Kids first – no cuts to education

 In Letters, Opinion


I’m scared. Scared for my kids, scared for my grandkids. Scared for my community, my country and my planet. Really scared. And, listening to what’s going on around me, I know a lot of others are also scared. And when we collectively as a society become scared, we do dumb things. We elect people who are bad for us. We let them do things that are bad for us, and we hide under the covers, waiting for the dust to settle.

Now is not the time for hiding. And it’s not the time to sit back and hope everything will turn out OK. Because when we do nothing, we give permission for others to do whatever they want without ramifications. And we all suffer the consequences of that.

In my opinion, our provincial government has reduced everything to a commodity. Social programs, education, health care, the environment and human beings in general are a commodity. They all have a price. And if they aren’t making “us” money, they are costing us. This is a dangerous and simplistic approach.

I know we all believe that there are things more important than what something costs. And that not everything has, or should have a price. Money does not make the world go ‘round, despite evidence to the contrary. That’s not socialism, or communism. That’s called human decency. Canadians believe in helping those who need help. That the measure of who gets treatment is the degree of illness, not the degree of wealth. That every child should receive quality education, whether they attend school in Rosedale, or in Red Deer. We have universal standards, for better or worse, that ensure every Canadian is treated equally.

We as Canadians have fundamentally rejected the idea that having more money than someone else makes you entitled to a better life. Literally. Better health care, better education, better food, better lifestyle, better communities.

Until now.

Now we have a premier who has no skills, no couth, no education, no experience and no mandate. He appears to have some kind of simplified Santa list of “naughty” and “nice” when it comes to determining how he governs. And there have been people who argued that his election would be mitigated by the more rational and experienced politicians in his cabinet. Apparently, they have all drunk the Kool Aid. So now, it is up to us, the actual People, to rely on our own powers as members of a democratic society. We must speak up. We must take action.

The latest and most pressing issue under attack is our education system. Looking at the statistics and the projections from experts, our education system is going to be devastated by the proposed changes recently announced. And who suffers? Everybody. Not just kids. Not just teachers. Not support staff. Everybody.

Why does education matter so much? Because it’s not just about the 3 Rs – it’s about building our future. Our children become the adults who lead us. And if they are dysfunctional, and poorly educated, we as a society become collectively dysfunctional.

That’s bad for all of us, not just socially. It’s bad financially too. If we have dysfunctional adults, we have higher unemployment. Higher costs for social programs and welfare. Higher costs for health care. Higher demand for policing, family services, courts, addiction services, and just abut everything else that is government-run. When our population is unhealthy mentally and physically, we pay for it. That means higher taxes.

So if you’re about “show me the money”, the reality is that cuts to education equals higher taxes. You can bet on it.

More importantly, we are eroding what we stand for and watering down what makes us great as a nation. We are renowned internationally for our fairness, our kindness, our tolerance, our innovation and our inclusiveness. All of these are in jeopardy when we begin to put what we stand for on the auction block.

So, again, why does education matter? Because one way of ensuring that we have a healthy society is to educate, monitor and assist each other with the raising of our children. That’s what schools do. That’s why we have them. They are an integral part of the village it takes to raise children. And teachers, like it or not, are instrumental in the upbringing of our children. A child’s teacher on average, spends more time with a child than parents do. Teachers matter. They matter a lot.

Changing the average class size seems like an easy thing to do – but the ramifications are horrific. The key word is average. That means, if you have a class of 10 kids and a class of 30 kids, the average class size for two classes is 20 kids. Now imagine – if you have to have 26 kids in each class, you can’t afford to have a class of 10 anymore. Your class of 30 now has to have 42 students in it to compensate. Why does that matter? Because those classes that typically have less students enrolled will have to be cut. They bring down the average, and the Board is responsible for ensuring averages are at 26. So, goodbye drama. Goodbye senior physics. Goodbye art, music, chemistry, earth and space science. Goodbye tech. Goodbye electives. If your kid needs biology to get into university, she’ll have to find it offered somewhere else.

Well guess what? There’s a plan for that. It’s called online education. Why is that a problem? Because they aren’t requiring qualified teachers to teach it. So, how are you going to get senior qualifications in physics if your teacher doesn’t have senior qualifications? And here’s another problem – online education doesn’t work for everyone. It takes a very disciplined, organized, structured student to be successful. How many teenagers do you know that fit that description?

And, what about hands-on subjects? You can’t teach drama online. Or music. Or art. Or tech. Or carpentry. Or a host of other things. Some things, like it or not, require a real human being to lead, guide and support a student along the way. Teachers work really hard. And a lot of what they do has nothing to do with actually delivering curriculum.

And here’s another thing that has not been considered. Boards have been encouraging students to bring their own technology so they can eliminate hardware costs and upgrading. Fewer computers available at school. So for those kids who cannot afford computers, where do they go for the education they are entitled to?

And for our elementary kids? What happens to them? Are we going to sit our kindergarten students in front of the computer for an hour every day and expect them to learn to read, or count, or play fair? Younger children need more attention, not less. Not only for their education, but for their safety. Please think back to a time when you turned your back for a moment, only to discover your child doing something dangerous, or foolish, or both. Now multiply that by 30-40 children in a room together with one adult. The opportunities for injury and accident are monumental. Now add the influx of autistic and special needs students who no longer have funding to support them, and are now part of the regular classroom. The majority of a teacher’s time and energy will be spent on managing behaviour. No one is going to be educated well, and neither students nor teachers are going to be as safe as they should be. How does that benefit our children?

Now here are the facts. Despite standing up and claiming NO front line teacher will lose their jobs by increased class size, the numbers simply don’t work. In our County alone, we are estimated to lose between 230 and 280 classroom teachers out of just over 800. The claim that these losses will come from retirements is ludicrous as only about 80 teachers in our board are eligible for retirement. Projections are that all teachers who have less than 10-12 years of seniority will be on the chopping block. And we haven’t even touched how many Educational Assistants will be lost.

On top of that, it’s estimated up to 25% of all available programming will have to be cut. We will be left with the very basics. How does that produce well-rounded, informed and prepared graduates? How is that educating for the 21st century?

And what does it all mean for our kids? It means less opportunities for learning. Less variety. Less specializing. Less support. Less attention. Less supervision. Less time learning. Less resources. Less teachers not only in the classroom, but less soft skills available for our kids – the teachers who pull double duty through coaching, guidance, clubs, musicals, band and extracurriculars will not be there to offer those opportunities. It means children with special needs will get little of the assistance that they absolutely need.

It means more crowding. More waiting. More missed opportunities. More frustration. More bullying. More incident reports.

In short, it means everyone suffers. Mainstream kids suffer. Special needs kids suffer. Teachers suffer. The system suffers. And overall, society suffers, because when kids aren’t educated properly, all kinds of issues arise. We rely on our school system to help us raise our kids. To provide an ethical, moral, supportive, inclusive and stimulating environment.

There will be those who say that teachers are complaining because they want more money. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Teachers are sounding the alarm. They are frontline workers who are telling us that our kids are in jeopardy. We need to listen.  If you haven’t been in a classroom since high school, I encourage you to volunteer. You will very quickly have your eyes opened. Today’s school environment is not the same as when we were kids. There is no other job in my opinion, which requires more emotional, psychological mental and physical stamina than teaching. It is a deeply committed and demanding job. As a teacher, you are all in, every moment of every day. It’s like performing a different play on Broadway, 6 hours of every day, when most of the audience would rather be somewhere else. There’s little applause, and everyone’s a critic. Every teacher deserves a medal for simply showing up every day.

As a province, we are moving backward in time. We can’t turn back the clock. We are in changing and uncertain times. While other countries are investing heavily in education, and now reaping the benefits of that, we are falling prey to rhetoric and fearmongering that is threatening to destroy tenets of our society that we have deemed critically important. Business is not more important than people, or the environment, or our communities. We can’t reduce everything we hold dear to a number on a spreadsheet. Education is an investment in the future – What value do we put on our future? Our kids deserve better than what we have presented them, now and years from now. We have an obligation to protect our kids. And if we don’t, at some point we will have to explain to them why we didn’t bother.

I urge people to please learn all you can about what the government is proposing, and to take action. This Saturday April 6, there is a march for education at Queen’s Park. More than 200,000 people are expected. I will be one of them. And I hope you are too.

Sherri Jackson,

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