It Is A Matter of Priorities

FTLComm - Tisdale - Thursday, February 7, 2002

In the three Western provinces there are disruptions in the delivery of education. In British Columbia the provincial government legislated a contract with its teachers giving them half of what they wanted for salary increases and removing from their agreement controls on class sizes. Though this resulted in the lose of extracurricular activities and at least one day of school, the teacher's morale is at an all time low and will worsen as B.C. removes teacher librarians and resource room teachers from its schools.

In Alberta the teachers have walked out and most schools are closed as the country's richest province is trying to give its tax payers lower taxes and of course that means that government spending has to be reduced.

Here in Saskatchewan the Biggar School Division is trying to run its schools without secretaries, library technicians and janitors.

We here in Saskatchewan went through some problems with schools and because of the low wages relative the private sector wages for people with similar training, we are about to see a massive teacher shortage.

Education as we have come to know it in Canada, is an expensive thing involving thirteen years of a child's life just in the public education system. But that is hardly enough, few employers want people with just high school, but are looking for people with at least a bachelors degree and a masters is much more preferred.

This means that to find a meaningful place in today's world a person needs those thirteen years of public schooling which will cost the public about $71,000 and then from their own resources, parents, student loans and part time work, they need another $90,000 to get a Masters degree. These are today's prices and since university tuition doubled in the last twelve years it is reasonable to assume that if you have a child starting school this coming fall his, or her, education will cost not $161,000, but much closer to $200,000.

So what will your kid get for their $200,000?

We live in one of the few places on earth where you can change your class. Max Weber the originator of the field we know of as Sociology explained that few people can change their level in the world into which they are born. Almost everyone has a chance to descent from their class to one or more below, but few can move up the class ladder. Max in his research discovered that this explained the importance of the middle class. They were always worried about things slipping and their life station descending and so therefore were very concerned about laws and preservation of status quo. The lowest class and the very elite upper class are least burdened by the class structure as the folks at the bottom have no where to fall to and those at the very top will invariably be able to do what ever they want anyway. One factor makes a difference. That one factor is education.

In our society education allows an individual the opportunity to move from lower working class to upper working class, to move from upper working class to lower middle class, to move from one level to part way up the next. In some professions it actual affords the individual to step out of the class structure altogether and enter the educated elite class where their training and skill afford them special status in society. It is important to note that the theory of class structure is very well known and its rules extremely rigid, but it is entirely different from a "cast" structured society where race, or culture relegate individuals in a group to a fixed status that does not permit "upward mobility."

Canada's aborigine people are a cast and not a class, no amount of education or training will change their status. This explains why unemployment among both status and non-status Indians is so very high. In a cast system a person can attain change in social status by joining, or being selected to enter the "ruling class" but nothing can change their over all social status. This unfortunate condition must be changed but today, this is how it is.

But even for the aboriginal youth, education is the ultimate ticket to change and a better life. It is very important to understand that our system of education is not even, though we all tend to think of it in this way, an academic process where the individual seeks to learn and develop themselves. Our education system is essentially a control system that processes individuals and according to their ability to adapt to the institutions they are rewarded with acceptance and granted merit.

With this understanding in place, it is puzzling and perplexing to comprehend the obstacles that are being erected to reduce the effectiveness of the educational process. Large class sizes has been shown time after time to be counter productive to all education processes.

In British Columbia the shocking decision to remove teacher librarians is depressing and even in the most polite terms just plain stupid. Public education is designed to treat every kid, no matter what class, with equal opportunity and works better than most institutions in achieving that goal. But kids who come from enhanced home life have enormous advantages, especially when faced with finding things they need, so the Librarian is the great equaliser that is there to help those who do not have the advantage of having educated parents. Similarly, there are 5% of all students who will absorb about 12% of the cost of education because of the disadvantages they have for one reason or another. For them the special education, resource teacher is the fix and once again fairness is provided to all. B.C. is cutting all resource teachers.

The quality of education is directly dependent upon one main factor. The teacher is the ultimate education component, few people enter the profession because of their belief it will make them rich, they do so because they are mostly people who enjoy helping others. Not only does it cost a fortune to become a teacher, but it requires years and years of experience to hone the skills that make an average teacher a great teacher. For their trouble, they hand over to each student, a little bit of themselves and their work is both exhausting and enormously stressful. B.C. and Alberta's confrontation with those people whom they depend upon to create the next generation of citizens is disgusting and in the long run will lower the productivity and ultimately cause a society to lower itself, lower its expectations, as the kids and the parents attach merit and respect to earnings. Lower paid teachers are worth less.

The Biggar situation is just as shameful as the people who provide the support roles in schools are usually paid the least a school system can get away with. Biggar does not have any teacher librarians at all, but staffs their school libraries with people paid just a tad above minimum wage, people without training in education and even then they are refusing to pay them better or give them benefits they need to live a civilised life. Studies have shown that the most important person in a school, who will determine the quality of the education that school provides is the principal, but number two on that list is the janitor and number three is the school secretary. No school can provide for its kids with teachers and principal alone, they need the back up of well paid happy cooperative people. Biggar, like Alberta and British Columbia has lost sight of the priorities in its society.

Timothy W. Shire