Living in the age of incivility Part 3 – The Iron Cage that is the school system

The modern school system has, for all intents and purposes, come more and more to resemble and function much like what German sociologist Max Weber called the “Iron Cage” – a bureaucratic structure that traps individuals in a world driven by technological efficiency, rational calculation and control.

Paul W Bennett Globe and Mail, October 2, 2020

I worried most about this third article in my series Living in the age of incivility. I worried about this because I was going to take things personal, talk about a situation that occurred while I was a principal in the Ottawa Catholic School system five years ago.

In a tweet I never put out I wrote this:

In 2015, I was unjustly suspended by a school board I had worked for for 27 years. A disgruntled employee brought a whole host of false accusations against me. I have never written about this. In a time of such incivility, is it now time to expose the injustice of what happened?

Yes, it is time, but how do I make this a useful article? It would be very easy to become the victim in my own story or for the reader to think – maybe these accusations were not false, maybe he got what was coming for him.

If you keep the story as personal, if you hold on to the anger, the message gets lost, the story is blurred, people turn away.

Even a few years ago, I couldn’t write this story. I was too caught up in anger and shame. I have avoided any occasions that involve the OCSB for years now, including, to my shame, the retirement of a good friend, and my own board retirement party. But enough with that now.

What has given me the context for this third article is an opinion piece by Paul W. Bennett in today’s Globe and Mail. He is writing a summary of some of his ideas in his new book – The State of the System: A Reality Check on Canada’s Schools. I don’t have the book yet, but I will be reading this soon.

In his article, he starts out by writing how the pandemic has really exposed the inadequacies of our public school system, a system that has maintained the same structure for well over 100 years.

Beyond this crisis however, the pandemic has exposed a more fundamental problem. It has lost its connection with students, families and the wider community.

Our public schools, initially established as the vanguard of universal, accessible, free education, have lost their way and become largely unresponsive to the public they still claim to serve. Those voicing concerns about early reading, mathematics scores or school closings find the system resistant to change and regularly hit brick walls and glass ceilings, particularly when trying to access the points of decision-making.

What they are very good at is shutting down innovation and smothering dissent.

Now, I enter the personal, but I do it briefly, because I am not the story here.

In 2015, I was the principal of a small urban school in the Ottawa Catholic School Board. We had a great school with wonderful children, mostly new to Canada. Our school had served immigrant communities for decades and this meant going beyond the prescriptive norms to give them the opportunity to thrive in a brand new world.

At the time, we had one employee who worked closely with me who used their position to create tension and strife amongst the staff. I was unaware of this situation until the staff member began to poll staff about their attendance in a board-wide PD day. This is something you just don’t do in a school – the principal can do this, but I would never take a step like this – I trusted the people I worked with.

I did call the employee out on this behaviour, but I did not know at the time it was just one in a series of ‘aggressions’ the staff member had taken out on the rest of the staff.

While generally we could have moved on from this incident we didn’t. The employee went directly to the head of HR for the board, brought in their union representative and left the school when I asked why they were escalating the issue.

This was a time of high tension in the school board. The employee’s union was on work to rule and incidents like this were happening in other schools as well.

Still, nothing really to worry about here. In the ensuing weeks, without my knowledge, the employee with their union rep held a series of meetings with the superintendent of HR and others and in those meetings a long history of my supposed infractions were laid out out. It must have taken hours and hours to come up with this list.

It was fanciful, but it was damming. When the list was complete and the meetings were over, I was called in to hear the whole story. I brought our association rep, a fellow principal. As principals in Ontario, we don’t have a union which means we are exposed and unprotected. Most principals have no idea how precarious their position is.

A meeting that I thought would be a 15-minute conclusion to a strange affair turned into a two-hour grilling that only ended when I had had enough. I told them this was ridiculous and I left.

There is a nine-page summary of the meeting written by my representative. Even now I can’t read it and my hands actually shake as I pull it up again on the computer. I also produced a 22-page document in my defence. I really don’t know if anyone actually looked at it.

As a principal, you get accused of all sorts of stuff. This is part of the job, but you do expect your supervisors to support you and believe in you.

Mine did not. A few weeks after this meeting I was suspended pending an investigation.

I don’t know if an investigation ever took place. Three weeks later on the last day of school before Christmas, I was reinstated with a hastily written disciplinary letter added to my file.

There was no explanation about what their findings were or if they had actually conducted an investigation. To this day I don’t know the results, but apart from the letter, there were no consequences. The employee was relocated and later it turned out that this person had done similar things at another school, but in the earlier case the principal was told to keep quiet. There has never been an explanation or an apology.

This is my story of the Iron Cage. A school board totally out of touch with their staff more than likely doing its utmost to stay clear of a strong union in a time of labour strife. A school board that placed little value on a loyal employee.

There is no question in my mind that the system of centralized power and incompetent managers needs to be reworked. The pandemic has exposed all of this, but I experienced this gross misuse of authority and power over five years ago.

In his article, Paul Bennett calls for a humanizing of the education system. We need to turn away from big schools that dehumanize relationships between educators, children and parents. We also need a system that has some real oversight so that power can no longer be abused by those who want to sanction others who do not follow the script.

One board official once told me I deserved what I got because my views on education were unconventional. With attitudes like this how can we not want to rework our system? How can someone think it is OK to say things like that?

My situation remains unresolved because I never received an explanation and certainly not an apology. I am retired now – writing this while working at a school would certainly lead to grave consequences.

Now I want a better system. Not for me, but for all those who work in schools, for all children and families and their communities. These old institutions need to go and we need to start considering alternatives. As paul Bennett writes:

A new set of priorities is coming to the fore: put students first, democratize school governance, deprogram education ministries and school districts, and listen more to parents and teachers. Design and build smaller schools at the centre of urban neighbourhoods and rural communities. It’s not a matter of turning back the clock, but rather one of regaining control over our schools, rebuilding social capital, and revitalizing local communities.

This is what we really need to do. Humanize education, give power back to parents and communities, get rid of the bureaucracies that do everything in their power to protect what they have.

Education should be about people, it is not about power and institutions. When abuse of power happens so easily with no consequence for the abusers it is time to rework the system.

Living in the age of incivility – Justice, not Charity why WE doesn’t work for our schools

Everything we do these days needs to be seen through the lens of justice. In this second article on living in the age of incivility, I want to focus on the tools we use in our schools to deal with injustice.

One of the main tools for many years has been the WE Foundation. Fortunately, the days of WE dominance seem to be coming to an end. Unfortunately, this is not happening because people, educators finally saw through the mist of corporate charity but because they got caught in a national scandal.

I was always quietly appalled by the spell WE held over our schools. WE was always about making us feel good, making us look like we were doing something to roll back poverty in the Global South. To my mind, that was never the case. WE never questioned the imbalance that exists in the world and they certainly never exposed the incredible role we have played as settlers and exploiters here in Canada and in the Global South.

They were the good story. That is why boards like my own (Ottawa Catholic) were happy to sign up with WE and why they encouraged participation in their extravaganzas for students and even booked them for one of our annual staff conference days (Christian Community Day).

We never questioned their lack of analysis or their unwillingness to talk about the root causes of poverty and injustice in our world. As Catholics with a rooting in social justice, we should have known better, but how many Catholics have ever examined the social justice roots of our faith? In the vast majority of cases, it was more important to make sure our students felt good about themselves. Rarely did educators and administrators take the next step to challenge the roots of injustice, racism, poverty, and inequality that are endemic in our society.

Look at the quote by Pope Francis below – this is what we should be talking about in our schools – it is not about feeling good about yourself, it is all about becoming uncomfortable with your wealth and privilege and recognizing how we have been the designers of an unequal, unjust world.

… the mere fact that some people are born in places with fewer resources or less development does not justify the fact that they are living with less dignity. It must be reiterated that “the more fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods more generously at the service of others.” To speak properly of our own rights, we need to broaden our perspective and to hear the plea of other peoples and other regions than those of our own country. We need to grow in a solidarity which “would allow all peoples to become the artisans of their destiny,” since “every person is called to self-fulfillment.

– Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 190

We can go beyond this to look at WE as the Canadian exemplar of white saviouism. David Jefferess, a UBC scholar writes about this in his article, WE Charity and the white saviour complex.

White saviourism is not simply a personality trait that critics can attribute to the Kielburgers or voluntourists alone. In his explanation of the “white savior industrial complex,” Teju Cole does not distinguish between genuine humanitarians and self-seeking ones, but focuses on the construction and material causes of global poverty. Cole explains that the white saviour looks at places like Africa and sees only desperation, consequently failing to understand why the misery exists in the first place.

This is an important article and it would be a good one to read to get a sense of how we have been taken in by WE. We have been lazy and we have not wanted to think things through. We don’t really want to examine the roots of poverty, racism, inequality, and injustice. We certainly do want to become uncomfortable.

Corporations have adopted We to acquire a ‘brand halo‘, a way to attach any the company on to the coattails of WE at rallies that focus mainly on intermediate aged school kids. The WE rallies have been a great way to encourage brand loyalty, sell more soap. As Vice writes:

A page of WE’s website, advertising Marc Kielburger as a paid speaker, touts his insights into “purposeful and profitable business strategies.” The page, which has since been updated to remove that language, boasts that Marc can help teach strategies to “inspire brand fanatics to stay loyal to you, your company, and your cause (and) add a halo effect to your product.”

Vice: Justin Trudeau’s Billion-Dollar Scandal Is a Story of Power, Branding, and Charity July 2020

WE has nothing really to do with changing our mindsets. It is a cynical organization that believes the only way to talk about the Global South to students is by putting on a rock show. Bring out the celebrities and we will change the world. After the show, you can go home, feel good and forget about the global imbalance that grows every day. No need to question the status quo, you just got a t-shirt.

Next, incivility in the school system – don’t ever rock the boat.

Living in the age of incivility – the impact on racialized youth in Ottawa

Dempsey’s community programs have been closed to local youth at the whim of an uncaring city

In this series, I am writing about incivility, injustice, and in this case racism in our local community. This article has a lot to do with racism – a word we don’t like using in Canada. But when you enact a policy that negatively impacts young racialized people that is racism and it needs to be called out.

It is hard to write about stories where poor, racialized communities are forgotten in a time where their needs are not seen as important or even relevant.

The story. In the east end of the city, a community rink was converted into a homeless men’s shelter at the height of the pandemic. As parents and community members began to organize protest against the usurping of their place for hockey and pickleball, the City of Ottawa Housing Department looked for a new location.

They fixed on Dempsey Community Centre.

Dempsey Community Centre in the heart of social housing in the near-by Alta Vista neighbourhood was chosen as a replacement. You can read about this here in the only article written about all this in Ottawa. The article makes no comment, no editorial, no judgment on the move. The article misses the important fact that local families were not consulted even though they had signed their kids up for recreational programs with Christie Lake Kids, a city-wide foundation that runs recreational programming in low-income neighbourhoods.

In better days, Dempsey was a place for Russel Heights youth to play and take part in important community partnerships. Here is an example from two years ago where the Ottawa Police played basketball with Russel Heights youth at Dempsey.

I hope you watch this video and read this article from the Ottawa Citizen – ‘Ball is life:’ How Ottawa police are building relationships through basketball.

The beauty of Dempsey is that kids could walk over from their homes and participate in a wide variety of programming through Christie Lake Kids – all that programming is now gone.

Understandably, Christie Lake Kids has been silent about the loss of one of their key centers for community programming. What can they possibly do? For them at this point to advocate for their youth would risk losing more programming from the City of Ottawa.

This is one of the essential problems with programs based on charity. It is always a handout. We do this because we are in power and we can – but don’t ever challenge us. Don’t ever question our decisions.

The City Councillor Jean Cloutier has defended the move saying all the right people were consulted, no one objected. His level of advocacy for marginalized youth in his own community is a disgrace. When contacted he assured us that he had followed all the requisite steps. His conscience is clear.

These are racialized youth, these are underrepresented families. These are people with no power. This is a racist act made by people who have nothing to fear – no one speaks up for these people. They know they don’t have to worry about decisions that affect people in this neighbourhood.

A few weeks ago there was a huge furor on the local  Ottawa CBC when a backyard youth Shakespeare group was shut down by local by-law officers for making too much noise. We heard about this story every second day. A quick Google search turned up 18 separate articles about this! Through the advocacy of people with power, the troupe was moved to one of the premier theatres in Ottawa to complete their performances.

Good for them but there were some big differences between the troupe and Russell Heights. They came from a well-off mainly white neighbourhood. They got the support of local (CBC) media because it was a ‘good’ story. They had an effective voice. They had real power.

The kids and families have none of these advantages. CBC showed very little interest in the story – who cares about poor neighbourhoods in Ottawa. The press coverage was minimal – again who cares?

Situations like this make me angry. The injustice and overt racism in this story are incredible. This is tragic.

Yes, this is an example of the growing incivility of our times. Should the men’s shelter exist – of course. Did it need to displace fully enrolled children’s programs at Dempsey – of course not.

This is a case of inattention by City staff and a City Councillor who really didn’t care. Why should they? They knew no one in Russel Heights would protest. These people are used to stuff like this, why would they object?

No one sees them.

If people don’t start caring in the times of COVID when will they start caring? Why can’t we be understanding and compassionate for all communities, not just the rich, white ones? Why does no one seem to care?

 

 

How to live in the age of incivility

Like many, I watched the first American debate last night. It was deeply disturbing and it is still resonating today. This is the quote that comes to me this morning.

But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight / Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.
— Bruce Cockburn

For me, it is not an option not to write right now, but I don’t want to focus on the trainwreck that is Donald Trump. I want to write about incivility – much of what is concerning me has gone on for a long time – Trump is just a symptom of a larger problem.

I want to write about this.

I take a risk by doing this. I do not live on some remote island. I work for a local university and I have lots of social contacts. It pains me that I need to be so careful in what I write so as not to ruffle the feathers of people in power. People in power do not think or worry about abusing that power or affecting people who do not share their power or influence.

In the first two cases, I will anchor my post to an article – one on the Dempsey Community Centre here in Ottawa, the second, a great article by David Jefferess a university professor at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

In the third instance, there is no article. My story is hidden mainly because when a person is the victim of incivility and a power imbalance they do not want to talk about these things. The overwhelming emotion that comes from being at the sharp end of a power imbalance is shame. To talk about these situations, even in my case four years after the incident is very hard to do. However, in an age of incivility, you really do need to kick at the darkness.

It is OK to do this. I hope it will do some good somewhere.

Next week, I will start with the loss of the Dempsey Community Centre here in Ottawa.

 

Naming and Shaming

It is tiresome to write about people who misrepresent the truth.

It is tiresome, but it is worse if we don’t write anything. It is so easy to become desensitized to misrepresentation and outright lying by our public officials. We see it all the time now and we are used to it.

Right now I am a bit housebound. I have an inner ear condition that produces dizziness and instability. The one thing I can do is watch the on-going impeachment saga in the United States. That and read Twitter.

This is really something terrible to watch. House Republican leaders are actually saying what Donald Trump does in his attempts to bribe the leader of Ukraine is OK because, well, he didn’t go through with it. He got caught, so no bribe happened.

I find this incredible. These are publically elected officials who are blatantly ignoring the facts to push their own party line. While this might work in a grade 9 classroom debate, we should be better than that when it comes to public office.

This type of misrepresentation of the facts has seeped into Ontario politics. Steven Lecce, the Minister of Education in the Province of Ontario, duly elected by his constituents is doing exactly the same thing. He is appealing for public support because he knows a significant portion of the public will believe him or will at least not allow facts get in the way of a good story.

Last week he put out the tweet above ‘naming and shaming’ the OSSTF for standing up to his misinformation campaign.

It is his government that wants to stack Ontario classes with more students at the high school level. It is his government who wants to save education dollars by requiring Ontario students to take on-line courses following the shining example of that leader in education – Alabama.

Interesting, the original plan was for four online courses. Steven Lecce is showing his flexibility by reducing the number to two – twice as many as Alabama and other states. Beyond this, he only wants to increase class size now to 25:1.

Let’s be very clear about what is going on here. Both initiatives have absolutely nothing to do with improving the quality of education in the province. They have everything to do with siphoning money out of the system. That is the fact and it is something Stephen Lecce will never talk about.

This morning there was a good conversation on Twitter about raising the level of discourse on education issues here in Ontario. It’s a good point.

But, I have to say, how are we to discuss matters of education reform when our system is dominated by politicians who struggle with the truth? Yes, public bargaining is not a refined tool for developing education policy, but when we are dealing with people who are insincere and dishonest, we have to realize that a strong, coherent defence is essential. When someone is trying to shame you you need to stand up to the bully.

I remember being at an education conference soon after the Harris Government was replaced by the Liberals. It was a great conference, new ideas and positive, innovative initiatives were being discussed. I asked a consultant what it was like to have these discussions during the conservative years. She replied that everyone just kept their heads down.

What a way to bring about change!

When your minister knowingly doesn’t tell the truth. When he tries to use old-style bully techniques, when he apes the tactics of Republicans south of the border we have to realize that we are playing by a different set of rules.

Facts matter, education matters. If we don’t want to keep our heads down we must call out those who want to hurt our system. We shouldn’t have to do this, but here we are. There is no shame in this.

When your plan is no longer the plan

What are the dragons we need to address every day in our classes?

Sometimes the irritating thing about learning is that learning is tough and somewhat uncomfortable.

I am continuing my learning journey by teaching an Intermediate History course to second-year students at the Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa. It is a new experience for me. Although I have done lots of PD with adults, it is different when you are teaching a class at a faculty of education. It is a new challenge.

Life needs to be all about challenges. That is how we learn and grow. Just because I am now retired doesn’t mean I can’t grow! Not for a minute do I believe that!

On Friday I was looking forward to my third class with my second-year students. I had spent hours (many hours) of developing a lesson on Historical Significance, one of the six concepts of Historical Thinking. I am really excited about these concepts, it gives a framework for the study of history that didn’t exist when I taught the subject.

Historical Thinking concepts

After some presentations and a group work session, I was ready to launch into my slides, full of activities and material that I hoped would convey why this concept was important to the study and teaching of history.

This is where the plan moved in a direction I hadn’t expected.

One of the students in the class had a legitimate concern about something that had gone on in the previous class. It related to a much wider concern about how we are approaching the teaching of indigenous issues, the inherent racism that exists in Canada when it comes to First Nations peoples and how these issues are being addressed.

The student approached me during the break and asked if he could address the class. He did and what transpired was an incredibly powerful and at times challenging conversation that involved the entire class. It was pretty amazing and students brought up stuff that had been percolating for over a year. I have to say, I felt privileged and certainly humbled to be in on the conversation.

I hope they found it useful. You never really know. It is not like anyone is going to come up and say – ‘thanks for that really difficult conversation’. No one plans for these conversations. If one tries to, the conversation will be disingenuous and forced.

I am not a historian nor an academic.  The one thing I think I can contribute to a class like this is 31 years of teaching. Sometimes when something is bubbling just under the surface, a teacher has to know it is time to throw the lesson out the window and just let the learning happen.

That is what I tried to do on Friday. Everything I have learned about teaching and working with students led me to the conclusion that there was a more important lesson out there that had to be experienced by all of us. I know I learned lots, not just about the topic of the discussion, but, more importantly, I learned so much about the students I am working with.

I encouraged the class to write about their experiences in the class on Friday. I don’t know if any of them will – they are really busy people! But no matter, I had to and I hope my writing clarifies things for me at least.

Maybe next week I will get to my lesson on historical significance, but I think we have already gone much further down a different road.

In ancient times unknown areas on maps were labelled ‘Here be Dragons’

Speak out on Social Justice or Become Part of the Problem

Every day now in Ontario there is another cynical announcement about another cut to our social infrastructure. While this is happening, we are now learning that over 1 million species are facing extinction in the next few years unless we make significant changes to the way we live on this earth. There is little good news out there right now and we have to start paying more attention.

Every day I read the Twitter feed. I see the posts and reposts by Andrew Campbell and others and I am thankful for his courageous work. At the same time, I see prominent educators who continue to write as if nothing is changing.

To be honest, I don’t know what bothers me more.

People like Doug Ford are destructive. These people come and go. But what really matters is how all of us respond to the destructive people who have no idea on how to build and sustain a social infrastructure.

Another way to look at this could be how we see social justice. Is social justice important? Should we stand up for a just society or should we continue to write the same inane stuff?

Some people will not utter a peep because they feel that it might ruffle feathers. Could there possibly be a better time to speak out? If not now, when?

Justice is a really important concept. It is what built our democratic society. It is what protects the weak and the dispossessed. Those who have a voice have a responsibility to speak for those who suffer from the acts of the powerful.

Strong democracies are built upon strong voices. when these voices become timid democracy fails.

Now those who suffer will include any student in our public school system in Ontario. I am not exaggerating here. When the rich and the powerful make arbitrary decisions that lead to the suffering of others this is an injustice. If you don’t make any statement, do anything to counter this injustice you are complicit.

You probably won’t change what is going on right now in this province, but your voice matters because people read what you write.

Maybe you haven’t seen real injustice, but it exists. It is real and it is pervasive and if you don’t stand up to it you eventually will be consumed by it.

Take a look around. Don’t let educators who are making their voices heard stand alone. Injustice has been stopped before, greed, avarice, and ignorance do not have to win out.

My fear for Ontario is that we will all settle into the new normal. We will stay in our comfortable corners and hope things just get a little more normal. Too many of you are not saying enough and you need to reconsider your position.

How many times do we need to see injustice happen and do nothing? It is certainly worse in other places close to us – Latin America and increasingly the United States. We in Ontario have had it really good for a long time, but this time is coming to an end.

Yes, this is offensive to some and I am sorry for this. But I read the notices every day that more teachers are being laid off and I see many educators and academics write as if everything is OK.

Everything is not OK and sometimes social justice trumps whatever else you are writing about. Otherwise, unfortunately, you become part of the problem.

This morning while reading through Twitter I found this new article by Michael FullanWhy Pedagogy and Politics Must Partner. If you think this is all just me talking, read Fullan’s article.

Here is a quote from the article that I think is really important – pedagogy and politics are linked and really need to be now more than ever before:

One item of particular significance is the relentless increase of inequity. We have found that deep learning is good for all students but is particularly good for students who are disaffected. In this domain, the pedagogical and political pathways can combine as a particularly powerful combination. Deep learning students are needed as part of determining societal solutions. The combination of deep learning (the pedagogical pathway) and political action (the political pathway) may turn out to be the strongest force we have ever seen in the cause of social justice and high-quality education essential for the rest of the 21st century.

What is the most important thing to me as an educator?

This question was put out on Twitter today:

It’s a good question and I wonder how this will be answered today. This is what I said.

The most important thing to me right now is protecting public education from governments who truly do not see the value in strong, independent school systems. When a system is under attack and young teachers are losing their jobs, little else matters.

I have the advantage of being retired and because of that, I don’t have to worry about what my employers think about what I write. At one point I did and I suspect this is what stops many people who play prominent roles in education social media from speaking out.

Many educators think they shouldn’t speak out and that is sad. I really think this is a time when people should work in solidarity with other educators, mainly young ones with no seniority to oppose what the right-wing government here in Ontario is doing.

The current approach to governing in Ontario is basically slash and burn. Cut away public health, education, trees, music programs, public transit, legal aid, libraries – the list grows every day. There is growing resistance to this approach to governance and more people are beginning to push back as illustrated in this Toronto Star opinion piece – Ford ill-prepared to be the great disruptor:

When you go out of your way to offend people, you invite a bitter counteroffensive. Which is what’s happening with federal cabinet ministers, municipal councillors, medical experts, educators, parents and students.

Some people don’t seem to realize how good we have it in Ontario and how bad things could get. I have talked with teachers in El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico about their systems and it is incredible how fragile public education is in these countries. Even in the United States, it is really frightening to listen to the pressures educators are under. I talked to one teacher last year from New York City who told me they really had to dress warmly in the winter as their boilers were no longer functioning. To get replacements the school has to raise a public bond, something the local ratepayers were not willing to do.

People here don’t seem to understand sometimes how things could change in this province. It is like we live in a protected bubble here in Ontario and many still think we can go on as before and other people will fight our battles for us.

Fortunately, others are. If the Toronto Star piece is to be believed, there is continuing protest against cuts to public spending. The opposition has to be constant and it has to be universal. As I wrote in an earlier piece – you can’t just wait until they come for you, you have to stand up for the ones losing their jobs right now.

We are actually dealing with a true bully right now. I am not saying this to be clever or to score political points. Doug Ford has learned – probably from the politics of the current American government – that bullying works. People will not stand up on a prolonged basis to a bully. Somehow, that is someone else’s job.

That is not what we teach in schools. The bystander plays a key role in removing the audience from the bully. The bystander can suck the oxygen out of the room.

I mentioned the names of some educators in my last piece – What Do You Say When Our Social Institutions Are Under Attack? who are doing a really important job of leading the opposition to the PC government. More are joining them and even more should. This is not a momentary crisis. It will not end with the summer. It will never be business as usual as long as students are being crowded into classrooms and young teachers lose their jobs and their futures.

Maybe what I am saying will make some people uncomfortable or even angry. I really don’t mind that. But if you want to get angry at someone, why not direct your ire at the people who are willfully taking apart the public education system we have all benefited from?

Now that is a pretty important thing to do as an educator!

What Do You Say When Our Social Institutions Are Under Attack?

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Pastor Martin Niemoller

There is little question that social institutions here in Ontario are under attack. As an educator, I am most aware of what is happening to schools in this province and especially, I am very concerned about the newer teachers, those without seniority whose jobs are disappearing. Every day brings another announcement of new surplus to board notices.

Like Doug Peterson, I really don’t like that term. Surplus sounds pretty non-commital. I think we should use lay-off as they do in other sectors. These mainly young people are losing their jobs – that is what is happening.

I am encouraged by Andrew Campbell. He is quietly doing a wonderful job through social media of cataloguing the lay-off notices and now the stories of teachers who are being laid off. I am encouraged by Doug Peterson, who is featuring some of the posts written supporting teachers and students each week. I am also encouraged by the teachers who are speaking out about being laid off. These are brave people who are putting a human face to a great injustice.

One of these teachers is Melissa Basta. I don’t know her, but I am really struck by the message she put out this week and encouraged that so many people have retweeted her post.

Andrew is collecting these stories and you can find them here.

This is where I am struggling. Over the past week, several educators have written me in private and one pretty publicly to tell me (or in one case lecture me) on why they can’t get political on this issue.

I am not judging them, but it does make me sad. Maybe it is because I spent so many years as an administrator trying my best to encourage and work with young educators, but I just can’t understand why many will not take a stand when the quality of education here in Ontario is under such a threat.

Not standing up against what is wrong is a slippery slope. This is why I have included the Martin Niemoller poem in this post. Niemoller was a pastor in Germany in the 1930s and he spent seven years in concentration camps for his opposition to Adolf Hitler.

He actually started out as an early supporter of the Nazis but gradually learned to see how absolutely evil their regime was. His poem shows his gradual evolution as an activist. It is a stark reminder that we all need to play a role to speak out against injustice.

Will speaking out make a difference this time? I am not sure. Andrew Campbell wrote that he questions if it will. It is much easier to display opposition these days through social media so the overall effect might not matter.

I hope this is not the case. I hope those who feel it is not their role change their minds. I hope people like Andrew Campbell, Doug Peterson, Peter Skillen, Julie Bolton,  Will Gourley and many others will continue to write and collect the stories that should be heard.

This is a gentle challenge for more educators to speak out. I am not doing this to put you on the spot and what you decide to do is obviously up to you. However, allowing any government to act with impunity especially when it comes to the institutions that gird our social fabric is dangerous.

Please don’t wait until there is no one left.

Dividing and Conquering Educators in Ontario

This is an emotional time here in Ontario. The education system is certainly under attack by the Ford Government and I would say nerves are getting a bit frayed.

Not only are class sizes going up but more and more teachers are being put on notice that they have no position for next year. Andrew Campbell is doing an excellent job of cataloguing the surplus notices as they come out almost daily in Ontario. His list is now 11 pages long and it makes for depressing reading.

The notion that these redundancies will be covered by teachers retiring makes no sense to me. The way things work is that teachers with the least amount of seniority are declared surplus to school or the system first, then, much later in the year, some will be taken back as other teachers retire.

The document talks about “attrition protection” – a fund that will allocate money to boards so that younger teachers will be hired back if their position is cut. This seems to be a very complicated way around the current issue. In other words (I think) if the number of retirements is low, the Ministry of Education will allocate money to school boards to hire back its younger teachers.  This, to me, means that the Ministry will in effect be keeping the class sizes lower.

I don’t get it.

The shuffling and readjusting continues. One new measure brought up during the budget announcement has to do with the repeal of Regulation 274. This is not a budget issue, but it is one that could distract educators as they work to oppose the current actions of the Ministry.

Regulation 274 was brought in in 2012 by the Liberal Government as a way to make sure only the most qualified teachers be considered for new jobs. Principals were obliged to interview a prepared list of five candidates and these five were the ones with the most seniority on the long-term occasional (LTO) listing.

Unions liked this measure as they said it took out any favouritism in the hiring process. Education administrators didn’t like it because they were no longer able to choose the best candidate for the job – they were told who they could consider and it was a very narrow list.

Making an announcement now that the Ministry will be getting rid of the regulation has the potential to divide educators at a crucial moment. I have already seen this happening in some of the Facebook conversations I have been a part of. In one conversation I wrote that the end of Regulation 274 would allow for a more merit-based hiring system than what we have had since 2012. While my comments received some support from administrators I know I also received this comment from a teacher I used to work with. Referring to the time before the regulation he wrote:

We had a nepotistic system which was completely controlled by principals, many who were incompetent leaders. This was an improvement because teachers had to prove themselves with successful LTOs before they could move ahead.

He continues later in the conversation:

So the principals can now go back to hiring those that they can bully or someone’s relative. THAT will be great for education.

It only took a few hours for this to flare up. We have to remember that there are some profound differences in opinion amongst educators in Ontario. There has to be, just like in any other profession. What is important to remember now is that it is very easy to exploit these differences.

The hiring process should be discussed and debated and it certainly needs to be equitable, but this is not the time for this debate. The current government is working hard to syphon off millions of dollars on the backs of students and teachers. That is the issue, we can’t start fighting amongst ourselves.

If we become divided we become weaker. We become easier to isolate and easier to manage. It is very good to remember that it was Doug Ford’s predecessor, Mike Harris who took administrators out of the teacher federations and helped set up the ‘us and them’ dynamic reflected in the comments above.

A house divided will surely fall. Our profession is under a great deal of stress right now, let’s not make ourselves a pushover for those who currently hold the reigns of power.