“School Choice”

 Re-posted from  Nov.22nd, 2013



We’ve got lots of options and “choices” in our  public schools.

Early education, adult education, French Immersion, Montessori, special needs, gifted, music, drama, technology, behaviour, alternate, and  E.S.L   programmes- to name just a few. There are schools that specialize in Fine Arts, extended athletic programmes, and Career Preparation – there’s no shortage of choice in public schools.

“More school choice” isn’t a clamour for more programme options; it’s a dog whistle for more private options. Proponents of school choice want taxpayers to fund private options that will separate their child from the riff raff of different religions, cultures or of inferior ability or class.

While Canadians strongly resist two tiered health care, they seem to readily accept a two or three tiered, education system.

But we shouldn’t.

By any measure, Public Education in Canada has been and is one of Canada’s most successful social initiatives.

Canadian public schools are considered to be in the top five systems in the world, by international measures in Science, Math and Language Arts. One reason is that 95% of Canadian children still go to public schools respected and supported by Canadians.

And that’s what makes education  work- equity of opportunity, respect for public schools,and as Finland has proven crucial, extensive teacher training and professional autonomy.

For almost two hundred years, public schools have shaped Canadian culture and values.

Look at how Canadians observe Remembrance Day each November. We learned this directly from annual public school assemblies.

It’s not an accident that Canadians are polite and nice. It’s not genetic, it’s learned; in our public schools.

Public schools sculpt Canadian tolerance and empathy. They reinforce a shared history, quiet pride in country, and they keep us from the tyranny of class systems like those found in countries that encourage private schooling.

All Canadian children should attend local public schools. They shouldn’t be separated by religion, socio- economic status, colour or country of origin. They shouldn’t be home schooled, attend religious schools, Charter schools,Swedish Orthodox schools, or “Learning Academies” requiring uniforms and a private bus ride forty- five minutes across town.

Our children need to be in their neighbourhood school, with other children of different kinds, cultures and backgrounds. It’s best for our country and it’s best for them. And it’s so much more important to our children’s development than is succumbing to our misguided vicarious ambitions for our children.

Too often we mistakenly think school uniforms, more rigour, mindless compliance, discipline, and unrelenting pressure to excel is what’s needed at a time when what’s actually needed is  kids  just enjoying their childhood.


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Leap Manifesto – it’s getting less scary.

PhotoDon’t leap to conclusions or let the manifesto part scare you. The leap idea,  is  a sensible and exciting concept. Leapers say that incremental environmental steps are no longer sufficient interventions and that taking the “leap” toward non- carbon producing energy is the only way to save the planet.

Leaping proposals include:

  • Shifting swiftly away from fossil fuels so that Canada gets 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable resources within 20 years and is completely off fossil fuels by 2050.
  • No new infrastructure projects aimed at increasing extraction of non-renewable resources, including pipelines.
  • “Energy democracy,” in which energy sources are  controlled by communities not  private companies.
  • An end to trade deals “that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects.”
  • Expand low-carbon sectors of the economy, such as caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public-interest media.
  • Declaring that “austerity – which has systematically attacked low-carbon sectors like education and health care while starving public transit and forcing energy privatizations – is a  form of thinking that has become a threat to life on earth.
  • Paying for it all by ending fossil fuel subsidies, financial transaction taxes, increasing resource royalties, raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy, introducing a progressive carbon tax, and by cutting military spending.

Given the climate change catastrophes we’re witnessing and the environmental imperative most of us feel, the “leap” to be off carbon producing power within 20 years seems an almost conservative goal. One can tell “leaping” is an idea whose time is fast approaching by the fact that one feels like saying,”do we have that long to wait”?

Let’s not dismiss the idea of “leaping” toward an environmental solution just because we don’t like the connotation of the word “manifesto” or because it is written by lefties who delight in using incendiary, anti- corporate language, just to upset us.

The oil industry will scream bloody murder – they’re the most powerful lobby there is – but they know the time left for them to jack up gas prices before long weekends is growing short.

Early in U.S. President Obama’s mandate, the automobile industry supported his proposal that all cars  must achieve a minimum 35  MPG  within five years, because they preferred its predictability – they knew it was coming and planned for it .

Similarly, if the oil industry  knew up front that 2050 was the drop dead date for fossil fuels, their transition to other endeavours would be equally as predictable and more palatable.

The technology is there. Denmark is approaching country wide zero carbon electricity and other countries are getting close surprisingly painlessly.

Considering Denmark’s success and the commonplace floods and droughts and climate anomalies we see every day, the Leap Manifesto is becoming less and less scary.


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“That Other Party” on Education

The American school system is completely broken. The quote below is from a recent Donald Trump   Jr. speech. It shows the complete lack of understanding most Americans have about what public schooling is;

The other party gave us public schools that far too often fail our students, especially those who have no options. Growing up, my siblings and I we were truly fortunate to have choices and options that others don’t have. We want all Americans to have those same opportunities. Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class, now they’re stalled on the ground floor. They’re like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and the administrators and not the students. You know why other countries do better on K through 12? They let parents choose where to send their own children to school. That’s called competition. It’s called the free market. And it’s what the other party fears. They fear it because they’re more concerned about protecting the jobs of tenured teachers than serving the students in desperate need of a good education. They want to run everything top-down from Washington. They tell us they’re the experts and they know what’s best.

The free market – learning and public schooling are products, to be squeezed and purchased by discerning, parent consumers, who along with shrewd entrepreneurs,are the real educational experts.

In this analysis, there is no room for public education- the most successful collective initiative of western societies. There is no recognition that public education needs a collective public commitment, adequate support and resources, comprehensive teacher training, and professional autonomy.

To them, schooling is merely the purveying of knowledge, without developmental, cultural, or other affective benefit.

This Trump Jr. rant  expresses a preference for class strata, preferred experience, inequitable opportunity, and reduced social mobility.

Don’t fall for “school choice” or “parent choice” cries. They are simply euphemisms for “let’s fund private schools so my kid doesn’t have to mix with the riff raff left to wallow in under supported, dilapidated  public schools…”

Oh,, and don’t fall for the newest private school dog whistle.

” I think the money should follow the student not go to the schools…”

Per pupil funding, vouchers, and Charter School grants are vehicles which allow governments to encourage private school attendance and simultaneoulsy de-value public schools.

U.S. public schools are like educational  lemmings, and if our Socred government has its way, we in BC will soon be following them over the cliff.


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Thank You For Your Service to Our Country

Ever wonder why Canadians are universally considered “nice”… and tolerant, considerate, and terminally apologetic?



Some of these things have been bred into us by family and are reflected in our social structures.

And there are historical, and anthro/sociological forces that have contributed to our Canadian persona.

But the architects, the purveyors of our Canadianism are our public schools.

Traits of Canadian character are mortared deep within our children during their thirteen years of attending Canadian public schools.

Each day during their most developmentally crucial years, our children spend six hours learning Canadian niceness and tolerance, practicing it, and seeing it modelled and encouraged by peers and adult mentors.

Our public schools have provided Canada a level educational playing field.They provide equity of educational opportunity, and in so doing, are the main vehicle of social mobility.

Public schools are what keeps Canada from having an identifiable class system, unlike other countries with private schools that inevitably separate people and promote inequality of opportunity.

Our public schools have taught us Canadian culture. They are why Canadians solemnly “observe” remembrance of military sacrifice and its horror rather than rhapsodizing about military heroism.

A Canadian observance of  religious holidays, festivals, and important occasions of other cultures  is learned in our public schools.

And the above  are only the cultural contributions made by public schools. The service they provide in the personal development of children is equally, if not more, profound.

Public schooling has been the most successful initiative of western democracies, and those who provide it serve our country as fundamentally as does any uniformed Canadian.

I want a ribbon to go on my car’s bumper that says “ I Support Canada’s Public Schools and Educators”.

I want to see a group of public school teachers march onto the field during half time of the Grey Cup Game so we can publicly thank them for their service to our country; for helping to pass on  Canadian values, beliefs, and culture to us all.

So, to all public educators, whose profound contributions are too often lost to the hand wringing of  fiscal austerity;

Thank you for your service to our country.

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B.C. Public Education Funding Announcements – New Rules


As we approach next year’s provincial election, it would seem prudent to establish a few Maher -like rules to govern the myriad education funding announcements we are in for over the next twelve months.

New Rule # 1)

With each new announcement of Ministry of Education largesse, Minister Bernier has to subtract the amount currently being doled out from the 4.2 billion removed from public education since 2001. He must supply a running total of returned money, which now, at rudimentary computation stands at about 4.160 billion  outstanding.

New Rule # 2)

The running total of how much money has yet to be returned to public education must be broadcast on CKNW every day, by every broadcaster.
In addition, Keith Baldrey has to tweet the up to date numbers daily, without sarcasm or impugning the teachers union.

New Rule # 3)

The amounts doled out must be parsed as to which political party’s MLA holds the ridings to which money has been gifted. For example, the millions announced for capital funding in Surrey went to constituencies where what percentage of annointed districts are represented by government MLAs?

New Rule #4

When making announcements about increased funding, the phrases “ as a result of good fiscal management “ and “because of our strong economic performance” may not be used to preface announcements unless sitcom laugh track is played and vomit bags are supplied to the audience.

New Rule #5

With every new funding announcement regardless of how small, routine, or re-announced, neither Premier Clark nor Minister Bernier may laugh , giggle, or even smirk at the ridiculousnes of  their political cynicism.

These rules effective immediately ; in force until the election is over ,or until Premier Clark and/or Minister Bernier collapse in laughter at their pandering.




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Ten Vancouver Tourism Slogans for February

After the wettest couple of months ever, Tourism B.C. is struggling to come up with catchy new ad slogans to get the world to come to the coast in February.

Here are some suggestions:

1) “ Californians are flocking to Vancouver, there’s no drought about it…”

2) “ Come and enjoy Vancouver’s fifty shades of grey lifestyle…”

3) “ Come to Vancouver – it’s just like that plain in Spain…”
4) “ Vancouver, winter home of the Canadian Olympic storm watching  team.

5) “ Shell Busey says, “Vancouver – good, wetter, west…”

6) “ Come to Vancouver- it’s wet, but it’s a dry wet.”

7) “ Come to Vancouver and leave that greasy suntan oil behind…”

8) “ Super, saturated, British Columbia.”

9) “ Come to Vancouver , no resevoirations needed.”

10) “ Enjoy B.C.’s great outdoors – now with no campfire restrictions…”


Please feel free to add your own.

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Five Steps to B.C.’s Education Underfunding Strategy


 1)Make a large, ongoing cut to the education budget – perhaps 29 million this year and 25 million next year. Call them “cuts to administration ” so it sounds as if fat cats are the only ones affected.

2) Announce and re-announce much smaller annual increases in per pupil funding –        don’t mention increasing hard costs like Hydro rates, heat, MSP rate hikes, or salary increments. Be sure to emphasize that these increases are in place despite dropping enrollment.

 3) Insist that building and programme inadequacies are due to local district budgeting  decisions, not provincial underfunding.

 4) Increase funding for private schools to draw off some fully funded students.

 5)  Sound confused and hurt when people complain about education cuts.


Repeat Steps 1- 5 as often as required – at least annually.

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Raise Our Taxes Please

PhotoAs counterintuitive as it may seem, we, in Canada and especially here in B.C., are under taxed.

We don’t pay enough taxes to support the basic public services we require.

We’ve been sold a lot of things over the years: the world is flat, smoking is good for you, climate change is a hoax, and other demonstrably ridiculous ideas,but one of the most diabolical of silly theories is the one we’ve been sold for years, that:

“Tax increases cause us to have less money, and tax cuts allow us to have more money.”

 Most of us believe this is true. It isn’t. Actually, the opposite is true. Tax cuts are invariably flat and thus benefit the wealthy.

The 25% tax cut by Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberal government in 2001 was a gift to the wealthy – let’s see, 25% of 2 million per year or 25% of $30,000 per year – who benefits more from this tax cut?

In addition, the less tax we pay, the more government revenues must be coaxed out of “flat” sources – sources where we all pay the same, regardless of income or wealth. User fees, tolls, casino revenues, medical premiums, license fees, and other flat strategies have replaced taxation as the source of government revenue.

And what do all these sources have in common? They’re flat – the poor pay the same as the wealthy.

The aggregate of what we pay these sources amounts to far more than what we’d pay under  a sensible, transparent, progressive tax system.

Interest groups, right wing think tanks,and the Canadian  Taxpayers Association constantly tell us we’re overtaxed. The reason they continuously rant against any tax increase is because taxation of income and/or wealth is the only source of government revenue that can be made progressive if we so choose.

Progressive taxation affects the wealthy instead of just squeezing money from the average citizen.

Our own B.C. government are masters of the flat revenue funding sources. While proudly insisting they haven’t raised taxes, our provincial government scoops 1.2 billion from gambling revenues, 862 million from the L.C.B, 480 million from ICBC, 1.23 billion from B.C. Hydro and 1.61 million in bridge tolls.

When these entities raise their rates, we all pay more each year – and we all pay the same. Jim Pattison or minimum wage renter, we pay the same ICBC increase, Hydro and ferry increase, the same tolls, MSP rates, license fee increases, and more.

We have been carefully taught to direct our frustration with our constantly diminished purchasing power on high taxes and public overspending. We take up the chant that we’re taxed too much and couldn’t possibly pay any more.

But we’re not overtaxed; we’re crippled by fee increases and taxation replacements.

If our government(s) would spend less time inventing ways to scoop flat rate revenue from us all and instead establish a fair, transparent, and progressive tax system, we would all benefit- and ordinary people would pay less.

So…it’s not unreasonable for us to actually clamber for higher taxes, instead of resisting them and paying more.

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I’ll Be Prone For Christmas

A ditty written wistfully, a day or two before December dismissal  by a stressed out educator.

I’ll Be Prone for Christmas  ( to the tune of “I’ll be Home For Christmas”)

I’ll be Prone for Christmas, not to be too crass,

But Christmas schtick and getting sick, may put me on my ass.

Saturday will find me, in contended slouch,

I’ll be prone for Christmas, dibs on the downstairs couch.

I’ll do dick this Christmas, mid herald angels harkenin’,

I’ll close the door , won’t read Dufour, my saw I won’t be sharpenin’.

Fifteen days relaxin’, a humbug, no not me,

I’ll be home for Christmas , but horizontally.



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Terror From the East

In light of Monday’s liberating Canadian election, Here’s a blog from about a year ago that expresses one of the many frustrations that led Canadians to toss the bums out.  

Terror From the East –Nov 7th, 2014

Run for your lives, the Jihadists are at the palace gates.

Is that the response Canadians are supposed to have to the recent tragic shooting in Ottawa?

And you want us to hijack the solemnity of Remembrance Day to ruminate about jihadists in the closet as we remember not just two world wars but various American led actions in oil rich foreign lands?

Sorry Andy, but this Remembrance Day I will, as usual, take time to solemnly remember those who died in two world wars. I’ll wear my poppy, and reflect about what those young soldiers endured and about the horrors of war.

But I won’t sully Remembrance Day by joining you, Stephen Harper, and Peter McKay in looking for terrorists under every rock, and wringing my hands about impending jihad.

Make no mistake; I too am concerned with what effect the shooting in Ottawa will have on our country. But it’s not the jihadists I’m afraid of, it’s the hysterical response of our government, who stand poised to parlay the actions of a disturbed individual into a rationale for dismantling our civil liberties.

Last summer, my wife and I arrived in Ottawa on a warm fall day. We weren’t on Parliament Hill five minutes when we ran into our M.P. Finn Donnelly strolling down the sidewalk. We had a nice chat and noticing Olivia Chow walking down toward the main block, we called her over for a conversation and a selfie.

No R.C.M.P. in sight, no secret service, no militia or machine guns. We both came away teary eyed by Canada’s political openness.

And nothing has changed. Canada is still the same, despite jihadist hysteria and the actions of a lone   man who tragically found a focus for his rage and a chance for fifteen minutes of fame.

In response, Tories now want to spend 1.2 billion on attack drones, ease preventative detention and arrest requirements, introduce national security bills, and expand counter terrorism programmes and electronic surveillance.

You may be correct in thinking that on Remembrance Day Canadians should re-double their vigilance, but we needn’t look as far east as you suggest to find those who would harm our Canadian way of life.


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Ah, the Low Hanging Fruit Gambit



Low Hanging Fruit Actually High Handed Decision Making


The B.C government is really pushing the anti education envelope in it’s recently announced three year school budget plan.

They call their latest demand for  cuts to school administration “low hanging fruit”; you know, the kind that’s hanging over the fence and easily picked.

What the tortured and inapt  metaphor ignores however is that the education tree has not only been picked clean years ago ,we’ve devoured the windfalls, and already committed future crops to fill historic crop shortages.

It’s not about low hanging fruit, it’s about pressing percieved advantage and kicking public education while it’s down. It’s about control, centralization, and privatization, and chopping down the public education tree out of long standing political spite and petulance.

2002 Minister of Education Christy Clark’s stripping of contract provisions for class size and composition declared her determination to regain control of education in B.C., control the Liberal Government perceived as slipping away to teachers. Fourteen years later, she’s still fighting that battle.

In 2002, blowback, both political and judicial, was significant, and the Liberal government had to draw in it’s claws for a while. It’s important to note however, that this battle for control of education still underpins government decision-making in B.C.

Whether personal or political, Christy Clark has shown an almost obsessive  animus toward teachers and public education.

Since the big stink in 2002, the Liberal government has been satisfied to annually poke public education in the eye, with small annual per pupil funding increases which were more than consumed by inflationary hard costs. (Hydro rates, M.S.P increases, unfunded salary settlements, carbon offsets, special needs and other downloaded costs.)

It’s been a simple and effective strategy. Each year, they cite education as a priority in a family first agenda, and each year they muse confusedly about why school districts can’t manage within the annual per pupil increases they supply.

Until now, the media and the public have generally bought the government’s strategy.

While the underfunding data are there and are the real unpicked low hanging fruit, it takes a while to get that while districts lose $8,000.00 plus for every student lost, they don’t accrue anywhere near $8,000.00 in reduced costs. (A school still has to light and heat classrooms as it loses $24,000 for the three students who left the school).

So we’ve had fourteen years of budget increases that equate to cuts.

But few, except for educators, complain. We’ve become blasé about cuts – how bad could they be if there’s a nominal funding increase each year?

In the face of increased griping by the education community, much of the public has become immune to the plight of public schools.

Media support can only be described as tepid. Instead, the media has been satisfied with a “pox on both their houses” stance, merely repeating and rewriting each other’s anecdotal  indictments. The only stories with legs are the ones which involve union overreach.

No young Woodward and Bernsteins are being tasked with uncovering the real problems of education underfunding in B.C.

For a tired, bombarded public,problems in school funding must be a result  of  local district incompetence or teachers getting paid too much, or a horrible, militant union.
So the fourteen year death by a thousand cuts funding strategy has been accepted by many British Columbians as prudent and frugal, after all “throwing money at the problem won’t help…”

But this year, after so many years of surgically nipping at the edges of education, buoyed by public frustration and teacher battle fatigue, the government launched a new offensive in its relentless  battle to show who’s boss in education.

“ I’ll bet we could sell cutting millions more from public education if we pulled a switcheroo and cut bloated administration costs. Everyone hates high paid administrators, even teachers. Some say we’ve been hard on teachers, this way we’ll appear frugal and fair.”

“ And the most diabolical thing” said this hypothetical brainstormer, ” is that we could more than recoup the pittance we had to give teachers to settle the strike, which would make the strike seem even more futile and at the same time, send a strong message about who’s in charge of education in this province.”

This, admittedly hypothetical reconstruction is the only possible explanation for the government’s move into overt attack mode instead of being satisfied with merely delivering education the annual stiff poke in the eye.

To those who don’t know, “administration” isn’t just highly paid superintendents and Principals. Secretaries, curriculum experts, and other personel qualify too.

The cuts have already been made – for years. To satisfy this latest Sheriff of Nottingham money grab, school districts won’t just be cutting martini swilling excess from places that seldom see kids. They’ll be cutting services to classrooms and kids, to meet the number, the same thing they’ve been doing for fourteen  years.

What the Government calls low hanging fruit, is actually more high handed decision making-  an acceleration of their almost inexplicable vendetta against public schools.

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Schools Offer Our Kids More Than We Think

Most people, including educators, don’t know what’s important about schools. We inaccurately talk about and measure that which is least important.

So what are the important things about schooling? Here’s some things more important than test scores:

Walking to and from school with friends every day.

Being in classes with smart kids, not so smart kids, troubled kids, and kids of different socio economic and cultural groups. Being in classes with kids with special needs.

Practicing making decisions in a safe place away from parents. Learning to work with others. Learning to accept disappointment and relate to teachers and adults.

Learning the value of routine, of striving, and accepting responsibility.

Learning to self regulate behaviour and effort.

Getting turned on to a special interest, sport, activity, or subject.

Having fun in school and enjoying the experience.

Learning to be a good citizen, tolerant and supportive of others and willing to contribute to a group goal or help individual kids learn.

Being kind, thoughtful, and empathetic.

Learning to be calm, happy, challenged, and unafraid of life.

These are the most important things that public schools, with support, offer.

None of these things can be measured except through continued, subjective observation by parent, student, and teacher.

If school gives my child these things, I don’t care about high marks, standardized test results, uniforms, discipline, or keeping them away from the riff raff.

The competition, and the various sorting strategies we use to classify success in school don’t encourage kids to learn – only to win.

Tests, tough discipline, competition are the simple things that we cling to when we don’t understand or appreciate public education’s real mandate and contribution.

We seldom talk about these important things.

Instead, we analyze literacy scores, Math awards, best athlete, honours classes, IB, and test scores – anything to measure success and feed our need for vicarious triumph, when high scores are actually the least important thing public schooling offers children.

We mistakenly believe academic performance has something to do with wearing a school uniform. We think it important enough to pay big bucks, drive to cross town learning academies or preparatory colleges.

We think academic rigour important enough to pay to keep our children away from public school riff raff, be they special needs, a different religion or (gasp) no religion at all. Some think their children learn better when kept away from students of different races, socio economic classes, or academic abilities.

If your child likes her school, if she is happy there and likes her teachers, she is likely doing just fine. Leave her and the school, alone. Share her successes unconditionally. Let her own her schooling. If you see a problem, quietly find out from the school what’s happening and work with them to make it appear as if your child has solved the problem herself, rather than having mommy or daddy fix it for her.

The most important thing we can do for our children is to let them go to a neighbourhood school on their own terms. They are learning to be their own person and they need to practice without our manipulating each bump and difficulty.

Everything we do as parents should be supportive of getting our kids to take charge of their own schooling and enjoy their school days – they have plenty of time for mortgage worries and scrabbling for success.

Once they do take responsibility, you have only to sit back and cheer.

That’s what schools offer our kids, and it’s a huge contribution – especially if we let it happen, instead of obsessing over competition, results, test scores, and strict discipline.



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Colonel Sanders Abreast of Medical Firings Scandal

The headline should have read:

“ Liberal Government Suggests Colonel Sanders  Investigate Missing Chickens Scandal.”

That’s how ridiculous the government’s suggestion that Ombudsperson, Jay Chalke, is just the person to unravel the scandal surrounding the Liberal’s Reaganesque firing of eight medical researchers in 2012.

Even though Mr. Chalke likely oozes integrity from every pore, this inquiry would be impossible for him to complete with any credibility.

Mr.Chalke is an ex Liberal Assistant Deputy Minister who led the Justice Service Branch from 2011 until 2015. The medical firings were in 2012, during his tenure. Mr. Chalke could hardly have been unaware of the action, even if he only heard about it over cocktails at the Bengal Lounge.

Mr. Chalke was appointed Ombudsperson scant weeks ago – May 26th, 2015. In other words, this scandal was already percolating when he was appointed provincial watchdog.

Skeptics might accuse Mr. Chalke of being a Liberal homer. They might suspect that the ensconcing of a Liberal team member as ombudsperson might have been a strategy in anticipation of the burgeoning public outcry surrounding this festering scandal.

Because an Ombudsperson’s investigation is the government’s last chance to keep control of the situation.

Other government attempts to quell the outrage over the medical firings have only served to inflame public sentiment.

They tried to choke it off with a full investigation by the public service agency. This turned out to be a bit of a frost, as Victoria lawyer Marcia McNeil’s mandate was neither to place blame nor determine whether or not the firings were warranted.

“Although many mistakes were made, no disciplinary action is recommended or considered.”

This did not satisfy anyone.

The Government tried settling with those fired, reinstating some and giving cash settlements to others.

Premier Christy Clark personally apologized to the families of those fired.

This still did not satisfy the public. A person had died because of these firings.

The public and the media demanded specifics. They wanted names named.

The government tried the B.C. Rail strategy:

“We’d love to talk about the medical firings but we wouldn’t want to compromise the ongoing R.C.M.P. investigation into the matter”

Oops, turns out there never was a police investigation.Strike that gambit.

They publicly admitted that “mistakes were made” and insisted “we’re taking steps to make sure this kind of thing will never happen again.”

Not good enough. No details, no documentation. No attempt to discuss the who, why, when, and how the firings took place.

Demands for a full public inquiry came from all quarters. The Vancouver Sun did a front-page editorial, insisting a full public inquiry was the only way to clarify what happened and to discover those responsible.

Columnists, pundits, talk radio hosts, and the Twittersphere joined the chorus crying for a public inquiry.

The government tried empathy. Minister Terry Lake insisted that they were just as tortured as was the public about this incident. He maintained they wanted to get out as much information as possible to the public, but they were just so concerned about protecting the reputations of those involved that they couldn’t decide on an efficacious process to do so. So difficult, so upsetting, we’re all suffering, they said.

They tried explaining how expensive, slow, and inconclusive public inquiries could be. They gave examples.

But even this was seen as subterfuge by an un-mollified, angry public.

The hordes are now at the gate. The rabble is screaming for answers. A full public inquiry seems inevitable.

Ah, but enter the solution – an Ombudsperson’s investigation.

The Ombudsperson’s Investigation is the government’s last chance to diffuse hysteria over what appears to the layman to be the petulant sacking of eight people the government didn’t like much.

An Ombudsperson’s investigation would give the government breathing room and control that a public inquiry wouldn’t afford.

An Ombudsperson’s Investigation would take months, even years.

It would be a private process until a report is filed, and while the investigation was going on we certainly wouldn’t want to compromise it by discussing  anything at all about the firings, would we?

It would buy the government time to find other shiny objects with which to distract the media and the public.

It would give people time to forget the whole thing, as they did B.C. Rail.

And it would give the government time to develop a scapegoat or two.

The government knows an Ombudsperson’s investigation isn’t good enough for the public and they have to be cagey as they proceed towards commissioning one.

The newly appointed Ombudsperson is demanding more powers if he is to undertake this investigation. The government seems to be balking at the suggestion. They aren’t sure it’s appropriate to change the Ombudsperson’s mandate. They appear resistant.

This dance of reticence has already been accepted by columnists as proof of the Ombudsperson’s independence, but it’s all show, feigning tough negotiation only to enhance the credibility of the exercise. The government wants to be dragged kicking and screaming into what they wanted all along – an Ombudsperson’s investigation. They’ll reluctantly accept the idea and blame its non result on those who pushed for it.

It’s Brer Rabbit psychology:

“Oh please, Brer Bear, do whatever you must just please, please don’t throw me into the briar patch…”

Ombudsperson Chalke is in an untenable position in regard to this proposed investigation.

He knows the whitewash the government wishes him to apply. He knows what will be said by the public if he applies it and what his future career might look if he doesn’t apply it. Look what happened to the last Ombudsperson the government didn’t like.

Yes man or hatchet man, he can’t win.

Even if Colonel Sanders is honest and forthcoming, any report he submits concerning the missing chickens will not be accepted by an angry public, a suspicious public, a public demanding answers, a public that has a sinking feeling they’ve been bamboozled once too often by this government’s prestidigitation.

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Quietly Canadian

What I like best about Canada Day is what we don’t do to express patriotism.

We don’t cheerlead our country or engage in loud reverie, hundred gun salutes, or glorification of military endeavour.

We Canadians share a mature love of country that doesn’t need the re-assurance of cloyed fanfare or patriotic pomp. We express our patriotism quietly.

As usual, our family will make its patriotic statement by going to Port Moody City Hall for the Firefighters Golden Spike Days pancake breakfast. We’ll eat pancakes and sausages on a paper plate, among friends, neighbours, (and ex-students); drinking sketchy coffee and mingling.

The City Hall plaza won’t be plastered with Canadian flags. There will be no brass band playing “The Maple Leaf Forever”; no ceremony or speeches glorifying our troops or our freedom. We know all that. It will be calm, civilized, friendly, and maybe a bit cheesy; just like Canada.

Over pancakes the talk won’t be about Canada, but to its annual participants, this local Canada Day tradition is a stronger homage to country than fireworks and a fly past.

In the evening, we’ll watch C.B.C. show the Canada Day celebrations in Ottawa; a celebration of understated Canadian proportions – open air, apolitical, scrupulously balanced French, English, and First Nations content, and not too long.

When in Palm Springs (in my recent “snowbird” incarnation), I am repeatedly amazed at how deep Canadian patriotism is.

When, during happy hour, an American friend slips into discussing American politics, Canadians listen, and commiserate without engaging. Conservative or liberal, easterner or westerner, there is a shared, knowing glance; there’s no point arguing; Canadians have a different vision, with which we are quietly, almost smugly, comfortable.

This remote patriotism shows that love for Canada, though reserved, is deeply felt and unshakeable. The fact that Canadianism is so portable is a testament to its strength.

We tried hysterical flag-waving during the Vancouver Olympics; to the point that other countries started to bristle somewhat. Flag waving feels good, but it’s just not how we roll.

Canadian patriotism is like a sixty -year marriage; its real strength lies in tacit, respectful
sharing, seldom involving much overt, physical expression.Photo

This Canada Day, may we all appreciate what Canadians so strongly and quietly, share;

… and maybe have some pancakes.



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Taking Control Of Public Education in B.C.


“Taking control” of education has been the agenda of the B.C.Libs. since 2002’s contract stripping -the original sin.

The newly elected Liberal Government tasked Christy Clark, then Minister of Education to break what they saw as an unwarranted control of education by teachers. The government set out to right the wrong.

But somewhere in the process, the animus Ms. Clark holds for teachers and public schools turned personal and became overt.

Ms. Clark’s anger with teachers has long trumped any desire she may have had to fund healthy public schools.

War room strategy replaced planning for adequate support of healthy public schools.

And the Liberal government’s educational pogrom of the last 14 years has been as much a strategic political success for Ms. Clark as it has been an educational disaster.

Far from defending public schools,many parents responded to the continuous political unrest in public schools,  by bailing to private schools, which now house 12% of B.C.’s students.

So, now, what began in 2001 as a focussed vendetta to show teachers who’s boss, has morphed into a multi- faceted effort to accelerate the migration to private schools.

This year’s acrimonious teacher contact negotiations was a public education smack down success for the government.

They won. They gave public schools and teachers almost nothing, and they’ll recoup more than they gave with increased cuts.

They broke the teachers spirit.

One would think that  there might be some time for a little cuddling after such a  defiling.

But there has not even been time for a post coital cigarette for battle fatigued public educators.

If anything,the attacks on public education from government have increased, in order to keep the unrest up and encourage more parents to leave the chaos in our public schools.

$54 million in administrative cuts, appointing a VSB forensic auditor, and now, government scrutiny of Professional Development Days.

These actions are designed to imply that:

  • there’s still lots of extra money in school district budgets
  • local fiscal mismanagement is a big problem in public schools
  • Vancouver, a perennial cuts fighting district, is particularly poorly run
  • Pro D-days are not used wisely by teachers.

These are all strategically valuable aspersions to cast if your goal is to encourage B.C. parent’s to get away from the distemper of public schools and agree to pay half of their child’s education in private schools.

The privatization of education is now an obvious goal of the B.C. Government.

It’s significant that Christy Clark personally announced the appointment of a “Private Schools Advocate” recently.

Having personally taken control of education over fourteen years, she’s spiking the ball.

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Stop Glorifying Violence

Can’t we stop giving so much attention to criminals and terrorists?

Fifteen minutes of fame is one thing, but the insatiable appetite of the media to   chronicle the life stories of those who kill or blow up people is troubling.

24 hour media feeding frenzies bestow rock star status on the disturbed among us, and give angry lone wolves macabre glorification when they act out their violent tendencies.

And worse, the more violent and senseless the action, the more attention the perpetrator gets and the deeper we cower in our beds after each, ensuing media circus.

Perhaps it’s just that now have we the digital capacity to thus immerse ourselves in tragedies, or maybe it’s a government conspiracy to keep the population afraid and acceptant of wealth disparity or Draconian government initiatives.

Either way, it’s frightening, and we seem to be encouraging violence with our inordinate preoccupation with it.

Our media should treat the actions of extremists and disturbed lone wolves with the disrespect they deserve. If we insist that the western world is under attack every time a deranged person does something, we risk encouraging that which we decry.

Report the act, but not the person. Indicate that the appropriate authorities are taking action and describe the positive manner in which the majority of the citizenry is behaving and move on.

In a younger life, as a school Principal , I quickly learned that one doesn’t discourage poor behaviour by predicting disaster when troubled students act out.

“I ‘d like to say that to whomever painted “Mr. Nelson is a jerk” on the back of the school that spray bombing buildings is an anti social and disrespectful act…”

Really? Is this information a spray bomber requires? Why do you think he did it in the first place?

Don’t respond. Say nothing. Smile and have the graffiti removed immediately. Act as if it’s inconsequential. Find out who’s responsible and reluctantly suspend them from school until there is an agreement about his paying for and repainting the wall, preferably when there are a few kids around to see him painting.

The power of depriving miscreants of attention combined with a cheerful stiff upper lip that things are generally positive can’t be under estimated.

I hear you cry, “ but surely graffiti and acts of extreme violence and murder can’t be equated.”

Perhaps, but here’s another example of how to “extinguish” behaviour.

When was the last time you saw a “streaker” at a televised sports event?

We had no idea how to respond to drunken naked tossers who cheerfully disturbed the big game. We laughed a bit, talked about the perpetrator and then, as streaking became common, we got angry and preached about getting tough. Surprise, streaking became even more common- a fad, and we were worried about how to make them stop.

Streaking high profile events became pervasive enough that we were motivated to figure out how to discourage it. News outlets unanimously stopped giving streakers any media attention.

Suddenly, streakers weren’t televised or talked about. The camera moved to an announcer, who parenthetically mentioned that “some idiot” was responsible for a game delay and then quickly went on to consult a commentator about the game.

It worked. Immediately. No fifteen minutes of fame. Bored indifference shown by everyone. No more streakers.No glory, no fun, no attention. Anger didn’t work.Fear didn’t work. Removing all attention from the act however,worked spectacularly well.

A similar strategy has been successfully used in Metro Vancouver school gang policing strategy.

In the 80’s,local tweeners began donning LA Raiders or Chicago Bulls sports uniforms, with matching bandanas, hood ornaments on a chain around their necks, and a half bottle of Drakkar Noir cologne liberally sprinkled over everything they owned.

Schools responded by asking police about their possible “gang affiliation” and were rewarded with organizational charts of “Los Diablos”, “Red Eagle”, and “Lotus” gangs, their colours, their practices.

For a year or two, anything that happened in schools was attributed to these uniformed tweener “gang members”.

Oozing rapport,we tried to urge them out of dressing that way. Some schools banned “colours”. We tried school liason officers that would interact with kids and talk them out of their imminent graduation to hard-core gang membership. Kids responded by buying an extra kerchief and splashing on some extra cologne.

Finally, we became resigned to the idea that we couldn’t fight conformity and we stopped talking about colours and “gangs”.

Local police also stopped calling young kids “gang members” or  “wannabees” and just dealt with the disturbed among them as “active youth” instead of giving them the lofty status of “gangbanger”.

Surprise. As quickly as it started, the gang wannabee thing faded. No one got angry at them any more. No attention, no fun – and that cologne really did smell awful.

Kids migrated to blue hair, Mohawk haircuts, and piercings to announce their individuality and we got on with life sans “gangs.”

The above are low level anti social behaviours that were effectively extinguished by denying attention to bad actors.

Clearly, radical terrorism and lone wolf violence won’t just stop if we simply ignore it and hope it goes away. There are long held cultural, religious, and political beliefs that spawn real violence. These are not children or drunken sports fans we’re dealing with so of course it’s not that simple.

I’m also not suggesting that we shouldn’t attempt to address and improve the hopeless and helpless situations that can make people violently strike out.

But I am convinced that an effective first step in the “war on terror” (after dropping the name “war on terror”), would be a media moratorium on unearthing and analyzing myriad gory details of horrific crimes and cradle to grave exposés of every moment of every criminal’s disturbing life.

Infamy is a gift we give too eagerly, too often and to too many.

As long as we continue to make people famous for blowing up or killing people, more people will be moved to blow up or kill people.

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Stop Calling it Assisted Suicide – It’s Been Medical Practice for Years

While the recent judgement of the Supreme Court to allow doctor assisted dying  is gratifyingly forward looking and sensible, it really doesn’t change much for Canada’s terminally ill or those in severe, chronic, pain.

For years, hospitals and doctors, in consultation with patients and family, have negotiated “do not resuscitate” orders for seriously ill patients. In addition, “comfort care” is a euphemism for aggressively mitigating pain to the point that comfortable death replaces therapeutic care as the goal of treatment.

Doctors, families and terminally ill patients have been quietly  making these decisions for years. It ‘s a compassionate and appropriate practice.

My family experienced “comfort care” when a family member, whose pain was considerable and whose prognosis was bleak, died a comfortable, medically expedited death, through the cessation of therapeutic medication and a significant increase in pain medication.

A very sensitive doctor invited us in to discuss possible treatment options. Our family member faced the prospect of a feeding tube, virtual immobility, and because her heart was healthy, a long, slow, uncomfortable death. It was a no brainer. Her pain medication was upped and she died peacefully two days later. She was ready.

I know how I would have responded had an officious politicians who didn’t know our loved one or her medical condition, tried to prohibit her humane death on the basis of religious dogma or a trumped up thin edge of the wedge argument.

It always seems that those who purport to want “small government” are the loudest voices encouraging the government to legislate people’s moral and  medical behaviour.

No law could know what was best for our loved one in her dying days. No law could presume to be helpful in sorting out the end of life medical circumstances of individual Canadians. The right law is no law  for families and loved ones dealing with prolonged uncomfortable death.

And can we stop calling medically expedited death “assisted Suicide”? It’s such an unnecessarily incendiary term. “Assisted suicide” conjures up an image of third parties preparing nooses, loading the 45, or casing out the Patullo Bridge for grandma’s imminent swan dive. That is not what happens today and it’s not what this Supreme Court ruling suggests.

I’m proud to be a Canadian today. The unanimous decision of the Court to support people’s right to choose doctor assisted death over long, painful palliative care or hospice, is the latest in a series of actions that affirm both the common sense and efficacy of the Canadian social conscience.

The overreaction to the decision is weak and won’t fly. Canadians are a socially sensible and compassionate lot, and the argument that this ruling is the thin edge of the wedge, that before long we’ll be offing grandma the first time she loses her car keys will be seen for how ludicrous it is.

Single payer health care unanimously accepted.A woman’s right to choose firmly embraced. Recently, marriage equality legislated with no fuss, and now, the unanimous acceptance of allowing the chronically ill, their families, and their doctor to make dying with dignity decisions at the end of life.

Bravo Canada.

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“The Sky Is Falling”

The Sky is Falling!

Watching U.S. President Obama’s State of the Union speech recently, I was struck by how many “sky is falling” predictions made by adversaries over the years have been ridiculed by time.

Gas prices didn’t go through the roof, the unemployment rate didn’t worsen, the country didn’t collapse and Shariah law didn’t take over the U.S. judiciary.

Though ridiculous in hindsight, such ideas had their moments of popularity, and some, purveyed by 24 hour news cycles and relentless social media still enjoy a significant following in the U.S.

The power of our media is growing exponentially and some media mantras endure, despite all evidence to the contrary.

One in four Americans believes Barak Obama was not born in the U.S. and that climate change is not made worse by human activity.

One in four Americans believe God will decide who wins the Super Bowl, and one in three Texans believe humans and dinosaurs roamed the earth at the same time.

We can convince anyone of anything regardless of whether there is a shred of truth in the idea.

And as we careen from tecnological advancement to techonological advancement we become increasingly susceptible to sound bites and simple, pithy messages, many of 140 characters or fewer.

It’s not a conspiracy, but it is frightening.

We’re kept in a constant state of anxiety over things, many of which are proven over time to be not worth getting lathered over.

And it’s not just Americans who are afraid, and led around by zealots, slacktivists and an hysterical media.

Here’s some Canadian examples of womped up mortal fears which didn’t quite pan out.

 Y2K Scare.

As we approached the year 2000 we were told that world data systems would collapse. Computers wouldn’t move from 1999 to 2000 and analogue data would somehow be likewise overwhelmed.

People began hoarding water and emergency supplies in preparation for the millennium cataclysm.

It turned out to be a Maple Leaf power play – quite the fizzle.

The Canadian flag

The flag of which Canadians are now so proud, was going to ruin the country if they “shoved it down our throats.”

People said it would never replace the red ensign. Ex- patriots and Brits screamed (yes screamed) that Canada’s rich heritage was being thrown under the bus and that if we adopted the Maple Leaf flag, Canada as we know it would be gone forever.

Once the decision was made many said they would refuse to recognize the new flag. People who had never flown a flag before pledged to now fly the red ensign on their houses forever.

Quite the overblown brouhaha.

Health Care

When Canada followed Tommy Douglases Saskatchewan and adopted medicare, the outcry was deafening.( for Canada)

It was a socialist plot. it will destroy our freedom and everything we hold dear. Doctors will never accept it. People will go to the doctor on a whim, whenever they have a hangnail, and we will quadruple health care costs.

Overblown, relentless , Chicken Little hysteria.

(The Americans have added “death panels” and other abhorences to the opprobrium over Obamacare.)

Land Commision Act ( 1970’s B.C.)

The Land Commission Act, for the first time designated B.C. land for farm, industrial, recreational or residential use. After years of the benevolent dictatorship of Bennett the first, B.C. was far behind the rest of the country in such innocuous, sensible regulation.

At the time however, it was as if there was a communist takeover in the offing. There was a media supported, McCarthyist response from Socreds and influential talk show hosts.

(Premier) Dave Barrett was a communist, who would take our land from us. Editorial cartoons featuring all manner of commissar and Kremlin jokes abounded. B.C.’S Land Commission Act prompted the biggest red scare hysteria in living memory – and that’s saying something in B.C.

Headlines in the Vancouver Sun quoted a Social credit zealot admonishing,

“When the Red tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia, we didn’t hear any N.D.P. protests” !

The Land Commision Act is now a law no B.C. government would dare repeal or replace. And surprisingly to some, time has shown that B.C. didn’t turn into a Russian satellite nor were we all required to wear red underwear – two of the sillier suggestions of the day.

The melodramatic, overblown red baiting over the Land Commission Act was an early portent of the now rampant rhetorical pogroms we unleash on even the most sensible initiative.

Things like…

Bike lanes, oil pipelines, avoiding oil spills, funding education,addressing poverty, and myriad other initiatives so heaped with fear and hyperbole that normal folk can’t resist the rhetorical barrage.

On issue after issue, our perceptions are formed by hysterical media carpet-bombing, with internet feeds and social media evangelizing the message instantly.

We can convince millions of anything in hours. We needn’t do our own research,fact check, or break a sweat analyzing things.

We can destroy reputations in hours, lose a career through a single mistake, promote or destroy causes with re –tweeted oversimplifications.

Marshal McLuhan is spinning in his grave. His theme, “the media is the message” has become an understatement.

So when the carpet bombing hysteria starts and people insist that we’re doomed if we allow “X” to happen, take a pill – it’s OK. When spending more on education would collapse the economy or when we’re all hippies and fiscal fools for considering the environment before supporting strip mining and drilling everything in sight, relax – take it with a grain of salt, because hindsight usually makes fools of the hysterical Chicken Little’s.



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Why Do We Hate the B.C.T.F.?


Mention a salary increase for teachers and you’d think a bunch of greedy moneygrubbers were forcing Scrooge McDuck to open his money bin for ransacking.

The public doesn’t get angry with the BCGEU, or CUPE or nurses, at contract time or any other time, regardless of how spirited contract negotiations become.

So why do we spew anger, almost hatred, for the “B.C.T.F.” when teacher contracts come up?

Firefighters and police quietly negotiate contracts that beat the cost of living without much fanfare each year. Regardless of the size of the salary increase, we accept it without ado.

We never feel the need to tell firefighters that the public is their boss. We don’t feel the public purse threatened when nurses ask for a raise.

Why does discussion of teacher’s job and working conditions make us respond so viscerally, so angrily, as if someone had let the words “ fast ferries” slip?

Under normal circumstances, one would think teachers had a fairly good case this time.

They had taken an extra “0” compared with other public sector workers. Statistics showed a clear erosion of both teacher’s salaries and funding for education.

And they had two court rulings instructing the government to restore language and funding stripped from education in 2002 and fining them for not bargaining in good faith.

They had a strong case, one would think they would have enjoyed significant public support in their negotiations.

But the teachers case didn’t make it to the consciousness of most British Columbians.

Tired of seemingly endless squabbles between teachers and government, many chose to vilify teachers, or at least the “B.C.T.F.” which has become the whipping boy in the dispute.



It’s All About Aggregate Experience

People judge groups of people based on the aggregate of their experiences with that group

Who hates firefighters, their union, or anything about them? No one. You’d be crazy to.

We know some firefighters were accused of treating female recruits badly. Many moonlight at other jobs, and some drink too much and go to strip clubs. But this anecdotal information is water off a duck’s back to us, as it should be.

Such anecdotes don’t bother us because our aggregate experience with firefighters though limited is positive. They put out fires, wear uniforms, collect money for muscular dystrophy and attend community events being helpful and friendly or flipping pancakes at pancake breakfasts.

Our aggregate experience with firefighters outweighs any “bad” things we may hear about individual firefighters. We thus accept that they know their job and are doing it. So when Delta firefighters get an eye-opening raise, we say – OK, they deserve it.

And firefighter performance is easily measured. Building on fire, fire out; – success. Cat in tree; cat out – ah job done. Community activity; firefighters present – good.

The point is not that firefighters don’t deserve public appreciation, or salary increases, they certainly do. The point is that the occupation is impossible to criticize; not because all firefighters are wonderful but because our aggregate experience with them is unavoidably and overwhelmingly positive.

The same is true of police. Their performance is easily measurable; bad guy caught, in slammer – job done. There is occasional criticism of police being over zealous or bullying, but the aggregate of our experience with police is that they risk their lives and help keep us safe. Negative anecdotes about cops don’t outweigh our positive aggregate experiences.

Nurses nurture. My Dad had a wonderful nurse, we liked good old nurse what’s her name when my wife gave birth. Illness cured – job done, easily measured, they deserve a raise. Don’t know much about what the job entails but I give it an 8 – I like the beat.

On the other side of the coin, we don’t like lawyers because our aggregate experience with them is negative. We often don’t know what lawyers are talking about – they talk in language with which we are not quite familiar and often make us feel inadequate.

Lawyers seem to make piles of money for doing even the smallest thing, which we suspect their secretaries actually do for them in five minutes.

So any negative anecdotes we hear about lawyers aren’t overlooked but rather are accepted, intensifying our already jaded view of them.

I realize this is an extremely simple and unfair characterization of lawyers, but people’s low opinion of lawyers, right or wrong, is based on their aggregate experience with them regardless of how limited that experience is.

So what about teachers?

Those who work in schools generally have a positive aggregate of experience with schools. They have seen enough of the positive things that go on in schools. This allows them to discount anecdotal school horror stories as anomalies rather than rule.

But what is most people’s aggregate experience with teachers?

First, we all went school for 13 years so we all know all about school and teachers. We all had difficulties, and we remember the crabby teacher(s) who were bossy, or embarrassed us. Teachers corrected us, often ineffectively. We were young and our perceptions were intense, magnified by youthful insecurities.

We left school with some residual resentment, and we went about our business, got a taste of a competitive world. Our aggregate perceptions of school and teachers were those of a child transferred to our adult minds.

Then we had our own children and they went to school, and don’t you know, they had similar difficulties in school, sometimes coming home in tears, experiencing an intransigent teacher who seemed to make little attempt to appreciate that special thing about our child. Our hearts bled for our child and our almost forgotten frustrations bubble up.

As parents, when we did go to our child’s school, we saw some teachers yell at kids. We saw rules and subjugation, just like we experienced.

And we saw other children behaving badly and seemingly not being disciplined.

We saw meaningless reams of homework, we saw our child excluded from a group or activity and felt our expressed concerns glossed over.

The only time we heard from the school was when our child was in trouble. We often felt our parenting was being questioned and that we were supposed to fix a problem that it seemed to us wasn’t our child’s fault.

As parents. we saw needy children that couldn’t read or write, even by high school, and we couldn’t help feeling that school is less rigorous that it was when we were in school, not realizing that when we were in school there were likely just as many non readers as there are now, we were just too young and self consumed to notice.

We bore these frustrations, hoping that our child would benefit from the overall experience of school.

So when contractual bickering continued year after year, our aggregate experience with teachers left many of us predisposed to reject teacher’s demands.

And with all that, apparently success in teaching and learning can’t be accurately measured. We saw teachers continually resist standardized accountability measures. This was frustrating, especially when we remembered some of our teachers who we thought sub standard and yet seem to enjoy invulnerable tenure.

We saw teachers go on strike no matter who the government was.

There seemed no way of getting rid of ineffective teachers and we blamed the union for protecting them and insisting they get a raise.

In short, most of us haven’t had enough positive experiences with schools and teachers to overwhelm our personal experiences and anecdotal stories about them.

Once our negative experiences with a group outweigh our positive experiences, we add each negative remark to the quiver of arrows we shoot at them; in line at the supermarket or online on Twitter.

If our aggregate experience with teachers is negative, why is it that the “B.C.T.F.” get almost all the criticism and anger rather than “teachers”? After all they represent teachers don’t they? Why do we hurl invectives at the “B.C.T.F.” rather than at “teachers”?

Again, it’s aggregate experience. Although our aggregate experience with teachers may be negative, our perceptions have all been somewhat inoculated. We all know hard working and caring teachers who are difficult to criticize.

But our aggregate experience with the B.C.T.F. the negotiating arm of the teachers,is and can be totally negative. So we vilify the scapegoat B.C.T.F. without having to criticize individual teachers.

We get angry that the “B.C.T.F.” perennially disagrees with almost everything their employer offers and their negotiations with government always end in back to work legislation or job action. We hate that they always seem to complain about underfunding and working conditions, year after year.

We hear from the media about how “militant” the B.C.T.F. is, how they can’t negotiate with any government and how they don’t like resource development or BC Liberals, and how they use children as pawns for their own greedy purposes.

We absorb each negative slight heaped on the “B.C.T.F.” because our aggregate experience with schools is not positive enough to allow us to analyze criticisms through a prism of respect as we might for a firefighter, nurse, or cop.

And we can focus our anger on the B.C.T.F. without having to hate good old Mrs. Switz at the local school, who we know to be kind, caring and hard working.

Government representatives speak rhapsodically about teachers and harshly about the unreasonable B.C.T.F., simultaneously providing a scapegoat for B.C.’s education woes and deflecting attention from demonstrable education underfunding and Supreme Court censure.

The media, who have long ago forgotten about bargaining issues, find it easier and more sexy to pile on the B.C.T.F., the lightning rod for our frustration with the discord in our education system.

And so now the vilification of the B.C.T.F is a universal sport. Educational issues are forgotten and instead, we spend our time discussing the shortcomings of the B.C.T.F., it’s leaders and its strategies.

Even some teachers, all of whom know the system has been serially and dangerously underfunded, have been unable to stay off the B.C.T.F, bashing bandwagon in a futile attempt to stem the tide of public anger towards teachers.

Why are we so angry with the B.C.T.F.?

We are slaves to our aggregate experience.

And we mistakenly think our aggregate experience with schools, born of personal youthful memories and snippets of stressful times in our child’s development, are sufficient data for us to effectively judge the efficacy of teachers and schools.












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F.S.A. is Political Football But Education is Rugby


AS I SEE IT – Jim Nelson

So the annual hand wringing over the Foundation Skills Assessments tests begins again: Why are teachers so dead against them? Is it just that awful B.C.T.F. being radical again?

Should we keep our children from writing the tests?

The trouble with the FSA is not the tests but how they are used. F.S.A. exams are the B.C. banner of the accountability movement in education, a movement that has ruined American public schools over the last 20 years and yet is catching on in B.C. despite its disastrous effect on U.S. schools.

The accountability movement started in the U.S. and was borne of the American tendency to analyze, regulate and measure things. A good example of this is the development of American football.

Now, I enjoy an NFL game as much as much as the next person but a look at American football’s metamorphosis from rugby is instructive in understanding the development of the accountability movement in education.

Americans didn’t play rugby for long; rather, they quickly felt the compulsion to regulate and delineate the heck out of it. They divided the field into one-yard segments with 200 hash marks, added five officials, helmets and padding, statistics, instant replay, score clocks and down chains. They broke the game into quarters. Time-outs, huddles, motion rules, penalties — with designated yards for designated offences — all marched off precisely. There are signals for everything, a ritualized kicking game and 300-page playbooks with X’s and O’s and arrows.

Instead of rugby, with one ball, one referee, an emphasis on spontaneity and creativity, and an almost chivalrous adherence to fair play, our southern cousins ended up with football, a testament to rules, measures, specialization and intervention.

Unfortunately, the same cultural compulsion that spawned American football proved unhelpful when applied to education because education is like rugby. It is interactive, free-flowing, spontaneous and creative, rather than easily quantifiable, pre-packaged and measured. It is too complex to be judged by a standardized measure, no matter how strong the cultural imperative may be to do so.

How can a standardized test measure the “A-ha!” moment when a student suddenly appreciates the brilliance of Shakespeare? How can it measure the ability to co-operate or persevere or to help another student?

Learning takes place through relationships with peers and teachers. It can only be measured somewhat accurately using an aggregation of many and varied assessments, both objective and anecdotal.

We all wish it was simpler, that we could judge how students are doing with a simple urine sample or a multiple-guess test.

My opinion, although I’m a bit radical, is that an even more accurate indication of how well your child is learning is whether they are happy at school, whether they feel safe, are confident and engaged at school. If they “like” the teacher, have friends, feel good about their studies and enjoy school, they are learning just fine.

The B.C.T.F. is dead right on this issue. Although the union brings up red herrings such as how the poor children suffer undue stress when asked to write tests or how the poor teachers have to mark them, or the time it takes out of the curriculum or that the reason they are no good is because of demographic differences, yada yada yada, these are peripheral reasons for objecting to the FSA.

Teachers and the B.C.T.F. know viscerally that trying to legitimize standardized measures is harmful to our schools and, thus, our children’s learning. They are the only ones standing against the accountability movement.

As a former school principal in the Tri-Cities, I applaud this stance. Were my children in Grade 7, I would encourage them to not write the F.S.A. exams. Had I a child in Grade 4, I would send him to school and quietly but firmly instruct the school that he is not to write the F.S.A. exams and that perhaps half an hour in the gymnasium or on the playing field might be a good alternative.

Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal.


Following is “Turfin’ FSA,” sung to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.-by Jim Nelson and Dennis Secret:

Turfin’ F.S.A

If everybody had a notion, ’round District 43,

We’d call BS on the testing and we’d go on a spree,

We’ll throw ‘em all in the dumpster, autonomy has its day,

Tell the super we’re turfin’, turfin’ FSA

We’re giving testing the boot,

’Cause it just don’t compute.

And then we’ll set our sights on, the Fraser Institute.

Every district in B.C. will see us leadin’ the way,

Tell the super we’re turfin’, turfin’ FSA

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Not Your Parents Anti -Education Crowd

There have always been those who have spent their adult lives disliking teachers and public schools. It’s understandable. Traditionally, most dissatisfaction with schools and teachers was born of personal experiences, or experiences of their children, and from anecdotal horror stories.

But not any more; there’s a new constituency of anti public education bloggers inhabiting the Twittersphere.

These are the educational libertarians. (this is my term, not theirs)

Educational Libertarians feel that public education is an irresistible force, usurping their rights as parents to bring up their children as they see fit. They feel the education system seeks to bring up their children for them and is unresponsive to parent’s wishes.

They feel threatened by an educational fraternity that they see as constantly working to strengthen their empire and their grip over kids, parents and family.

Educational libertarians believe that education should be offered like any other competitive service. Parents should be free to either accept or reject the service.

The compulsory, universal mandate of public education for all frustrates libertarians. They see the system as one which shackles children and them as parents.

Educational Libertarians see public education as shady and power hungry, in the same way Eisenhower saw the military industrial complex.

They see teachers as resistant to accountability. Educational libertarians do not accept that teachers and schools cannot be rated like other occupations. The fact that it’s difficult to “fire” poor teachers is unacceptable to them.

Libertarians argue that teaching is not a profession for this reason- teachers are not accountable because their service can’t be refused and they can’t be fired therefore, they are not professionals.

Educational libertarians feel parents should be the primary educators of their children. They believe they know their children best and are thus best qualified to decide how their children are educated.

They feel extreme frustration that parents, the employers of a huge, lifetime tenured, unresponsive and patronizing group of employees are ignored, even ridiculed should they rage against the machine.

Educational libertarians hold their beliefs very strongly. Those with whom I converse regularly are not just whimsically opposed to teachers and public schools for no reason – they’re committed.

Many educational libertarians research and read voraciously to inform and exposit their frustration and anger with the education machine.

Their beliefs are only strengthened by the usual discourse about education and schools and they are invulnerable to contrary argument, because they see it as coming from the education behemoth itself.

Anecdotal information about how hard teacher’s work, how committed they are to children or how much they contribute to our kids and society only hardens their views.

Decrying standardized testing is teachers fighting against the accountability with which everyone else has to deal.

Talking about child development, or executive function as important school contributions, or other discussions about educational issues are pointless until one addresses the basic belief; that the system is working against children, parents, and family.

The analyses above are just conclusions I have drawn from my considerable online interactions since the teacher’s strike, with many, very well spoken, if angry bloggers.

My reason for presuming to speak for educational libertarians however (which I know I’ll hear about online), is not to refute their beliefs but only to identify them.

Personally, I have learned much from discussions with even the most argumentative educational libertarians. I have finally put some meat on the bones of the anti teacher, anti public school sentiment so prevalent today.

I share some of the concerns they express, especially those about the need for the education system to  respond and change more nimbly.

During the strike, I thought the rampant teacher bashing we engaged in was just a bunch of people who had a bad school experience or whose child had a clumsy or even lousy teacher.

I now know better.

Some of it was that, but much of it was much more than that – born of  a new, stronger, educational libertarianism that is not going away.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Boy, I’ve Had Some Lousy Teachers

I’ve had some lousy teachers –some really lousy teachers, who did some spectacularly unhelpful things.

One scared the heck out me; I cowered for the entire term. She yelled, and hit kids with a pointer. I “did my work” and got straight “A’s”, for fear of physical punishment. All the lessons I learned that year were about fear.

Some teachers I had were not very bright; in fact, I think I was smarter than some of them. I often suffered through deadly dull classes and meaningless busy work. I often felt bossed around, punished needlessly, and unfairly treated. I felt that many teachers didn’t understand me and made no attempt to. I saw silly, unnecessary rules and punishments.

Teachers gave me  Herculean worksheets and made me try to learn numbingly boring things in which I had no interest.I wrote  thousands of “lines”, and attended more detentions than I care to remember.

We had to recite the Lord’s Prayer daily and listen to a ten-minute Bible reading every morning until grade 6.

I was strapped for playing tetherball at the wrong time and again for climbing a horse chestnut tree that was out of bounds.

In elementary school, a teacher gave us  fifteen pages of math word problems to do over Christmas vacation.

In Grade 10 I refused to write the Roman numerals from one to ten thousand as a punishment for something inconsequential I’d done. I fought the “sentence” and lost, even though the teacher was insensitive and crabby. (and wrong)

I had ridiculous assignments and worksheet teachers and I ran afoul of the main office several times for breaking silly rules – no eating lunch in the hallways, no basketball shooting for the first half of lunch hour, no painting the Principal’s headlights black at the school dance. (well perhaps that rule made a bit of sense.)

I had a high school Principal so clumsy and ineffective with people that many of us could hardly remain civil towards him. Insecure, arbitrary and irascible, he reminded me of the awful Macy’s psychologist in “Miracle on 34th Street,” who tried to get Kris Kringle fired as Macy’s store Santa. (hence the black headlights)

If my adult impressions of public school were based solely on these memories I would likely have joined the cadre of anti education tweeting trolls on the internet.

Yes , I had some lousy teachers, and yet, I still became a teacher and a fierce supporter of public schools. Why?

Because in addition to the bad experiences I list above, there were myriad good things and some inspiring teachers and friends of all colours, abilities, and proclivities. School afforded me 13 years of rich self-actualization, in the company of hundreds of kids my own age – school was a petrie dish of child development.

School gave me a place to be my own person, away from my Mom and Dad.

That is not to criticize my parents, they were great. They were smart enough to know that school helps kids practice values instilled at home; that schools despite their warts, complemented their parenting rather than usurping or competing with it.

They also knew that teachers had a more fleeting emotional relationship with children that gave them a more objective credibility than a parent. Handled artfully, the triangle of school, parent, child, helps the child and the parent, who can step back and be supportive of their child’s progress at school, rather than having to helicopter over every moment of their child’s development.

Despite and between the malpractices I list above, school and teachers allowed me to experience and experiment with activities, friendships and relationships that allowed me to develop as more than an appendage of my parents.

In school I learned where I stood with other people. I could practice and develop strategies for getting along with smart kids, dumb kids, athletic kids, funny kids, studious kids, – the cultural mosaic of kids who came to public schools to learn the same lessons I did.

As a retired teacher and Principal, I am now wise about schools in a way I wasn’t before and I’ve concluded that the real benefits of public school are the un- measurable ones, the child development ones.

I now realize that teaching “stuff” to kids is only a minor benefit of public schools. The different kinds of clouds, square root, the line of British monarchs, these are just the vehicles we use as we help children enter and come to grips with, the next stage of their development as people.

I have often said that I learned as much at school as I did in school.

My schools were close by. We could walk or ride a bike to and from school with neighbourhood friends we gathered along the way.

Walking to and from school with a couple of friends every day is a more valuable learning experience than social studies class.

And so is unstructured playtime. Before and after school touch football games, ball hockey and other pick up games spawned at school. Kids make up their own rules and are often so intensely involved they have to be asked two or three times to come in from lunch hour.

As a Principal, I often wanted to let them play rather than calling them in to Math class.

Assuredly, none of the things I describe above that happened to me in school should happen in any school; but then, my perceptions come from my memories as a child. I can’t consider them from the perspective of the adults who had to deal with my admittedly precocious behaviour.

But more important, it’s not helpful to form one’s opinions about public schools based on a small sample of traumatic childhood memories, either your own or your child’s. The childhood monsters we saw in the closet should look different viewed through adult eyes.

We should look beyond anecdotal childhood memories of things that happen(ed) in schools and appreciate and nurture the irreplaceable, developmental lessons our children learn from parent and public school.

So yes, I had some lousy teachers. We all did.

But no matter how bad the teacher or how good the parent, the invaluable developmental cocoon offered by neighbourhood public schools can’t be replicated; in even the most sensitive and attentive of homes, or in cross town, uniformed learning academies with rigour and high standards.

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments

Right On Andy…

– Andy Hargeaves, a proponent of Finnish public education methods and arguably one of Canada’s leading education commentators, succinctly sums up what has been happening in the U.S. and Canada in school reform.

“Following the lead of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and before them, Augusto Pinochet of Chile, [the school reform movement] set about centralizing more of the curriculum and introducing more testing to hold teachers accountable,” Dr. Hargreaves wrote in an e-mail.

“It provided a new generation of consumer-oriented parents with information about the performance of schools, and published rankings of schools to stimulate market competition between them. Instead of measuring what we value, we have got stuck in valuing what we can easily measure.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

48 Remembrance Day Assemblies

Those who think public school’s most important function is to impart information need to look a little deeper into what schools teach kid, culture and  country.

Remembrance Day assemblies teach Canadian children how to observe Remembrance Day.

They did it well for me – 48 times.

After each of these 48 occasions, I came away with a sense of pride, in the contribution of our Canadian soldiers, but also in the appropriate respect with which our young people have learned to  treat this day.

Some assemblies were a bit melodramatic, some a bit schmaltzy, some a bit maudlin, and some (especially in High Schools) missed the Remembrance theme among anti-war songs and sentiment. (Ten minutes of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and “Imagine” by John Lennon can do that)

But in all 48 Remembrance Day assemblies I watched or organized, teachers and students showed such earnest respect for the occasion that it often reduced me to tears.

Kids knew to be solemn.  In fact,they often tried to out solemn each other as kids will. They knew to listen and to reflect on the hardships faced by other Canadians and to appreciate the horror of war. Those school kids were and will continue to be the architects  of Remembrance Day and how Canadians observe it.

48 assemblies, even with their occasional hiccups, were  appropriate, because their imperfections showed  they were organized by amateurs –heartrending, earnest, amateurs.

Sure there was always little Bobby, who couldn’t sit still during the minute silence and looked around trying to bring attention to himself, but he’d learn better – he’d have to, as he annually faced the unanimous respect with which his classmates observe the day.

The hundreds of children who set up the chairs, participated, organized, and recited “In Flanders Fields” in those 48 assemblies are all grown up now, many with children of their own.

And just as each of them learned about the culture of Remembrance Day in school assemblies, so will their children. They will continue to observe Remembrance Day in the Canadian tradition of quiet, solemn respect tempered by a healthy disdain for war.

Canadians do Remembrance Day right, and we learn how in assemblies in our public schools.

It’s a culturally crucial  contribution.





Posted in B.C. Politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

F.S.A. Is Political Football But Education is Rugby


AS I SEE IT    –  Jim Nelson

So the annual hand wringing over the Foundation Skills Assessments tests begins again: Why are teachers so dead against them? Is it just that awful B.C.T.F. being radical again?

Should we keep our children from writing the tests?

The trouble with the FSA is not the tests but how they are used. F.S.A. exams are the B.C. banner of the accountability movement in education, a movement that has ruined American public schools over the last 20 years and yet is catching on in B.C. despite its disastrous effect on U.S. schools.

The accountability movement started in the U.S. and was borne of the American tendency to analyze, regulate and measure things. A good example of this is the development of American football.

Now, I enjoy an NFL game as much as much as the next person but a look at American football’s metamorphosis from rugby is instructive in understanding the development of the accountability movement in education.

Americans didn’t play rugby for long; rather, they quickly felt the compulsion to regulate and delineate the heck out of it. They divided the field into one-yard segments with 200 hash marks, added five officials, helmets and padding, statistics, instant replay, score clocks and down chains. They broke the game into quarters. Time-outs, huddles, motion rules, penalties — with designated yards for designated offences — all marched off precisely. There are signals for everything, a ritualized kicking game and 300-page playbooks with X’s and O’s and arrows.

Instead of rugby, with one ball, one referee, an emphasis on spontaneity and creativity, and an almost chivalrous adherence to fair play, our southern cousins ended up with football, a testament to rules, measures, specialization and intervention.

Unfortunately, the same cultural compulsion that spawned American football proved unhelpful when applied to education because education is like rugby. It is interactive, free-flowing, spontaneous and creative, rather than easily quantifiable, pre-packaged and measured. It is too complex to be judged by a standardized measure, no matter how strong the cultural imperative may be to do so.

How can a standardized test measure the “A-ha!” moment when a student suddenly appreciates the brilliance of Shakespeare? How can it measure the ability to co-operate or persevere or to help another student?

Learning takes place through relationships with peers and teachers. It can only be measured somewhat accurately using an aggregation of many and varied assessments, both objective and anecdotal.

We all wish it was simpler, that we could judge how students are doing with a simple urine sample or a multiple-guess test.

My opinion, although I’m a bit radical, is that an even more accurate indication of how well your child is learning is whether they are happy at school, whether they feel safe, are confident and engaged at school. If they “like” the teacher, have friends, feel good about their studies and enjoy school, they are learning just fine.

The B.C.T.F. is dead right on this issue. Although the union brings up red herrings such as how the poor children suffer undue stress when asked to write tests or how the poor teachers have to mark them, or the time it takes out of the curriculum or that the reason they are no good is because of demographic differences, yada yada yada, these are peripheral reasons for objecting to the FSA.

Teachers and the B.C.T.F. know viscerally that trying to legitimize standardized measures is harmful to our schools and, thus, our children’s learning. They are the only ones standing against the accountability movement.

As a former school principal in the Tri-Cities, I applaud this stance. Were my children in Grade 7, I would encourage them to not write the F.S.A. exams. Had I a child in Grade 4, I would send him to school and quietly but firmly instruct the school that he is not to write the F.S.A. exams and that perhaps half an hour in the gymnasium or on the playing field might be a good alternative.

Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal.



Following is “Turfin’ FSA,” sung to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.-by Jim Nelson and Dennis Secret:

Turfin’    F.S.A

If everybody had a notion, ’round District 43,

We’d call BS on the testing and we’d go on a spree,

We’ll throw ‘em all in the dumpster, autonomy has its day,

Tell the super we’re turfin’, turfin’ FSA

We’re giving testing the boot,

’Cause it just don’t compute.

And then we’ll set our sights on, the Fraser Institute.

Every district in B.C. will see us leadin’ the way,

Tell the super we’re turfin’, turfin’ FSA

Chorus (sung with echo and repeated): Rip ’em up, chuck ’em out, F.S.A…

You’ll see them chuck ’em at Moody, at Citadel and Kway,

At Meadowbrook, Stibbs and Seaview, and up at Pinetree Way,

All over the East Zone, and Bramblewood let’s all say,

Tell the super we’re turfin’, turfin’ F.S.A.


Repeat chorus.

The Tri-City News – AS I SEE IT: FSA tests may be a political football in B.C. but the real game of education is rugby//

// <![CDATA[
document.write(”);// ]]>


AS I SEE IT: FSA tests may be a political football in B.C. but the real game of education is rugby

Published: January 21, 2010 6:00 AM
Updated: January 21, 2010 9:23 AM


// ]]>

AS I SEE IT by Jim Nelson

So the annual hand wringing over the Foundation Skills Assessments tests begins again: Why are teachers so dead against them? Is it just that awful BCTF being radical again? Should we keep our children from writing the tests?

The trouble with the FSA is not the tests but how they are used. FSA exams are the B.C. banner of the accountability movement in education, a movement that has ruined American public schools over the last 20 years and yet is catching on in B.C. despite its disastrous effect on U.S. schools.

The accountability movement started in the U.S. and was borne of the American tendency to analyze, regulate and measure things. A good example of this is the development of American football.

Now, I enjoy an NFL game as much as much as the next person but a look at American football’s metamorphosis from rugby is instructive in understanding the development of the accountability movement in education.

Americans didn’t play rugby for long; rather, they quickly felt the compulsion to regulate and delineate the heck out of it. They divided the field into one-yard segments with 200 hash marks, added five officials, helmets and padding, statistics, instant replay, score clocks and down chains. They broke the game into quarters. Time-outs, huddles, motion rules, penalties — with designated yards for designated offences — are marched off precisely. There are signals for everything, a ritualized kicking game and 300-page playbooks with X’s and 0’s and arrows.

Instead of rugby, with one ball, one referee, an emphasis on spontaneity and creativity, and an almost chivalrous adherence to fair play, our southern cousins ended up with football, a testament to rules, measures, specialization and intervention.

Unfortunately, the same cultural compulsion that spawned American football proved unhelpful when applied to education because education is like rugby. It is interactive, free-flowing, spontaneous and creative, rather than easily quantifiable, pre-packaged and measured. It is too complex to be judged by a standardized measure, no matter how strong the cultural imperative may be to do so.

How can a standardized test measure the “A-ha!” moment when a student suddenly appreciates the brilliance of Shakespeare? How can it measure the ability to co-operate or persevere or to help another student?

Learning takes place through relationships with peers and teachers. It can only be measured somewhat accurately using an aggregation of many and varied assessments, both objective and anecdotal.

We all wish it was simpler, that we could judge how students are doing with a simple urine analysis or a multiple-guess test.

My opinion, although I’m a bit radical, is that an even more accurate indication of how well your child is learning is whether they are happy at school, whether they feel safe, are confident and engaged at school. If they “like” the teacher, have friends, feel good about their studies and enjoy school, they are learning just fine.

The BCTF is dead right on this issue. Although the union brings up red herrings such as how the poor children suffer undue stress when asked to write tests or how the poor teachers have to mark them, or the time it takes out of the curriculum or that the reason they are no good is because of demographic differences, yada yada yada, these are peripheral reasons for objecting to the FSA.

Teachers and the BCTF know viscerally that trying to legitimize standardized measures is harmful to our schools and, thus, our children’s learning. They are the only ones standing against the accountability movement.

As a former school principal in the Tri-Cities, I applaud this stance. Were my children in Grade 7, I would encourage them to not write the FSA exams. Had I a child in Grade 4, I would send him to school and quietly but firmly instruct the school that he is not to write the FSA exams and that perhaps half an hour in the gymnasium or on the playing field might be a good alternative.

Jim Nelson is a retired Tri-City teacher and principal.


Following is “Turfin’ FSA,” which is sung to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.” and was written by Jim Nelson and Dennis Secret:

If everybody had a notion, ’round District 43,

We’d call BS on the testing and we’d go on a spree,

We’ll throw ‘em all in the dumpster, autonomy has its day,

Tell the super we’re turfin’, turfin’ FSA

We’re giving testing the boot,

’Cause it just don’t compute.

And then we’ll set our sights on, the Fraser Institute.

Every district in B.C. will see us leadin’ the way,

Tell the super we’re turfin’, turfin’ FSA

Chorus (sung with echo and repeated): Rip ’em up, chuck ’em out, FSA…

You’ll see them chuck ’em at Moody, at Citadel and Kway,

At Meadowbrook, Stibbs and Seaview, and up at Pinetree Way,

All over the East Zone and even Vanier,

Tell the super we’re turfin’m turfin’ FSA.


Repeat chorus.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Bad Optics in School District #43

Along with their colleagues, Coquitlam teachers went on strike for five weeks to make a stand for public education. It cost them each $8000 or so.

School administrators, muzzled for the duration of the strike by district staff, continued to collect their pay. School trustees, superintendents, district staff, and CUPE all collected their pay. Education Ministers got paid as did Premiers. Heck, even parents are getting $40 per day per strike day, per child.

Everyone got paid- except teachers, and the first day they go back to work, Coquitlam stiffs them a day’s pay.

What? Coquitlam? Arguably the most progressive school district in B.C.? You sure you don’t mean Abbottsford, or Chilliwack… or Langley?

No I don’t (although Abbotsford also didn’t pay their teachers – surprise)

Yes, Coquitlam school district didn’t pay its teachers for Friday, September 19th– at least that’s the way it looks to teachers.

The first day after the strike, was the “prep” Friday. Teachers would come into school, prepare classrooms, get class lists, make course changes, and generally wind up June’s untidy finish and get ready for a Monday start. Fair enough says everyone.

But with a bad taste still in their mouths from a long, acrimonious strike, most teachers were in no mood to “volunteer” a day to prepare, even if it meant a messy start on Monday. Many teachers would not have worked Friday had they known they would not get paid.

So they asked if they would be paid for Friday.

“Oh yes, the strike and lockout are over as of Thursday and all teachers will be paid beginning on Friday, Sept. 19th .”

So said the B.C.T.F., B.C.P.S.E.A., and even the government.

But at the end of the month, Coquitlam Teachers, having worked 8 days in September, including Friday September 19th , got paid for 7 days.

Coquitlam teachers were understandably furious, and several of them got a bit insistent at the school board meeting this week, where the unfortunate situation was explained to them.

The explanation goes as follows:

Coquitlam teachers contractually get paid for twenty days each month, because some months have more school days, some fewer. Because it averages out to about 20 days per month, for simplicity’s sake, and by mutual agreement, that’s what teachers get paid each month.

So because teachers were on strike for 13 days in September, they get paid for 7 days rather than the 8 they worked.

The explanation would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.A school board with a $13 million dollar credibility problem isn’t capable of heading this off at the pass or even fixing it before it hit the fan?

A superintendent of schools can’t phone the union president and have him in to discuss the situation and perhaps agree on how to ameliorate or postpone the pain?

“Bit of a sticky wicket here Charlie, might you drop by the board office for a moment to hash it over?”

It could have been avoided so easily. A postponement, an incremental levy of some kind, or even an up front agreement to take the one day hit in September; anything but to just let it baldly appear on the first pay statement without explanation.

Coquitlam  has a new Secretary Treasurer who has to prove he’s not like the last guy, upon whom has been dumped the blame for the district’s 13 million dollar deficit. I suppose that’s why he didn’t do what any secretary treasurer should do, suggest options to avoid such fiscal catastrophes.

But it’s not just his fault. Did no one realize how awful the optics of this would be; how cruel and disrespectful a statement it made to Coquitlam’s  teachers?

Did anyone consider that this might not be the best way to welcome teachers back to their classrooms?

5 weeks of a grueling strike, convinced most teachers that the provincial government is unrelentingly anti teacher, but most teachers felt secure in the knowledge that the school district was generally supportive and appreciative of their contributions to education in Coquitlam.

So much for that idea.

If you’re not a teacher, it’s hard to comprehend how astoundingly insensitive this move was. It’s an et tu Brute, the unkindest cut of all, and it will take a long time to overcome.

Coquitlam school district has always been rightly proud of the work relationships enjoyed among union groups, teachers, management and trustees over the years.

Coquitlam teachers will be mollified, it will all have been just an unfortunate misunderstanding.Trustees will assure everyone that they love Coquitlam teachers, central office will be diplomatically apologetic – all as comforting as an abusive spouse trying to make amends.

I’m not sure this genie can be put back in the bottle.

But apparently, as Peter Fassbender might cheerfully say,

“The beatings will continue until morale improves.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 33 Comments

School Lists Aren’t What’s Important

TOP OPINION HEADLINE :  PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE: Dear parents, school ‘lists’ aren’t

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The First Day of School

The P.N.E. is over. Labour Day weekend is all that stands between summer indolence and the new leaves to be turned over by students beginning on Tuesday, the first day of school.

It’s a time of unease, for students and parents. Will it be a better year?

Will last year’s big worry repeat itself, or be forgotten amidst new successes?

What teacher(s) will she get? I hope it’s not Mr. McGillicuddy – he’s demanding and harsh… but maybe that’s what she needs.

I just want her to be happy at school. How can I best help her return to school successfully?

If I appear confident and reassuring, it will help. I’ll minimize my advice and help her plan her own return to school, from when to get up to what to wear; I’ll allow her to take on the responsibility.

If my only stated expectation is that she enjoys herself (“have fun…”) and if I accept that she’s going to school for herself not for me, it will help.

Latch key situation or not, I will be home when she returns after her first day.

I’ll be sure to be busily distracted by some low-key, calm activity that can be easily interrupted and postponed. I’ll wait for her to initiate the post mortem of her day, rather than pouncing on her for a recounting before she can put down her backpack.

If she comes home happy, I’ll share it with her. I’ll listen and empathize and focus on her happiness, asking clarifying questions; letting her talk rather than giving advice or alluding to my own past school experiences. I’ll act as if her good day is not a surprise; that’s just how good school is and should be. I’ll calmly return to what I was doing, leaving her to bask in her happy day.

If she comes home in tears, with stories of mistreatment by teacher or peers, my first response will be empathy not anger. Feelings aren’t facts, so I’ll listen. I’ll validate her despair without taking a side. It will likely be a disappointment or hurt rather than a major incident – unless I make it one with my response. I’ll ask her what she might do to make it better. I won’t join her anger. I’ll reassure her.

I’ll give her time; and space. I’ll watch and listen. Flurries of text messages or emails mean overt misunderstanding or conflict. If I fan this flame of melodrama, it definitely won’t help her or me.

If there is no peer contact, it likely means someone clumsily or accidentally hurt her feelings.

Either way, I’ll reassure her at every relapse, empathizing, minimizing, distracting if possible.

I’ll matter of factly remove rash solutions; things like, “I’m never going back to that school again!” I’ll avoid expressing outrage with the school, teacher, or peer, knowing that it’s probably a misunderstanding born of nervous anticipation.

If it’s clear that something threatening or inappropriate has happened, I’ll listen and empathize first and then without her knowing, I’ll go to the school; that day, with a view to describing her unhappiness, gathering information and working with the school to help my child solve the problem. I’ll assume the school wants to help. I’ll be calm but resolved, and I won’t criticize students or teachers.

The best possible outcome would be that my child faces and solves the problem herself. The next best outcome is that the problem is resolved without my child knowing that it was fixed for her. The worst and most ominous outcome is that mommy or daddy stomp into the school and forces the school to fix the problem.

But mercifully, none of this will likely happen. First days of school are usually short, great days. For her sake, I’ll try to remain the calm, empathetic, reassuring adult.

I won’t let on that I’m as nervous for her as she is for herself.


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Can Any Government Get Along With B.C. Teachers?

Sure, it’s easy. Local governments  always got along quite well with  teachers. Here’s some strategies local governments used for years that provincial governments might consider employing.

  • Embrace the idea that teachers are professionals, with special and valuable training and skills. Tell teachers and the public this regulary. Preface each discussion and speech about education with this information.
  • Publicly express support for public education. Indicate that public education plays a valuable role in the intellectual and cultural development of our children and is one of the most successful initiatives undertaken by western societies.
  • Say that public education is not an expense but an investment, the best investment we can make in our country’s future.
  • Sugggest that teachers know how to plan, assess, and provide effective learning opportunites and that defending teacher’s professional autonomy is the best thing we can do to improve education. Cite B.C.’s international reputation for education excellence to substantiate this idea.
  • Say that teacher accountability is best when it’s local – accountability to students, parents, colleagues, and Principals – the best judges of effective student learning. Suggest that we should seek to strengthen local accountability, not centralized measurements.

Perhaps throw in a quote to illustrate the point:

           “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count: everything

             that counts cannot necessarily be counted…”

                                                                                   Albert Einstein

There are other non-monetary strategies available to government to  improve relations with teachers:

  • suggest that educators are best equipped to make education decisions, not people                       from unrelated fields;
  •  suggest that parent involvement in schooling should be predominantly at the local level not at the political level.

None of these strategies costs any money, but provincial  governments have not chosen                    to try them since 1994, when provincial  bargaining was first mandated.

I’m sure provincial governments would be pleasantly surprised  at how easy B.C.’s    teachers are to get along with if they tried some or all of the above strategies.



Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Congratulations Teachers, I Think

The resolution of any collective bargaining conflict is difficult to evaluate until the dust settles, but there are some things we know already. (no pun intended)

Clearly, teachers folded on wages. 7.25% over six years is a ridiculous, six year, annual pay cut, no matter how one slices it –it’s 4% under the estimated cost of living increases over the term of the contract – sorry nurses.

But did teachers get anything in return?

Well, they got E80 turfed. True, E80 was a bit of a throw away for the government, but at least the Supreme Court appeal will go on, although there is reason to be concerned about the “reopener clause” in the tentative agreement.

Teachers got upwards of $3500 per teacher signing bonus, disguised as a 108 million grievance mitigation.That’s new money, but it is a sleight of hand which gives up almost 2 billion in possible grievances from teachers who have been teaching too many kids and too many designated kids since the 2002 contract stripping.

Solving the innumerable grievances arising from the twelve-year period since 2002 is a mind bogglingly messy prospect. But the contract strippers should be the ones responsible for unraveling the nightmare; not the teachers, who had their contracts stripped in the first place. They should not dismiss it cheaply.

Teachers got a few more shekels for class size and composition, an extra 100 million over the term of the contract. That’s new money too though not enough. Four or five more teachers per year hired in Coquitlam? Coquitlam cut ninety plus teachers this year alone. The money can’t possibly address the needs of special needs students. The “fund” in its latest iteration is a cheap out for the government.

Still, that’s $208 million dollars of new money from a government who, for 18 months could out miser Ebeneezer Scrooge. And that doesn’t include some  of  the medical and dental benefit tops ups  won as well as some other benefits to be made more clear as we move forward.

So , given the circumstances, teachers did make gains beyond what they would have got through back to work legislation.

So the government gets to wave  the “affordability zone” circle  at the public and the nurses, while teachers get to sneak $200 plus million out the back door, half for a signing bonus which the government doesn’t have to call a signing bonus, and half to bandaid  class size and composition.

We don’t have all the details of the agreement yet, but while the teachers I have spoken to are relieved, they aren’t as elated as one would think they might be.

They fell a bit cheated – gratified at having hung together, but frustrated that some people, including some hapless Liberal M.L.A.s, have come out from hiding under their bed, to hail the agreement as fair but affordable – it’s neither.

And while some teachers I know feel some ambivalence toward what they know about the tentative settlement, almost all the teachers I know could barely watch Christy Clark’s press conference today.

It was a bit like watching Pontius Pilate hailing a new era of improved relations with Christians.

The irony screamed to teachers. “ A new era in government /teacher relations?”.


If anything came out of this strike, the depth of the government’s determination to punish teachers was top among them. There can be no resurrection of the relationship between this government and teachers without:

  • a public commitment to public education. Not just words, but sustained, substantive action.
  • a willingness to commit money to public education. There hasn’t been a real increase in public education funding since 2002. (small annual per pupil funding increases are immediately gobbled up by M.S.P. download expenses, Hydro increases, carbon offsets, unfunded CUPE salaries , and other fixed costs).
  • At least equal funding increases between private and public schools.
  • A recognition of teachers as professionals and a concomitant catch up salary plan.
  • An indication that educators might make educational decisions, like doctors make medical decisions and lawyers make legal decisions.

And teachers have learned a few things from this strike:

  • They’ve learned the depths of the government’s disdain for public school and teachers.
  • They’ve learned that they often can’t count on the media for much help.
  • They’ve learned they ‘ll never make back the money they lost.
  • They’ve learned that striking is no fun.

But teachers have also made some immeasurable esprit de corps gains out of the dispute.

As a part of his strike post mortem, Vaughan Palmer mused that teachers will think long and hard before striking again. What he didn’t choose to muse is that B.C. governments will, in future, think twice before attacking teachers in such an extended, disrespectful manner.

Thank you teachers, for your steadfast defense of B.C.’s public education system. You have lost lots, but you have gained lots too.

The struggle to defend public education is not over, though this battle is spent.

Although it will be a relief for teachers to be able to sleep again, this ugly, ugly strike will serve to make  the inadequacies in the system more stark to returning teachers.

Resources, staffing, and funding will still be sparse, class size won’t change and class composition will carry on much the same as before. And as schools face another three years of education funding freezes, things will get worse before they’ll get better.

But teachers , through this job action, have focussed public discussion on education and exposed government intransigence and petulance. More important, they have solidified a vision of public education and shared an evangelism they now feel more strongly and unshakeably.

That said, some teachers are considering voting “no” on Thursday, not as a reflection of the work of  B.C.T.F negotiators, but as a statement of protest over what can only be described as a twelve-year vendetta against teachers and public schools.

Ratification of this tentative agreement will happen; should happen. It’s time to stop, get some money in the bank, get back to the kids who need and appreciate you, and live to struggle another day.

The public is done, not willing to hear any more rhetoric about underfunded schools or teachers for a while.

But  maybe 60% ratification might be  better than 95% ratification.

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Public Education is Hurting

" Teaching is so much more than having knowledge to impart.. "

” Teaching is so much more than having knowledge to impart…”

The current B.C. public school dispute is only the latest example, though admittedly the worst, of decades of the undervaluing and underfunding of B.C. public schools and teachers.

Those who aren’t in schools can’t be expected to grasp the level of carnage in our schools over the past twenty years. But instead of listening to hysterical pundits on C.K.N.W. or the Fraser institute, take it from someone who worked in, organized and operated schools for 35 years.

B.C.’s public schools are skeletons of their former selves and we are passing the crisis point.

Were our kids going to school, they would be going to schools that are generally deteriorating, under staffed, under supplied and continuously under siege.

The grass isn’t cut, the weeds aren’t pulled, and summer painting is rare. Renovations, upgrades, and new equipment have long been put on hold, cafeterias are cut back or cut out, textbooks are unaffordable, photocopying is rationed, and teacher’s are falling further behind with each salary cut.

Teaching staffs have shrunk. Counselling, Librarian, and learning centre staffs are too lean to serve kids.

There is a profound lack of supplies, impossible staffing levels, paltry maintenance budgets, skeletal student services, no district curriculum coordinators, few psycho ed testers , no technology geeks. There are fewer Vice Principals, almost none  in elementary schools, from where most were cut long ago.

Money from the government’s “Learning Imrovement Fund” (L.I.F.) is touted as an answer to class size and composition woes but money that trickles through the centralized process to local districts  goes straight into hiring back one or two of the staff laid off after the previous year’s cuts.

And now, education funding is frozen for 2013 –2015. This funding freeze will result in 300 million more in cuts for each of the next three school years.

Schools are already cut to the bone and Principals, teachers, support staff and students have been profoundly affected.

As the load gets heavier, teachers begin to teach defensively, concerned with just making it through the week. When they teach this way, they feel guilty and angry at having to do so.
The more kids and special needs students they have, the more formulaic, the less interactive learning has to become.

Teachers are forced to focus on activities that keep kids busy and compliant. They don’t have the time, resources or class size to offer the kind of engaging learning activities they would prefer to offer. More seat work, worksheets, and tests – multiple choice (easy to mark) Less project learning, group work, individualized instruction, and cooperative learning.

Teachers hate going there, but they are increasingly forced to make adjustments to their teaching and are too often forced to replace engaging and fun with busy and quiet.

Extra curricular activities are leaner, intramurals more rare. There are fewer bands and spring musicals and field trips. The things that make schools meaningful for kids are difficult to sponsor as teaching loads burgeon and disrespect for the profession increases relentlessly.

But the biggest difficulty in public education is that many of us, including our government, no longer consider teaching a profession. Rather they think of it as a job, like working in an office but with better holidays and benefits.

In fact, teaching is a profession, not a job. It requires significant training and regular re-training, sophisticated skills and strategies, and hard work. A good teacher is an incalculably valuable professional. Those who think teaching is cushy  – “ six hours a day, eight months a year, great salary… “, are monumentally mistaken.

Those who think a journeyman cabinetmaker could teach woodwork more effectively than a teacher or that a professional trumpet player could teach band better than can a teacher, are mistaken. Teaching is so much more than having knowledge to impart. As a matter of fact, subject knowledge is one of the least important requirements of being a good teacher. When interviewing for a teaching position, the most important boxes to tick are people skills, not subject proficiency.

Those who attack teaching and teachers by comparing their employment situations to other jobs, invariably ignore the most difficult things teachers deal with in their professional life – that their profession is their life, not a job.

Teachers face thousands of personal interactions and stimuli every day, each crucial to the student, parent, or colleague. They must be “on” at all times, in school, the supermarket, and in the community. Teachers never leave work at work; it’s always on their mind, a constant stream of consciousness and rumination about today and tomorrow’s lessons and that kid who is really hurting.

The first few years of teaching are quite a shock to young teachers. Teaching is so much more difficult than they thought or heard described on Twitter – and they really don’t make much money.

But that’s what teachers signed up for, and after six or seven years, most teachers are at the top of their game, immeasurably more effective than when they began – because there is so much to learn about how to be a good teacher than the surface analyses spouted by internet trolls.

So teachers eagerly accept the challenges of the profession, in exchange for making a difference,  for job security and public respect.

But over the past twenty years, teachers and public schools have seen their profession slowly but inexorably strangled, underfunded and disrespected.

Teachers and public education have had to repeatedly pay the freight for government austerity and budget balancing.

Teachers have lost about 20% of salary to inflation since provincial bargaining was legislated by the Harcourt government in 1994.That NDP government ended the strategy of “whipsawing”; holding up the contracts of other teacher’s groups as immutable settlement templates.

Ironically, whipsawing is the main bargaining strategy now used against teachers, Still, in 1994 ,the government proclaimed whipsawing an unfair labour practice and legislated province wide teacher bargaining. That’s when the enmity between provincial governments and teachers really began.

Provincial governments have many more and different priorities than did local school boards who respected and supported their local teachers. Local governments still respect their firefighters and police and there are few labour disputes with civic workers. Firefighters and police have thrived in bargaining with appreciative local governments.

Conversely, teachers have not done well bargaining provincially, having to compete for funding with other provincial priorities. There are few votes to be gained by putting money into public education and it’s never enough anyway.

Unfortunately there are votes (and campaign money), in increasing funding for private schools.

Private school attendance was at 12% in 2013, up from 4% scant years ago, and government funding for private schools has increased 45% compared with 16% for public schools.

And public schools, principals and teachers have been so repeatedly creative in doing more with fewer resources year after year, that successive provincial governments felt fine about continuing to draw money from the education well to fund other priorities, like tax cuts, infrastructure, and stadia roofs.

In 1973, a beginning teacher made about $5,000 more than a beginning firefighter, policeman, or nurse. Now, firefighters, policemen, and nurses make ten to twenty thousand more than teachers –ten thousand or so more to start, twenty thousand or so more at maximum after a shorter increment scale and less education/training (nurses after 4 yrs. experience- $ 91 thousand, teachers after 11 yrs. and a Masters degree, $78 thousand.)

Disclaimer; firefighters, police, and nurses deserve every penny they make – they perform valuable public services. But firefighters and police  still have the luxury of negotiating contracts with appreciative and respectful local governments, rather than with provincial governments who need to skim money from public services to pay for tax cuts.

And let’s face it, It’s difficult for provincial Education Ministers to feel too warm and fuzzy about teachers because they don’t see them through a local lens – they’re a line item expense not an investment.

Teachers used to be in the middle class. Now they’re in the working class. Yet surprisingly, teachers are so easily bullied they don’t even seem to mind the relegation. But they do mind not having the resources to do their jobs well. That’s why teachers are feeling angry and beaten up.

Teachers choose the profession out of passion. They willingly trade any chance of getting rich for a worthwhile, secure profession, a chance to contribute something meaningful to people and the community.

But now, few chemistry whizzes, computer aces, or shrewd mathematicians are going into education anymore –why would they?

Teacher surpluses have been institutionalized by relentless education cuts and a continuing University cash grab, and many prospective teachers have shoulder shrugged into what is fast becoming a job not a profession..

Public education is a complex activity – too complex to be dismissed with inapt comparisons with what other workers do, earn, or deserve.This is not to say that other occupations are not complex, there are just too many variables and priorities to compare.

Tenure and benefits haven’t been taken away yet, but teachers and public schools have been the silent whipping boys of austerity minded governments in every other way for many years.

The current education dispute is about the chronic underfunding of public education over the past twenty years. It’s about salary too, but more than that it’s about respectful treatment, something public schools and educators have not felt from provincial governments for too long.

Public education is the most successful collective initiative of western democracies. Canadian public schools are the melting pot of our multicultural mosaic.

Our public schools are hurting, and we’re not only not defending them, many of us are throwing gas on the fire.

If the B.C. public isn’t willing to take a macro look at whether we want a properly funded, vibrant public education system, we’ll keep degrading public schools and teachers as we march down the American road toward destroying a world class public school system.

Posted in Uncategorized | 39 Comments

New Rule #6 in B.C.’s Education Dispute

New rule;

Everyone must stop saying;

“ I want teachers to get a fair salary increase… as long as it’s affordable…”

Because that’s not what they mean.

Those who make this statement urging teachers to accept affordable salary increases, actually favour salary decreases for teachers.

Beyond their statement are some simple, stark numbers:

Cost of living increase in B.C.(Bank of Canada)   2002 -2014           25.07%.

B.C. teacher salary increases                                         2002 -2014           19.50%

Since 2002, B.C. teacher’s salaries have decreased signficantly to inflation.

And in the future?

Projected Consumer Price Index Rise                 2014 -2019               11.08 %

Gov’t salary offer to teachers                                    2014- 2019                 7.00 %

Teacher’s salary demands                                           2014-2018                 8.00 %


Clearly, not only is the government’s salary offer less than the projected cost of living increase over the contract’s term, so are the teacher’s salary demands.

Bizarrely, B.C. teachers are embroiled in a costly strike, part of which includes their fight to achieve five or six more years of cuts to their salaries.

So those who say;

“ I want teachers to get a fair salary increase. but it’s got to be affordable to taxpayers“ , must stop it immediately and in future say what they actually mean;

“ A 3.08 % salary cut over five years is too much for teachers.Instead, I think B.C.’s teachers should accept a more affordable,  4.08% salary  cut over six years.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Machine Gears Up

 Just as B.C.s teachers were beginning to wonder if the bombing had stopped and they could peek out of their foxholes in search of reasoned détente, B.C.s right wing machine has unleashed its fury on Public Education and B.C.s teachers.

Yes, the same machine that for thirty years has crucified N.D.P governments with withering carpet-bombing has turned its guns on public education and teachers.

The Vancouver Sun publishes a six-page section lauding private schools. It looks like an advertising flyer, complete with testimonials and Fraser Institute data about the wonder of the private school experience.

C.K.N.W. kicks in daily on its talk shows, interviewing teachers who don’t support the B.C.T.F and people who insist that B.C. spends $500 more per student than other provinces on education, even though they know it not to be true.

Online anti education trolls, recently dormant, are re invigorated by the suddenly incendiary rhetoric of high profile anti teacher Tweeters.

The machine fills the air with vitriol. It’s inescapable.

Gone are any reasoned analyses. Gone is any broad view of the success and importance of public education or the professionalism of teachers.

A media that only reluctantly reported on disgraceful government bargaining behaviour had lazily regressed into a tedious ‘pox on both their houses” stance.

But that’s all over now. The machine calls, and predictably, they answer.The enemy is on its knees, time to move in and finish him off.

And as their prey lies wounded in the smoke, they compete to be the one seen to have delivered the coup de grace.

We’ve seen it so often in this province. Never underestimate the power of the right wing media machine in B.C.

But this time, the machine isn’t just helping to destroy  politicians, it’s facilitating the destruction of a school system.

Posted in New Rules in B.C. Education Dispute | 14 Comments

Where’s the Money Supposed to Come From? How about from A.T.M. Machines?

Could A.T.M.s Fund Public Services?

At the same time we complain about the cost of funding public services, Canadians happily give banks hundreds of millions in A.T.M. fees each year.

It costs banks about $.36 per transaction to maintain automatic teller machines.

Most banks charge between $2.00 and $4.00 per A.T.M. transaction.

That’s anywhere from $1.69 to  $3.64 per A.T.M. transaction that Canadians give to an industry that makes 19 billion dollars in profit per year.

Might there not be a better use for A.T.M. fee proceeds?

What if we set all A.T.M. fees at $2.00, gave the bank $ 1.00 and assigned $1.00 to fund public services? (Education, health or transit) That’s $420 million per year to start, more if we raised A.T.M. fees or lowered the bank’s cut.

I know, your bank and B.C. credit union A.T.M.s charge nothing, and yes, there are jurisdictional concerns – the federal government is in charge of banks.

And I know, banks would offer fewer A.T.M.s. After all, under this scheme, they would only net $.64 per transaction.

But beyond nit picking the numbers and logistics, the proceeds from A.T.M. fees are only one glaring example of money we willingly give away to private business that could be used to fund necessary public services.

Of course this plan won’t happen – we’d never be willing to wrestle a nickel from any wealthy entity, let alone a bank, just to support public spending.

Still, it’s undeniable and disturbing that we will simultaneously open our wallets to donate money to banks, and our mouths to scream about the funding of public services.

Posted in New Rules in B.C. Education Dispute, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Google it – it’s Unanimous

Finland has the world’s best education system; has had for ten or fifteen years.

Finnish students clean up on international measures, and not just a few brainy lutefisk eaters.

Almost all Finnish students do well on international PISA measures in Science, Math, and Reading.

Given that B.C. is in the middle of a wrestling match over public education, what can we learn from Finland’s top ranked schools that might help our government in their struggle with B.C.’s teachers?

Is Finland cutting education funding each year?

Are the Finns increasing funding for private schools?

Is Finland fighting with their teachers?

Is Finland increasing rigour and competition, touting standardized testing, merit pay, and accountability measures?

Is Finland moving away from local professional autonomy and towards centralized accountability?

How about governance of schools? Is Finland moving towards a system where government, who may have little knowledge or training in education make the decisions about their school system?

The world’s best education system does none of the above. They do precisely the opposite.

What Finland can teach us, is what they have proven works in schools.

For twenty years, Finnish education has stressed:

  • Equality of opportunity for all children (no public funding of private schools)
  • Expecting and trusting teachers and schools to design, deliver, and assess student-learning.
  • Early identification of learning difficulties and “whatever it takes” intervention with special needs students.
  • Unanimous societal respect for teachers
  • No standardized or high stakes testing.
  • Highly trained teachers, with Masters degrees.
  • Education system overseen by trained educators.
  • More art, music, P.E.- less classroom time and homework
  • Less competition, more collaboration

In short, just about every direction in which our B.C. government wants to take public education is exactly opposite to what has been proven to work in the world’s best schools.

Do yourself a favour. Google “What’s so good about Finnish education?”

If one does any research in the area of public education, the behaviour of our provincial government in dealing with teachers and schools is completely discordant with what works in schools and what we should be doing in publlc education.

Posted in New Rules in B.C. Education Dispute | 1 Comment

John Baird – Darling of U.S. Shock Talker

NELSON: Consider source of such praise – The Tri-City News.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Teachers Whipsawed


It’s ironic that in this year’s education dispute, B.C. teachers have been pummeled by a bargaining strategy they were vilified for using in the 80s and 90s.

It’s called “whipsawing”.

“Whipsawing” is when one negotiating unit puts their bargaining opponent in a difficult position by pointing to the contract settlements of similar bargaining groups and demanding a similar settlement.

Sound familiar?

It should, because that’s the strategy being used by the provincial government this year in bargaining with teachers.

By pointing to the salary settlements of other B.C. Public sector unions, the government can feign reluctant intransigence; they couldn’t possibly offer teachers more than “everyone else” happily accepted.

They speak of an “affordability zone “ as if it’s an immutable law of economics and cite “me too” clauses in other union contracts as reasons for intransigent bargaining.

Ending whipsawing was the very rational government used to legislate teachers into provincial bargaining in 1994.

Until 1994, B.C.’s teachers bargained with their local school boards. Once a small district like Cranbook or Fernie had settled, the rest of B.C.’s teachers would point to the settlements and leverage (and get) similar settlements.

And local bargaining worked well, for teachers, parents and the school system. Schools were well funded and teachers actually negotiated some reasonable contracts. There were some small, short, work stoppages, but they were local, and contracts were settled through negotiation every year.

When teachers bargained locally, civic governments could respond nimbly to local education needs. Schools and teachers were valued and schools well funded.

The remnants of that equitable, well-funded education system established during the days of local bargaining is what is now being internationally lauded as one of the best education systems in the world.

And that’s the system we have been systematically gutting.

In 1994, the N.D.P government had had enough of local bargaining. They said they needed to put an end to years of contract whipsawing by teachers.

Whipsawing was deemed an unfair and unaffordable strategy, one that should never be used again.

This year, B.C. public sector unions with differing priorities and histories didn’t argue much about taking a 1% per year increase (a 5-year salary cut)

Why? Because it’s a fair salary package? No, there are no circumstances that could make what amounts to a five-year annual wage cut “fair”.

But provincial public sector unions have witnessed a government willing to play dirty, one that has demonstrated little respect for the public sector or their contracts.

They have seen privatization of H.E.U. contracts, capricious contracting out, increased workloads, staff cuts and even wholesale contract stripping.

The public sector unions that have, according to the government, all happily accepted five-year salary cuts, accepted them because they had one bargaining priority; protecting their jobs.

So union after union accepted unacceptable salary packages in exchange for job security language and assurances.

That’s how the government is whipsawing public education and public school teachers.

Now that teachers and public education have to compete for funding with corporate tax breaks, stadium roofs, MLA raises, and paying legal bills for those involved in government scandals, our public schools are being continuously starved of funding.

We will soon see the end of the international accolades for B.C. public education, as the twelve years of cutting public school budgets works through the system; and all because teacher bargaining has come full circle.

Whipsawing was deplorable when teachers used the strategy but it seems it’s fair game now that the government finds it effective in their fight against B.C.’s teachers.

Posted in New Rules in B.C. Education Dispute | 2 Comments

Free From Society’s Riff Raff

 An Old American Spiritual

In North America and certainly in B.C., sane analysis of public education has long been abandoned; replaced with vitriolic anecdotal attacks on public schools and teachers.

We direct most of our unrelenting ire at “the teacher’s union”. The teacher’s union is a scapegoat safely removed from our neighbourhoods. It’s more palatable to hate the union than to rant against the local school or our child’s teacher, good old Mrs. McGillicuddy (who really works hard, unlike those union types).

Public school bashing is not new. It’s an old southern folk song, the lyrics of which Canadians, and especially British Columbians, are just now learning to sing with gusto. (because we have such a perky anti education choir leader).

The old, anti –education U.S. spiritual that helped Americans through the difficult days of destroying their public education system has become a conservative anthem in Canada; with B.C. supplying the most inspiring voices.

B.C Public Schools Doing Well Despite It All

Why do we sing such an anti public education song? Surely our public schools must be abject failures in order to engender such public hostility? In fact, no; international measures continue to rank Canada’s public schools among the best in the world and B.C.’s public schools the best in Canada.

But rather than laud these statistics to vindicate and support public schools, we use them to excuse cutting funding, depressing salaries, increasing funding to private schools, and even for unconstitutional and petulant government behaviour.

We’re All Education Experts

So why do we attack one of the best public education systems in the worlds? One reason is because we’re all experts on education. We’ve all been to school. We all had a Mr. Switz who was bossy and lazy. We all have a foggy residue of personal rebellion (those teachers think they’re so smart).

Many of our anti education impressions come from memories of young brains that didn’t know that there were so many kids with challenges in our class – I could read – surely everyone else in my class could too? What’s all the fuss about? There were forty in my class and it didn’t affect me.

Anti- Education Anecdotes

We also attack public education because of the flood of over simplified anecdotal outrages we are fed.

5 year old boy suspended for hugging a girl…”

They don’t include the rest of the story, that the lad’s serial hugging was unwanted, repeatedly complained about and that his parents were combative when asked how they could work together to help Johnny curtail his unwelcomed hugging.

Media all over the U.S. and Canada instead chose to use this story as an example of public school malpractice.

“ Shouldn’t public schools encourage love, not squelch it by wielding institutional power over a five year old? ”

This, and other incomplete anecdotes, appeal to long  latent school angst lurking in all of us.

 Our Child’s Experience

Our attitudes towards public schools are also formed by our children’s experience, the struggles they face, the worries we face as parents – these stresses we often project on schools in our state of worry. So for some understandable reasons, we are pre-disposed to criticize public schools. When governments attack public education or teachers, we often join in the chorus or we’re slow to defense.

Dismantling Public Schools

It’s important to realize that our unwillingness to defend public schools is doing more than just giving voice to our individual experiential biases towards education; it’s endangering the future of the public school system.

Because attacking public education isn’t just a random act of austerity. It’s not an attempt to put teachers in their place. It’s not about saving taxpayer money or fighting waste, or defending struggling private sector workers.

The anti public school campaign is about dismantling public schools, or more correctly, relegating public schools to the task of educating society’s riff raff – you know, the ones I don’t want my Mary to associate with.

Privatizing education plays a  part of institutionalizing the income inequity that conservatives have attained over the last twenty years. Privatizing education emasculates middle and working classes and helps reinforce a class system. It’s the coup de grace to  hopes of regaining our lost social egalitarianism and economic mobility.

Dismantling public education will remove the last cultural and economic field leveler our country has. Unions are on the ropes, now if we can just get rid of public schools…

Now I know it would be a stretch to accuse our own, provincial politicians of such a sophisticated conspiracy, but encouraging a two, or even three tiered education system underpins the neo conservative vision.

Private Schools Pushed

In B.C., private school funding has increased at three times the rate of public school funding since 2005. As a result, private school attendance has reached 12% of B.C. students. The Kool-Aid is being drunk. Public schools in the U.S are foundering, according to all international measures. Serial underfunding of public schools, championing school choice, voucher systems, Charter Schools – anything that will allow my child to avoid the riff raff of society and keep those minorities in their place.(somewhere else)

It May Be too Late

Personally, I think it may be too late for B.C.’s public schools. The only way to save our public schools is too stop publicly funding their alternative, and that’s not imminent . Our current premier’s attitude toward increasing public education funding is a Charlton Heston-like “from my cold, dead hand…”

In addition, our Premier’s child goes to private school, as do (incomprehensively) the children of some public school educators. So we’re stuck with a two-tier school system.

Having learned nothing from the American destruction of public schools, we’ll likely continue to mercilessly slag a world class public system, helped and encouraged by a media not much disposed to real analysis.

Like educational lemmings we’ll follow the American school system over the educational cliff, vilifying public educators as we go, chanting;

“Free from riff raff, free from riff raff, thank God Almighty, we’re free from riff raff. ”

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Wikipedia – “fascism”

“,,,Fascists believe that liberal democracy is obsolete, and they regard the complete mobilization of society under a totalitarian one-party state as necessary to prepare a nation for armed conflict and to respond effectively to economic difficulties. Such a state is led by a strong leader—such as a dictator and a martial government composed of the members of the governing fascist party—to forge national unity and maintain a stable and orderly society. Fascism rejects assertions that violence is automatically negative in nature, and views political violence, war, and imperialism as means that can achieve national rejuvenation. Fascists advocate a mixed economy, with the principal goal of achieving autarky through protectionist and interventionist economic policies.,,”



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One Nation Under God

In addition to coining the still contemporary phrase “military industrial complex”, U.S. President Dwight D Eisenhower also played a pivotal role in bringing religion and the Church back into government.

Below is a passage from the book “One Nation Under God” ,which traces the development of the religious right in the U.S. and places much of the “blame” for this at the feet of Ike, the popular post war President.

In Eisenhower’s hands, a religious movement born in opposition to the government was transformed into one that fused faith and the federal government as never before. During the 1950s, Eisenhower revolutionized the role of religion in American political culture, inventing new traditions from inaugural prayers to the National Prayer Breakfast. Meanwhile, Congress added the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and made “In God We Trust” the country’s first official motto. With private groups joining in, church membership soared to an all-time high of 69%. For the first time, Americans began to think of their country as an officially Christian nation.

The book details Ike’s use of religion to further “individual rights” – quite shocking, worth reading – especially for those concerned about the separation of Church and State in the U.S.

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In the U.S. It’s Now “Government Schools” not “Public Schools”

PhotoThis is the latest anti -education attack on public schools in the U.S.. It seeks to equate public schools to the “nanny state” ,demanding freedom from what they call the shackles of Government education.
It’s piffle, but it’s dangerous piffle that’s becoming more accepted, as the U.S. continues its assault on public schooling as a collective social intitative.

By the way, this is the direction education in B.C. is being taken. Here is an excerpt from a Kansas Republican source.

The Libertarian Party borrowed that for its party platform in 1980. “Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals,” the platform said.

But only recently — and mostly in reliably conservative Kansas — has the term been used regularly and clearly as a political wedge. Education advocates in Kansas said they had heard it in conversations with state legislators (though few use it in public statements), in discussions about public schools on Facebook and on some conservative news sites.

The use of the term “government schools” is part of a broad education agenda that includes restraining costs. The far-right and libertarian wings of the Republican Party are pushing the state to loosen its laws to allow more charter schools. They oppose programs that offer free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches, believing that schools have become part of the “nanny state” — another politically charged term — and are usurping the role of parents.

Beware of  the plethora of anti public education  jargon – the terms/concepts such as:
“School Choice”, “Charter School” “improving student achievement”, “voucher system” “merit pay” , “data driven dialogue”, “reliable measures”, “measurable outcomes” and “accountability” – all dog whistle for ” let’s have a public school system that will take care of society’s riff raff , but not my kid for whom I would prefer an exclusionary educational option”.

The anti  public education movement is a powerful alliance of corporate educational exam suppliers,right wing trickle down economists and think tanks, private & Charter School entrepreneurs, anti union groups, Libertarians,the Christian right, and reactionary Tea party types who know nothing about schools – only that they’re angry.


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