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. ”

About jimnelson806

Educational consultant from Port Moody. "The Stuff Isn't What's Important" " School Wide Discipline Programmes Don't Work" " Vice Principals are crucial towards setting direction"
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2 Responses to Free From Society’s Riff Raff

  1. Mary Atkins says:

    This may be the best column from Jim Nelson yet! Perhaps it’s because he reflects my own opinions so exactly.


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