Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Letters

Strike About More Than Just Money

An open letter to students from a Chilliwack teacher

Submitted by David Brien, Chilliwack

 

ear Student: “Why can’t the government just pay the teachers?”

 

I feel guilty for not giving you a better answer to your simple question as our last class ended this school year. I saw the sadness and frustration on your face as you left my room. My simplistic answer was that the government and teachers have issues that they can’t agree on. I hoped they could work them out.

I should do better. You deserve a more thoughtful response. I apologize for this. I will now try.

Here’s a second simplistic answer, but this time I will elaborate: The reason the government cannot pay teachers is because they do not have very much money.

Our government is broke. It has enormous debts that grow with any economic setback. The citizens of British Columbia elected this government to protect taxpayers. Most working people are struggling to get by. They are taxed everywhere. They pay high sales taxes. They pay growing user fees for services, utilities, and health care. They pay high income and property taxes.

Working British Columbians are often also in debt. They owe more to banks than ever before to pay for roofs over their heads, and yet governments keep asking for more and more money. For most people, trying to maintain the lifestyles they had when they were growing up feels like a losing battle.

To fight against the constant reduction of income, working people have elected a government that reduces services instead of raising taxes.  Compared to thirty years ago, medical service is pathetic. There are few family doctors and they seem to be seldom available. There are agonizingly long lines in emergency wards, and painfully long wait lists for surgeries. Highly qualified nurses are being replaced by cheaper, less qualified care aids. If you need anything from a government office these days, prepare to stand in long lines; or if you phone, wait on hold for hours, and likely jump through many hoops that are created so the government can hire fewer and fewer people to provide services.

The government is also trying to save money in public schools. They have increased class size and added more students who require special help into classes. They are looking for ways for Educational Assistants to replace teachers for small group support because they are less expensive. For instance, Response to Intervention groups are often facilitated by an Educational Assistant instead of specialist teachers. While some politicians say class size doesn’t matter, I can tell you, they are either disingenuous or simply wrong. Finland has one of the best education systems, with well-trained teachers and tiny classes. For some reason the government wants to chase the American dream of a quality education instead of the Finnish model, which really has very little quality at all, but it sure saves money.

If the current contract the government offered is accepted, teachers will be easily laid off instead of assisted with areas that may need improvement (which is part of the current collective agreement). In some American states teachers are routinely laid off because they are too expensive. I did my masters of education degree with an American university. Teachers there will often not tell school boards about their advanced degree because they fear being laid off or not hired. They may not be hired because they have too much training or seniority, which is more expensive. Teachers in British Columbia feel advanced training and experience benefit students. The government on the other hand knows it costs more, when budgets need to be cut, often more expensive teachers are vulnerable.

Our province is rich, but we are not doing well. The disparity of wealth is creating a new pool of people defined as the working poor. In previous generations, if a person was working, they generally were not poor. Even with federal and provincial free-enterprise governments. Wages have stagnated, growth is pathetic, and government and personal debt continues to explode on every front... except one. There are more homeless people. More people are turning to gangs and violence to “get ahead.” More mental health issues are visible on our street, in our courts, and in our morgues.

So, is the answer to cut spending on education, when spending on education is one of the few things that relates to improved economic growth, and a more capable, understanding society? Or, is the answer to replace a free-enterprise government with a socialist government that will increase services but disregard the financial pain taxation is causing working people? I have a few opinions.

Canada is not growing and will not grow at a rate to allow governments to get out of debt. Any politician who tells you otherwise is a fool. Please don’t elect him or her. Since the 1970s growth has slowed in developed nations. Go visit Detroit and you will see how working class jobs are disappearing. The population is aging. There are fewer working people, and they are paying more income tax and fees to support themselves and also the retiring baby boomers. There is a reduction in the number of higher paying jobs, which are being replaced by low paying service work. At some point there is not enough money from income tax to build the society that the greatest generation dreamed of when they watched their friends die on the beaches of Normandy.

However, the country is rich. Our government debts are debts that are owed to wealthy Canadians. Instead of paying off governments debts, the wealthy are collecting interest from government bonds. This debt servicing adds to the tax for working people. While some people will grow wealthy through innovation and entrepreneurship, since 1970, more and more wealth is growing from investments and inheritance than from hard work or merit. There is a need to reduce income tax and user fees, and replace them with a wealth tax like some European countries have begun. That means no tax on people with below average wealth, a small tax on people with above average wealth, and a larger tax on people with extreme wealth. In order to have better economic growth working people need a break, government debts need to be paid off, wages need to rise, and students need to be well educated. This will not happen if the disparity of wealth continues to widen.

As far as the teacher’s current job action is concerned, I have no idea what will happen, but I am not hopeful that our struggles will be fruitful. However, maybe it will get people discussing solutions. Maybe when you are older and another generation’s time has come, the province will be a different place. It is too bad that my generation did not do more for yours. Perhaps wealth will be more equitable in the future; the working poor will cease to exist, so children won’t come to school hungry and from traumatic home experiences often related to stressful financial conditions. Right now we are not moving in that direction.

I wish you the best education you can get; hopefully, it is fantastic.

Sincerely,

David Brien (Teacher)

P.S. In the coming years, after you finish elementary school, I recommend you read Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty First Century. It may give you some insight about how to help improve things.

 

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