Saturday, April 10, 2010

Back-Blogging: What Happened to ME?

I'm back, with a need to be attended to. I've been "offline" for more than a month. My little counter suggests a few of you continued to check weekly for new postings about the world of school libraries here in Vancouver which was encouraging, but it hadn't been enough to shake me out of the silent mode.

In truth, a rather dramatic fall UP a flight of steel-edged stairs at the District Technology Day on February 15 initially shocked me into slowing down; that, and a sinking sense of what was to come when we got word that 800 of our youngest teachers, a constant source of the energy that propels our system, a good number of whom are working in our elementary school libraries, were given notice of the school district's need to serve layoff notice. Amidst physio and medical appointments and the Olympic fascination and Spring Break and my role as a facilitator with two Teacher Inquiries and SLRCCC (our district's School Library Resource Centre Consultative Committee) and the backlog of other work now overwhelming me ... the blog was set aside.

But the pervasive sense of pending disaster and the rising of the levels of outrage could not be choked down or set aside ... we are now a system so pared to the bone that we have been forced into acts of cannibalism in the apparent goal of educating the young of British Columbia. But I am not fooled and I don't think the average citizen is either.

From silence I am resoundingly back up and ranting. I apologize for going offline and am now compelled to get caught up; let's call that back-blogging! It's blog or cry. You see, in addition to news of the plans for real and drastic system-wide cuts of over $18 m, cuts that would include more than 100 teaching FTEs and 43 non-enrolling FTEs, these latter to include TLs, SPED, ESL, and Counselling jobs, I heard that my job here at the Education Centre, at the heart of All Things Once Bright and Beautiful, is one of those slated to be gone for the next school year. I better write things down now while I am still in "the big chair" and have time on my weekend and you might still have time to be listening.

Thanks, seasoned educator/writer Crawford Kilian, the young and bright communications guy Rich Overgaard at the BCTF, and my so-smart Coquitlam counterpart Heather Daly, also president of the BCTLA, for being amongst the first to respond publicly in The Tyee to the implications for our school libraries. The BCTLA's annual joyful celebration of National School Library Day, accompanied by its Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) campaign, appears destined in 2010 to be Black Day for BC's school libraries. Perhaps we will drop everything to read and remember school libraries as they were, ponder what they might have been.

Perhaps we can join forces with protesting citizens and educators in California, a political jurisdiction which has floundered in dire straits since cutting its own heart out, including its school library programs! You want to see plumetting literacy scores? Check the California rankings! Why, I have asked repeatedly, since being exposed to the notions of John Ralston Saul and Andy Hargreaves, have we always followed blindly such "imported" models -- and crises -- as California's?

You see, Vancouver is being forced to make choices to cut its school library staffing and programs. These are the places in all our schools that provide something for every child: a safe place for the shy or quiet ones, particularly important in a busy and sometimes overwhelming school learning environment; resource-based, technology-rich student inquiry learning opportunities; and books as the foundation for building a lifelong love of reading. TLs are pretty close to offering the kinds of learning opportunities that most closely correspond to any definition of what it means to support 21st Century learning.

School library programs and other areas slated for cuts are utterly determined by the language of Bill 33 that effectively put ratios in place for the size and composition of regular classrooms even as it removed, and continues to fail to provide, ratios that ensure additional "cost" line items in a district budget and a child's balanced education are protected.

In fact, it is the removal of the protection of the ratios that had been assigned contractually for non-enrolling programs and educators, amongst the first acts of the BC Liberal government upon being elected, that is most disturbing. Touting goals of "flexibility" and choice, in fact, ironically, what this provincial government has effectively done is ensure there is flexibility and choice for administrators making decisions about timetabling (read "stuffing") the maximum number of students for cost efficiency into one room even as it systematically removed flexibility and choice for student learning.

Education is a cost item. While it must be cost-effective and districts are to be expected to be striving for cost-efficiencies, no system of education is cost-neutral and no educated citizenry in a developed, economically post-industrial country expects not to pay dearly for it. Programs that provide value-added education for young Vancouverites, items such as the district elementary strings program, music and art electives, as well as much-needed support for special needs, emotionally fragile, or ESL students, and more -- including school libraries -- represent long-term "investments" in the economic and social future of the province. These "unprotected" aspects of BC's public education system, along with the care and support of parents, programs offered by public libraries, sound vision, management, and oversight of schools by trustees and district staff, and the solid work of classroom teachers in our education system, have been a long-term investment in the young of BC. These are the very pillars on which BC's world-class education system acquired its status as the most literate jurisdiction in North America BEFORE Mr Campbell called for that.

These cuts represent extreme short-sightedness, perhaps an eye to the next provincial election and no further. Please don't be fooled. Even as these cuts are made to the kind of learning experiences our children in public education can have, the children in private schools whose costs are funded up to 50% by the public purse, are experiencing no such losses to their capacity to offer full, enriched, and balanced programs with all needed supports to ensure student success.

Consider SD#39 Vancouver's plight to be similar to the role of the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Something is not right in the Paradise we have loved and believed in, that we celebrated so joyously just over a month ago, knowing even then that the party would be shortlived for the youngest citizens of the province of BC and for the young who work to educate them in the public system.

Thank you, Mr Vaughn Palmer, for the note in your recent column (see next blog entry) that makes me wonder how many FTEs remain in the Ministry of Education, compared to FTEs assigned in the past, assigned to other Ministries here in BC, and assigned by other provincial governments to Ministries of Education across Canada, as that would certainly be, as Palmer so adeptly points out, a good measure of the value and priority this government places on the investment of services to educate the young citizens of British Columbia. Please confirm rumours heard here in the field that we here in BC have the smallest Ministry of Education we have ever had and the smallest in Canada. And please, media ferretters of political thinking or lack of it, continue to seek out and make the case that "gravely neglecting" to invest in the well-balanced education of the young of the province is as clear a path to long-term economic and social disaster as would be failing to invest in ways to protect our other resources like water and ways of providing food and work. Casinos, games, stadium roofs, and deals that benefit a few may not fool us much longer.

I am off to a rally at the VAG. It's a simple act of protest on a sunny day here in the chilly Spring of a Paradise Seemingly Lost. It's all I can do to assuage the sense of powerlessness and futility as I ponder my route through the years of passionate commitment to education that feel as though they have amounted to very little. Yes, it's possible to descend into the bleakest of thinking here in the city on edge at the edge on the inside of public education. Just when I think I might have to fall up a staircase and render myself senseless to survive the next few months, I remember, all is not yet lost ... it's simply not over yet. Yes, I'm off to rally for public education. Perhaps we need a massive bake sale or reinfusion of casino grants to better fund the educational options for our children. My goodness, what is really certain is that our choices and flexibility as citizens are narrowed to only the most extreme measures of joined voices and public outcry. Will I be seeing you at the Rally at noon today? I think it's now or never. The times, they are a-changing!

PS: Be sure to check out Vaughn Palmer's column below. And even as I have posted this and checked it over, I see the entry for February 4 warns me to "think B4 U Post" ... I may think again about this blog entry but for now it's posted for all to read the pain -- ponder how to take action now!


Anonymous said...

As a TL in Kelowna, I appreciate your post. Your viewpoint appears valid and balanced and I hope that you leave up the post so that others in the province have a chance to read your thoughts. As TL's lose hours some are told to "do as much as you can with what you have" but I was told "I know you'll do less, and for that I am sorry, but I won't ask you to do more with less." What a situation we are in. We must do our best to continue to impart our valuable skillsets to our students, but we must also be aware that it is impossible to share the knowledge that we would like to when our time is chopped further and further back each year.

Jo-Anne Gibson said...

When you're finished protesting in Vancouver, you can make your way to Winnipeg where similar cuts to teacher-librarian positions have just happened. A few years ago several of our provincial school divisions were forced to amalgamate. Although one can argue either way how effective this amalgamation was, in one school division, at least, the result for school libraries was positive. Since there were teacher-librarians in every school in one division, a plan was put in place to add teacher-librarians in the school division that it amalgamated with that didn't have such positions.

Then suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, three full-time high school teacher-librarians in the same division were cut. No consultation whatsoever. One has to ask the question, how does a school division that seemingly understands the importance of teacher-librarians in the education of students in the 21st century, simply do away with these positions?

As you state, it appears throughout North America that one of the ways school boards are attempting to balance their budgets is on the backs of school library programs. What does it take to get those in charge of educational decisions in our country to understand that our students will suffer if teacher-librarian positions are eliminated. The high schools in Winnipeg in which the cuts were made have populations around 1000 students. Nothing against the library technicians left to run the libraries but how are they, their staff and students going to cope without a trained teacher-librarian? The whole thing is ludicrous in my mind.

Thanks for blogging about this issue. The public needs to get informed about what's happening to education throughout Canada.

Karen Lindsay said...

Thank you, Moira, for your clear, passionate summary of the effects of the ongoing underfunding of education in British Columbia. I hope it gets a very wide readership.
It is heartbreaking for me to have worked my whole life in public education, and to be leaving it in such an appalling state. What kind of place will school be for my unborn grand-children?
Next to parenting, teaching is the most important activity human beings engage in, and any culture that does not fully recognize that and fund it accordingly is doomed in the long term. I often think of the 1980's bumper sticker that stated "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." It is time to recycle that slogan.
Bless you for this, Moira. Keep on writing.

Moira Ekdahl said...

Thanks, respondents. I have to say, in considering the rally on Saturday which was quite well attended (it is just the beginning of the uprising, right?), that the best part was when we discussed how we missed the golden days of the Socreds in education! The collective sense of humour may get me and others who feel and think like me through to the end of April.