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.

The Education Corporation

For me, one of the most interesting books has been The Corporation. I read it years ago and it still sticks with me. The Youtube version of chapter one gives a good summary of some of the main ideas behind the book. A synopsis of the book includes the following:

One hundred and fifty years ago, the corporation was a relatively insignificant entity. Today, it is a vivid, dramatic and pervasive presence in all our lives. Like the Church, the Monarchy and the Communist Party in other times and places, the corporation is today’s dominant institution.

The Corporation website

This is a really interesting study and I have thought for a long time that its analysis needs to go beyond businesses and should be extended to the traditional school system.

It is interesting when you take a look at their website that they are working hard to get their film into 1000 schools. I think it should be shown in schools, it is a great social commentary on how our society is currently structured.

Will any educator make the connection that apart from the pursuit of profit, there is little that separates the modern corporation from the traditional school board?

Probably not. We like to judge corporations as somehow a bit impure because they are motivated by profit and the wishes of their stockholders. I would argue that traditional school boards are motivated very much the same way as the corporation. It is simpler to call school boards what they are – education corporations.

The main motivator for the corporation is always to act in its own interests, to ensure its own survival. All actions are then justified because the corporation answers only to its shareholders.

The education corporation is in some ways worse – it likes to believe that it serves a higher purpose. This is especially true for Catholic school boards in Ontario where I live. Somehow saying that you are a Catholic school board gives license to all sorts of hypocritical actions.

Can we say we apply these great principles to the people who work in our schools?

Education corporations can be just as cruel and unfeeling as any modern-day corporation. It is very easy to find examples where people in powerful positions have treated others with less power in truly shameful ways. Generally speaking, the people who are being cruel justify their actions in the only way that makes sense to them – what they do they do in the best interests of the school board. They may give other justifications, but it comes down to their need to demand compliance and stay in power.

Unlike the business corporation, however, the education corporation does not answer to anyone. It could be said that there are public trustees who can call them to account, but at least in Ontario, trustees are underpaid officials who are totally captured by the senior staff that they depend on for information. They do not have the time or the resources to act as a counterbalance to superintendents and directors who really hold the power in the education corporation.

This allows for all sorts of abuse to happen. At the school level, poor administrators are simply moved to a new and sometimes bigger school when their actions become intolerable to a local community of teachers and parents. At the school board level, when senior administrators act poorly, there is no consequence, they are free to act with impunity.

There is the beginning of a climate change in our society. Only a few months ago it was acceptable for men (mainly) to use their power to oppress and abuse the women who worked for them. This bevaviour is no longer acceptable and this is a very good thing.

Will we ever get to a point in our society when those who abuse their power in other ways will be called to account? I hope so. Abuse of power in any form for any reason should always be seen as unacceptable.

Response to George Couros: 4 Ways To Not Let Others Dim Your Light

One of the great things about walking all day is that you have lots of time to think. This latest post has been on my mind and I think after walking such a great distance, it is a good idea to put this out there.

Again, George Couros is an inspiration, but this is something that was on my mind throughout our West Highland Way trek. I would encourage you to read his entire post. He makes a great deal of sense and I just wish more people in senior administration would do more than just retweet his work and ponder what he is saying.

I hope that what George writes and what I am writing here will help people who are going through similar experiences. If this is you, read carefully what George writes and don’t let anyone ever dim your light!

The reality of our world is that people get threatened when other people shine their light on the world.  This bothers me even more so when it is educators doing it to educators, as our jobs are to empower those we serve, not try to bring them down.  If you are doing this to a colleague or peer, would you do it to a student? Would you do it to my daughter if she was in your classroom?  In education, this is unacceptable.

Here is my response to the post.

Thanks George, a very good post and excellent advice. There does come a time however when you need to consider leaving the system when those in positions of higher authority have made the decision to block you any way they can. I guess this come under #3 ‘move on and ignore’.

You are right to point out that it is strange that educators can treat other educators poorly, but my experience tells me that with a few notable exceptions, educators forget who they are (or were) the higher up the corporate eduladder they climb.

They can be very cruel and unforgiving to the point where on my case, they suspended me for three weeks without cause. While I was later vindicated and invited back into the professional fold, they never apologized which to me is inexcusable.

A year after my suspension, I retired from my board and I am much more at peace. I still have a great community of positive fellow educators that I work and correspond with, but I no longer have to suffer the negative soul destroying authoritarians who made my life so difficult.

Coming on to two years now after the suspension, it still rankles and this is something that could still be solved with a simple ‘sorry’.

How can we expect to make real progress in our education systems when the people at the top expect blind compliance. To forge a different path means that you could be punished with impunity.

That was the end of my comment today.

I don’t expect ever to hear from my former employers. It would be good if they took responsibility for their actions. It was shameful, but I have certainly moved on.

I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, I have had the privilege of assisting my partner through major surgery and I have trekked more than 100 km through the Western Highlands with my daughter.

I have left the past behind and I love the exciting challenges that the future presents.

Thanks George and the West Highland Way for getting this post written – finally! Now on to more great positive adventures in the future.