Support BC Teachers! UBC Faculty & Resident Support Picket

Provincial teachers are engaged in a struggle against the neo-liberal directions of the provincial government, a government that has been shown in court to be bargaining in bad faith and with the intent to provoke.  The struggle the teachers are waging is one that we too face in our own workplace.

Join in a show of support at the University Hill Secondary School this Friday, June 6th at 10 am for a solidarity picket.  We will gather at the south east corner of the round-a-bout at East Mall and 16th Avenue.

Open letter to Patti Bachus, Chair VSB – transgender policy

Dear Patti,

I have been following the debate regarding the new policy revisions to support trans* students in the VSB schools.

The VSB policy revision is a considerate and well thought out document.  As a parent and former DPAC Exec I strongly support the revised policy document.  The School Board has a responsibility to care for the needs and well being of all children, not the fears of a socially conservative group of adults.

I have had the opportunity to speak with some of the parents here in the University Neighbourhoods Area and am saddened to learn how fearful some of my newcomer neighbours are.  (I hasten to add, not all, just some). Those who are opposed appear afraid of issues that they have not previously encountered in their countries of origin, or at least issues that were potentially brushed under the table. This leads me to suggest that there is important work to be done in our changing communities with these socially conservative neighbours.  We need to bring people forward with us simultaneously with the introduction of these arguably minor revisions.

That said, I strongly urge the VSB to take the principled and just stance of putting these policy revisions into force.  The revisions are fairly modest, to be quite honest.  The safety of young people who may experience bullying and harassment by others is paramount and clearly trumps the fears of parents regarding the use of bathrooms – the most minor aspect of the entire policy (yet the point I hear the most complaints about).

You are welcome to share my thoughts and opinions with your fellow trustees and members of the public.

With warm regards I wish you the courage to do what is right and to put these policies into play.



Facebook support page

Draft revised VSB Transgender policy


Indigenous School Names in the Lowermainland

There are a few schools in the lowermainland with Indigenous names.  In this blog entry I will be listing these schools over the next little while.  This is in part a response to the opportunity in Vancouver (SD39) to be able to suggest a name for a new school near UBC.

In Richmond a new school, opened in 2000, has a Musqueam name.

Spul’u’kwuk’s Elementary School opened in September 2000 and is located in the north-west corner of Richmond, in the area known as Terra Nova [new land -an unfortunate district name given the history of colonizations.  Somewhat ironic when paired with the indigenous school name. ED]. It is situated in an area of park land and new homes, close to the Middle Arm of the Fraser River and the western dyke bordering the Strait of Georgia. The name of the school is from the Musqueam First Nation and means “place of bubbling water”, in reference to the spring water which bubbled up in the area. Many years ago a Musqueam permanent seasonal fishing settlement was situated close to the site of the present school. Since it opened  our school has grown quite rapidly and is now a mid-size to large school that has approximately 425 students.
Students at Hamilton Elementary did a small history project in 2000 on the role and place of Musqueam people in Richmond.  You can find it here.

Bill 36 – end of standard school year

Introduction and
First Reading of Bills

Bill 36 — School Amendment Act, 2012

Hon. G. Abbott presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled School Amendment Act, 2012.

Hon. G. Abbott: I am pleased to introduce the School Amendment Act, which will support B.C.’s education plan by removing barriers to personalized learning and providing students and parents with greater flexibility and choice.

First, the legislation will eliminate the standard school calendar as of the 2013-2014 school year to enable school districts to offer more creative scheduling options that would better meet the need of their students.


Second, the legislation will increase choice by allowing kindergarten to grade 9 students to enrol in a mix of bricks and mortar and distance learning courses.

Third, the legislation will clarify that boards of education can charge fees to offset the extra costs associated with international baccalaureate

HSE – 20120426 PM 005/bah/1350

by allowing kindergarten-to-grade-9 students to enrol in a mix of bricks-and-mortar and distance-learning courses. Third, the legislation will clarify that boards of education can charge fees to offset the extra costs associated with international baccalaureate programs.

Furthermore, the legislation requires districts to establish financial hardship policies for students who might otherwise be excluded from these programs.

I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.

Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, we first have to move first reading.

Hon. G. Abbott: So moved, Mr. Speaker.

Motion approved.

Hon. G. Abbott: I move it be placed on the orders of the day for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.

Motion approved.

Draft legislation.


Time to say goodbye

I’ve authored this blog for about five years now.  When I started it it was to be part of a new electronic journal (that project is still ongoing and very successful).  But events intervened and the blog became a center of support for public education and the teachers who went out on strike in 2005.  After the end of the strike the die was cast and the blog became a key space for commentary in support of public education.  The site logged over 3,000 visits a year for most of that period of time.  But, things change and with my sons now finished with the K-12 education system (they’re in 2nd year university now) I have found my interests changing over the past year.  For those who were regular readers of the site you will have seen the evident drop off in posting and the shift of topics (more toward post-secondary).

I still maintain a suite of blogs (on ecological anthropology, our ethnographic film unit, and as part of my introductory anthropology course).  However, I think the time to say good bye on this blog has come.  There are still major problems and issues in public education.  The provincial liberal government in BC is no less antagonistic toward education and democratic involvement (consider their treatment of Vancouver’s school board of late).  We are still waiting here in the UBC area for proper schools -that was a 5+ year struggle that still seems to have no end in sight!  But, it’s time for other people to step forward.

So, as the new school year opens I say good bye to posting on this blog as I turn toward my research and other projects.  The start of a new school year is an exciting time.  Have fun, work hard, and keep our public education strong!

Tuition and Post Secondary Education

Recent events by UBC’s AMS executive have brought the question of tuition fees into the public light.  The students have focused on the manner by which their executive did this.  Leaving aside student political infighting the fact remains that tuition fees and the associated costs of post secondary education in Canada have been flying up with the net result of narrowing the window of accessibility.  For many students this is not much of a problem as they rely upon parental resources to both prepare them for university and to fund them while they are at university.  But and especially in the face of a growing downturn in the global economy tuition becomes a structural barrier to those potential students without parental resources.

I’ll pause right here to acknowledge all of the people who have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, the Jimmy Pattersons of this world who provide the content to the story that if only you try hard enough anythings is possible.  I will also acknowledge that there are indeed a variety of funding programs from scholarships to bursaries that attempt to open the door a little bit wider for those who are seen to merit it.  All this being said the structures of class power and privilege are such that unless they are explicitly targeted these structures still work (in spite of the one off examples) to exclude many people from accessing post secondary education.

The Ubyssey wrote about what they have called the tuition debacle (not debate) in which mention is made to the doubling of tuition fees at UBC since 2002, student protests elsewhere, and the avenues open to students to engage on this issue. Yet there was a tone to the article that seemed to suggest the issue of tuition fees isn’t really that important to many UBC students.  One wonders.

Homework -the perenial issue

Homework, and how much of it, is a perennial issue in education and parent circles.  There doesn’t seem to be a happy medium.  Many educators say there is too much homework, but it is being demanded from parents. But then one comes across stories like the one quoted below about the Calgary couple who found that there was too much homework being issued from the school.

A Calgary couple signed a unique contract with a school this week that prevents teachers from giving their children homework, the Calgary Herald reports. Tom and ShelliMilley negotiated the deal because their pre-teen kids were spending as many as three hours each evening on homework, the paper says. (Read the full story on Janet Steffenhagen’s blog: Calgary couple signs no-homework deal with school – Report Card)

In the Calgary story is seems that a policy designed in the school to limit homework -a quota of 10 minutes per night- became transformed into ten minutes per subject per night.  The net effect was an ordeal of several hours of home work for the Calgary family’s young children.

Of course, ‘ordeal’ might sound a bit much and when one reads of the couple’s jam-packed itinerary for their kids it might be that they had a bit much already on the go.  Nonetheless, the issue of how much, what kind, and how effective remains a continuing debate -especially in the elementary grades.

I certainly recall the issues around homework for my sons in the primary grades, especially the feared ‘dictee’ practice for my son who was in French Immersion.  I also recall being critical of the route learning approach and the clerical nature (i.e. recopy such and such) of a lot of that earlier homework.  There is a place for doing activities at home which support learning in the classroom.  However, I am of the opinion that what is most important are activities such as reading to one’s children, engaging in activities that combine literacy and/or numeracy activities in play,  guided support of in-class activities and all of this supplemented by activities outside of the home that involve more than organized sports or extracurricular lessons.

There is much to be said about unstructured play and exploration outside.  Yet, the culture of fear (see also) has corralled parenting activities into organized supervised scripted activities.  It’s time that we support our children in finding their own capacities and opportunities through less scripting and letting them have the gift of failure at a stage in life when it is a benefit and not a risk.  Releasing children from an over burden of homework, from overly scripted activities, and into unstructured activities outside of the garrison that has become the North American home is ultimately in our children’s best interests.

A Refreshing Take On Corporate Sports

Teach 2010: alternatives to mindless corporate culture

This is a collaborative website for teachers to post and find resources for teaching the 2010 Winter Olympics from a critical perspective. If you have a lesson plan idea, upcoming events listings or links to articles or organizations please send us an email at

This website is also being developed in collaboration with the Teaching 2010 Resistance project, which has developed a critically-minded Olympics workshop for students. This workshop is being presented in schools throughout Greater Vancouver beginning in October 2009.

Is Oprah Dangerous?

Columbia University professor, Herve Varenne, wonder’s about the pedagogic and health effects of Oprah.  In a world in which ‘experts’ are often derided, criticized, or just plain ignored, Varenne’s comments are a healthy inoculation to the reign of ‘common sense.’

In an earlier post, I asked a question, with a tongue in my cheek: “how could we tame Oprah?” I did not specifying who ‘we’ are, on what grounds ‘we” should try to tame her, and whether taming Oprah (and others like her) is something that could be done. After all, they are wonderfully extra-Vagant (as Boon, 1999, might put it) and likely to escape most forms of social control.

I leave the questions open for the moment in order to expand the puzzle triggered by a critique of the advice Oprah dispenses on matters like vaccination. There is every evidence that, from the ‘official’ public health point of view, her shows can be dangerous, particularly when she discusses vaccination. She may endanger the health of individual children not getting vaccinated, as well as the health of the public as these children get sick and may sicken others. At least this is what us, sober headed experts in public health as driven by medical research, might say (and have said). As a highly schooled expert myself, and someone who generally accepts what other experts tell me, I am uncomfortable at any challenge to my expertise, particularly when it comes from someone as powerful as Oprah. But I am not writing her to complain. I continue here to puzzle.

Read here for the rest of the item: “on taming the ignorant powerful …”  From: On anthropology, education, culture, and more …

Racism and Aborignal Education in BC

The recent issue of the BCTF Teacher published a refreshing, if hard hitting, look at aboriginal education and what might be the core factors impeding success.  Former northern BC teacher, Deb  McIntyre has this to say on the subject:

It is no secret that our Aboriginal students trail behind their non-Aboriginal peers in school achievement. The grim facts show up in standardized test scores, school completion rates and overall emotional satisfaction. (Aboriginal Report 2003–04 —2007–08 How are we doing? Typically, a lot of blame gets tossed about. The more liberal excuses tend to blame the conditions of poverty. I have heard other teachers suggest poor parenting is involved. Some complain about an essential lack of inner motivation. We even blame the media for promoting “gangsta” lifestyles over scholarly pursuits. I would like to offer a radically different perspective. What if the problem is really a symptom of something that nobody wants to talk about; what if our educational system was inherently racist?

Read the full story here: “A different look at the problem of Aboriginal student achievement”