A Struggle to Survive Is Not “Bickering”

I’m not sure where the ubiquitous “Oh, my” expression came from, but here’s my opportunity to use it: Geoff Johnson, retired superintendent of schools, oh my.

In his op-ed piece “School reform stalled by endless bickering” (Times Colonist, December 1), Johnson writes about the “free market economy” as if it were a force of nature, like, say, the speed of light. The free market economy is a human choice. We – well, maybe you, as it wasn’t me – voted in the privateers who promote the “public bad, private good”, tax phobic mindset.

I have a great idea for school “reform”, and here it is: proper funding of public education. As a percentage of the British Columbia budget, funding for k-12 schools was 26.36% of the provincial budget in 1992. It fell to 19.67% in 2002, and now accounts for only 15.41 % of the provincial budget.

Students are members of families, whatever form their family may take. For a government that trumpets its intention to put “families first”, the numbers put the lie to that.

The Supreme Court of British Columbia has ruled that the Ministry of Education was wrong and the BC Teachers’ Federation was right, when the TF objected when the BC government yanked the part of the teachers’ employment contract, the part that guarantees class size and class composition in order to make sure every child has genuine access to a teacher and is not just on the class list. Instead of rectifying this situation, George Abbott has thrown a piece of bread to the starving and is inviting teachers and administrators and desperate parents to fight over an inadequate pot of supplemental dollars to determine which child gets a bite, while invoking the ancient “Look over there!” strategy with the “bold, new” Bring Your Smart Phone to Class plan.

Johnson’s assertion that recognizing that “we don’t all learn in the same way and at the same rate” is a “major revision in how we think about schools” is simply ridiculous. This recognition informs teachers’ and school administrators’ daily life. It’s the inescapable reality on the ground, and how public schools manage to do so well in that context with so little astonishes me. (How private schools manage, with entry screening and generous subsidies of public tax money is not so astonishing.)

Many of us as citizens, and as Board of Education Trustees for our School Districts, would love to have the “promises” of the Plan For Education that Johnson defends so vehemently spelled out very specifically, so we can measure claims against rhetoric

The real promises of public education are universal access to a free education that ensures each learner reaches potential for a fulfilling life. Meanwhile, British Columbia moves ever farther into “fee for service” territory and “personalized” learning without the interaction of persons.

The current situation is not “bickering”. It is a desperate fight by a fundamentally important public entity – public education – that is in crisis due to systematic underfunding and mismanagement at the Ministry level. Resistance to the death of the notion and the reality of a public good is admirable. I stand with the resistance.