Horace Walpole wrote that “This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.” In the last few weeks I have wrestled a lot with my feelings and my thoughts, and the Honourable George Abbott has been much the cause of it. Since the start of this so-called bargaining process, the BCTF had bent over backwards to comply with the law, and in response to our compliance we have had our employer attempt to bill our union for 15 per cent of all teacher salaries, while adding to their opening list of demands bewildering new concessions that would strip language from our contracts regarding hiring, firing, placement, and seniority, while offering no concessions to improve education or teacher compensation. Last week the B.C. Liberals announced that they were going to pull another $100 million out of public education, and Abbott announced that he was going to legislate an end to our job action because it has hurt some students, deprived parents of report cards, and increased the workload for principals, vice-principals and superintendents. I had to laugh. Increasing the workload of BCPSEA members was the intent of the job action, and when has the government ever expressed concern when teacher workloads increase? Regarding students, the effect has been minimal, especially when measured against the effect of funding cuts. Mostly I laughed at the accusation that we deprived parents of report cards, for there is this program called BCesis that the ministry spent tens of millions of dollars setting up, and if it worked properly, parents would be able to easily access the grades of their kids, having a record of every mark and every missed assignment. But BCesis hasn’t worked. All it has done is increased teacher workloads, and teacher frustration. For two years teachers warned the ministry against imposing this flawed program on districts not yet traumatized by it, but to no avail.
Then the Honourable George Abbott declared that expecting the government to provide support for special needs students was discriminatory, and as laughable as the logic was, I was simply too stunned to respond. To make me feel better, I reread Abbott’s interview on CKNW where he suggested that the weight given seniority is such that a social studies teacher could win a math posting simply because of his/her years on the job. Abbott said “It is so commonsensical I don’t understand the fervent objection to this as somehow contract stripping.” His proposed solution to this non-existent situation is to strip the language from the contract that prevents it from happening.
Then, to warm my heart, I read how Abbott has visited 95 schools, and how “Every visit and every meeting has only reinforced in my mind that British Columbia has a great education system, filled with people who are passionate about what they do. I’ve seen first-hand how important teachers are to student success.” Such nice words, but then Abbott proclaims of teachers that our “singular focus has been to secure a large salary increase — 15 per cent over three years,” which implies that, in the eyes of this government, we are a bunch of greedy bastards out to destroy the province. At least we are passionate about it.
When Abbott drafted the legislation ending our job action, he introduced draconian fines and measures that have left teachers with only two options: either we surrender unconditionally and pray that they are merciful as we kowtow before them, or else we protest by engaging in the only type of legal job-action remaining to us – a withdrawal of all voluntary services (and our union is prevented from recommending even that). We could cease coaching, close down clubs, and stop tutoring students outside of class time. Sports programs, drama productions, music, dance, art, science trips, clubs and causes would all be sacrificed. Lamentably, the effect of this would be very predictable – the Honorable George Abbott crowing about how teachers must not really care all that much about their students. Otherwise, why punish them?
Why indeed? It is a travesty, a tragedy, and my heart is heavy as I weigh my options, and find that I cannot stomach either. And then I read the name Abbott gave the legislation that has forced upon us teachers this most bitter of choices – the “Education Improvement Act.” Now that’s comedy.