quebec wishes to raise tuition by over 75 per cent over the next five years. Students and supporters have been fighting Premier Jean Charest's austerity measures, as they will decrease the accessibility of education in Quebec by making it more expensive. Just after Quebec's Liberal government announced on Wednesday, May 16 that it will be introducing a 'special law' in an attempt to end pickets – essentially dissolving students' right to strike – students and supporters took to the streets, some of whom were arrested after smashing windows.
Charest says that the student movement had gone too far, even saying that the special law is needed because the strike is 'illegitimate'. All across the nation, the media have been condemning acts of 'student violence'. First of all, let's get the terms straight. Smashing windows and writing graffiti on walls is not violence, that's vandalism. Throwing back canisters of tear gas is also not violence, that's self-defence. Violence, however, is when the police shoot rubber bullets and stun grenades at students' heads, causing one student to lose an eye, one student's jaw to be shattered, and another to spend the night in a coma, all of which occurred during a protest in Sherbrooke. Violence is directed against people. Violence cannot be directed at inanimate objects.
Vandalism should not be met with outright violence by the police. It should also be clear that vandalism is adopted as a tactic by protesters, and is not (typically) mayhem for the sake of mayhem. The fact that the destruction of inanimate objects is met with such brutality just goes to show the extent of the perversity of Western values, that is: private property over individual safety; capital over life. Instead of questioning the tactics of protesters, we should instead be questioning the tactics of the police – the ones using the weapons.
David Graeber, one of the minds behind Occupy Wall Street, wrote this in an article on the topic of black bloc tactics: 'I remember my surprise and amusement, the first time I met activists from the April 6 Youth Movement from Egypt, when the issue of non-violence came up. "Of course we were non-violent," said one of the original organizers, a young man of liberal politics who actually worked at a bank. "No one ever used firearms, or anything like that. We never did anything more militant than throwing rocks!"'
The media have pitted themselves against student protesters by calling them 'radical' and 'violent'. As students continue their struggle in Quebec, and as their actions become more and more 'radical', we can expect the media to continue their campaign of confusing the issues. It is important that we recognize how these issues are being confused, and before we criticize the tactics of students we must first take an honest look at the violence enacted by the police, and perpetrated by a government and media which discourage dialogue by labeling non-violent protesters as violent radicals. Movements have enough trouble fighting governments and police forces without dividing themselves over the tactics their peers are using.
*Photo by Stephanie Paquet
Matthew is an Occupy activist. He is not a member of any union, and co-habitates with a public school teacher. After attending the B.C. Teachers' Federation annual general meeting, he wanted to speak to teachers to hear their take on the on-going dispute between the teachers' union and the provincial government.
Nancy Hawkins has been teaching French immersion for 30 years, both in Ontario and B.C. Currently she is a vice president of the Vancouver Elementary Teachers' Association.
I asked Nancy how her class size and composition had changed over those 30 years. In the early 80s, pre teachers' union, it was "atrocious," she says. She taught two half-day classes with 36 students per class. During the later 80s, teachers were able to negotiate with their local school boards, and put language in their contracts to bring class sizes to more manageable levels. Support for teachers and classes slowly improved as the union locals negotiated more manageable ratios of special needs children, secondary support for special needs students, teacher assistants, and teacher librarians. Professional development was encouraged amongst teachers and administrative support was more forthcoming, giving teachers more time to spend with individual students.
Things changed when provincial bargaining was mandated in 1994. Between 1991 and 1998 per-pupil spending on public education dropped by 6.4%. During the same period, class sizes increased by 9.8%, the number of special needs students in classrooms rose by 62.5% and the number of students for whom English was not their first language rose by 47.8%.
The increased educational demands, combined with the decreased funding resulted in fewer support staff, more offloading of administrative duties onto teachers, the near elimination of dedicated teacher librarians and fewer special needs support workers.
This trend continues today. Currently in B.C. over 6% of classes exceed the legislated maximum of 30 students and a staggering 18.8% exceed the legal number of special needs students. Funding continues to stagnate. This has a detrimental affect not only to those with special needs, but as Nancy points out it leaves behind those kids who are just barely meeting minimum outcomes. Now, under Bill 22, class sizes will continue to grow, there will be no extra support for special needs students and teachers with larger classes will receive no extra funding or resources. And, of course, under Bill 22, no pay increases will be forthcoming.
I asked Nancy what she thought was more important: class size and composition or teachers' pay? Nancy pointed out that in the past teachers have taken wage demands off the table to maintain smaller class sizes. She is also quick to point out that she does not want teachers to be undervalued. "Net zero", the provincial government's policy of no budget increase for wages, plus rising cost of living equals a pay cut for B.C. teachers, who are already the ninth lowest paid in Canada.
"With the cost of living what it is in Vancouver that does not seem right," she says. Nancy also points out that many costs have been and are increasingly being downloaded onto parents. Bill 22 is now law. I asked what Nancy thought this said about the B.C. government's commitment to public education. She feels it shows a lack of commitment to education, and says much about their neo-liberal agenda. They are out to undercut unions and take away rights, she believes. Education Minister George Abbott keeps giving parents and voters the same message: Teachers are greedy and lazy. He continues to misrepresent the facts to try and win over public opinion.
*Photo by Ian MacKenzie
There is no doubt about it, our school systems are under stress. There are many reasons for pessimism: Funding is tight, accountability is a major concern and the way information is accessed, stored, processed and recombined is all changing at an unprecedented speed. Teachers are expected to differentiate instruction by making appropriate adjustments for each learner in the class, classes are bigger, competition is stiffer and support systems appear to be thinner than ever before.
However, there is also cause for much optimism. Instead of revolution or reformation, substantial transformation is happening. Two of several initiatives causing a buzz in education circles are flipped classrooms and PLNs (personal learning networks).
Flipped classrooms are ones where the initial introduction to the material students will be expected to learn happens outside of the classroom. The sources of the original exposure vary greatly. They may be podcasts, fieldtrips, work and/or family experiences, sporting events, assigned readings or on-line lessons. This is followed by students physically attending class in order to collaborate, share, practice and work on developing a deep understanding and knowledge of the material that is consistent with the provincially mandated learner outcomes. The teacher assists, guides, encourages and gives feedback as needed.
Students are not expected to sit still, keep quiet and then work out any wrinkles in their learning by doing homework. They are invited to participate in their own learning, reflect on where they need assistance and share their skills and knowledge with their classmates.
With limited funds being available for professional development, and research indicating that one-off professional development sessions have limited value in the long run, more and more teachers are following Ghandi's advice to "be the change you want to see in the world". They are actively engaged in expanding their horizons by creating, culturing, and tailoring their learning to their own needs through the creation of personal learning networks. These networks centre on developing, nurturing and maintaining an interactive collaborative current community that kindles one's curiosity and feeds both the head and the heart.
Websites, webinars, blogs, blog comments, tweets, phone calls, informal gatherings, reading, discussions, YouTube tutorials – the opportunity to learn anytime, anywhere and with anyone is the reward of developing a personal learning network.
A shift is happening and it's not one that is, or can be, mandated by schools. The fundamental change is that learners, regardless of age, are becoming more involved and making more personal choices about their own learning. "What can you do?" is morphing into, "What can you and your network do?" The traditional 3Rs are being joined by 3Cs - connection, content, and collaboration.
*Photo by Kieran Oudshoorn
If you'd like a free, printed copy of the Finance edition of The Occupied Vancouver Sun, drop by one of these skytrain stations between 7:30am - 9am on Wednesday, Feb 1st. If you'd like to volunteer on the street team, email OccupiedVancouverSun@gmail.com.
Current Street Teams:
Broadway & Cambie
- Eric H.S.
Burnaby (station TBA)
After a super productive meeting last Wednesday, issue # 2 of the Occupy Vancouver Newspaper is underway! The OV news team is meeting at W2 Media Cafe in the Woodwards building this Wednesday, January 4th at 5pm to continue planning. Anyone is welcome to attend as OV workgroups and committees are open and inclusive.
We are always in search of writers, editors, illustrators, photographers and creative minds of all sorts! We'd love to see you on Wednesday, but we'll also keep you posted with future meeting dates.
Oh and here's the big news: ISSUE # 2 WILL BE RELEASED ON JANUARY 15th!!! We need help distributing our FREE 500 copies, so let us know if you can help!
Contact the OV news team at firstname.lastname@example.org