|Teachers strike may be the best thing for our children; parents, not so much
(September 2, 2014)
As I write this, the provincial teachers strike that shortened the last school year by 2-3 weeks is still going on. The issue, as always, is not education per se, but power politics, specifically bad-faith bargaining and de facto union busting by successive Liberal governments.
The current Liberal government of Christy Clark is incapable of negotiating in good faith because it has no interest in doing so. It worships at the alter of private business and treats taxation and public spending as exercises in waste rather than as essential features of a healthy, civilized society. That is why it can deliberately starve an essential service of funds while granting all manner of policy and tax concessions to corporations, which, not coincidentally, donate generously to Liberal political campaigns.
So blatantly unethical has the government’s conduct been that in 2011 the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that two pieces of legislation passed in 2002 (Bills 27 and 28), were unconstitutional, in that they abrogated the existing teachers’ contract by unilaterally removing the key subjects of class size and composition from negotiations.
The court ordered the government to wise up and revert to status quo ante, but a half-assed remedial response to the court’s edict led the teachers union to file and win a second court decision. In January this year the Supreme Court ruled: “The government did not negotiate in good faith with the union after the Bill 28 decision.... Their strategy was to put such pressure on the union that it would provoke a strike by the union.”
Despite having no leg to stand on, Clark appealed to the B.C. Court of Appeal, and a decision could come down in early October, but not even that is expected to put an end to the government’s obstreperous irrationality. One thing is certain, though: children in the public school system now have no place to go from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.
Let’s be honest: schools are not designed to educate children to become independent, informed citizens of a democracy; they are designed to train them to become intellectually neutered drones for a corporate state. Childcare is the real service that schools provide. However, a prolonged strike will force parents to make arrangements not only for babysitters but also for tutors or some other pedagogical surrogate, and that will likely come at a hefty price since few families today can afford to have one parent stay home.
If children do manage to get an education during the strike, then there will have to be a province-wide debate about the educational value of teachers. Teachers may have the upper hand politically, but pedagogically they fail: they do not teach and are not expected to.
The impoverishment of public education is proudly proclaimed as provincial policy on the front page of the Ministry of Education’s website.
A great teacher has always been the key to outstanding learning experiences. As our education system continues to evolve, the teacher’s role is shifting from information provider to facilitator—
a professional who helps each student learn how to learn.
This drivel was not written by a teacher, or at least I hope it wasn’t. It is doubtless the product of a marketing graduate or some government “educrat” practised in the art of Newspeak. It does what all propaganda is supposed to do: present a destructive idea as something positive. If we translate it into plain English and then analyze its meaning, we will see the official disconnect between teachers and education.
A great teacher has always been the key to outstanding learning experiences.
Translation: “A teacher is essential to good education.”
This declaration of the blindingly obvious is inflated into a fatuous 12-word exercise in puffery that seemingly implies that all B.C. teachers are great. “Outstanding learning experience” is simply vacuous. A sure sign of deceptive writing is the pervasive use of inflationary adjectives and abstract noun phrases to replace meaningful nouns; in the latter case, “education”
As our education system continues to evolve, the teacher’s role is shifting from information provider to facilitator
Translation: “Teachers are no longer required to teach.”
The opening subordinate clause is key. Though it does not contain the main idea of the sentence, it prepares the ground upon which the disconnect between teaching and education will be built. The image of evolution conveys a positive feeling of progress and adaptation, so that what follows about education in the main clause will seem beneficial and improved. To explain this “evolution,” the Newspeak term “information provider” is employed to nullify the old-school idea of “teachers” so that they may be redefined as modern non-teachers: “facilitators.”
a professional who helps each student learn how to learn.
Translation: “a glorified daycare supervisor.”
This appositive phrase shows that teachers are no longer relevant to education. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to teach means to impart knowledge to or instruct someone to how to do something, such as “She taught him Spanish,” or, “He taught me how to make an omelet.” In each case, the transmission of knowledge from teacher to student enriched the student’s life by helping him or her acquire a new skill.
In schools, students should expect a teacher to know more about the subject than they do, and to benefit from said teacher’s knowledge. In other words, they should expect to come out of the course knowing more than when they went in. A series of such courses constitutes education.
In contrast, a facilitator does not teach, but acts as a coach or discussion leader. In such a class the student essentially teaches himself under the facilitator’s supervision. As a result, education, such as it is, is overly dependent on student-driven projects, which have less to do with academic learning than with time-consuming arts-and-crafts amusement.
A motivated student might genuinely take an interest in a course but an uninterested student might just go through the motions of self-learning. Either way, since a facilitator does not instruct or take an active part in motivating a student, he or she takes no responsibility for the student’s acquisition of knowledge. Oops! I forgot. Knowledge isn’t important; learning processes are. For the facilitator, it does not matter how ignorant or informed the student becomes, just so long as he knows how to learn.
I wonder if parents are aware of the anti-intellectualism behind our brave, new pseudo-pedagogical wasteland. Probably not since we still use anachronistic terms like “parent teacher conferences,” “the teachers’ union,” and “teaching certificates.” The illusion of instructional education persists even though it is actively subverted.
Simply teaching a student to “learn how to learn” betrays a purposeless preoccupation for process over pedagogy. In such a climate, why should students even go to school. Also, why do we even need “teachers” if their job is not to teach? If non-teaching is what facilitators do, then plenty of other people—community leaders, experts, family members—can instruct our children and not otherwise waste their time.
The good news is that students, especially in the elementary grades, will not be affected very much by a prolonged strike. In fact, they may well find themselves better off learning outside the system because their minds will not be addled by the stultifying dross that defines our dumbed-down education curriculum. When was the last time teachers threatened job action over educational standards?
The real danger facing teachers may not be contract talks but obsolescence. No matter how long this strike lasts, knowledge—the stuff of real education—will always be a library, a field trip, an interview or a mouse click away.