Spin, baby, Spin

I certainly seem to be spending more time writing about politcs and the job action in BC than I expected when I began this blog in January. I guess that goes to relevance – it happens to be what is on my mind.

Today, I am thinking a lot about democracy, and the impact of poltical games and spin.

First, the Government is spending plenty of money advertising to the public about the BC Ed Plan, and the current job action. I’ve already discussed my perceptions about that, but all other issues aside, advertisements are spin. They don’t facilitate a conversation, they don’t advance an understanding, they work on creating a perception in the public. Ads work, even as we realize we are being manipulated.

That message is, teachers don’t use professional development days properly, teachers only care about money, they don’t put students first, teachers suck. However, we care about students and education. We, as the government, are there for you. Thanks goodness! 

As you can imagine, the ads are also damaging to teacher morale. In trying to advance a political cause, they are bashing all teachers, and it’s personal. Are they motivating their staff to work harder and harder? Are they making us feel excited to be on their team? Are they our educational leaders?

Ads are very expensive. How much has been spent, and what could we have done differently with that money? How many computers, ipads, projectors and cameras could have been bought? How many change-making conferences could have been held, where they could have been leverageing the  the best work of their most accomplished educators, as well as educators around the world? How many resourses could have been put into schools for art, music, shop, life skills?  How many counsellors and youth workers could we have employed?

Here’s another bit of spin. The Government keeps talking about “net zero” salary increase. The idea of net zero comes up primarily, as far as my cursory research shows, when discussing energy-efficient homes, or energy emissions. For example, a net zero home would produce as much renewable energy on-site as it uses. In other words, there is a balance.

In my mind, net-zero in terms of my salary should mean that what I make keeps pace with inflation. Otherwise, it is a net loss. Let’s be real about that. The recent stats from the Consumer Price Index show that prices have risen quite dramatically, although overall less in BC than in other provinces:

This blog post isn’t really about the economics of the issue, but about how the Govvernment keeps speaking as if net zero does not mean a loss to a family’s income. It’s like they are saying, “Sheesh. What’s your problem?”. I wonder why they find it so hard to tell the truth (as they see it). I wonder why they can’t say, “Yes, in these tough times we are asking you to take a hit, for the team!” (On that note, here is a Policy Note blog on how there is no need for teachers to take hit for the team.)

One more bit of spin. The Government keeps talking about how they are putting more and more into public education. The Government asserts that they have increased funding by 32% in the last ten years. Even the Fraser Institute, as reported in the Globe and Mail, points out that that funding, when inflation is factored in, is actually only a 10.8% increase. I have to admit that I find the numbers all very confusing. If our salaries (teachers, admin, support staff) have increased more than 10% over that ten years, District funding for all other costs have fallen back. Regardless, at the very least, funding has not increased by 32%. (See note below.)

And it is going to get worse (from the same article):

If inflation stays fairly low, at 1.8%, for the next three years this is a cut, a cut, and a cut. Boards can expect an increase in expenses of at least  5.4%, and an increase of funding of only 1.8%. That is a net loss.

And yet, the BC Government is putting students first. Just because you say something over and over and over doesn’t make it true. Maybe the truth isn’t what they are shooting for, and that’s okay with them.

Ultimately, education, how it is funded, what impacts an individual school’s ability to function within a funding model, how education reform will happen, is complex. Sound bites and advertisements will never capture the reality or advance the understanding. Too bad the BC Government decided to reduce this complexity to simple-minded sound bites in the middle of contract negotiation.

On the other hand, you could also argue that they created this complex storm to hide behind.

(Note: The Globe and Mail article I referenced above points out that both the BCTF and the BC Government arrive at such different numbers so that it is very hard to see the reality – to the point that University of Victoria Professor Kim Speers believes an independent look would be a good idea. Let’s do it.)

Throw out the sages?

I have been listening to a lot of conversations about the role of the teacher in the 21st Century classroom. Certainly, I constantly examine my own practice in order to create conditions where students can construct their own understanding. The language that is often used is that we need to change from being the ‘sage on the stage’ to being the ‘guide on the side’.

I had a professor of Russian history at the University of Victoria. I enjoyed his first course so much that I took at least one more. My intention had been to study as much Canadian history and politics as I could, but I learned so much that I couldn’t resist signing up for more. His courses consisted of three hours of lecture a week. We came in, and he would start talking, and a better hour was never spent. There were two assessments during the semester. We could choose between two essays, or two tests. He picked the books we read; he wrote the questions we considered.

By any standard found on any education blog, or in the twitterverse, this would not be an acceptable learning situation. I, however, was enthralled, and I learned a great deal. He fed my passion for understanding the stream of history. He showed me the story in history.

When we speak of reforming universities, or education in general, we have to be careful about throwing out the sages. They are experts in their field. Sometimes, there is no better education than to park ourselves in front of them and soak it up.