Teachers: Don’t doubt yourselves.

     As we realize that negotiations are getting nowhere with the provincial government, teachers are implementing Phase One of job action. I’d like to remind my colleagues (and anyone else who cares to read this) about some facts. Don’t worry about the spin that the government puts on things (and that the press reports). Here are the facts.

1. We care about the children we teach.

How could we not? The greatest moment for us as teachers is the “aha” moment when we see it in children. Of course we care! In fact, there are some kids in every school for whom we are the only adults who care. We volunteer our time. We actively try to engage the kids in various things, trying to hook them into education (and some of them are tough to hook). We pick them up when they fall. We volunteer far beyond the expectations of our job.

We should not feel shame that we are asking for smaller class sizes. We want to be able to do our jobs well. We won’t work less hard just because our classes are small, but we will be able to do more – to teach better. This will make our jobs more satisfying.

Our schools are currently funded at $1000 PER CHILD lower than the national average. This is unconscionable.

2. We are not greedy.

If we were greedy we would never have become teachers. We should not feel shame for asking for a substantial increase in pay to match teachers in other provinces. Most of us are primary breadwinners. We don’t make that much money. We’ll certainly never be rich. Our pension plans won’t put us in yachts. And it’s damn hard work. Most of the guest speakers who visit classes leave wondering how we do it. I hear this over and over again. Most people can’t do what we do.

3. Our union is not militant.

Believe me. I grew up in a steelworkers town. You want to see militant?  I’ll show you militant. For us, it is one of the most dismaying things in the world to take up a job action, because not only does it affect our own families’ wellbeing; but it also affects the wellbeing of the kids at school THAT WE CARE ABOUT.  In fact, I become very, very distressed over it.

A strike is the last thing we want, but when the government is as intractable as this one, we have no other way to fight. If they had their wish, we would continue to lose ground against the cost of living. That’s an awfully strange wish for a government to have for its people. We made much more money relative to the cost of living twenty-five years ago. A simple fact.

4. We should not feel ashamed to make good pay just because we belong to the public sector.

The fact that we are funded by tax dollars doesn’t make our service less valuable. We generate wealth by keeping kids off the streets and by educating them. Paying tax dollars is the same as paying for bread. You pay something and you get something. An educated society is the key to happiness, harmony and democracy. It also produces a huge savings in health costs.

5. We should be respected and not belittled by our government.

The current BC government has been cited numerous times by the International Labour Organization for disrespectful treatment of teachers. The government’s job is not to keep people’s taxes low; it is to make sure its citizens are well cared-for. We are citizens too.

6. We are the vanguard of the human rights movement.

We have stood up to a brutal government in gut-wrenching labour disputes. At the heart of these disputes was the issue of contract-stripping, which has been found to be unconstitutional. The Bill 28 ruling was never appealed, and it is a precedent for Canadian constitutional law for all of the future. Who else but the BCTF could have taken on this huge burden? Every union in the province — even in the country should thank us for affirming their rights. We can be proud of this!

Furthermore, our working conditions are also the children’s working conditions. When we stand up for ourselves, we stand up for children. Of this there is no doubt. This is true symbiosis.

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A 1% increase in BC’s 2 highest tax brackets would generate over $62 million in added revenue.

Taxation is the main way your government generates revenue. The reason we have universal free public education, and health care (among other benefits) is because everyone pays taxes. Unquestionably, tax revenue allows the government to make a more equitable, safe, orderly society.

Historically, though, “tax” has been a bad word. Realistically, no one likes giving up such a huge chunk of their income to the government that spends it on things that may not directly benefit the individual tax payer. It takes a big person to surrender his taxes lovingly for the greater good.

With this idea in mind, I present the following scenario for British Columbians:

IF WE WERE TO INCREASE THE AMOUNT OF TAX ON THE HIGHEST TWO BRACKETS BY 1% EACH: (*see table below)

A person earning $150,000 would now pay a total of $451 more per year in tax, or o.3% of total income
A person earning $200,000 would now pay a total of $951 more per year in tax, or 0.5% of total income
A person earning $1,000,000 would now pay a total of $8,951 more per year in tax, or 0.9% of total income

According to Statistics Canada there were 65,600 people in BC earning above $150,000/a in 2011.

Even if the annual income of all these people averaged out to $200,000 per year (It’s almost certainly higher than that.), a 1% increase on the last two tax brackets would generate $62,385,600 in revenue.

To put this in perspective, the province could hire over 700 more full time public school teachers per year if the highest two tax brackets were increased by 1%.

This represents the tax on individuals’ income only. It’s well known that our corporate tax rate in BC is one of the lowest in the country.

The scenario I have presented here is very simplistic, but it illustrates how a modest increase in the nominal tax rate can make a huge difference. The reality in BC is that the nominal tax rate across the board was lowered by 25% by the BC Liberals almost immediately when they got into power.

No one but the wealthy benefited noticeably from this, and since then, public service has taken a terrible hit. Hospitals are filthy – rife with C. difficile and other superbugs. And school districts are forced to cut way back on services.

For an eyebrow-raising review of how tax revenue in BC has decreased under the BC Liberal government, read “BC’s Regressive Tax Shift” published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

We have become programmed to think of taxation only in terms of deficit and surplus, but we should really be thinking about the living conditions in the province. When the NDP left office in 2001, BC was far better off than it is now, according to virtually every social measure (School achievement, child poverty rate, homelessness, mental health) and the provincial budget was in surplus!

*Calculating BC Provincial Personal Income Tax

Here’s how your provincial income tax is calculated if you make $200 000

5.06% on the first $37,606 of taxable income, (up to $37,606 total)    = 1902.86
7.7% on the next $37,607, +                             (up to $75,213 total)   = 2895.74
10.5% on the next $11,141, +                           (up to $86,354 total)   = 1169.81
12.29% on the next $18,504, +                         (up to $104,858 total) = 2274.14
14.7% on the next $45,142, +                           (up to $150,000 total) = 6635.87
16.8% on the amount over $150,000                                                   = 8400.00

Total BC provincial income tax for a person earning $200 000/a       = $ 23,278.42

On Blended Learning™

Excerpt from a previous post:

Blended Learning

“Blended learning” is a term being bandied about a lot these days. It is the latest and greatest “technique” that will revolutionize teaching and learning! Hallelujah!

What blended actually is, is the integration of technology into sound pedagogical practice. I do NOT oppose blended learning. What I oppose is Blended Learning™. This term creates a little clique of teachers and administrators who can become “experts” on it, thereby identifying themselves as teacher leaders, as if the idea of integrating technology into pedagogical methods is some new technique that only those who’ve been to the workshop can understand.

Again, I am not against blended learning, but when the term is used as a hammer to attack teachers who are doing a superlative job without using computer gimmicks in their teaching, I object strongly. Teachers are exposed to this kind of tawdry proselytizing through their whole careers. Many of us will remember “new math.” None of this has ever made any positive impact on good teaching or learning.

What is particularly dismaying about Blended Learning is that it seems to ignore the fact that technology in schools is often more of a distraction than it is a learning tool. Walk through any school, or simply observe your own children. Their cel phone is constantly taking their attention away from a learning task. You may say, “So what?”, but there are things in life that require intense, focused concentration. Persuasive writing, for example, is one of those things, as the writer needs to gather evidence, anticipate criticism, and articulate thoughts in a cohesive sequence all at the same time. Any distraction can be the death of a good treatise.

Amazingly, many teachers are ignoring the evidence right in front of their faces, and subscribing to the idea that students can be focused while listening to music or checking into social media. In fact, there is NO EVIDENCE that these things enhance concentration. At the very most, we find that there are some rare instances in which music being played through headphones can mute out external distractions and enhance concentration, but I will argue that the circumstances in which this is preferable to silence, are rare indeed.

At the heart of “blended learning” is the notion that students will have networked technology at their side, and that somehow all of the latest enhancements in technology will be able to enhance learning. There is no question that some technological advances will impact and likely benefit learning, but we need to dispel the ridiculous guilt trip that is put on teachers (quite often, venerated senior teachers) who dare to impugn God’s latest gift to teaching. There’s an ugly arrogance in some of the promotors of this new movement (that is not new at all), and their smug missive that those who raise concerns about student distraction are just “doing it wrong”. Please…

And we must also question the motives of the people funding these initiatives. I would be extremely wary of an ideology that is backed by, say… Microsoft.

On inquiry in education: a caution

An excerpt from a previous post:

Inquiry:

Never in the history of teaching has anybody ever suggested that teachers should just lecture students about the world while they sit passively. No learning can take place without inquiry. From our first breath as human beings, we learn about the world through inquiry – through the cycle of questioning, hypothesizing, testing, revising and integrating. Any parent knows this from watching her child in the bathtub. The child will become curious about something, begin playing, and discover new things (for example, how to make a big splash!).

Even in the most drear of lectures, learning can take place if the audience member listens, anticipates and predicts what is coming next. Inquiry is at the heart of learning.

But these days, it’s as if we’ve discovered for the first time that inquiry is important. So we’re coming up with hair-brained notions that students should choose for themselves what is interesting (see “flexibility”), and that they should learn through inquiry projects on their chosen topics.

Even the most competent student will not likely be able to discover on his own some of the knowledge that he will need to have in order to become sufficiently expert in his field of inquiry. Take a physics lesson, for example. Students could do an open-ended inquiry on simple machines, but in doing so they may never arrive at the most important idea behind the topic (indeed the very reason we teach it), which is that machines produce a calculable mechanical advantage. We teach this concept because it is a rudiment for further understanding – a stepping stone for students to develop enough expertise that they can eventually form their own inquiries into the applications of this concept.

To teach this idea in the traditional way, the teacher directs learning toward the goal of this understanding. He uses readings, exercises and lab experiments to provide an inquiry pathway for students to discover this concept. Always the teacher is mindful of Blooms Taxonomy, combined with his understandings of age-related levels of intellectual development to “push” learning. So “inquiry” is at the heart of his teaching.

The notion that students can direct their own learning is absurd. Students “go to school” and in doing so the “go to” the body of knowledge that exists in the “university” (the one truth) that we must show them. School does not “go to students” for them to select what they would like to learn. This form of inquiry is directionless, and it will only ensure that our society as a whole will become stupider.

On flexibility in schools: a caution.

Excerpt from a previous post:

Flexibility:

There is a line of thinking that suggests that the knowledge of facts is not important any more. It is based on the success of technology. The reasoning goes “With the ubiquity of technology, factual knowledge is at our fingertips; therefore there is no point in having students memorize irrelevant facts”.

There is a kernel of truth to this assertion. It is easy to find factual knowledge online, and I quite often find students checking up on me when I teach them a new idea. I love this! It shows me that they care about what I’m teaching them. And if I get it wrong (which is rare), I allow them a little playful derision.

But there are some facts that must be taught. Yesterday, I explained to my grade 8 students how the provincial parliament works. After about 15 minutes of hopping around and drawing diagrams on the board, I asked them if any of them had learned anything; if they’d known this information already.

For all of them, this was new information. Now, they could have looked this up online, and discovered for themselves how a parliamentary system works, but I believe that I was able to filter out some of the extraneous information, focus on what was important, disambiguate the terms, and generally contextualize the information in such a way that they could really “learn” it.

There is no way on earth that they would have chosen to do this on their own, and there is no way on earth that they would have learned it better if they had inquired on their own. There is too much vocabulary involved, and there is too much background context to democracy for them to be able to integrate the knowledge into their personal experience on their own.

Certainly this basic lesson in civics is important for democracy. And yet a misunderstanding of “flexibility” models threatens to allow students to learn what they would like to learn. It would be a disastrous thing for students to get through school having bypassed a knowledge of how their democracy works, simply because they chose not to learn it.

What “flexibility” is really about is denying the importance of input from teachers. The current ideal seems to be a world in which the students choose their courses, are given learning packets, and then go to school to get help with their learning exercises from aides (not teachers). So the idea is a cost saving measure – an effort to use technology to “teach” children, thereby reducing the need for teachers.

It should be noted that my lesson on the parliamentary system had been impromptu. We were actually examining the Justinian Code in an effort to get at the meaning of “law”, and the history of where law comes from. A student had asked a question “Can’t the government just make up any law that it wants?”. This led to a discussion of the difference between, and the roles of the courts and the government.

It should also be noted that this information is available online, but had I not understood the parliamentary system myself, I would not even have been able to know enough to address the issue. This idea of “flexibility” which is supported by such terms as “discovery learning” or “inquiry” is bunk.

On student engagement

Excerpt from a previous post:

Student engagement

A good lecturer will be engaging for his audience, and a good teacher will create lessons that engage students by accessing their prior knowledge, and using what they already know as a springboard into knew ideas. This is good pedagogy.

However, student engagement can be problematic. There are kids who, for myriad reasons, are very, very difficult to engage. Teachers are being brow-beaten with the idea that they must “engage students”. This isn’t fair. While the teacher must do the best he can to engage children, the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” holds true. The teacher has no control over most of the factors that decrease student engagement.

Engagement is the purview of the student. Most often it is a choice. Even the most monotonous lecture can be a brilliant learning opportunity if the learner is tuned in. It’s a ridiculous assertion that it’s the teacher’s fault or the “system’s” fault that a student is disengaged. No responsible parent would ever say to a child, “That’s okay. You don’t have to do it if it’s boring.”

The teacher should make learning “accessible”, but “engagement” is up to the student.

 

On “student-centred” education

Excerpt from a previous post:

Student-centred education:

This sounds like a humanistic idea: the idea that we should try to meet the needs of each individual student – that we should consider the fact that all students “learn differently” and have different interests. This is all well and good, but it concerns me that we may be subtly reinforcing to children the notion that they are the centre of the universe and that society should cater to their needs. Furthermore, the idea that all students “learn differently” is a bit spurious. Aside from individual proclivities, for the most part, all humans “learn the same way”.

As parents and educators, we know what knowledge, skills, and attitudes children need to be taught in order to participate in, and contribute to a rich society. Students “go to” school for an education for that reason. They “go to” the bigger ideas that they don’t already know. It’s not the other way around. Surely education should be “learning centred”.

The new terms in teaching – and why we should be skeptical

A few bits of education jargon that have recently shown up scare me. Before you write me off as an old curmudgeon, let me first say that I have always been at the vanguard of integrating technology into schools. It’s not a new thing at all; what’s new is that, at last, digital technology has become ubiquitous, but contrary to what various celebrated articles have suggested, technology has NOT changed the way students learn. Not really.

What follows is a list of terms that sound good. Essentially, they suggest positive ideas. Who wouldn’t want students to be exposed to a wide array of choices? Who wouldn’t want education to focus on the needs of the individual child? Indeed, the terms are seductive. They win converts to certain school initiatives: not just parents, but teachers as well.

But quite often, what underlies these terms is a policy directive that is not at all based on sound educational principles. Education has been around for centuries. It has been tinkered with, and commented on, by the greatest minds in history, including Confucius and Socrates. Certain realities will always demand that we tweak the system. This is natural, and desirable. But if our ideology — the “foundation” of our pedagogy starts to stray, we open ourselves up to trouble.

It is very important that we understand the impetus for these policy directives. Quite often these directives are efforts to increase “efficiency” (read: cut funding) from education. They euphemistically promise to make things better for learners, and they are used to segregate teachers into those who are “on board” and those who are not, but at their core, they can be flawed ideologies. For a well referenced look at this issue, see Philip McRae’s excellent post.

So without further ado, here are some of the terms that are worrying me. Feel free to comment if you think of more.

1. Student-centred education:

This sounds like a humanistic idea: the idea that we should try to meet the needs of each individual student – that we should consider the fact that all students “learn differently” and have different interests. This is all well and good, but it concerns me that we may be subtly reinforcing to children the notion that they are the centre of the universe and that society should cater to their needs. Furthermore, the idea that all students “learn differently” is a bit spurious. Aside from individual proclivities, for the most part, all humans “learn the same way”.

As parents and educators, we know what knowledge, skills, and attitudes children need to be taught in order to participate in, and contribute to a rich society. Students “go to” school for an education for that reason. They “go to” the bigger ideas that they don’t already know. It’s not the other way around. Surely education should be “learning centred”.

2. Student engagement

A good lecturer will be engaging for his audience, and a good teacher will create lessons that engage students by accessing their prior knowledge, and using what they already know as a springboard into knew ideas. This is good pedagogy.

However, student engagement can be problematic. There are kids who, for myriad reasons, are very, very difficult to engage. Teachers are being brow-beaten with the idea that they must “engage students”. This isn’t fair. While the teacher must do the best he can to engage children, the old adage, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” holds true. The teacher has no control over most of the factors that decrease student engagement.

Engagement is the purview of the student. Most often it is a choice. Even the most monotonous lecture can be a brilliant learning opportunity if the learner is tuned in. It’s a ridiculous assertion that it’s the teacher’s fault or the “system’s” fault that a student is disengaged. No responsible parent would ever say to a child, “That’s okay. You don’t have to do it if it’s boring.”

The teacher should make learning “accessible”, but “engagement” is up to the student.

3. Flexibility:

There is a line of thinking that suggests that the knowledge of facts is not important any more. It is based on the success of technology. The reasoning goes “With the ubiquity of technology, factual knowledge is at our fingertips; therefore there is no point in having students memorize irrelevant facts”.

There is a kernel of truth to this assertion. It is easy to find factual knowledge online, and I quite often find students checking up on me when I teach them a new idea. I love this! It shows me that they care about what I’m teaching them. And if I get it wrong (which is rare), I allow them a little playful derision.

But there are some facts that must be taught. Yesterday, I explained to my grade 8 students how the provincial parliament works. After about 15 minutes of hopping around and drawing diagrams on the board, I asked them if any of them had learned anything; if they’d known this information already.

For all of them, this was new information. Now, they could have looked this up online, and discovered for themselves how a parliamentary system works, but I believe that I was able to filter out some of the extraneous information, focus on what was important, disambiguate the terms, and generally contextualize the information in such a way that they could really “learn” it.

There is no way on earth that they would have chosen to do this on their own, and there is no way on earth that they would have learned it better if they had inquired on their own. There is too much vocabulary involved, and there is too much background context to democracy for them to be able to integrate the knowledge into their personal experience on their own.

Certainly this basic lesson in civics is important for democracy. And yet a misunderstanding of “flexibility” models threatens to allow students to learn what they would like to learn. It would be a disastrous thing for students to get through school having bypassed a knowledge of how their democracy works, simply because they chose not to learn it.

What “flexibility” is really about is denying the importance of input from teachers. The current ideal seems to be a world in which the students choose their courses, are given learning packets, and then go to school to get help with their learning exercises from aides (not teachers). So the idea is a cost saving measure – an effort to use technology to “teach” children, thereby reducing the need for teachers.

It should be noted that my lesson on the parliamentary system had been impromptu. We were actually examining the Justinian Code in an effort to get at the meaning of “law”, and the history of where law comes from. A student had asked a question “Can’t the government just make up any law that it wants?”. This led to a discussion of the difference between, and the roles of the courts and the government.

It should also be noted that this information is available online, but had I not understood the parliamentary system myself, I would not even have been able to know enough to address the issue. This idea of “flexibility” which is supported by such terms as “discovery learning” or “inquiry” is bunk.

4. Inquiry:

Never in the history of teaching has anybody ever suggested that teachers should just lecture students about the world while the students sit passively. No learning can take place without inquiry. From our first breath as human beings, we learn about the world through inquiry – through the cycle of questioning, hypothesizing, testing, revising and integrating. Any parent knows this from watching her child in the bathtub. The child will become curious about something, begin playing, and discover new things (for example, how to make a big splash!).

Even in the most drear of lectures, learning can take place if the audience member listens, anticipates and predicts what is coming next. Inquiry is at the heart of learning.

But these days, it’s as if we’ve discovered for the first time that inquiry is important. So we’re coming up with hair-brained notions that students should choose for themselves what is interesting (see “flexibility”), and that they should learn through inquiry projects on their chosen topics.

Even the most competent student will not likely be able to discover on his own some of the knowledge that he will need to have in order to become sufficiently expert in his field of inquiry.

Take a physics lesson, for example. Students could do an open-ended inquiry on simple machines, but in doing so they may never arrive at the most important idea behind the topic (indeed the very reason we teach it), which is that machines produce a calculable mechanical advantage. We teach this concept because it is a rudiment for further understanding – a stepping stone for students to develop enough expertise that they can eventually form their own inquiries into the applications of this concept.

To teach this idea in the traditional way, the teacher directs learning toward the goal of this understanding. He uses readings, exercises and lab experiments to provide an inquiry pathway for students to discover this concept. Always the teacher is mindful of Blooms Taxonomy, combined with his understandings of age-related levels of intellectual development to “push” learning. So “inquiry” is at the heart of his teaching.

The notion that students can direct their own learning is absurd. Students “go to school” to discover the body of knowledge that exists in the “university” (the one truth) that we must show them. School does not “go to students” for them to select what they would like to learn. This form of inquiry is directionless, and it will only ensure that our society as a whole will become stupider.

5. Blended Learning

“Blended learning” is a term being bandied about a lot these days. It is the latest and greatest “technique” that will revolutionize teaching and learning! Hallelujah!

What blended learning actually is, is the integration of technology into sound pedagogical practice. I do NOT oppose blended learning. What I oppose is Blended Learning™. This term creates a little clique of teachers and administrators who can become “experts” on it, thereby identifying themselves as teacher leaders, as if the idea of integrating technology into pedagogical methods is some new technique that only those who’ve been to the workshop can understand.

Again, I am not against blended learning, but when the term is used as a hammer to attack teachers who are doing a superlative job without using computer gimmicks in their teaching, I object strongly. Teachers are exposed to this kind of tawdry proselytizing through their whole careers. Many of us will remember “whole language.” None of this has ever made any positive impact on good teaching or learning.

What is particularly dismaying about Blended Learning is that it seems to ignore the fact that technology in schools is often more of a distraction than it is a learning tool. Walk through any school, or simply observe your own children. Their cel phone is constantly taking their attention away from a learning task. You may say, “So what?”, but there are things in life that require intense, focused concentration. Persuasive writing, for example, is one of those things, as the writer needs to gather evidence, anticipate criticism, and articulate thoughts in a cohesive sequence all at the same time. Any distraction can be the death of a good treatise.

Amazingly, many teachers are ignoring the evidence right in front of their faces, and subscribing to the idea that students can be focused while listening to music or checking into social media.

In fact, there is NO EVIDENCE that these things enhance concentration. At the very most, we find that there are some rare instances in which music being played through headphones can mute out external distractions and enhance concentration, but I will argue that the circumstances in which this is preferable to silence, are rare indeed.

At the heart of “blended learning” is the notion that students will have networked technology at their side, and that somehow all of the latest enhancements in technology will be able to enhance learning. There is no question that some technological advances will impact and likely benefit learning, but we need to dispel the ridiculous guilt trip that is put on teachers (quite often, venerated senior teachers) who dare to impugn God’s latest gift to teaching. There’s an ugly arrogance in some of the promotors of this new movement (that is not new at all), and their smug missive that those who raise concerns about student distraction are just “doing it wrong”. Please…

And we must also question the motives of the people funding these initiatives. I would be extremely wary of an ideology that is backed by, say… Microsoft.

I’m skeptical about these terms, but you should not confuse skepticism with cynicism. I am not cynical. I still believe in the wonder of knowledge, and I still believe in the sincerity of children in their pursuit of knowledge – and even in the sincerity of policy-makers in their aspirations for a well-educated society. But I am skeptical enough and experienced enough to know that not every new idea is a good idea, and I am also aware of the crossed purposes of policymakers: their desire to marry the education system to their political ideology – possibly to the detriment learning.

Parents and teachers must be careful to remember the philosophical bases of the school system, and of teaching and learning in general, and to not fall into the trap of accepting unconditionally whatever comes down the pike in education policy. Particularly, we need to be skeptical of jargon that euphemistically masks the influence of corporate or political agendas at the expense of universally accessible, comprehensive public education.

We must always remember our ideals. What kind of citizens are we raising? How will they contribute to an inclusive, happy society?

The BC Liberals are making it up as they go along.

I just listened to Minister Fassbender assert to British Columbians that the government sought a settlement with the BCTF. This is untrue vis a vis the issue at hand, which is the order from the Supreme Court that they address the repercussions of the 2011 ruling that Bill 28 was unconstitutional.

To all reporters in BC:. If you actually care about the truth, you will weigh everything that the BCTF or the Government says against the truth. I challenge you. If BCTF members lie, call them liars. If the government ministers lie, call them liars.

The truth can be found in the BC Supreme Court ruling. It’s easy to expose the liars. Just compare everything they say to what the court says. Here is the unredacted BC Supreme Court summary (underlining is mine):

Summary

The hearing before this Court follows on the Court’s declaration on April 13, 2011 that legislation interfering with teachers’ collective bargaining rights was unconstitutional as a breach of s. 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of association.

The legislation at issue deleted collective agreement terms and prohibited collective bargaining having to do with a range of working conditions, many having to do with class size and composition and the number of supports provided in classes to students with special needs.

The freedom of workers to associate has long been recognized internationally and in Canada as an important aspect of a fair and democratic society. Collective action by workers helps protect individuals from unfairness in one of the most fundamental aspects of their lives, their employment.

Normally the result after legislation is determined by a court to be unconstitutional is that it is struck down. This is part of Canada’s democratic structure, which requires that governments must act legally, within the supreme law of the country, the Constitution. Here this result was suspended for twelve months to give the government time to address the repercussions of the decision.

The government did not appeal.

After the twelve months expired, the government enacted virtually identical legislation in Bill 22, with the duplicative provisions coming into force on April 14, 2012.

The over-arching question, then, is whether there is something new that makes the new legislation constitutional when the previous legislation was not.

The government argues there are two new facts that make the new legislation constitutional.

First, the government argues that its “good faith consultation” with the union after the first court decision declaring legislation to be unconstitutional, essentially immunized the subsequent duplicative legislation from a similar constitutional challenge. This Court concludes otherwise. The government discussions with the union did not cure the unconstitutionality of the legislation.

The Court has concluded that the government did not negotiate in good faith with the union after the Bill 28 Decision. One of the problems was that the government representatives were pre-occupied by another strategy. Their strategy was to put such pressure on the union that it would provoke a strike by the union. The government representatives thought this would give government the opportunity to gain political support for imposing legislation on the union.

The second argument by the government is that the new legislation has a critical difference from the otherwise identical legislation found to be unconstitutional, and that is that one of the two branches of the legislation was time limited.

There were two branches to the Bill 28 legislation previously declared unconstitutional. One was a deletion of existing terms in the collective agreement and a prohibition on including terms in the collective agreement in the future regarding these working conditions. The second was a prohibition on collective bargaining over certain working conditions.

The government argues that there is a crucial difference between the Bill 22 package of legislation and the earlier legislation declared unconstitutional, in that in Bill 22 it temporally limited the second branch of the legislation: the continued prohibition on collective bargaining about the working conditions terms was extended until the end of June 2013 and then repealed.

However, in Bill 22 the government re-enacted legislation identical to that first branch of what was previously declared unconstitutional, namely, the deletion and prohibition of hundreds of collective agreement terms on working conditions.

The Court concludes that there is no basis for distinguishing the new legislation from the previous findings of this Court. The new duplicative legislation substantially interferes with the s. 2(d) Charter rights of teachers, which protects their freedom to associate to make representations to their employer and have the employer consider them in good faith.

As a result, the Court finds the duplicative legislation in Bill 22 to be unconstitutional, namely s. 8, part of s. 13, and s. 24, set out in Appendix A. The unconstitutional provisions that have not already expired, ss. 8 and 24, are struck down.

When legislation is struck down as unconstitutional, it means it was never valid, from the date of its enactment. This means that the legislatively deleted terms in the teachers’ collective agreement have been restored retroactively and can also be the subject of future bargaining.

Striking down the unconstitutional legislation will have implications for teachers and their employers but both sides will have interests in resolving these implications through collective bargaining and the tools already existing to resolve labour disputes.

The Court has also concluded that it is appropriate and just to award damages against the government pursuant to s. 24(1) of the Charter. This is in order to provide an effective remedy in relation to the government’s unlawful action in extending the unconstitutional prohibitions on collective bargaining to the end of June 2013. The government must pay the BCTF damages of $2 million.

The BCTF has also challenged other action taken by the government since the Bill 28 Decision: the government’s conduct in issuing Mandate 2010 to the employers’ association for collective bargaining, commonly known as the net zero mandate; the government’s legislation appointing a mediator with a narrow mandate at the end of the 2011- 2012 round of collective bargaining, Mr. Charles Jago; and two regulations enacted by the government, the Learning Improvement Fund Regulation, and the Class Size and Compensation Regulation.

The Court concludes that none of this other challenged government conduct was unconstitutional. The government has a role and responsibility in respect of the education system that entitles it to establish some fiscal and policy parameters around the collective bargaining between the teachers’ employee association, the BCTF, and that of the employers’ association, BCPSEA, so long as there can still be room for movement within those parameters.

Within and without the union: prejudices about the BCTF

I guess that I belong to the most despised union in the province. I’m not whimpering. It’s just a fact. The BC Teachers Federation gets a lot of nasty press. And I try to understand why that might be. To do so, I have to cast my memory back to my pre-union days.

I taught in a Catholic independent school for 11 years. And there was no union. As you can probably guess, a couple of decades ago, some of the BCTF proclivities didn’t play well with Catholics. For one thing, there was the issue of support for LGBTQ realities that the Church would have preferred to deny, but there was more. The Church was terrified of unions.

The Church did not want to give up its power to a union. The year I began teaching, there was a high school on Holmes Street in Burnaby owned by the Vancouver Archdiocese. It was called Marion High. At that time, Catholic teachers were covering the identical curriculum that was taught in the public schools, but they were being paid about 40% less than public school teachers, with no benefits at all. This arose out of a past in which the schools were populated mainly by nuns and poorly trained lay people – often volunteers, and typically women, who didn’t rely on teaching as a primary source of income.

The teachers at Marion High began a union movement. One of the issues on the bargaining table was that they wanted a fired teacher reinstated. She had been fired for violating the “Catholicity Clause” in her contract. She had been divorced, and was now remarrying outside the Church. The Church viewed such behaviour as sinful conduct, which could not be sanctioned in someone who was in a position of trust with children.

Long story short, the Archdiocese shut the whole school down permanently and sold the property so as to put a stop to the union movement. This effectively squelched any unionization dreams in the Catholic teachers to this very day.

In those days, I was prejudiced against the BCTF, seeing it as a political body more interested in political correctness and “socialistic” causes like poverty and LGBTQ issues than education. In retrospect, it wasn’t only because of my Catholic School background that I harbored this prejudice; it was because my dad was a vice president of a multinational mining corporation, so I had been indoctrinated into an ideology of “free enterprise.” I liked to believe that there were many good teachers who, through no choice of their own, had to give up union dues in order to fund such far-fetched activism against their will (I know, I know, I’ve learned a lot since then).

Eventually though, mainly out of fear that the governing NDP was gunning to have funding for religious schools cut (leaving me out in the cold), I left the Catholic schools and found work in the public schools. Here I was obligated to join the union. My first impression was the opposite of what I expected. Because the union was so much involved in the formation of its own contract, it had a vested interest in fulfilling its obligations, and in a professional “ethic” of inclusiveness and professional development. In fact, something that I didn’t realize is that the union had asked the school districts for a longer calendar year (without increase in pay) so that it could insert its own professional development days.

Where I thought I’d see slackers going home at 3:00, I found teachers spending as many or more after-school hours preparing classes. Where I thought I’d see an “us and them” dichotomy between administrators and teachers, I found a much more collaborative relationship between the two than I had in the Catholic school. And where I thought I’d see decisions made on the basis of contractual or political ideology, I saw decisions that were generated out of best practice ideals for education. This was probably the biggest difference.

In the Catholic schools, priests were the ultimate authorities, and as they received their license from God himself, their word was law. To be fair, some of them tried to remain at arms length, but there were many initiatives in the Catholic schools that had much to do with religion and very little to do with education. (I still remember having to move hot dog day to Thursday from Friday so as to not violate the “no meat on Fridays” tradition.) Reflecting on those days, I’m glad that policy was directed by God rather than say, Microsoft or Nike, but I digress.

So back to my union, and why people don’t like us.

I think that one reason has to do with relationships. There are two sets of people in anyone’s life who call him out for his shenanigans. One is his parents, and the other is his teachers. Given this “in loco parentis” role, we have earned a reputation as mealy, rule-bound, stuck up sticks-in-the-mud. Why? Well because we don’t let kids do whatever they want, and we insist that they “be nice”. We get into their business, and sometimes they resent it, just like we all resented it when we had to do household chores, or when our exasperated parents scolded us. And It doesn’t help our cause that virtually every teacher presented on popular television is a reinforcement of the stereotypical teacher-as-offbeat-bookish-sociopath.

When people leave school, and grow up, they don’t usually come back, unless it is as teachers. Our memories of what a teacher is were formed when we were children, when we couldn’t properly understand why a teacher was so insistent on deadlines, or what the big deal was about skateboarding in the hall. As children, we couldn’t possibly understand that what we thought of as “just jumping through the hoops” was actually part of a well-planned, research-based, sequential pedagogy – the fruit of many years of post-secondary training. When a student graduates from school he takes with him his childish understanding of what “school” and “teacher” are. And this memory is cemented right there. Throughout his life, he may never revisit or revise this understanding. He can’t “see” what he’s never known unless he has a reason to re-imagine his past.

A second reason we are not liked is because what we do may not be well understood by people. I recently read a formula that the U.S. government uses to calculate a teacher’s working hours for insurance purposes. The formula is 1 hour teaching equals 2.5 hours work. So a 6 hour teaching day represents 15 hours of work. People have a sense that because they have attended school for a big portion of their lives, they know what teachers do, but such isn’t really the case. It’s the work behind the scenes that you don’t see that is the much bigger part of the job.

A third, and perhaps the most nefarious reason for our bad PR is because people have been convinced that public sector unions are to blame for their high tax burden. And there is truth in this. Here I’m not going to waste words trying to justify how much I get paid. Suffice it to say, teaching is not the most lucrative profession – far from it, but we do fairly well.

The tax argument, however, is spurious. The same level of vitriol is never issued when people buy gasoline or groceries. People don’t curse the multimillionaire bank CEO’s when they get ding’d a-buck-fifty at the ATM just for taking out their own money. (By the way, when bank machines first came out, they were free to use, and still people were reluctant, as we knew that the banks were saving huge money laying off tellers). But for some reason, they don’t want to pay tax dollars for a system of universal education that is run and delivered by professionals. They say that in today’s economy we can’t afford it, which is funny, because our modern economy generates more wealth than ever before in history, yet as a percentage of GDP we funded schools much better in the past.

I’ve come to look at the issue as one that I just have to live with. I have worked a few different jobs in my life, finally coming to teaching, and I can say that teaching is most definitely the hardest job I’ve ever done. It can be very rewarding at times – not lately though, considering how hard the government has been working to discredit us. (It really doesn’t feel good when your boss tries to goad you into a fight). But that ‘s a story for my previous blog post.

Anyway, that’s it. That’s how it is. I guess I’ll just have to quietly pay my union dues and do my thing. If I can leave you with just one thought though, let it be this: Better funded schools are better for teachers, yes, but they’re also much, much better for students.

A small class is far preferable to a big class for anyone. A teacher who has a stable personal life is a far better teacher for a child to have than a teacher who is struggling to put food on the table. And a society with a large middle class, including teachers, is a much healthier society both economically and socially than one with a tiny minority of rich people and a massive population of people barely making it.