After the win, counting the losses

She’s excited about our Supreme Court win. Premier Christy Clark, who as Minister of Education in 2002, introduced legislation that violated teachers’ constitutional rights, and set in motion 14 years of students’ suffering, is excited that the Supreme Court of Canada has said that she was wrong.

What I wish she would feel is remorse.

What I feel is grief.

My elation at hearing the news of the end of a very long struggle for teachers, was followed by anger and then sadness about all that has been lost over the past 14 years.

Because of the B.C. Liberal government’s legislation in 2002 and again in 2012,  thousands of students lost the opportunity to have a school psychologist assess their learning disabilities as well as the opportunity to have their learning needs supported by education assistants.

Thousands more did not have opportunities to learn the skills for a trade in a safe, well-equipped shop class or to learn science in an actual science classroom instead of a mouldy portable.

There were no opportunities for a generation of students to pursue interests in art or music when so many of these classes were cancelled in the pursuit of balanced budgets in school districts.

We will have no idea how many people could have been prevented from joining the 77% of the inmate population with learning disabilities if they had had the support they needed while still children in a public school.

We also will have no idea how many students with mental health issues could have been helped before they became one more statistic.

http://www.portlandtherapycenter.com/blog/helping-children-deal-with-grief-and-loss
http://www.portlandtherapycenter.com/

I won’t speak for the losses experienced by parents. I’m sure they will. What I do know is that when fundraising activities increased dramatically in an attempt to compensate for the drastic funding cuts, parents had to adjust their household budgets. They also found themselves purchasing more fundraiser chocolate, wrapping paper and calendars than they really needed. After more than a decade of family time spent on fundraising, I know they are exhausted but I wonder how they feel about Christy Clark blaming them for the legislation that created the situation?

As for us teachers, we were in the invidious position of having to pay for both sides of the battle to restore our rights. We paid for our defence through our union dues, and we also paid for the government’s attack on those rights through our taxes.

In addition, since 2002, we have lost significant amounts of salary whenever we engaged in actions to alert the public about what the government was doing to our students. During the most bitter of these in 2014, some of us lost our homes as a result of five weeks of holding the line for public education in this province.

So many losses.

None of them exciting.

Dropping the Ball

I always know when I’ve dropped one of the gajillion juggling balls that is my teaching job. It’s when my students’ faces have the kind of look a puppy has when it’s being blamed for something it didn’t do. They look at me all wide-eyed and wondering what just happened as they listen to me express frustration.

This frustration always happens when I temporarily forget what I know about what my students need. Last week, at a moment when I was exhausted and distressed, I forgot that lecturing after 1:00pm is an utter waste of time, completely out of sync with students’ circadian rhythms.

At the time, I was so caught up in my determination to move forward on a project, that I completely ignored the signs that it was not a good time to do so.  But when I noticed those puppy-eyed looks, in the midst of my complaints about their inattention, I realized that something was wrong, and so I asked.

They reminded me that I was expecting them to focus on listening at a time when they’d normally be napping. I had forgotten that the schedule for that day had been moved forward an hour and that on any other day, they’d be on their yoga mats, listening to a recording of the sound of rain, while focusing on their breathing.

And, once again, embarrassed, I apologized.

Splotched on the tapestry that is my relationship with my students, are apologies of all kinds. Regrets for lapses in judgement, feelings of remorse for slips of anger, anguish over my inability to keep all those gajillion balls floating in sequence throughout my teaching day.

I wish I didn’t have those splotches. I wish I could always be mindful of what I say and do in my classroom. I wish I could always be attuned to my students’ energy.

But I know that would take superhuman effort of which I’m incapable.

dropping-the-ball

What I am capable of is being aware of when I mess up, and then gathering the courage to clean up.

I clean up by apologizing, of course, and then by taking inventory of what I did and didn’t do leading up to the point when the balls were dropped.

Usually there’s a missed yoga class, a missed meditation session, many missed walks, and a long list of things to do on my desk.

As a teacher, I know that I’m never going to get to zero on my to-do list but I can certainly move up from zero on my well-being list.

I love that well-being is getting lots of buzz lately now that education reform has taken a turn away from standardization and toward the critical importance of emotions and relationships in learning.

We teachers have always known this but it’s nice to have the powers-that-be elevate its importance to being a core competency in the new curriculum.

I just wish the Ministry would realize that expecting teachers to be effective models for personal and social competency while we are experiencing stress due to the effects of 15 years of deep cuts to education funding, and while we are reeling from the turmoil of a massive system change, is asking for too much.

You would think the Ministry would know that, given the fact that personal and social competency is just another way of talking about relationships, it would be motivated to change its relationship with teachers.

It would be nice to have a healthier relationship with our government, a relationship in which there was a demonstration of respect for our professional expertise.

Instead, we teachers are not only regularly maligned in the media, but we also have gone to the Supreme Court of Canada to defend our constitutional rights.

What we have here in British Columbia is the ironic situation of a government rolling out a new curriculum that situates social and emotional well-being at the centre of learning while it simultaneously undermines teachers and underfunds public education.

I bet there’d be barely any dropped balls in my classroom if I had the kind of support and respect that teachers in Finland and other countries have. This is not to say that I don’t accept the responsibility to take care of myself so that I am prepared to take care of my students.

It’s just that the BC Liberals certainly don’t make that task any easier.

Having dropped the ball on public education in 2002, there is no indication that they have any intention of ever picking it up again, funding-by-photo-op in an election year notwithstanding.  

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m about to ignore that pile of marking on my desk while I take myself for a well-being walk on this beautiful Sunday.

What should be included in Back to School Supplies?

back to school supplies

What kinds of conversations have you been hearing about back to school supplies lately? The angry ones where parents fume at teachers for demanding so much? Or the sad ones where parents living in poverty are trying to figure out what to cut from the household budget in order to buy a new pair of shoes for a child? Or have you heard those heartwarming stories of strangers approaching teachers in stores and offering to pay for all the classroom supplies that teachers are purchasing out of their own pockets?  

You must have noticed how these lists have been getting longer each year. You recall that thirty years ago, school supply lists were quite short, perhaps just two items: pencil crayons and a geometry set. But, for a number of years now,  the lists have become very long and often include two types of paper: photocopying and toilet.

How did we get to this point?

Increasingly longer school supply lists are now the norm everywhere public education is undergoing “reform”  but here in BC we can trace the pathway back to 2002 when the newly-elected BC Liberals changed the formula for funding schools. In essence this meant that they would no longer fund resources that previous governments had funded. And so, for the past 15 years, as costs have increased,  school districts have had to do more with less. They have long been cutting “low hanging fruit” and have reached a point where there is nothing more to cut. Now, parent-taxpayers, along with annually contributing to taxes earmarked for schools, have to make additional contributions to education resources.   

This is much easier for some parents to do than others.  For parents living in poverty, it is quite a hardship. With BC having the highest rate of childhood poverty in Canada, there are thousands of parents right now wondering which essential item in their household budget to do without so that their child will have shoes, clothing and supplies for school.

Whilst providing the basics may not be a difficulty for other parents, there are a different set of concerns that keep them awake at night: worrying about whether their children’s health and safety is assured while they’re at school.  15 years of cuts to education funding means that there are many public schools where parents are wondering about whether  to include the following on their shopping list for school supplies:

  1. A water testing kit to check if their child’s school is one of the 92% likely to have lead in drinking water
  2. A hazmat suit to protect against asbestos contamination
  3. Reflective vests for long walks to school in the absence of schools buses or public transport
  4. A mask to protect against breathing in mould spores
  5. Mice/Rat traps (humane ones)
  6. Buckets to catch water falling through leaky roofs
  7. Personal fans/heaters to keep cool/warm in schools with aging heating/cooling systems
  8. A Safety whistle to blow after earthquake so that recovery crews can locate survivors

Including these items on a school supplies list will add several hundred dollars to the average cost of $108 per child per year that parents spend. And that spending would be in addition to the $150 per child per year that parents are contributing to fundraisers.

Given that our Premier has already begun campaigning for re-election in 2017, perhaps conversations about school supply lists should be expanded to a province-wide conversation about how our public education system is funded.

How is it possible to have a “strong economy” when our schools are in such a state?

Whose tomorrow can be secure when our children have to contend with dilapidated buildings, overcrowded classrooms and a lack of support for their learning needs?

While considering who to vote for in May 2017, can we have a conversation about the value of public education to the citizens of BC?

Check her record before you spin us a new one

http://www.truthliesdeceptioncoverups.info/2013/05/spotting-spin-some-tricks-of-trade.html
http://www.truthliesdeceptioncoverups.info/2013/05/spotting-spin-some-tricks-of-trade.html

This is a message for Premier Christy Clark’s spin doctors

We understand that you have a difficult task. Your client’s approval rating is at 31%, the third lowest amongst premiers in Canada. Her government is scandal-ridden. It’s going to be quite the battle to convince voters to give her another chance in May 2017.

But if you’re going to have any hope of success, our advice to you is to check her record before you roll out your next marketing ploy.

The “almost abused” story idea was brilliant in that it targeted a section of the electorate who are very vocal in their disapproval of your client: women who are parents and who are very active on social media.  Facebook Moms your industry calls us.

Because all women live with a constant fear of being attacked and could relate to a story about an attack, this was definitely a deft move. You knew that most people would miss the part of the story that revealed that there was no actual sex involved in the attack other than that the attacker was male.

We noticed this little detail because we remember a time during the teachers’ strike in 2014 when your client went on television to tell parents who had children in public schools that teachers were demanding unlimited massages in their negotiations with her government.

It turned out that that was not true.

When you prepped your client for that broadcast in 2014, the detail you missed was that she had already agreed with the nurses union about the benefits of massages. It was not what teachers had asked for; it was not what teachers were fighting for.

This boldfaced misrepresentation of the truth caught our attention not only because massages are one of our favourite gifts on Mothers’ Day, but because it was the first time we had a clear example of how convincingly your client can tell us that white is black.

We had missed her government’s shell game in 2002 when the massive cuts to education funding began, when they started telling us that they were providing more funding when it was actually less.

At the time we were too busy to notice the slick sleight of hand.  As you marketers know, we Facebook Moms juggle many jobs.

So when our children’s school supply lists got longer and longer, and the occasional fundraisers became more regular, we didn’t pay much attention, attributing that to changes in classroom activities.

But during the 2014 strike we had a very rude awakening. We learned that teachers had been spending a lot of their own money on classroom supplies. We learned that many students with special needs were not getting the support they needed. We learned about three-year waiting lists for psychological assessments. About libraries without librarians. About leaky roofs, mould, rats and asbestos at the schools our children attended.

We channelled our anger into action. We wrote letters to our MLAs, we signed petitions, we camped outside MLA’s offices, we protested in front of the Legislature, we begged your client to fully fund public education.

In response we got scripted speeches and a lot of bafflegab about billions of dollars. We were assured that our children were attending one of the best public education systems in the world.

We didn’t believe your client and her minions.

We believed what we saw with our own eyes in our children’s schools.

And so we organized ourselves.

We formed FACE.

We formed PAN, and PPEN.

We began to do our own research and recorded what we found.

When we uncovered the truth about public education funding, we began to demand answers. We made a lot of noise, loud enough for your client to begin to dribble out crumbs of funding through highly publicized media events.

We remained unimpressed.

Your client’s favourability was not increasing.

You had to do something to change that because there is less than a year before the next election.

And so, while massive media attention is being focused on sexual violence against women, you thought that your client could ride that wave of awareness with a story of her own.

But, before you advised her to make her story public, you should have checked her record.

If you had, you would have known that when she was Deputy Premier, her government cancelled all core funding to women’s services in the province. Cancelled it.

You would have known that when her government gutted Legal Aid funding it disproportionally affected women who were seeking justice in the courts.

You would have known that these two actions have resulted in thousands of women, who have actually (not almost)  experienced sexual violence, not having any access to counselling support or to justice.

On the day that your client made her disclosure, just one of the organizations that rely on fundraising and donations in their work to support women, had a waiting list of 200 women who needed counselling for the trauma that they had experienced. With only a skeleton staff, it will take WAVAW years before they can get through that list.

We know that there are thousands more women waiting.

To our astonishment, when the facts about the decimation of supports for women were revealed in responses to your client’s disclosure, she maintained that funding was not the issue, that it was more important that the “culture” be changed.

Did she mean the culture she was perpetuating by shaming women about what they wore?

Perhaps the culture that needs to be changed is one where a politician uses any means necessary to manipulate voters through media spin.

Before you organize your client’s next smoke and mirrors show, know this: while we Facebook Moms fight for the full restoration of public education funding, your client has now made us more fully aware of where else our focus should be.

Not exactly the result that you wanted, is it?

So, take our advice: check your client’s record before you spin us a new one.

2016 is Nineteen Eighty-Four

1984 quote

In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the government of Oceania has an entire Ministry that uses all forms of media to create a false reality. One of the tasks of the Ministry of Truth is to develop a new language called Newspeak which is meant to make thoughtcrime (thinking critically) impossible. The objective is to  significantly reduce the number of words in the English language so that there would be no words for thoughts that were deemed a crime, that is, thoughts that question the government’s version of the truth.

In British Columbia today, the Government Communications and Public Engagement office has a budget of $37 900 000 to ensure that you have the correct view of what the B.C. Liberals do for you with your money.

Thanks to the work of this office, during the B.C. teachers’ strike in 2014, we learned new meanings for words.

We learned that education assistants were “salary benefits” for teachers.

We learned that there was a thing called an “affordability zone”.

Now, two years later, we continue to learn new meanings for words we thought we understood.

We used to think that funding meant providing more money than what was previously there.

But on 31 May 2016, we learned that “more funding” means “rescinding the 2015 demand that school districts cut $54 000 000 from their budgets and instead allowing them to keep $25 000 000 of the money previously funded and then demanded back.”

We used to think that a moral obligation meant that we were obliged to do good, to do the right thing.

Now we learn from Gordon Wilson, speaking on behalf of the government, that a moral obligation means that we should pollute our air with methane gas, pollute our water with undisclosed chemicals and fracture our earthquake-prone land, all in an attempt to ensure that people who live in China don’t die from the air pollution that they create.

Given this new version of reality in BC, is it now a thoughtcrime to ask about the moral obligation of the BC Liberal government to protect our waterways from mining waste pollution? 

Is it a thoughtcrime to ask about the moral obligation of the Ministry of Education to provide students with schools that do not have rats, asbestos, mould, leaky roofs and dysfunctional heating and cooling systems?

Is it a thoughtcrime to question the government’s concern for people in China when parents in BC worry about delayed seismic upgrades and the lead in the drinking water at their child’s school?

In the novel, the main character, Winston Smith says: Freedom is the freedom to say that 2 + 2 = 4

In BC today, Christy Clark’s  B.C. Liberal government  wants us to believe that 2 + 2 = 5.

They want us to believe that School Trustees are responsible for school closures.

They want us to believe that removing $4 200 000 000 from the education budget over the past 14 years means that they have “increased per student funding to the highest level”.

Perhaps the reason we have so much difficulty believing them is because we remember what happened to Oceania’s chocolate rations in Nineteen Eighty-Four:

It was therefore necessary to rewrite a paragraph of Big Brother’s speech, in such a way as to make him predict the thing that had actually happened. … Today’s issue contained a statement of the actual output, from which it appeared that the forecasts were in every instance grossly wrong. Winston’s job was to rectify the original figures by making them agree with the later ones. As for the third message, it referred to a very simple error which could be set right in a couple of minutes. As short a time ago as February, the Ministry of Plenty had issued a promise (a “categorical pledge” were the official words) that there would be no reduction of the chocolate ration during 1984. Actually, as Winston was aware, the chocolate ration was to be reduced from thirty grammes to twenty at the end of the present week. All that was needed was to substitute for the original promise a warning that it would probably be necessary to reduce the ration at some time in April.
From Nineteen Eighty-Four, Part One, Chapter 4

With so many of us having read  Nineteen Eighty-Four at school, the Government Communications and Public Engagement office certainly has their work cut out.

While they try to convince us about the benefits of the Prosperity Fund we’ll be thinking of the 20% of BC children who go to bed without a meal most nights a week.

While they try to get us to yes, we’ll be thinking no, committing thoughtcrimes as we do so.

Celebrate the Elimination of Provincial Exams?

provincial exams

If I wasn’t so familiar with the Ministry of Education’s Jekyll-and-Hyde character, I’d be thrilled with the new Graduation Program. After decades of frustration about the limits to student learning experiences that provincial exams set, I’d love to pop a champagne cork now that I am free of the fetters they placed on my lessons.  

The announcement of the changes has revived old arguments about what exams are for.  I must say that I disagree with the learned professor who believes that the removal of exams will lead to the dumbing down of learning. I happen to agree with my students that they don’t need to know the details of the Halibut Treaty in order to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens in a democracy. Many of the arguments that Dr. Livingstone makes have been made throughout the history of education whenever changes have arisen.  Plato himself lamented the rise of writing in place of dialogue. That was over 2000 years ago.

After decades of  feeling like a quisling every time I told my students how “important” studying for provincial exams was, I’ll happily let them know that they no longer will have to spend months memorizing the gajillion facts that they can instantaneously access on their personal devices.

But my joyful relating of this good news will be dampened by the knowledge that there is no funding to make possible the full implementation of the new curriculum.  It’s as though my students have been given the keys to a car without any money for insurance or gas or maintenance or even driving lessons.

The new curriculum requires more student-led activities but when schools are at or above 200% capacity where will teachers find the space for breakout rooms so that small groups of students can work together on projects?

Personalized learning is one of the core ideas in the new curriculum but with no Education Assistant support for students with special needs, how can one teacher provide personalized learning for all students in a class of 30?

Given the pattern of cuts that the Ministry has imposed on school district budgets, I suspect the elimination of some provincial exams is more of a political rather than a pedagogical decision. If it were purely pedagogical, the FSAs would be eliminated as well.

Contrary to what the Minister says about them being “valuable” FSAs only serve to highlight the socio-economic differences between schools. Unless and until the Minister is going to do something to alleviate those differences, they only serve to support the arguments of those promoting the growth of private schools.

After 15 years experiencing the BC Liberals’ brand of public education, I have a lot of difficulty believing that the Ministry makes any pedagogically-based decisions. Take a look at the mandate letter that Mike Bernier received from Christy Clark upon his appointment as Minister. His top task is to balance the ministerial budget. His final task (on a list of 13 items)  is to ensure that “taxpayer resources” are used “efficiently. Nowhere in his mandate letter is there any acknowledgement of barriers to learning such as a 20% childhood poverty rate in this province.

The provincial exams were indeed a barrier to my students’ pursuit of learning and I am pleased to see them gone. Each year my students take on the role of adult citizens when our classroom becomes a country. Through the process of electing a government and participating in an economy, they become curious about many things that will never be on the Socials 11 provincial exam: mercantilism, Machiavelli, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, egalitarianism, ethics. 

In the past I’ve only had enough time to guide them through brief glimpses of these and many other concepts so they have often been frustrated when discussions had to be stopped because we had to study the Statute of Westminster instead.

I am relieved that I will now be able to assess and evaluate my students in ways that fit their learning experiences. Perhaps that’s enough of a reason to celebrate the new Graduation Program. Perhaps.

Privatizing Public Education, part two

private public park

As a technology corporation you have long been aware of Rupert Murdoch’s suggestion to invest in the education sector that is worth trillions of dollars. Unfortunately, as you are also aware, investment in this sector is particularly tricky and requires much patience.

By following the previous suggestions on how to lay the groundwork for investment, you will be ready for the implementation phase.  This phase too requires subtlety and a soft approach.

Priming

There are a few ways you can prime parents and the public into accepting privatization in schools.  One way is for corporations to provide resources either in the form of textbooks and other learning materials or in the form of cash that students and their parents earn when they purchase particular products.  Chevron’s Fuel your School is an excellent example of the latter.

Another way is to have teacher-run cafeterias replaced by those run by corporations such as Chartwells,  although profit is not always assured as was the case in New Brunswick.

A third way is to encourage corporations to support charitable handouts to schools as in the case of Postmedia’s Adopt-a-School program.

Of course vending machines in schools have long been a source of revenue for both the corporation and the school, and provide a good example of the kind of private-public partnership you want to encourage.

Framing

It’s necessary to have a public relations firm work with the politicians you are funding to ensure that they use language that frames the discussion of public education in a way that is favourable to the privatization project.

When your politician reduces the education budget, it’s important that she refer to members of the public as taxpayers.  Her message should be that she is concerned about taxpayer resources, that she wants to ensure that taxpayer money is not wasted.

However, in the event that the teacher union engages in strike action to force a settlement of their working conditions, it’s critically important that your politician speak of her concern for the inconveniences suffered by parents when schools are closed.

Budgeting

It’s useful to have your politicians enshrine balanced budgets into law.  The general public is law-abiding and intolerant of those who break the law. This is helpful when a rebellious group of school board trustees refuses to submit a balanced budget.  A media campaign that frames them as lawbreakers will distract the public from funding cuts.

Because all households are aware of the need to balance their budgets, it’s easy to convince the public that school districts need to do this as well.  Your politician should  be seen to be acting on behalf of the taxpayer and protecting their “resources” when she insists on a balanced budget.

Dividing

One can’t stress enough the necessity to ensure that groups of parents and teachers do not join forces.  This is why it’s critical that school rankings such as those provided by the Fraser Institute are vigorously defended. It’s unfortunate that in BC a school in Bountiful, where polygamy is practiced, was ranked highly when schools that provide breakfast programs and other social supports for students were not.

When the rankings get a lot of attention in the media, they are legitimized. Another benefit is that there is a spotlight focused on schools that are “failing” to meet the needs of students.  With the right media in place, this failure will be seen to be the fault of teachers and school boards.

Remember that the foundation of all business models is the provision of a service. It’s in the best interests of corporations that schools are seen to be failing. After all this was the reason given by Milton Friedman himself when he promoted the privatization of schools as a way to save public education.

Cautionary Note

You may encounter criticisms of your privatization project especially from those members of the public familiar with the failures of privatization in places such as Chile and in many parts of the United States.  The good news is that by the time the public cottons on to the flaws of privatization, your corporation will have already benefitted from government contracts and can then move on to new projects in other parts of the world.

Word is that Africa may be ripe for reaping should projects in North America fail.