I am the first to admit that I have an imperfect understanding of the world and this is one reason I read so much. I have a voracious appetite for learning – as is evidenced by my bookshelf, my bookmark list on Firefox and my brain full of random facts. (I have a bookmark list and search history typical of a writer, I fear – everything from mythology and history to how to build a bomb from household items and how long it takes a body to decompose in given conditions. I can only imagine my name’s on some list somewhere.)
So I know and understand many things, but one thing I’m still working on is how human beings work in groups. Specifically, as a country, or state or province. It seems like when there are too many people in a given group that ‘the common good’ becomes a matter of debate to the point where no one an agree on anything. At some point there comes a division into ‘us’ and ‘them’.
You see, I’ve been thinking about this ongoing teacher strike here in BC. To me, it’s barbaric. We are cheating our most valuable resource of the one thing they need to be truly valuable as an asset to their society/community/civilization: an education. Granted at this point it’s only a few weeks of actual school time that they have denied the students, but they have marred preparation time for our teachers, which is just as detrimental, if not more so. Our teachers are not respected as teachers. It’s like they’re just the dispensers of curriculum or coaches for standardized tests and that also is kind of gross. (It used to be that teachers were often religious people who devoted their entire lives to learning and in light of the fact that young people can teach now may have some psychological bearing on this attitude, but that may be another rant.)
I took some education classes in University. I had full intentions of being a teacher – for about a year. What I learned in that year made me so angry and frustrated that I decided instead to become a tutor and/or a librarian. I have not met the library goal yet, (if ever) but the tutoring – while not consistent or full time, has been an interesting learning experience. What made me angry was that everything was geared towards fitting all the pegs – be they square, rectangular or star shaped – into uniform round holes. In one class a teacher spoke of ‘diversity’ in the classroom as a challenge, rather than an asset. Of course he was speaking about those who learned at a slower pace and how the system was no longer allowed to hold students back a year because of the ‘psychological damage’ that would cause. He did not take kindly to my argument that there would be more psychological damage if said child always felt like they were behind when they got pushed forward – especially if they were unable to access extra help – the way I felt in math class, say. I managed to pull a passing grade every year, but I never grasped the concepts to the point of confidence and I cannot imagine what that would feel like to be that way with everything. I felt that was a failure in the system and spent that evening in angry tears. I spoke to other professors about the situation and even though they agreed with me, they didn’t seem to think here was a need to go above and beyond when the system seemed to produce enough competent people for the general well being of the work force. The only ones who agreed with me were teachers I’d had in High School – the ones who had gone above and beyond the demands of curriculum even at their own expense: spending their own money to provide resources an field trips to better educate their students.
When we have a huge number of people to service; be it in education, health care or social assistance – whatever aspect of group welfare or dynamics you care to name – a bare minimum needs to be established so that all our most basic needs are met. Sounds good in theory, doesn’t it? Not so much. There will always be someone who doesn’t fit into that category. Someone who requires a little bit more, or a little bit less – be it attention, help, or resources and it throws off the efficiency – and the cost – of the system.
This is where capitalism fails us. In Canada, it seems like we’re not so bad off as our southern neighbours, but I can see how money drives our economy and therefore our social programs. The government doesn’t want to spend money on education because there are other things they’d rather spend money on; it seems their own wages and/or oil pipelines and lately the military. Yes, money makes the world go ’round, but educated people are the ones who make the money go ’round. Us, or them. You see where I am going with this?
Human beings are basically selfish and it’s hard to focus on the good of the community as a whole when you don’t have a personal interest in it. That seems to be human nature in a nutshell and this also seems to be the root of a lot of issues. (This is why some people don’t vote either – they just don’t see how the ‘other’ – that being the government – affects them. This is a deficiency in our education system perhaps, or one in our value system. Perhaps both.) The bottom line is, each person is only on this earth for a shot period of time: this is an argument both for and against being selfish. If you’re only here so long then why not live it for yourself? But on the other hand, if you’re only here so long, why not make the world that much better for those who come after?
We want our community to thrive. (I was going to write profit – you can see how capitalist language sneaks in here!) In order for it to do so we need people to live in it and contribute to it. Uneducated people are vulnerable even if they do have ‘street smarts’ because they do not have the tools to further their careers beyond a certain point. The more people our education system fails means that many more people are not contributing their significant power to the growth of our economy and are merely subsisting within it. This may seem a little elitist at first, but I’m not saying that all uneducated people end up on welfare (though some do). What I’m saying is that when the system fails a person, that person then fails the system because they haven’t got the leg up the system was supposed to give them in the first place. Options become limited and that is precisely what they are not supposed to be in what we deem to be a first world country.
Let’s have a look at Sweden. Sweden has been in the news lately for any number of things: progressive views in gender politics, exceptional environmental policies and recently education reform. Their students are outperforming students from around the world on a (yes, standardized) test after reforms that seem to value the diversity of students. What gets me most though, is that they really do value their teachers. Sweden has decided that children are their greatest resource. In Japan they also seem to have this idea, but have taken another path than Sweden; starting children in school earlier and keeping them longer hours – so much so that stress related illnesses among students is common. There doesn’t seem to be, yet, a perfect solution, but I think it’s time we looked at our system in BC and gave it a good overhaul – or at least kicked the policy-makers into giving the funding required to make an overhaul possible.
Ideally, education should be a federal issue. All teachers should be paid fairly and given enough resources to educate all our children from the age of 5 to 18 and even beyond (how I’d love post secondary education to be provided a la Sweden or other countries…). This is all well and good, and yes I believe a minimum standard is a necessary evil for the simple fact that we human beings require order to thrive, but what if we broke it down? What if each community was responsible for the education of it’s children? I said before that one problem was that there were too many people with different agendas clashing over this issue. What if it was merely a concern of each municipality? I don’t know enough about how the money would work, but I imagine that if it were the responsibility of a community, where you knew the people and were invested in the outcomes, that you’d be more willing to contribute to a solution. It would be personal and people respond better when a situation has a personal impact because no one is completely altruistic – they can’t really afford to be in all honesty. Perhaps I’m altruistic and naive, but I’m not entirely wrong either, am I?
I don’t have children yet, but I for one am willing to put my money into an education system rather than an oil pipeline. My tax dollars are spent how the government decides, but we as a people decide on our government. Perhaps we also need an overhaul on how we choose our government, or how much actual say we get on all these sociopolitical reforms and debacles. We need either more input from ‘we the people’ or smaller self-governing communities to help eliminate this ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy.
In the short term I just want the BC government and teachers to all to get their heads out of their asses and focus on the real issue at hand here: educating our children. I doubt the teacher demands are all that unreasonable(in fact I know it) and I am certain there is no reason for either side to treat the other with anything but respect (which they haven’t been as evidenced by the mediator walking out) or for our government to lie about it’s intentions (which it may well have done.) I suppose it will all come out in the wash eventually, I just wish it didn’t have to do so at the expense of our kids.
I’m just thinking out loud here, feel free to weigh in.
Listening to: Deadmau5 – Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff
Reading: Confucius – Analects
Drinking: Raspberry Iced Tea