It’s time to speak up for education

As this school year wrapped up, a teacher I know set two tasks on the top of her do list: her Grade 2 classroom party, and a strike vote

It’s time to speak up for education

Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance, is the death of knowledge.

– Alfred North Whitehead.


As this school year wrapped up, a teacher I know set two tasks on the top of her do list: her Grade 2 classroom party, and a strike vote.

Year-end farewells are important. There are tearful partings, as in, ‘Good-bye, Mr. Chips.’ But parties are time bandits, with so many other things to do – organize student files, attend next term placement meetings.

This year, Mrs. X got a pleasant surprise – a parent offered to look after this one.

Mom’s daughter had “bloomed” the year before thanks to Mrs. X’s talent for zeroing in on her individual learning needs, encouraging kids for every effort while managing behavior and modeling fair play.

To do these things, Mrs. X had developed her own instructional approach over the years. She has “professional autonomy,” a hard-fought right of teachers in B.C. to choose what materials and strategies they use to develop curriculum goals.

It’s smart for an employer to respect the personal autonomy of professionals.

Studies show teachers with it will take on accountability for learning; those denied it will balk.

A fellow named George Washington actually told the British this in 1775, at the height of their colonial ignorance:

“The people must be led,” he told King George. “They won’t be drove.”

But, autonomy alone will not close the gap between kids who reach grade level and the growing numbers who struggle because books aren’t read at home, poverty limits experiential opportunities, or English isn’t the first language. We need libraries, ESL classes.

The press will focus on the simple issue of salaries in the current strike, but it’s really about teacher support, the backbone of our schools.

When Mrs. X started out, there were learning assistance centers for kids who just needed a little remediation in reading or math. They didn’t need a designation to qualify for that.

When their numbers grew, “moderate learning disability” was invented to reduce demand on service.

The learning disability group has grown with our cultural mosaic, but it’s not entitled to special help now.

Most of the learning assistance centres are gone too, victims of school board and ministry ignorance in the ’90s.

In 2005, parents of one boy who thrived in his LA centre won a Human Rights complaint against the North Vancouver School District for dismantling it. The ministry, co-defendant in that case, appealed the ruling (Moore v. B.C., and S.D. 44). So much for government “for the people.”

Today, Mrs. X does what she can to help her students. It frustrates her that the government still doesn’t get it. It has an agenda for standardized testing now – get more students on winner’s side of a bell curve; scapegoat teachers if it doesn’t happen.

The plan would deaden the love of learning and teaching at the same time.  If Mrs. X cracked the standardized whip, she’d be like Weena, one of the mind-controlled Eloi in the H.G.Wells novel The Time Machine.

Brainwashing is Step 1 in achieving a fascist society. We’re constantly told the ministry plan will improve education. That’s bunk.

Step 2 is crushing dissent. The employer wants to remove all evaluation, discipline, and dismissal language for teachers, eliminate seniority, (intimidate Mrs. X and her ilk), fire teachers on a single evaluation (teach to the test, or else), and remove any limits on special needs students in a classroom.

In 2002, the government, and then-minister Christy Clark, imposed bills 27 and 28, which removed class size and composition from the teacher’s contract.

The court returned these bargaining rights on April 13, but in the 10 years leading to this decision, librarians became ‘information’ media specialists, counseling and special education support shifted from working with kids to administering ministry mandated tests to determine which ones “qualify” for assistance under a restrictive designation process.

Services essential for blooming were pruned to the stump.

The party in Mrs. X’s room? The mom showed the kids how to make spaghetti and roll meatballs, wrap cutlery in a paper napkin, set a table with flowers, serve desert – ice-cream topped with chocolate wafers in dishes shaped like fruit.

A lot of kids had never been to a nice restaurant. They were thrilled.

Task two: Mrs. X voted to strike with 90 per cent of her colleagues. I remember a similar vote in Mission, another town along the Fraser, in the ’80s. The issues? Class size, composition, autonomy, classroom support.

Shirley, a librarian begged her school board to “address the problems of class size and mainstreaming, and help our teachers do the task they are expected to do – deliver quality education.”

That plea fell on deaf ears. School boards – with a few exceptions like Vancouver, recently – don’t dare oppose the ministry. They roll over.

Instead of getting rid of the school band here, the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows board should have been pounding drums in the street.

It’s time for more of the general public to speak up for the education system too, before we lose everything it stands for – equal opportunity for all.

The growing number of us who are willingly duped and harvested by right wing, elitist government – as the Eloi were by the cannibalistic Morlocks – is evident in HST polls where ‘yes’ to rescind should be 90 percent.

Ignorance of ignorance is the death of knowledge.


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