Today my son should be heading to his grade three class, instead he’s at home with his Grandmother, playing with Lego, because of the ongoing teachers’ strike. Both the teachers’ union (the BCTF) and the government bear blame for my son and thousands of other students missing school, but where the BCTF’s errors have mainly been tactical, the government’s have been much more sinister. Not only has the government has been found by the BC Supreme Court to have bargained in bad faith, but the incident that initiated the problems we face today date back to the government, including then Minister of Education Christy Clark, stripping teachers of the right to bargain certain learning and working conditions, an act that has been found by the lower courts to be illegal.
The teachers, on the other hand, would like a raise, and given their recent annual salary increases of zero percent, combined with the increased cost of living, this seems reasonable to me. More importantly, though, the teachers would like students like my son to receive a quality education with better support for students with disabilities, fewer disabled students in any given class, lower class sizes, and better learning support. If the teachers were to agree to the government’s position they would erode everything the BC Supreme Court has already awarded, as well as will likely be awarded in future rulings.
And the teachers are doing this at considerable personal cost. Teachers have already missed more than two weeks of work, and will likely miss several more over the coming weeks. If teachers miss six weeks of work overall, which I think is a conservative estimate, some teachers will lose their homes, many more will never make up the lost income. They are taking this loss to ensure that my son, his little sister when she starts school in a few years, and all the other public school students in this province get the education they deserve. And, according to the Globe and Mail, BC students are both underfunded in relation to other provinces and slipping academically.
Meanwhile, Christy Clark, whose own education was less than successful, having never received a degree despite attending both SFU, the Sorbonne, and the University of Edinburgh, sends her son to a private school where annual tuition for a highschool student is over twenty thousand dollars a year. And recent moves made by Christy Clark’s government suggest that the present crisis in the BC public education system was engineered to not only break the BCTF, but also to promote private schools, like the one her son attends. As former Attorney General, Geoffrey Plant, noted on Twitter, when the government announced they would be subsidising families $40 per day during the strike, “Did BC govt just take the first $40 per day step towards a voucher system for public education?”
Given all of this, it’s hard not to feel pessimistic about the state of public education in BC, as well as the future of our democracy, especially if you believe, as I do, that a healthy, accessible public education system is a cornerstone of democracy. Unfortunately, for my son, all we can do is wait while the government, who should ultimately be responsible for the running of his school, abdicates their responsibility as elected representatives in an attempt to punish teachers and privatize schools.
Also published on Medium.com