Fighting for a vision of education

Today teachers in BC vote on yet another plan of action to protest the unwillingness of our employer to recognize our working needs. I plan on voting with the union to keep protesting. I think it’s the right thing to do. It’s not good enough for us to wait for our lawyers to challenge the legislation imposed on us, a legislation which is inevitably going to be deemed unconstitutional, just as the previous legislation was. We need to hold to our principles and disobey the government; otherwise our lack unified action will be perceived as acceptance of the government’s mandate. And what is the mandate? It is to completely take educational decision-making away from educators. It involves a vision that would see lessons broadcast from one source to many classrooms at a time, as if teaching actually works like this; as if such a model can possibly service the many reluctant learners that we see in public school. You’re damn right, I’m going to protest a bill that advances such a vision.

This is my position, but it is not easy to sustain. Our job action is not like that of other unions. We don’t affect markets or the profit margins of rich men; we affect innocent children, who are beautifully, blissfully disconnected from political agendas. They trust us. They trust that what we are giving them is what they will eventually need. They appreciate our volunteerism. They relate to us; they eat with us; they play with us. They bounce ideas off of us in order to try to come to some understanding of their world. Is it any wonder, then, that we are reluctant to take action? We are not “sticking it to the man”; we are defending a system that is very personal. What we do is at the core of human dignity: we impart knowledge, skill and attitudes to children. It is very, very difficult to take the position that we will disappoint children in the short run, so that we can protect this system in the long run.

Earlier I mentioned that legal challenges aren’t good enough. They’re not. It took 10 years of legal work to overturn the first legislated contract by this government. The deadline for the government to address the repercussions of that legislation has passed, and nothing has come of it. While that legal challenge was in the works, we struck “illegally” against another attempt at the same unconstitutional legislation, and won; and now the same government is making a third attempt to do the same thing. Every attempt chips away at our influence and at our fortitude. Inexorably, the system is being taken out of the control of teachers, who see education as a journey toward personal betterment for each individual according to his/her needs; and being given to the oligarchy of powerful men, who see people as labour capital, and education as a means to economic gain.

I see this fight as a turning point. If we stop our protest, we will be seen as being amenable to the government’s neo-liberal vision. I’ve heard the commentators on corporate radio saying that this is not about the kids – that this is a labour dispute. They’re only scratching the surface of what this fight is about. There are deep philosophical issues at stake here that will change forever the meaning of the word “education”.

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