Perspectives

CTF AGM Attendees Discuss Education as a Public Good

By Calvin Fraser
October 4, 2012

Attendees at the CTF AGM in Halifax engaged in a discussion of education as a public good. It is a given to presume that participants approached the discussion believing:

  • All society benefits from public education; and
  • All students have a right to full support in and from a public education system.

The participants, although they identified troubling patterns that exist from coast to coast and saw negative trends, pressures and awareness concerns, retained a positive and strong outlook about education.

 

Trends and pressures

Patterns identified included:

  • Increasing corporatism: private businesses are taking on larger numbers of duties in providing goods, services and programs to schools;
  • Increasing isolation of teachers: changes in education are ignored in the media; teachers and their organizations are referred to by governments and boards not as partners in common goals but as “they”. More attention is focussed on the wishes of “stakeholders” in education (parents, corporations, vendors, testing corporations, etc.) and less attention is focussed on the voice of the experience experts, i.e. teachers.
  • Shifting drivers for education decision-making: First, moving from an education focus to a business approach which is tied to the lowering of costs instead of desired educational outcomes. In some places, an MBA is favoured over a M.Ed., right-wing thinkers dominate many school boards, technology is seen by many as a way to reduce teacher-student contact time, contracting out is common. Second, largely because of testing regimes, some programs receive increased attention (e.g. sciences) and some programs get reduced attention (e.g. arts). Third, public debt is used to justify cost-cutting at the expense of program needs. Comparisons with other places (e.g. Finland) and competitive thinking trump diversity of student needs and interests. Competition with other societal sectors (notably health care and seniors) for diminished resources makes decision-making more political.
  • Weakened respect for the collective good: some students are offered opportunities while others are denied because of the costs, resource allocation which is uneven, etc.
  • False belief in technology: claims unsupported by research but consistent with all four previously mentioned trends result in the use of technology for technology’s sake rather than because of real educational value.

Awareness

The AGM delegates view themselves as an informed group. They believe that while many teachers see the concerns noted above, and see that other teachers feel that public education and the role of teachers is under attack, delegates still commented on a general lack of awareness of the depth of the roots of that attack. Who seeks to benefit and at what cost to students, teachers and others is, in their view, not well understood.

Delegates stated a belief that the traditional labour-oriented approaches to dealing with trends and concerns no longer work. The public does not understand the messages sent by teacher federations and teachers do not feel tightly enough unified. Delegates saw some of the solution in better use of social media but focused on a need to build connection. One even noted that CTF must be seen as “us” not as “they”. Teacher organizations need to identify the high ground and question how others such as the Fraser Institute and AIMS can claim to occupy it. They suggested that reports from other sectors such as the recent Duxbury Report on work life in the RCMP have much value for us as well.

A positive perspective

Delegates saw possible common ground with many possible allies and encouraged CTF and its Member organizations to look for that commonality and to build allies with 1) public groups including community organizations, businesses, post-secondary institutions, NGOs, arts and culture groups, and the broader labour movement; 2) within education with senior teachers, some school boards, trustees/superintendents and governments; as well as 3) with parents and students (the use of the student voice was encouraged).

Perhaps the most striking part of the discussion was the recognition that whatever the odds or obstacles, education as a public good is worth fighting for. Many of their suggestions (e.g. partner with school boards) may seem at first as improbable; but in truth, if it is even on just some issues of common interest, any base is desirable and provides solid ground for further progress.

Calvin Fraser is Secretary General of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

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Perspectives web magazine is published by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent over 238,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.

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