To judge a society, look at what it values. We value our kids and their futures. The education system isn’t perfect—what is?—but we send them off to school because we love them and want them to have a better life than we did. In turn, we entrust certain responsibilities upon paid professionals, who perform duties we have become largely blind to.
Teachers are society’s punching bags—asked to perform tasks we can hardly imagine and rarely appreciate thanks to a biased media, while society largely regards them as overpaid, entitled babysitters. Until the 1960s, female teachers were given the pink slip if they chose to marry. I need not elaborate on such backward thinking, but this sort of snobbery and abuse against educators has gone on for decades and desperately needs re-evaluation and an ounce of intellectual honesty. Maybe we need a visit from education advocate Malala Yousafzai to teach this government what is really important.
I know what you are thinking. B.C. Teachers’ Federation president Jim Iker is no JFK. The man needs an intervention from the Fab Five of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy like few people I have seen on television lately. The ’80s called and they want their hair back! He doesn’t score many points for charisma either. But this isn’t about Iker’s desperate attempt to look like Jon Bon Jovi or what you think about the teachers’ union and its bargaining methods or where you lean on the political spectrum. This is about what we value and respect, and what it is worth to us to have an education system that works: for ourselves, our kids, our province, and our educators. The teacher’s union shouldn’t have to have a charismatic, tough leader in order to achieve fair deals from the government. The public should demand that the government have basic common priorities, and since Christy Clark ran on a platform that revolved around families, I would assume she would understand more than anyone else what is at issue here. Then again, spending money on attack ads against teachers is a bit like sending troops off to war and then leaving them homeless and without health care when they return because they’re “out of money”.
There are good teachers and there are bad teachers, as in any profession. But lumping them all together as an argument for the purpose of slander and broad, inaccurate generalizations, as if they are a government-enabled corporate cancer that feasts upon the masses, displays ignorance and a lack of compassion for children and the people we have entrusted to educate them and give them a decent head start in life. The vast majority of teachers aren’t “Mickey Mousers” who couldn’t find any easier ride in university, but people who genuinely care about their kids. And when they are unable, because of a lack of resources, to do their jobs effectively and educate kids who come with a myriad of unfortunate issues and concerns, that should not reflect badly upon the educators, but on the elected officials who refuse to fund the system with our hard-earned cash in any meaningful way to allow that educator to make a difference in those kids’ lives. The system’s basic goal should be to ensure these kids don’t grow up and mug me in 10 years. At this point, that’s no guarantee. And the blame falls squarely upon a legislative body that has failed in its responsibility to give the educators the tools they require in order to make a difference in young lives.
Here are some examples of the issues I am talking about that teachers deal with on a daily basis: kids sharing textbooks (you can imagine how difficult assigning homework would be); lack of decent seating for the kids to be able to see what is being taught; kids whose English is subpar and require extra help as a result; giant class sizes that preclude the teacher from helping multiple struggling students; and kids who come to school hungry or suffering from psychiatric conditions through no fault of their own, but nevertheless require specialized attention—attention teachers alone are unable to provide, because they are only human. Moreover, when you devalue the work of an educator, you devalue the child they worked hard to prepare for life as an adult. Teachers receive all of the criticism when things go wrong, but none of the praise when they go right.
But what do our premier, Christy Clark, and her corporate fascists insist when we argue that public education is underfunded and lacking in necessary resources to effectively educate B.C.’s kids? That the government has spent so much money on other misadventures that its resources are depleted and the money required to fully fund the education system, an ideal they meekly insist has value in this province, has been spent elsewhere. The cost of the Northern Gateway pipeline when all said and done will be in the neighbourhood of $5 to $6 billion. I can think of far cheaper ways to cause environmental damage and violate property rights, but for the sake of the reader and argument, I will not discuss them here.
Let me ask you, though, since we have come this far together: do the priorities of this B.C. Liberal government reflect your values? To answer this question, one must look at the allocation of monies assigned to another prominent sector of government in this province. Fifteen percent of the total budget in British Columbia goes to fund education. That doesn’t include the inexplicable recent ad spending to trash teachers (monies that could have been part of a settlement with BCTF). Forty-two cents of every tax dollar goes health care and only 27 cents to education. In three years, the latter number will drop 26 percent. B.C.’s education spending is already the second lowest per pupil in the entire country. Meanwhile, the government is focused on giving themselves raises and padding the wallets of fat cats and oil companies with your hard-earned money.
Ultimately, this issue is one of values and respect. If we value our kids more than we do oil company profits and corporate cronyism, we should value the people we have hired to do a job we decided long ago would be a function of government for the benefit of all. If something is worth doing, it is worth doing right. “One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world.” Yes, Malala, we can change the world.