As I was flipping through The Globe and Mail about a month ago, I came across a rather interesting piece of commentary written by a fellow named Kevin G. Lynch. Lynch is the current Vice-Chairman of the BMO financial group, and his commentary, like so many these days was full of cries and complaints about how the education system in our country, quite simply, needs to change.
Lynch wrote about how the education curriculum today in this country is not helping our students to become “endlessly adaptable and strongly entrepreneurial”, (which he feels is necessary), how we need a system “that is excellence-based, differentiated and inclusive”, (which he feels ours is not), and how we desperately need to improve our “Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, where, especially in math, the benchmark is now Asia”.
As I was reading his commentary, a thought crossed my mind.
What the heck does Kevin G. Lynch know about curriculum, differentiated education or PISA tests?
Lynch seems to have been afflicted by what is evidently a growing urge amongst Canada’s business elite to comment on the education system, both at the Provincial and National level. John Manley, current CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), felt the urge a few months ago to write a piece for the Globe and Mail on how I, as a teacher, ought to be paid. The CCCE has also chosen to recently offer up, under Manley’s leadership, thoughts on the need to develop a National Education strategy because of what they see as substandard results in the PISA. Closer to home, Nova Scotia millionaire and former CEO of Maritime Life, Bill Black, has commented on everything from how teachers ‘ professional qualifications should be judged to how their pensions should be handled. Although we have not yet seen a Bill Gates level of interference in education in this country, we certainly have our share of “policy pressure” being applied to our education system by our wealthy elite.
Now, these men have several things in common, besides socioeconomic status. For instance, none has listed, at least nowhere that I could find, “public school teacher” among their many accolades. As well, none appear to have actually been in a classroom as even a student in at least 30 years. Lynch got his PHD from McMaster in 1980, Manley wrapped up his education in 1976, and Black appears to have finished his education at Dalhousie somewhere around 1969. Finally, and oddly enough, they all seem to believe, despite these obvious failings, that their impressive lineage in politics and business somehow gives them an insight into how to improve education that has been lost on the rest of us.
And there seems to be no shortage of publications willing to give them a platform from which to speak.
I will give these men their due. Maritime Life was absorbed into Manulife Financial in 2004, a company whose corporate profits were reported as $818 million in the first quarter of 2014. BMO financial group reported a net income of $1.1 billion in the same time period and paid 5 of its top executives somewhere north of $87 million between 2010 and 2012. Finally, the members of the CCCE control an estimated $4.5 trillion in assets. These men are certainly rich. I do wonder, however, how anyone with that kind of money can understand public anything, let alone the deeper purposes of public education. What insights can they possibly offer to The Great Education Debate?
And it is a debate that seems to be raging in this country, and indeed, around the world like never before. In fact, 2014 is being referred to in some circles as “The summer of our discontent” for teachers, and has seen rallying cries, protests and job action on a fairly massive scale.
On July 10th of this year, thousands of school teachers in England walked off the job to protest performance based pay, changes to their pension plan and workload issues. Around the same time, the American Teacher’s Federation came out strongly against the American version of standardization, the Common Core curriculum. The Federation, which has supported the ideals of Common Core for years, has found that the process has become “corrupted” by the seemingly endless interference of politicians and what they see as “corporate profiteering”.
In Canada, the British Columbia Teacher’s Federation is locked in a bitter dispute with their Provincial government over funding for schools, particularly in the area of class size and composition. The core of that dispute resides in a piece of legislation from 2002, Bill 28, which removed teacher’s collective bargaining rights on those very issues. The Bill was struck down in 2011 as unconstitutional, but the government continued to push the issue, so much so that they were fined $2 million this year for not bargaining in good faith. The Globe and Mail reported that in her ruling, Justice Susan Griffin wrote “Their (The government’s) strategy was to put such pressure on the union that it would provoke a strike… The government representative thought this would give government the opportunity to gain political support for imposing legislation…”
The commonality in these issues should not be lost on policy makers. The past ten years or so of corporate and political meddling into educational issues has created a great deal of unrest amongst front line educators, regardless of where that meddling has occurred. From England, to America, to right here at home, teachers world-wide are balking at many of the very “fixes” suggested by the likes of Lynch, Manley and Black. Attempts at aligning educational models with business models, including such strategies as the corporatization of curriculum, using standardized testing to ensure “excellence based” education, and ignoring the old tenet that the “teacher’s working conditions are the child’s learning conditions” are failing, not just at a regional or even national level, but on a global scale.
And they are failing not just because they do not work, they are failing because, when it comes to deciding upon educational change, the voice of the teacher is often missing from the room. In Britain, teachers have been raising concerns about that country’s method of evaluating schools since at least 2012. In the US, The Common Core has been widely criticized for having been created without a great deal of input from teachers since at least 2010. And here in Canada, the BCTF has been trying to get politicians to understand the issues of class size and composition since at least 2001. In each case, these voices have been, for the most part, ignored.
In education, change is constant. That is one of the only truisms of the profession. But that change can only be successful if it is instituted by educators for the purpose of helping the kids. Educational change that is enacted for any other purpose is doomed to fail, and each of these failures has a cost, both in the negative impacts they have on schools, and in very real, and increasingly scarce, dollars.
If we continue to heed the voices of bankers, businessmen and politicians over the voice of the front line classroom teacher, then educational policy is destined to never learn from its own history.
Back in May, blogger suburanprincessteacher , posted a piece on how she was feeling about this notion of businessmen telling teachers how to do their jobs. Her target was self-made Nova Scotian multi-millionaire, John Risley, who made his fortune selling seafood. She ended her piece with a wonderful summary that I believe gets at the true heart of this issue.
“… if I want advice on how to catch a lobster … or build a multi-billion dollar empire, I’ll call you. But if I want advice on how to teach? I think I’ll put my money on teachers.”
And that, folks, is advice you can take to the bank.
Author’s note: Frostededucation is looking to expand, and wants to hear from you. Are you a classroom teacher who is looking for a way to have your voice heard? Are you exhausted by the negative portrayal of teachers in the mainstream media? Are you tired of everyone else telling our story? If so, I may have just the thing. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more information.