Along the Fraser: Put that down, that’s my job

Everyone needs a place and a need to contribute and useful

Many kids going to school hungry.

Many kids going to school hungry.

“The B.C. government believes there are two key ways to address poverty — by growing the economy and creating jobs … We have been doing both,” – Stephanie Cadieux, minister of Children and Family Development.

Jobs are important.

One way to build a sense of belonging in classrooms – microcosms of the larger society – is to connect one to every student.

Kids will insist the work is useful –handing out textbooks, stacking chairs, feeding salmon fry.

A job that helps others and keeps their small world running makes kids feel good about themselves. It says, “I belong, I’m appreciated, I have a purpose.”

In the 1930s, psychologist Alfred Adler told us all human beings strive for this.

Take Ben, a Grade 5 kid I taught once. His job was cleaning the blackboards. When Leroy picked up a brush one afternoon, Ben sprang to his feet and shouted, “Put that down, you dirty, rotten creep. That’s my job.”

So, even when everybody in class has a job, there’s work to do if the big goal is a fair community that respects everybody.

After Ben’s outburst, he and I had a chat about that. Ben got it.

Hey, buddy,” he said to Leroy. “Sorry. We’re all in this together.”

Somebody should have a chat about that idea with Minister Cadieux.

“A legislated poverty-reduction plan does not guarantee success in reducing poverty,” she says.

B.C. – at 5.8 per cent unemployment (the lowest provincial rate in Canada) – doesn’t need a poverty reduction plan; growing the economy, and a job-creation strategy will do.

Not so, says a report of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, co-authored by the United Way and the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition.

Long Overdue: Why B.C. Needs a Poverty Reduction Plan, it says the Liberals’ jobs creation plan has failed.

Poverty in B.C. – 13.2 per cent – hasn’t changed since 2008, despite the drop in the unemployment rate.

A growing economy hasn’t helped those folks. Half of those living below the poverty line are the working poor, earning less than $15 an hour, and their children.

More and more kids go to school without a breakfast or lunch bag.

In Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, hundreds wouldn’t be able to focus on learning if it wasn’t for community initiatives, such as the Rotary Starfish Backpack and bag lunch programs, which involve the Salvation Army Ridge Meadows Ministries, community services, and the increasingly busy local food bank.

A few years ago, it provided breakfast and lunch to a single school. Now it serves 15 of them.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says the rising cost of living is beyond the reach of someone on assistance.

A poverty reduction plan would increase welfare and disability allowances, help with child care, Pharmacare, transportation costs, social housing.

A $15 hourly minimum wage would help single moms put nutritious meals on the table.

Kids who don’t eat well leave school sooner, don’t do as well in the work place, have more medical problems later.

Society pays the bill for that in the long run.

An Oxfam report notes the gap between rich and poor in Canada is widening.

Today, two Canadian billionaires have as much wealth as 30 per cent of our population.

The figures are worse in the U.S., where greed and want were the underlying causes of Donald Trump’s election, and where fear of the future in the world community is in every newscast.

In the midst of this, I’m reminded of former U.S. president John Kennedy’s visit to NASA. He met a janitor sweeping the floor.

What are you doing?” asked Kennedy.

Well, sir,” said the janitor. “I’m helping get our astronauts to the moon.

Like Ben, he knew we’re all in it together.

He was significant, not just because he had a job, but because he had purpose within his community.

Our politicians have to understand this at least as well as Grade 5 kids.


Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.