Category Archives: Teachers

CUPE BC launches ad campaign to avert strike in public schools #bcpoli

CUPE BC, August 25, 2013– CUPE’s education workers [launched] a radio and television advertising campaign on Monday focused on building support for the union members’ work to keep BC’s schools clean, safe, and inclusive.

“We’ve made every effort to bargain a fair and reasonable settlement with the employers, but their lack of preparation is threatening to disrupt classes this fall,” said Mark Hancock, CUPE-BC President.

CUPE education workers’ collective agreements throughout the province expired over a year ago. Previous negotiations in spring 2013 were derailed when it became clear that government had not given the BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) a mandate to reach a settlement.

BCPSEA is now directly controlled by the BC government, but it was not prepared for the latest round of bargaining in August when talks broke off for a third time.

“If the government doesn’t show a commitment to bargaining, our members will take full-scale job action,” said Colin Pawson, Chair of the BC K-12 Presidents’ Council. “They’re frustrated that we’ve had three false starts to negotiating, and the clock is ticking.”

It has been more than four years since the education assistants, clerical staff, trades, custodians, bus drivers and other education workers represented by CUPE have received a wage increase. Virtually all of the 57 CUPE locals representing education workers have had positive strike votes.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees represents more than 27,000 education BC workers in the K-12 system.

Listen to the radio ad here.
View the TV ad here.

See more at: http://www.cupe.bc.ca/news/3148#sthash.Z5mNdsd2.dpuf

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

Enid Lee and First Nations Youth in Winnipeg, Manitoba #IdleNoMore

Teaching for Change, Shelly Wen–  Teaching for Change adviser Enid Lee described her recent experience in an elementary school classroom with Cree and Ojibwe First Nations students in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She was asked to address controversial issues, and selected the contemporary Canadian-based grassroots movement Idle No More that “calls on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water.”  Founded in 2012, Idle No More directly responds to centuries of treaty violations and has spread from Canada to California, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and beyond.

Enid soon realized that the students “had no idea what I was talking about. I learned a lot from their response. When I asked them what Idle No More meant, they asked me if I meant American Idol… I had to stop and think about it, the word ‘Idle,’ is not used if you’re 12 years old… So we can name things, we can do things, and it can completely go over the heads of young people.”

From this conversation with the students, Lee “learned how language needs to be broken down and broken up, and also how creating audiences for students is important.”

Lee left them with an assignment to be “members of a worldwide research team” on Idle No More. When she came back in two weeks, the students had taken the task to heart. Not only did they conduct interviews with elders, but they also found ways to share what they learned through power point presentations. While Lee introduced Idle No More to the students, they became her teachers about the movement when she returned.

Lee concludes, “It’s those daily surprises that hit me [and remind me] of the potential that we have in our work [to] broaden communities. The hope that I have for young people is just unlimited.”

Enid Lee

Audio_IconListen to Enid Lee

Read More: Teaching for Change

CUPE BC education workers’ strike mandate set

CUPE BC, July 10, 2013– After the first week of summer vacation for students, education workers across the province are resolved to make sure BC schools are clean, safe, and inclusive.  The 27,000 CUPE education workers have voted to strike in almost all of the 57 K-12 Locals, in 53 school districts.

Going without a wage increase since 2009, CUPE education workers remain hopeful for funded settlements that would see similar agreements as were achieved for other public sector employees.

“CUPE education workers want a fair settlement with the provincial government,” said Colin Pawson, President of CUPE Local 1091 in Delta and Chair of the CUPE BC K-12 Presidents’ Council. “Without any adjustment of wages for more than 4 years, it is time the people who keep our children’s schools working are respected.”

Both CUPE K-12 Locals and school boards agree that needs of students must be at the forefront of negotiations. This sentiment had been clearly expressed by school boards early this year and is now being reaffirmed to the new Minister of Education, Peter Fassbender.

Most recently, School District 33 in Chilliwack expressed “grave concerns” to the Minister that for the BC Government to realize long-term labour peace “the best interest of students and the implementation flexibility of Boards may be marginalized.”

“We further urge your Ministry to provide funding for a reasonable increase for our CUPE staff and any wage changes considered for our teaching staff in this round of bargaining,” said Chilliwack School District Chair Walt Krahn and Vice Chair Silvia Dyck in a letter to the Minister.

“Any agreement is only successful if all sides have been considered and the delivery of public education can continue to meet the needs in the most cost effective manner,” the letter stated.

CUPE education workers include education assistants, clerical staff, trades, aboriginal workers, youth and family workers, custodians, and bus drivers.

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

New articles from Critical Education

Please note that the Institute for Critical Education Studies‘ (ICES) flagship journal, Critical Education, has just published its latest issue. We invite you to review the Table of Contents here and then visit the journal to review articles and items of interest.

  • Pedagogy and Privilege: The Challenges and Possibilities of Teaching Critically About Racism
    Ken Montgomery
  • Race and Fear of the ‘Other’ in Common Sense Revolution Reforms
    Laura Elizabeth Pinto
  • The Struggle for Critical Teacher Education: How Accreditation Practices Privilege Efficiency Over Criticality and Compliance over Negotiation
    Jean Ann Foley
  • Race and Fear of the ‘Other’ in Common Sense Revolution Reforms
    Laura Elizabeth Pinto
  • The Relationship of Teacher Use of Critical Sociocultural Practices with Student Achievement
    Annela Teemant & Charles S. Hausman
  • Coring the Social Studies within Corporate Education Reform: The Common Core State Standards, Social Justice, and the Politics of Knowledge in U.S. Schools
    Wayne Au
  • Catch-22 and the Paradox of Teaching in the Age of Accountability
    Christopher Leahey

We encourage you to consider Critical Education and Workplace for publishing and circulating your research.

Thanks for the continuing interest in our work,

Sandra Mathison
Stephen Petrina
E. Wayne Ross

Institute for Critical Education Studies

 

Henry Giroux: The Educational Deficit and the War on Youth

Truthout Interview with Henry Giroux

Truthout contributor, director of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project and Board member Henry Giroux responded on June 10, 2013, to questions concerning varieties of pedagogy and fundamentalism, markets, and the prospects for public schools raised by his latest book: America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth

Leslie Thatcher for TruthoutDidn’t teachers open themselves up for attack when they used the agency acquired through strong teachers’ unions in the service of self-interest rather than modeling critical pedagogy? And hasn’t that begun to change? How would you contrast the real versus the ostensible goals of education “reformers”? What has to happen now? And concretely, what must each of us do?

The narrative about the contemporary assault on public schools doesn’t begin with the failings of public schools. One can’t even talk about them in such monolithic terms; some are outstanding and some are a disgrace, which is largely the result of a funding structure that has always been deeply unequal. But a critical understanding of the current war on public and higher education might begin in the seventies when right-wing billionaires and ideologues decided that the biggest problem with public schools was not that they were failing – but that they were public. The so-called new “reformers” are really radicals who want to transform the entire structure of public and higher education to serve elite, corporate and military interests. The project that informs their understanding of education is anti-humanistic, unjust, iniquitous and authoritarian in its attack on all things public, which also includes public servants such as teachers and especially teachers’ unions. The so-called new “reformers” are thoroughly ideological, politicized and market-driven missionaries who camouflage their intentions and their interests by advancing elements of a progressive discourse to push their deeply conservative agenda. Terms like “freedom,” “choice,” “equity” and “democracy” are emptied of meaningful content and bandied about in order to promote the neoliberal script of privatization, standardization, high stakes testing, commodification and unchecked competition. The new reformers are reactionaries who assume the posture of committed, avant garde patron saints of educational renewal. But in reality they are a new breed of philanthro-capitalists looking to dictate the educational experiences of entire generations of students – their aptitudes, their competencies, their consciousness, their aspirations – and make a lot of money at the same time. They are as disingenuous as they are backward looking. The new “reformers” are, in reality, pushing an old right-wing attack on schools and teachers. According to them, teachers are the problem because they lack accountability and unions promote a self-interested bureaucracy. Underlying this claim is a refusal to address how larger structural issues such as racism, income inequality and exploding poverty impact on school failings or how they should be reformed in light of these forces. Fixing public education is reduced to bashing teachers, unions, public servants, and funneling taxpayer money “away from the public school system’s priorities (hiring teachers, training teachers, reducing class size, etc.) and into the private sector (replacing teachers with computers, replacing public schools with privately run charter schools, etc.).”(7) The alleged new “reformers” are in reality a mix of conservative billionaires, hedge fund managers, bankers and right-wing ideologues that constitute an anti-public education movement that has produced “just another get-rich-quick scheme shrouded in the veneer of altruism.”(8)

Unlike current “reformers,” those who advocate egalitarian reforms – who promote education as the practice of freedom – are well aware that if public schools are going to improve, they have to be defined and appropriately funded. Such schools should serve as laboratories of democracy, critical and accommodating spaces where young people have access to the expertise, skills and experience that both deepen their understanding of history, the arts, sciences – of humanistic traditions and archives in general – and the new world of advanced technologies, digital communications and screen culture. The acquisition and mastery of such diverse technologies, knowledge and skills are important not only so young people can find meaningful work but also so they can determine judiciously and rigorously their appropriate and inappropriate uses. In short, so they can rise to the level of critical and engaged citizens of the world.

Public schools must be defended as public goods that benefit not just individual children and their parents but an entire society. Critical reformers must also fight to protect teacher autonomy, struggle for equitable modes of financing, and recognize that any talk about improving schools under conditions of alleged austerity has to include an analysis of the failed domestic war on drugs and the wars abroad and the devastating effects they have had on such basic social services by diverting funds from public schools and increasingly criminalizing the behavior of low-income white and poor minority students. True reformers have to fight against the neoliberal onslaught on teachers, unions, curricula, diverse modes of accountability, and reclaim democratic values and civic education as crucial for creating quality public schools. The most important starting point for creating genuine educational reform is the necessity of acknowledging that the crisis of education cannot be separated from the war on youth, the rise of the neoliberal state, the war on terrorism, and the ongoing financialization and militarization of the entire society. To not understand these basic connections is to misrecognize the real drivers in shaping currently proposed changes and misdiagnose meaningful educational reform. Those market and corporate forces that now undermine public education in the name of fixing it have little to do with democracy and critical teaching and learning, except to weaken both as part of a larger corporate restructuring and militarization of public education as a securitized, profit-based entity. Battling against those forces clearly puts one on the side of genuine educational reform.

In strategic terms what would this mean? In my view, genuine educational reform should begin with rejecting the financing of schools through local taxes, which is fundamentally out of step with the funding models for public education in every other advanced, industrialized nation. Moreover, the struggle over the proper funding of public education should coincide with the struggle for smaller schools and classes, more resources, and more full time quality teachers – which would also entail a robust commitment to critical and comprehensive teacher education and so a rejection of its current debased state. Schooling is a public necessity that is as important as national defense and should be funded as such. Secondly, all attempts at the privatization and corporatization of schools must be rejected so as to make education truly public and widely accessible, removed from those who see it largely as another source of profits harnessed to corporate power. Schools must be defined as democratic public spheres and not simply as sites whose worth is determined by the morally truncated, narrow instrumental standards of measurable utility. Teachers need to work under conditions that provide them with the autonomy that enables them to take risks, be creative, and draw upon a range of educational approaches and pedagogies. Schools must be defined as sites of political and moral practice deeply involved in the production of democratic agents. Moreover, matters of vision, agency, and support should be connected to the struggle against those pedagogies of repression that reduce teaching to the imperatives of standardization and testing. We need modes of pedagogy that enliven the imagination, create thoughtful and curious students, incorporate an ethic of civic responsibility, and teach the practice of freedom. That means connecting pedagogy to the histories, experiences, and narratives that young people bring to any learning situation – the very educative contexts denied by the standardization juggernaut. Pedagogy should not mimic economic models with their reductionist worship of method, stripped of any sense of morality or social context. Instead, pedagogy should provide the conditions for students to invest in robust and critical forms of self and social agency. Pedagogy is not a neutral method, but a deeply political practice that is always connected to the acquisition of agency, a practice that demands that educators be vigilant about what identities are being produced under what conditions and for what purposes.

Critical educators, in concert with concerned citizens, need to raise the bar so as to demand modes of education in which teachers are knowledgeable and reflexive, function as agents of civic education, and create pedagogies that are provocative and illuminating in their ability to get students to come to terms with their own power as individual and social agents. Any viable mode of critical pedagogy must treat young people with respect and enable them to develop their own voice and sense of agency, and do so in an environment that is thoughtful, critical, humane and challenging. In the end, I think it is reasonable to argue, as I do in this book, that education at all levels is the fundamental precondition that makes democratic politics possible, provides a space where meaningful histories, voices and cultural differences can flourish, and enables students to grow intellectually and morally, reflect critically about their relationship with others, and interrogate thoughtfully their relationship with the broader society and the larger world. I make no apologies in arguing that the project that informs this book furthers the attempt to establish a connection between learning and social change, educate young people to be able to translate private troubles into broader social considerations, and create the pedagogical conditions for the development of a formative culture that expands and deepens the possibilities of a democratic society. The Education Deficit and the War on Youth is a call for educators and others to organize collectively both within and outside of schools to further develop the ideas, values and institutions necessary to sustain a world where justice prevails and individual and collective consciousness does not fall asleep.

Read More: Truthout

7. David Sirota, “It’s No Coincidence that the Public Education and Poverty Crises are Happening at the Same Time,” AlterNet (June 3, 2013). Online:http://www.alternet.org/education/us-department-education-releases-study-schools-and-poverty-rate

8. Ibid., David Sirota, “It’s No Coincidence that the Public Education and Poverty Crises are Happening at the Same Time.”

Cyberbullying and cybermobbing: What ought teachers do?

Heritage Minister James Moore announced $250,000 in funds this week to support the Federal government’s Youth Take Charge initiative. The new funding supports a youth-led anti-bullying project, primarily through the Canadian Red Cross’s Stand Up to Bullying and Discrimination in Canadian Communities project, building on the Red Cross’s Beyond the Hurt program. The Red Cross funds will be used to train 2,400 teens ages 13 to 17 to deliver workshops for their peers. The announcement was made at the Ottawa high school where Jamie Hubley was a student when he heart-breakingly took his life in the throes of bullying on 15 October 2011.

The new initiative and funds signal increasing concerns with bullying and cyberbullying, which is receiving due attention; mobbing, including cybermobbing, is also drawing attention. Although mobbing can refer to a group of bullies, it less obviously refers to scenarios where students, teens, etc. succumb to peer pressure to gang up on one or a few individuals. Any one of those joining into mobbing may never be suspected of bullying per se, as they are unlikely to single-handedly act against a target, but collectively all too readily assume the characteristics of the pack.

In the past year were two highly publicized suicides of young women in tormented by cyberbullying and cybermobbing through social media. The tragic story of Amanda Todd, who took her life on 10 October 2012 after posting on YouTube an emotional cry for help and description of how she suffered, generated a wave of compassion and questions: how could this have happened to a 15 year-old high school student at CABE Secondary School in Port Coquitlam, BC. Who and what are responsible? Why? Canadians relived a nightmare again when Rehteah Parsons, a 17 year-old student in Coal Harbour, NS, took her life on 7 April 2013. This young woman was a tragic victim of rape and subsequent malicious social media practices. Yet the deaths of these young women followed three suicides in 2011– young women all of which were tormented through social media practices maligning and targeting them: Emily McNamara, Jenna Bowers-Bryanton, and Courtenay Brown took their lives in March and April 2011. There is no getting over these young women, Jamie Hubley, or the many others who lost or took their lives for similar reasons.

Teachers have for years been taking stands against bullying and mobbing and need help and support, and they need insights into how to protect themselves from making a mistake in the selection of resources. For instance, on 29 May 2013, a Winnipeg teacher at École Julie Riel in St. Vital showed a popular anti-bullying movie titled Love is All You Need?, using the YouTube version. It’s a professionally produced movie with a powerful message. Writer and director Kim Rocco Shields defended the movie, noting that “it was created to open eyes of more adults and maybe teenagers, late teens, that couldn’t really grasp the idea of why kids were being bullied and why kids were taking their own lives.” Contemplating an edited version for use in schools, she reported that “some of the experts said, right then and there, we must change the ending so it’s more uplifting.”

Image from Love is All You Need?

With the explicit peer-induced and self-inflicted violence of the video, a student fainted in class and the boy’s parents understandably became quite upset. The boy’s father was straightforward: “A teacher chose something that was viewed that was not part of the official curriculum.” Superintendent Duane Brothers called the video “clearly inappropriate.”

Hopefully, in addition to the $250,000 for youth-led anti-bullying project more funds will be forthcoming forthcoming from federal and provincial governments for teacher-led initiatives.

BC Teachers Federation scores landmark victory in academic freedom and freedom of expression #bcpoli

Well, it turns out that Dr. Seuss’s initial impression during the war that you can’t achieve a substantial victory out of turtles turns out to be wrong! This past week, after 3 years or a decade, depending how its measured, the BC Teachers’ Federation scored one of the most substantial court victories in academic and intellectual freedom for teachers in the last thirty years. The victory provides a substantial defense of educators’ civil liberties and free expression, critical education methods of instruction. And what’s more, it is a significant victory for students’ rights to critical content in the schools.

On 21 May, the BC Court of Appeal released its decision on the BCTF v. BC Public School Employers’ Association (BCPSEA) / Board of Education of School District No. 5.  The case concerned “the extent to which teachers’ expression of political views on education issues in public schools is protected freedom of expression under s. 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:”

The political expressions in issue were messages critical of specific government education policies, contained on posters posted on classroom doors and school bulletin boards, and on buttons worn by teachers. Pursuant to a directive from the school district that political posters and information should not be displayed in school hallways, classrooms, or on school grounds, some principals told teachers to stop displaying the posters and wearing the buttons.

This case dates specifically to January 2009, when campaign materials, such as posters and buttons, were circulated by the BCTF to teachers across the province. On 23 April 2009, the Director of Instruction and HR from School District No. 5 (Southeast Kootenay) forwarded a directive principals in the district advising them that the BCTF’s political materials had no place on school grounds other than the staff room. On 1 May 2009, the Cranbrook and Fernie Teachers’ Association forwarded a note to the Director advising that it disagreed with the 23 April directive.  Following a grievance filed by the BCTF, an arbitrator heard the case in March 2010 and denied the grievance, awarding in favour of the BCPSEA in October 2011.

The BCTF appealed the decision. Within Tuesday’s BC Court of Appeal decision is some of the strongest language for a defense of academic freedom for teachers and critical education methods:

There was no evidence in this case of any actual or potential harm to students from being exposed to the materials about educational issues, nor any facts from which an inference of harm could be drawn. On the contrary, Canadian jurisprudence, including Munroe, stands for the principle that open communication and debate about public, political issues is a hallmark of the free and democratic society the Charter is designed to protect. Children live in this diverse and multi-cultural society, and exposing them to diverse societal views and opinions is an important part of their educational experience.

Simply put, “the law supports the exercise by teachers of their right of free expression in schools.”

Court of Appeal Justice Hinkson provides a caveat:

I see no reason why students should receive less protection from the monopolization of the discourse of a societal issue than adults who are subjected to a flood of discourse on an electoral issue by proponents of one side to that issue. In the case of the students, the monopolization on the issue may deprive them of their right to be educated in a school system that is free from bias.

Where the issue upon which teachers choose to exercise their rights to free speech is a political one, their rights must be balanced against the rights of their students to an education that is free from bias. That brings into play, as it did in Harper, the concern that if a group is able to monopolize its message on any issue, competing views will be deprived of a reasonable opportunity to be heard…. However, the proportionality aspects of s. 1 of the Charter reserve for another case the evidence required to establish and the point at which teachers’ rights of freedom of expression in schools must yield to the rights of students to be educated in a school system that is free from bias.

This landmark decision  will certainly be put to test, as the case more generally dates back to over a decade of to-and-fro decisions over academic freedom for BC teachers and their right to free expression. Indeed, one of the best case studies of political speech and symbolic speech is that of the BCTF v. the BC Ministry of Education and BCPSEA from about 2002 to this present decision. Throughout this decade, BC teachers have progressively and systematically tested their rights to political and symbolic speech: posters on school bulletin boards, black arm bands, buttons, letters to parents, t-shirts, bumper stickers on cars in the school parking lot, and wearing black clothes.

“Your Majesty, please… I don’t like to complain,
But down here below, we are feeling great pain.
I know, up on top you are seeing great sights,
But down here at the bottom we, too, should have rights.”

In April 2012, amidst another round of disputed bargaining practices and the government’s imposition of the controversial Bill 22, teachers raised questions: “A Prince Rupert elementary teacher has been told a quote from Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle is a political statement that should not be displayed or worn on clothing in her classroom. The teacher included the quote in material she brought to a meeting with management after she received a notice relating to union material visible in her car on school property.”

Eight teachers in the Prince Rupert district received letters warning of “discipline for displaying political messages.” Joanna Larson, president of the Prince Rupert District Teachers’ local said “the administration doesn’t want students to see the messages.” “We feel very censored here right now. We have feelings that our rights to freedom of expression have been violated.”

To accent the 11th anniversary of BC government’s oppressive bills 27 and 28, which prevented the teachers from bargaining on issue such as class size, the BCTF and teachers organized a protest for January 28, 2013– a “Dark Day for Education” and “Wear Black Day.” Teachers wore black in their classrooms while the BCPSEA cautioned that “regardless of the colour of attire worn, teachers should not engage students in discussion about their political views.” Some teachers in Prince Rupert responded with new black t-shirts, this time remediating Shakespeare and quoting section 2(b) from the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But three teachers  were told to remove or cover the shirts.

The BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) weighed in on 4 February 2013 by forwarding a letter to the Prince Rupert School Board and arguing that the ban was unconstitutional: “The school district’s decision to ban free speech about free speech reminds us of a badly-written comedy sketch. But this isn’t an Air Farce skit, it’s a troubling violation of teachers’ constitutional right to free expression,” said Lindsay Lyster, President of the BCCLA. “The School District has an obligation to respect free speech, and there is no lawful justification for the District to ban these t-shirts.”

Of course, quoting or paraphrasing one’s civil liberties in defiance has been part and parcel of protests throughout the past 300 years. And arguably one of the best political works in the Dr. Seuss catalog, Yertle the Turtle has for five decades been used for purposes of instruction in the classroom and symbolic and political speech, inside and out. Notoriously, the Red Hot Chili Peppers first rocked their expressive version of Yertle the Turtle in 1985. Most recently leading up to the Prince Rupert teacher’s utilization of parts of the text, Yertle the Turtle was used in the protests at the Wisconsin legislature in 2011 and the Occupy movement beginning in September 2011.

ICES colleague E. Wayne Ross recently articulated the necessity of “dangerous citizenship”— “critical citizenship, or social justice oriented citizenship” and civil liberties citizenship— in opposition to liberal notions of “good citizenship” that somehow pass for education in the schools. “There is a misguided and unfortunate tendency in our society to believe that  activities that strengthen or maintain the status quo are neutral or at least non-political,” Wayne observes, “while activities that critique or challenge the status quo are ‘political’ and inappropriate.”

A breath of fresh air, Tuesday’s decision from the BC Court of Appeal changes the tide for teachers. BCTF President Susan Lambert was buoyed by the decision, noting that

it’s about the right of teachers to express their concerns about the working conditions that they teach in and the learning conditions the students are taught in… It’s very important that we as a society encourage teachers to express their views and that we take those views seriously…. You don’t discuss and encourage critical thinking in children by shielding them from diverse views.

BC Liberals candidate comments insensitive to special needs students

Dean Recksiedler, News1130, May 7, 2013– Critics are blasting a Liberal candidate in northern BC who made some controversial comments about special needs students in the school system.

In a recent all-candidates meeting, the incumbent MLA in Peace River North was asked if he thought there was a correlation between the degradation of the public school system and the increased enrolment in private schools/home schools.

Pat Pimm‘s response was:

“I think there is… We’ve certainly seen a decline in the public system. The public system since 2001, there’s been a decline of over 60,000 students. That’s a big decline. What’s driving that decline, I can’t honestly say. But I do think that there’s…… People don’t like to speak about this, so I’ll probably get in trouble for saying anything… When you’ve got special needs children in classes with other children, it does create some issues. I’ve heard that across the province, it causes some grief. How do you deal with that is a real hard question and it’s one that… is causing the teachers extra time and trouble and certainly, I think is causing some students to move into other areas in the private sector as well.”

The BC NDP and BC Teachers Federation seem to lead the charge in slamming Pimm; critics call his comments “insensitive” and “appalling.”

One comment on Twitter was even more pointed, suggesting the incumbent in Peace River-North was de facto admitting the BC Liberal government has under-funded classrooms with special needs kids in them.