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The New B.C. Education Curriculum Is Part Of Jekyll And Hyde Story

08/31/2015 03:18 EDT | Updated 08/31/2016 05:59 EDT
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Teacher teaching students

I wish I could get excited about the new curriculum from the B.C. Ministry of Education, I really do. I wish I could believe all the hoopla about how the new curriculum is going to prepare our students for their lives as adults in the 21st century. I really want to believe that this time the Ministry really does have our students' future in mind.

But my mind is filled with too many images that keep popping up like gatecrashers at the new curriculum party.

Here's one: a student with severe autism who used to have an education assistant to support him for every block of the school day but who now has an education assistant for just one block per day because budgets had to be balanced after massive cuts to school district funding.

Here's another: a class of 30 students, half of whom need learning support of one kind of another. How will one teacher create and monitor personalized learning assignments for all students in this class?

And another: students who have their one meal each day at the school's breakfast club, who do not have computers, let alone Internet access, at home and who have parents who work two jobs just to keep the family fed and sheltered. What do the changes offer these students?

This new curriculum is being launched in a province that has the highest rate of childhood poverty in Canada. A province that has no plans to reduce childhood poverty. A province where a teacher's plea for shoes for her students led to the establishment of a charity to support the needs of students in public schools. A province in one of the richest countries in the world.

How can we talk about 21st-century learning when so many of our schools could be the setting for a novel by Charles Dickens?

I wasn't quite sure whether to laugh or to cry when I saw an example of how the new curriculum could be implemented for Grade 6-9 Science: "Students build a shelter." Will children need these skills for when their classrooms come crashing down around them during an earthquake since seismic upgrades for public schools have been delayed for 10 years?

Being a teacher public school in British Columbia can be so Kafkaesque. There are so many contradictory messages that emanate from the government, it's hard to make sense of it all. I am often confused by communications from the Ministry of Education. It seems that there are two different personalities that take turns being in charge at the Ministry, just like in the story of Dr. Jeykll and Mr. Hyde.

When the Ministry is being lead by the Mr. Hyde personality, as it seemed to be during the 2014 labour dispute with teachers, it issues edicts that cut a teacher's daily pay by 10 per cent, it locks teachers out of classrooms during lunch so that they are forced to have their lunch breaks on sidewalks, and it refuses to raise teachers' wages to compensate for the rise in the cost of living.

The Mr. Hyde version of the Ministry guts public education funding while it increases funding to private schools.

It is quite remorseless as it forces the education system into the "affordability zone" while completely disregarding Supreme Court rulings and the Canadian constitution.

On the other hand, the Dr. Jekyll version of the Ministry mentions the need for teachers to be supported in the work that they do. It seems to value teachers and the role they play in students' lives.

The Dr. Jekyll personality not only talks about placing students' needs at the centre of the learning process, but also acknowledges that doing so would require many changes that are not cost free.

So, which version of the Ministry should I expect to show up when the new school year begins?

I so want to believe that the Ministry truly acknowledges the "complexity of the teacher's role" in the classroom. But I just can't believe the hype until and unless the question of class size and composition is settled.

It would be wonderful if a teacher's right to bargain her working conditions -- the learning conditions of students -- didn't have to be confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada. The fact that it has to be puts a huge damper on all the trumpets heralding the launch of the new curriculum.

I wish all the celebrations of the new curriculum didn't remind me so much of being at a New Orleans jazz funeral, where joyful music masks a sad reality.

That this image comes to mind is quite ominously ironic since it was in New Orleans that public education was killed and replaced by charter schools with devastating results.

Can we expect the same to happen to B.C.'s education system which seems to be undergoing a kind of death by a thousand (funding) cuts inflicted by the BC Liberals since 2001?

I really hate being a party pooper but I can't unsee what I've seen during the past 14 years of B.C. Liberal governance.

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