Tag Archives: unions

Some still consider social justice in schools to be “indoctrination” #bced #yteubc #occupyeducation

Perhaps not too surprising all things considered in BC, the Social Justice 12 course continues to be dismissed as indoctrination. One one hand, it’s not surprising given the swing right over the past dozen years in the province. On the other, any subject or course that is not one of the official nine (i.e., art, careers, applied skills, language, math, music, physical education, science, socials) is nearly doomed to skepticism or marginalization. In the Surrey Leader, Tom Fletcher belittles the course as  “student indoctrination” and curriculum activities endorsed by the BCTF as “one-sided caricatures:”

Their buzzword is “social justice,” which is portrayed by leftists as superior to plain old justice, in ways that are seldom defined. So what exactly are the goals of this “social change”? Here’s some of what I’ve gleaned.

Parents may recall the 2008 introduction of an elective high school course called Social Justice 12. This was mainly the result of intense protest by a couple of gay activist teachers, and the ministry curriculum describes its emphasis on inclusion of racial, cultural and sexual differences…. BCTF bosses love to talk about the importance of “critical thinking.” These one-sided caricatures of Nike, Enbridge and other familiar villains seem designed to produce the opposite.

Today’s follow-up response to the column reiterates the conservative, anti-union politics at hand:

Great column. I consider this one as one of the most important ones that Tom Fletcher has written, alongside the one about “science gives way to superstition”.

If the B.C. Teachers’ Federation advocates a collectivist ideology such as socialism, the chances of saving our children from the influence of dangerous, very militant, egalitarian philosophy are slim.

Like it or not, the BCTF is one of the most astute, successful labor unions in the country and Social Justice 12 stands as the single-most progressive curriculum innovation in BC over the past 25 years. Given its origins in the passionate commitments to education by a courageous, gay couple, tenuous existence and tests in and out of courts for almost a decade, conservative challenges to deny enrolment in certain districts, and a challenge to the official curriculum, the course triumphed. This was against nearly all odds. Social Justice 12 is that important– not as content per se but as an example and precedent that curriculum can be transformative and transformed.

And the lesson is this simple: Through its professionalism, insights, and yes, politics, BCTF finds the way, opens the doors, and welcomes these necessary additions to an overly officious curriculum. In that way, the BCTF’s social justice politics and the course are refreshing for a change in this province.

BCPSEA backs down on free expression dispute with teachers / BCTF #bced #yteubc

Over the last decade, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation has systematically tested the limits of free expression for teachers. Through a series of grievances, arbitrations, and court cases, the BCTF has provided one of the most important legal records for teachers’ freedom of expression. The result is nothing short of a significant precedent for the schools.

Earlier this month, a bit of cleaning up after a court decision in the spring resolved the issue of Yertle the Turtle. The BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) finally backed down on the BCTF local’s challenge to the BCPSEA’s ban of certain quotes from the venerable Dr. Seuss book. Finally again, we will see teachers quoting truth to power: “I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights.”

This is far from the end, as free expression and academic freedom in the schools require active, living tests of boundaries and lines. The ban lifted on Yertle the Turtle turns a page but does not yet finish the chapter. The quotes from Yertle were spoken for a larger scope of rights, including rights to bargain contracts and define class sizes. For that, the BCTF’s appeal has gone back to the Supreme Court.

Children’s book ‘Yertle the Turtle’ now OK again in unionized B.C. classrooms

Terri Theodore, Globe and Mail, October 11, 2013– “Yertle the Turtle” is no longer under ban.

“Yertle the Turtle” can gather more fans — in school districts around British Columbia.

A freedom of expression grievance has been settled between the BC Teachers’ Federation and the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association based on the Dr. Seuss children’s book about a turtle trying to assert its rights.

The complaint was one of several made by the union when some school districts were banning classroom displays of union posters, buttons and T-shirts in the middle of a teachers’ contract dispute.

In one case, an administrator vetoed a quote for classroom display in Prince Rupert from the book “Yertle the Turtle,” saying it was too political.

Dave Stigant, with the Prince Rupert district, was given about 20 quotes from the book to determine if they would be appropriate to expose to students during an ongoing labour dispute.

He didn’t like this quote: “I know up on top you are seeing great sights, but down here on the bottom, we too should have rights.”

BCTF President Jim Iker said the quote was just a small example of several instances where the union felt it had a claim of unfair labour practices in the province.

“But definitely the ‘Yertle the Turtle’ one out of Prince Rupert highlighted the whole issue of freedom of expression and our constitutional rights.”

Iker said several such claims went to arbitration over the last four or five years before the issue was ironed out.

The complaints were settled based on a previous court case, a key arbitration ruling and an agreement with the employer on freedom of expression rights.

Teachers are now allowed to display or wear union posters, buttons and T-shirts.

“I’m hoping it clears it up. I think it actually gives both sides certainty and we know where the limits are in terms of materials and what we’re able to display or not display, and I think the employer knows what the expectations are,” Iker said.

He said teachers also know that they can’t discuss any kind of political or union messaging with students during instruction time.

Read More: Globe and Mail

Quebec teachers’ group calls Charter of Values extremist #bced

CTVNews, September 4, 2013– An organization of Quebec teachers is calling the Parti Quebecois’ so-called “Quebec Values” charter extremist, warning it could hinder some teachers’ right to work if they aren’t permitted to wear such religious garb as hijabs, kippas, turbans or crosses.

The Federation Autonome de L’Enseignment, or FAE, denounced the proposed charter on Wednesday, saying they support secular values but that individuals have the right to religious expression.

“The right of our members to work is at stake,” FAE president Sylvain Mallette told a news conference.

Quebec has come under fire from a number of rights groups over the proposed charter, which would seek to restrict public employees from wearing religious symbols in the workplace, including in schools, daycares and hospitals.

Premier Pauline Marois is expected to announce the legislation early next week.

Mallette says the FAE — a 32,000-strong organization of eight public teachers’ unions — supports secular values such as removing prayer from schools and regulating religious holidays. But she added the legislation slated to be tabled by the Parti Quebecois is something else altogether.

“It is hypocritical to legislate a charter of secular values beneath a religious icon,” said Mallette, calling on the provincial government to remove the crucifix that has been hanging in National Assembly since 1936.

Mallette also called for the provincial government to remove subsidies for religious schools, which make up half of the private schools in Quebec.

“The right to believe does not translate to unequal treatment and preferential rights,” Mallette said.

The FAE is only the latest group to chime in against the proposed charter.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne both spoke out against the proposal earlier this week.

Nenshi said that residents of all faiths are welcome in his city, while Wynne said that diversity is the key to Ontario’s strength.

Read more: CTVNews

Teach for America Apostates: A Primer of Alumni Resistance

Owen Davis, Truthout, August 2, 2013– Brianna stands beside the conductor’s podium in the band hall of Chicago’s Uplift High School. An engrossed audience is packed on the risers. Mirrored sunglasses obscure her expression, and her only sign of nervousness is in the movement of her hands, clasping and unclasping before her.

Brianna was a public school student in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. In the wake of the flood, whole neighborhoods were destroyed. Approximately 1,300 people had died and hundreds of thousands were yet to return. Amid all this, she had faith her schools would weather the storm.

Instead, she found that her school was one of the many consolidated into charter schools, which draw public funds but are privately managed. Thousands of school employees had been fired (a move later ruled illegal), and many of the replacements were young, lightly trained recruits from Teach for America. By 2007, nearly half of the city’s teachers were in their first three years of teaching. TFA became embedded in the fabric of the district, and one in three New Orleans students can now call a TFA recruit their teacher.

Brianna was vexed by her young new teachers, who were adversarial and fixated on data. “Everything was taken away,” Brianna said. “And then the teachers don’t even care about you.”

Complicating matters, many of the new teachers in the majority-black district were white and unfamiliar with the community. Indeed, the replacement of veteran teachers has decreased by one-third the percentage of black teachers in the district. In the novice classrooms, Brianna saw “a power dynamic type of thing,” in which bald racial hierarchies arose where classroom management failed. The teachers focused less on building relationships, more on “numbers, numbers, numbers.”

The students returned the teachers’ animus. Disciplinary actions spiked. Brianna tells of students being cuffed by police and pulled from classrooms, of classes dwindling and incarceration rising. Today, the Recovery School District boasts an out-of-school suspension rate that’s four times the national average.

Who was this corps of new teachers, so combative in their approach? Why their obsession with numbers? Whence the startling admission, “I’m here for two years, then I’m out”?

Only later would Brianna learn that they were recruited through Teach for America, a nonprofit that places thousands of new teachers in high-needs schools every year. They come armed with five weeks of summer training, committed to two years in the classroom. Founded by Princeton graduate Wendy Kopp in 1989, TFA now has some 28,000 alumni throughout the country.

“Organizing Resistance to Teach for America and its Role in Privatization”
Now, some of those alumni are denouncing the organization. They make up part of the group squeezed into a high school band hall to hear Brianna denounce their ilk. It’s the first time many of them have heard this perspective.

The event, called “Organizing Resistance to Teach for America and its Role in Privatization,” took place during the Free Minds, Free People conference from July 11-14, in Chicago. It aimed “to help attendees identify the resources they have as activists and educators to advocate for real, just reform in their communities.” Namely, resisting TFA.

The summit didn’t drop from the sky fully formed. A group of New Orleans-based parent-activists, former students, non-TFA teachers and TFA alumni collaborated for months to arrange it.

Complementing their critique is a small but growing group of TFA dissidents and apostates who’ve taken their concerns to the press. Even as TFA marches into more and more classrooms throughout the country and world, a burgeoning group of heretics is nailing its theses to the door. But why are they speaking up just now?

Altruist-Turned-Skeptic Gary Rubenstein
When Gary Rubinstein joined TFA in 1991, he was motivated largely by the fact that it was “a big thing to do.” Altruism played a part – “I’m a nice person, I do care,” he says – but the novelty of it enthralled him. It was “partly like going to another country.”
In his case, that great unknown was Houston. At the time, there existed a genuine teacher shortage in Houston, as in other cities. Class sizes were enormous, and students saw strings of long-term substitutes instead of full-time teachers. TFA’s foot soldiers were greeted warmly.

A wry double-major in math and philosophy with a predilection for “David Sedaris-style” writing, Rubinstein assumed his enthusiasm and subject knowledge would translate to successful teaching. Instead, his classes were unruly and his teaching haphazard. He recalls a particular lesson in which he gave students measuring tape and told them “go measure stuff,” only to find them measuring, “let’s just say, parts of their own anatomy.”

Rubinstein found that without classroom management, it didn’t matter “how much you knew or how much you cared about the kids.” So he became a martinet. He considers himself one of the first “no excuses” teachers, subscribing to a brand of unwavering discipline many charter schools now espouse.

He recorded his observations on classroom management (now a book), and decided to put together a guide for incoming corps members he considered underprepared. He asked Wendy Kopp in an elevator for her blessing, which she granted. (They’re no longer on such amicable terms.)

Rubinstein has questioned TFA’s training model, a five-week training course called Institute, for two decades. In 1995, by then a veteran teacher by TFA standards, he began leading a workshop on classroom management, partly an excuse to splash cold water on the faces of the dewy-eyed idealists. “TFA is not giving you the real story,” he’d tell the recruits. “They’re trying to shield you from reality.” He delivered that pep talk for 11 years.

Until relatively recently, Rubinstein’s criticisms were relegated to the training he considers so inadequate, “it’s offensive.” Otherwise, he admired the thrust of TFA’s mission. He even recruited for TFA at his alma mater, Tufts. But after attending the 20-year TFA anniversary summit in 2010, his critique deepened. It wasn’t long before he wrote the blog post that made his name and initiated a genre: “Why I Did TFA, and why you shouldn’t.”

“Scrap the Map” Teacher Activist Jesse Hagopian “Did” Teach for America
It’s not common knowledge that Jesse Hagopian “did” Teach for America. “I don’t always divulge that,” he admits. The TFA badge is notoriously useful in landing jobs at McKinsey and Goldman Sachs, but it lends little cred among activists. Hagopian is of the latter camp.

He’s better known for helping to organize the successful “Scrap the MAP” campaign at Garfield High School, in Seattle, where he teaches history and advises the Black Student Union. With the support of students and parents, the teachers there boycotted the state standardized test, faced down sanctions and eventually secured the right to forgo the test. Hagopian still glows when he talks about it.

He graduated from Macalester College in 2001 after studying radical antiracist theory. “I just spent the last years analyzing these problems,” he remembers thinking. “What do I do with this?”
Hagopian, admittedly “politically unsophisticated” at the time, was attracted by TFA’s social justice language. During his five-week training in the Bronx, though, he quickly surmised that it “wasn’t the emancipatory project” that he’d hoped.

His friend and dorm-mate was a fellow black radical who “began raising all kinds of questions” about race within TFA’s pedagogy. TFA put him on an “improvement plan,” a set of sanctions that requires corps members to complete supplemental work on top of grueling Institute assignments. According to TFA:

In certain instances, a corps member may act in ways that interfere with the learning and progress of students, behaving in such a way as to give rise to concerns that s/he is not demonstrating our core values….

“We saw him as being targeted,” Hagopian says. The plan was “almost impossible to fulfill.” His friend was soon dismissed.
Hagopian soldiered on. “The bigger conversations about the purpose of it get lost,” he said, “because you’re trying to become a teacher in five weeks.”

When he entered a high-poverty school in Washington, D.C., he realized how truly unprepared he was. An innocuous show-and-tell turned into a litany of tragedies as students presented their mementos of male family members who were dead or in jail. Hagopian felt “overwhelming sorrow and panic,” unequipped to heal that grief or to help students grasp “why this happened to their families.”

At the same time, the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) illuminated TFA’s politics. He saw TFA “fall in lockstep” with NCLB, especially its reliance on standardized testing and the sanctions it forced on “failing schools.” Hagopian taught in a school reconstituted under NCLB guidelines. Its staff had been laid off and replaced. The new faculty might have been fresh-faced, but they were dreadfully unfamiliar with the community and its needs. TFA provided no means to address this gap; it had far more to say about data and assessments than race and inequality.

Hagopian puts it in stark terms: “there was nothing on standardized tests about how to end mass incarceration.”

Over the years, he cultivated a full critique of TFA, conveyed in part in his 2010 Seattle Times op-ed agitating against bringing TFA to Seattle. He feels that TFA “fits very nicely into an overall strategy” of privatizing education and diminishing critical thinking. Meanwhile, the organization glosses over intractable issues of race and inequality at the heart of American educational system.

Read More: Truthout

After 12 year slumber, BC Liberals dream of 10 year deals

Save for summer school, July and August are typically months during which teachers catch up on life and professional development or find down time after the intensity of stressors of the school year. For the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF), this is commonly a time to strategize or coordinate leadership teams. Following an era of astute, outstanding leadership by Susan Lambert, Jim Iker begins his term as President of the BCTF facing pressures from the BC Public School Employers’ Association to shift contract negotiations to plans for a 10 year deal through to 2024.

BC Liberals Education Minister Peter Fassbender begins his term having to defend the pipe dream. One might imagine that this is a Rip van Winkle fairy tale, wherein after sleeping on the job of contract negotiations for 12 years, the BC Liberals now want to make a dream of a 10 year deal come true.  This would be a generous, made-for-preschoolers reading of the situation. The Buddhist policy wonk might say that the Liberals didn’t snooze but meditated on contracts for a dozen years to reach this 2024 vision of clarity. Either could be true, and there you have it…

Iker is clear about the BCTF’s position:

We’re open to a longer term deal, but we know that deal has to represent a fair deal for our members and has to provide more support for our students and more one-on-one time in particular for our students. It has to deal with the issues of class size, class composition and learning specialist ratios. This is also part of our court case, which is ongoing and we’ve got 19 days (in court) in September. It also has to address our salaries; we’ve fallen way behind our teacher counterparts across Canada. For any successful round of bargaining, you need resources brought to the table….

I don’t rule out a longer term deal. Do I rule out a 10-year deal? Yes. We had an education minister in February who told us that no government could never commit to funding 10 years of indexing and that’s one of their pieces. Part of our responsibility is to advocate for public education, for our students and for the funding. We will continue to do that and some people would think the idea of the 10-year deal is just to silence us for 10 years, but we’re not going to be silenced because people expect us to advocate on behalf of students.

When asked by the Vancouver Sun what he “thought of the government decision to remove the bargaining mandate from the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association and appoint negotiator Peter Cameron?,” Iker responded:

I’m not sure what this move actually is because we’ve been at a bargaining table where really, the employer has had no mandate in terms of resources…. We were actually hoping to reach an agreement by the end of June. That was our goal. If we’re going to be negotiating directly with government, I guess that’s fine, as long as it’s at the bargaining table. Peter Cameron has been hired by the Ministry of Education, but is he going to represent government? That’s still to be determined. We will see in September who actually is across the table from us.

 Read more: Vancouver Sun

Vancouver elementary teachers association endorse NDP in BC election #BCPoli

Given the BC Liberals history of underfunding public education, promoting corporate intrusion, and undermining of collective bargaining, the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association (VESTA) are  lobbying the BCTF to endorse the NDP leading up to the May 14 election.

“The change has been brought about by what we consider to be a decade… long attack on public education through government policy, strips of collective agreements, legislation,” said Gerry Kent, VESTA president.

“While (the BCTF is) not endorsing a political party, I think it’s clear that it’s time that maybe we do. Especially in light of the current budget that the Liberals propose, there doesn’t seem to be any help to remedy the difficulties that are affecting public education, which in our view have been put in place by the Liberal government.”

Listen to Media Mornings podcast of VESTA President Gerry Kent

BC Teachers’ Federation puts education front and centre in election #bcpoli

With their extensive Better Schools for BC campaign, the BCTF has placed education front and centre in the 2013 BC election. “BC teachers are worried that, after a decade of underfunding, our students are being short-changed. The latest numbers from Statistics Canada tell a story of the growing gap between education funding in BC and the rest of Canada. Teachers have a plan to build better schools for BC.”

 “After a decade of government cuts to education, too many BC students are struggling. We need to change that. This election in May, let’s vote for better schools — with smaller classes, more one-on-one time, and help when students need it.”

COCAL Updates

COCAL updates in brief and links from Joe Berry:

1. Faculty at U of OR get agreement on mixed bargaining unit recognition (it includes ALL contingents) joint AFT/AAUP affiliate
http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/newsroom/2012PRs/UOAgree.htm

2. Yet another article supports what most of us in the union movement have long said, as wealth goes up, empathy declines [or “the rich are different from you and me, they have more money…” and less empathy for others.]
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-wealth-reduces-compassion

3. Ad for adjunct job specifies that the person not be teaching anywhere else and reactions.
http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/04/25/usc-job-ad-rankles-adjuncts
and http://www.nationalreview.com/phi-beta-cons/296957/adjuncts-alarmed-over-usc-job-posting-nathan-harden
and http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/confessions-community-college-dean/mandatory-monogamy-adjuncts

4. More on union recognition at U of OR
http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2012/04/25/faculty-union-advances-u-oregon

5. Very interesting contrast in US press coverage between French and US elections. Are there lessons here for how the press frames our issues in higher ed? (such as making the extreme privatization and casualization trends of US seem normal here, but covering them differently, if at all, overseas.) The question, of course, is how to change or challenge this press frame.
http://www.beyondchron.org/news/index.php?itemid=10095

6. Student veterans group revokes charters of locals at over 20 for-profit colleges
http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2012/04/26/veterans-group-lists-profits-where-it-revoked-charters

7. Capella U (a for profit) to offer college credit (classes) online to higher school students for a fee. [Is there anything not for sale if one has enough money? Didn’t Marx say something about “All that is solid melts into the air?”]
http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2012/04/26/capella-posts-25000-free-tutorials-through-sophia

8. The for-profits’ war on philanthropy
http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2012/04/26/essay-profit-colleges-undermine-traditional-role-philanthropy
http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2012/04/26/capella-posts-25000-free-tutorials-through-sophia

9. Ten Ways for a non-tenure track faculty to get fired [some of these are good, some obvious and some just plain wrong IMHO, especially the one about not trusting (some) “help” (clerical staff). They can be our best allies, individually and collectively.]
http://chronicle.com/article/10-Ways-to-Get-Yourself-Fired/131630/

10. New memo reveals union suppression at Kaplan U in NYC
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/04/19/1084585/-BREAKING-Kaplan-University-Suppressing-Union-Organizing-In-NYC

11. Blog from union organizer at East-West U in Chicago
http://academeblog.org/2012/03/21/shooting-itself-in-the-foot-east-west-universitys-anti-union-campaign/

12. More on new play about for-profits
http://www.campusprogress.com/articles/theatre_of_the_absurd_former_for-profit_college_advisor_takes_his_stor/

13. Update on massive Quebec student strike agains huge tuition increases
http://www.marxist.com/quebec-revolt-analysis-april-2012.htm

14. Kaplan and other for-profits were part of ALEC and their ED task force
http://truth-out.org/news/item/8766-washington-posts-kaplan-and-other-for-profit-colleges-joined-alec

15. AAUP summer institute http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/about/events/si2012.htm

16. More on Gren River CC (WA) adjunct apartheid event and disposable teachers
http://dissidentvoice.org/2012/04/disposable-teachers/

Sandra Mathison gives keynote at the BCTF Annual General Meeting

On Tuesday, Sandra Mathison, Professor of Education at UBC and ICES member, addressed 700 teachers at their union’s annual general meeting. The teachers met to plan a course of action to resist and attempt to repeal Bill 22, a bill that takes draconian measures to limit the BCTF’s ability to bargain fairly and freely for its members.

Mathison’s keynote focused on the current neo-liberal narrative of accountability in British Columbia, a narrative that has been building since the Liberal party was elected in 2001 and one that continues to gain momentum as evidenced by the passage of Bill 22. This is a powerful narrative that seeks to blames teachers and the BCTF for many of the problems in BC’s schools. Mathison argued that teachers, parents and students need to work together to change this narrative, to create a narrative of authentic accountability that recognizes teachers professionalism, engages local communities in educational decision making, and demands that government be accountable for funding education adequately and fairly so that teaching and learning can occur.

The full text of the talk can be found on the BCTF website.