Earlier this month, the B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) voted overwhelmingly in support of a teachers' strike. Over the last few weeks both parents and students have watched this conflict build, and now it appears to be moving into a full-scale battle with no sign of compromise on either side.
Before I go any further, let me clarify that I highly value teachers, and as a professional who has worked with children for many years, I feel a kinship and respect for the hard work teachers do. As a parent I feel fortunate that my children have been receiving an enriched education from such committed professionals. It is with deep gratitude I honour the teachers who contribute to the growth and development of our children every day.
As a child and family therapist who specializes in highconflict divorces and conflict resolution, I have watched this escalating situation through the eyes of not only a parent, but also a professional who assists families in dispute resolution. Something interesting has begun to emerge in my observations.
What has stood out for me is how much the "government versus the BCTF" has begun to resemble a bad divorce. Yes, the children are in the middle of a provincial divorce, and as far as I am concerned, both sides have lost sight of the children in all of this. There is a lot being said about the children, but little attention is being paid to their actual needs.
In the high-conflict divorces I work with, this is usually the case. Both sides are convinced they are fighting for what is best for the children, when it fact in is their own issues and needs that are actually taking precedent.
So, now onto my biggest issue with this teachers' situation. I can no longer tolerate hearing the rhetoric from the BCTF that somehow job action, or a strike, is needed to protect the rights "of the children." I am also frustrated with the B.C. government position that is forging ahead without any concerns or sensitivity as to how the lockout has actually been affecting the children.
The reality is that unresolved conflict changes children. It changes their brains and causes significant stress for the children. Conflict is a reality, and not all conflict is destructive. Each of us has our own threshold in regards to conflict, but there are many aspects of conflict that can be constructive.
If we resolve conflict, it can move us forward and build deeper connections with others and increased life skills. This is in keeping with my MORE Philosophy, where movement is the first principle in exceptional living. But there is one kind of conflict that has no redemption in it at all, and has the biggest negative impact on children. That is the type of conflict in which the children are the focus of the adult conflict, and the parties justify their actions by saying they are fighting for the children.
It is time for us to insist that this adult conflict regarding the teachers and the government focus on the adults, and not the children. In the same way that I call "bullshit" on adults who say they are fighting for the children in a high-conflict divorce, I call "bullshit" on the situation between the BCTF and the government. They are not fighting for the rights of the children. This is not an altruistically driven stance in which there is a high moral ground. This is not a situation where the protection and needs of the children is being given the highest priority. This is not an ethical dilemma in which the most vulnerable are taken care of first. THIS IS A CONTRACT NEGOTIATION! That is it, and that is all it is.
If the BCTF and the government are honest about it, they are fighting for adult rights and responsibilities. In my book "M.O.R.E. A New Philosophy for Exceptional Living," I discuss the importance of having "honest conversations." It is time for us to have an honest conversation about this situation.
Does the BCTF have a right to do this? Yes, of course teachers have a right to negotiate their pay and work conditions. I am not arguing with the right to due process. We need our teachers, and we need our government to recognize this, but as a child advocate that has seen the destruction caused by involving children in adult conflicts I can no longer stay quiet on this topic. I cannot tolerate the children being used in this process.
It is time for both sides of this conflict to call it what it is, a contract negotiation based on the needs and rights of the adults, and then get to work on the issue. Leave the children out of it!
In my work with families in transition I act in the role of child advocate. It often falls to me to remind well-intentioned but overly emotional parents to put aside their own issues and hurts in order to continue to provide leadership and direction to the children. Let's actually move this conflict to a higher moral ground where the most vulnerable are protected, and in order to do this I am challenging the BCTF and the government to provide leadership that shows our children how to resolve conflict in a dignified and respectful manner!
A version of this was previously published on Alyson Jones' blog.
- What You See in Today's Public School Classroom Is A Mirage - Carla Friesen, Teacher
- The Difference Between An Engaging Classroom And An Empty One - Martha Lamarche, teacher
- Christy Clark's High School Clique Won't Stand Up For Public Education - Louise Wallace, mother, blogger
- Why B.C. Teachers Are Eating Lunch On The Curb - Ashley D. MacKenzie, teacher
- I'm A First-Year Teacher And This Isn't What I Signed Up For - Ryan Harrington, Teacher
- Dear Parent Of The Average Child: One B.C. Teacher's Confession - Genevieve Hawtree, teacher
- What Happens After A Teachers' Strike, From A Student's Perspective - Ramesh Ranjan, former student