Understanding the Education Issues in BC Pt.1

This 3 part article is for those who value the provincial educational system our tax money provides, yet do not have the time or knowledge to research the issues stagnating the bargaining process between the teachers union and the association that employs them. Since as a whole we seem generally confused on the process and the factors leading to such a long dead lock between the parties involved, we are not only going to sort through this confusion, but we are also going to ask and answer “why” we are confused in the first place. If we can collectively make sense of this situation we might be able to find some sort of an alternate solution not previously proposed or at least not seriously considered.

Who This Writing is For

Do you live in Canada? If yes, then this topic pertains to you. The value of a good education to our nation’s (or even world wide) economy is second to none. This is something each citizen within the country must seek to understand, that even if you don’t plan on having children in the school system, it is important your tax dollars are put to efficient use in creating and sustaining an ever increasing standard of education. Our livelihood depends on our economy, and now more than ever a strong economy requires ingenious innovation to even have a chance at keeping up globally. If education in BC is lacking, we will ALL feel the negative result.

If You Don’t Side with the Teachers This is Why

The mid-1950s saw the end of discrimination in salary scales against female teachers-http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Columbia_Teachers%27_Federation

What kind of school system isn’t based on basic equal rights?! I know right? Let’s take a brief look at the history of teaching in BC

Teachers had few rights under the initial Public Schools Act of 1872. The act itself was in part prompted by the failure of the Victoria board of education to pay its teachers during the preceding two years. Admission to the profession was by way of an examination covering the curricular material. A mark of as low as thirty per cent would still qualify one to teach…

It seems quite significant to note even before the 1900’s teachers were still fighting for their rights to fair and equal wages (or to get paid at all). What’s probably most important is the lack of proper education one might receive when “a mark of as low as thirty per cent would still qualify one to teach”. It is important to understand in a world where capitalism rules (and it certainly does), what you pay for is what you get, and unfortunately government doesn’t have children in the education system-only people do.

Teachers played no part in the management of schools or in the formulation of educational policy.

Imagine a world in which those that are educated educators have no say in the direction of the education system. Who is more educated on the subject of how to educate our children than the educators? We cannot expect it to be someone who’s job it is to play the role of a politician. This lack of a favorable system created the opportunity for the birth of the BCTF:

The original objectives of the BCTF have remained unchanged in the constitution to this day. They were to foster and promote the cause of education in B.C., to raise the status of the teaching profession in B.C and to promote the welfare of the teachers of B.C.
The teachers union organization was created out of the necessity to restructure our education system in the direction the teachers felt was necessary, as well as to give teachers the necessary rights they deserved as both equal class citizens and facilitators of our society educational programs.

Improvements were needed for two basic reasons: the economic welfare of the members and the concern that poor salaries would not attract good teachers.

Teacher tenure had been a major concern of the BCTF since its early years. Prior to 1923 teachers could be dismissed by their Board at the end of any school term.

These points are not selfish nor deceptive. It is basic economics that if you don’t pay well for a particular service then you will not generally receive service of good quality. Underpaid occupations attract under-qualified workers.

Throughout its history the BCTF has worked to obtain for teachers an effective voice in curriculum decisions. A significant victory was won in 1961 when the Ministry of Education appointed two provincial advisory curriculum committees, one for elementary schools, the other for secondary schools

Again is it logical to expect anyone but the actual educated educators to decide the best curriculum for our children? Do we have the belief that parents, who were educated in a lacking educational system, are better able to decide the ideal curriculum for learning. If we put the decision in the hands of government, can we really trust the government won’t makes its decisions based on the most politically feasible options (that is to appease an uneducated public)?

So in 1961 the teachers won the ability to properly direct our societies’ educational curriculum, keep in mind this is the beginning of the system we all grew up in.

In 1983, as part of a major initiative to cut back public sector spending, including funding for public education, government introduced a series of 26 Bills which had the collective effect of attacking the basic rights of unionized workers, the human rights of large numbers of British Columbians, and allowing for the first time, the layoff of teachers and other public sector workers without cause. Teachers rallied with the rest of the labour movement to create “Operation Solidarity” to fight the legislation. We also became part of the Solidarity Coalition,working with community activists and human rights groups to “Stop the Bills”. The mobilization against the government legislation was overwhelming, culminating in over 50,000 people attending a mass rally at Empire Stadium in August of 1983 and a march through downtown Vancouver in October of 80,000 in opposition to the legislative package.

Speaking of trusting the government to make the “politically correct” decisions, in the 1980’s teachers were still also fighting for basic rights for all workers. Why is it the teachers are always engaged in freedoms and rights debates? Are we as the average working persons educated on our rights as citizens and human beings? The author thinks most of us do not have a the slightest clue of these subjects. In light of 100 years of protesting the government and sticking up for not only their own rights but the rights of our society to properly educate is citizens, can we really suggest the teachers have not tried to educate the peoples on these subjects? Can the same thing be said about the government, who ultimately has the obligation to facilitate the education of its population on basic freedoms and human rights?

The legislative package of 1987 that removed compulsory membership in the BCTF for teachers and established a College of Teachers, also gave full bargaining rights to teachers, including the right to strike.

What emerged was a system of co-ordinated local bargaining.

The net result of co-ordinated local bargaining through three rounds was the achievement of comprehensive collective agreements that not only replaced the rights contained in legislation, but also enhanced and expanded those rights considerably. We obtained class size limits in contract, preparation time, paid maternity leave, tenure rights other workload provisions and professional autonomy clauses. And our salary increases were significant as well through this period, allowing us to not only keep up with inflation, but also to recover some of the losses we had experienced as a result of the wage control program of the eighties

The teachers had won, not only owed monies to them but also the right to inflation based raises. Inflation is an interesting subject as it has been recently shown by notable economist/mathematician John Nash that inflation and the instability of a government issued currency is in fact problem created by the government. We ALL should be guaranteed remedy from this malpractice. The teachers fought for what would make an ideal teaching environment to optimize their ability to preform their responsibilities. This is important since if teaching is not a well payed and respected job in society, our whole country suffers.

Enter the BCPSEA:

But, the economic climate had changed and the public was not as receptive to our cause as it had been in earlier rounds. The government ordered teachers in Surrey and Vancouver back to work without negotiated settlements

The BCPSEA is explained to be the employers association that acts on behalf of the public in regards to giving school trustees a voice:

Both rounds failed to establish the ability of the parties (BCTF and BCPSEA) to negotiate with one another. In both cases, government intervention was the direct route to a deal.

A year later in 1994, government introduced the Public Sect or Labour Relations Act which created the BCTF as the bargaining agent for all teachers and created a provincial bargaining agency for trustees called the BC Public School Employers’ Association.othing but government intervention seemed to result.

In this we must begin to understand the creation of the BCPSEA is simply an adjustment in game theory, it has complete right to exist, yet it should come to no surprise that the two parties cannot then gain any ground against each other. We do not teach game theory in our educational system in the present day but when we do this paper written in the 1950’s by John Nash will be at the core of the teachings. The paper outlines not only the equilibrium solution for barter, but also the equilibrium for barter involving money as a facilitator of trade. When money is added to the situation the average value of optimal trade is increased for both sides. This is like saying if the BCPSEA wants 40 students in a class room they must pay teachers more.

However, money can only go so far in the facilitation of such negotiation, and so there is a sticking point on certain issues that cannot be ideally negotiated. The reader must understand, this is not by anyone’s “preference” or evil intentions, but simply the product of two sides acting in their own perceived best interests. Since the public has demands on our educational system provided, and the government has the power of control (to some extent the peoples allow it to based on their knowledge of law or lack thereof), and because different issues are weighted differently to the public eye, the politically correct thing to do becomes to force actions through legislation. Actions aimed against the BCTF will obviously go against the welfare of our general society in the form of degenerating teaching conditions. The government saves money, and gains political popularity, and the real people of society lose significantly. What’s worse, since we were all generally raised under this failing system, we are largely unawares of the true cause and effects of its demise.  Many of us are largely unaware of any serious issues at all.

In March of 2000, CUPE struck in 43 districts and in every one of those, teachers honoured picket lines. Over half of the public school system in BC was shut down and over 25,100 teachers received third party strike pay from the BCTF for their support. CUPE and the BCTF continue to forge strong links of solidarity.

Less then 15 years ago the teachers continue to fight for the rights of our society.

Plan members and the employer both agreed in 1974 to an additional contribution of up to one percent each to make a one-time adjustment to pensions in payment from 1972 to 1975 and to provide ongoing inflation protection. Commencing in 1975 all past and future pensions would be adjusted quarterly by the changes in the Canadian Consumer Price Index. In addition the final average salaries of plan members on long term disability and those with vested pensions would be increased to date of retirement by the same index.

This too, is a very significant period in the history of BC. Again it is John Nash and F A Hayek and the like that have been pointing out to the world through books and lectures, that governments around the world have been creating instability in our economies by “printing money” under the guise of controlling inflation. If the money you receive as pension is worth less in the future when you collect it than today when you pay into it, wouldn’t you feel the government should protect you against this, since they are ultimately in control over our currency’s value? This is another right the teachers have been fighting for that the average worker understands nothing about. These are the things that we need to teach in school, but this will not happen if we let government bodies, not teachers, decide the curriculum.

Since 1919, the BCTF has been articulate and effective in working for the rights of teachers and students and in promoting public education. Its motto could well be, in the words of the Reverend Edward Cridge in his report as Superintendent of Schools in 1861: ”A blessing [education] as precious as the light and the air should be rendered as common and as free as possible.’

This is an interesting conclusion, as most of us seemingly (or admittedly) don’t have a strong concept of freedom whether in a philosophical form or a legal one. It might then be seen as a necessity to have a strong funding system to attract those the DO have a strong concept of freedom, and are able to pass that knowledge and instill it in all of us.

This was a brief overview of the history of teaching in BC from the perspective of the BCTF In the next article the author will explore the current bargaining environment and the problems associated with the seemingly unsolvable negotiations and demands.  A third and final article will seek to provide a remedy the unsolvable process with an interesting paradigm shift in the light today’s changing economic environment.

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