A Lot to Learn February 17, 2020
Bullies are not tolerated in the school yard, only in the Provincial Legislature. It has been over two decades since a full-scale teachers’ strike has occurred across the province. In October 1997 all teachers’ unions joined in solidarity against the government mandated restructuring of the education system. Premier Mike Harris, oh wait, he was a Progressive Conservative too, railed against the cost of education and slipping academic standards. His answer was: increase class size, reduce the number of teachers, reduce preparation time, introduce home tutoring, weaken school boards, and restrict salaries, to recount the main pillars of his plan. Sound familiar anyone?
The teachers, quite understandably, took issue with most of the government’s position. Again, that is true today.
I am not a politician, a teacher, a union member or a bargaining agent, and I don’t have to be to see that negotiations are not being conducted in good faith. Whether you support the government position or the teachers’ unions position, one thing is perfectly clear, the ownership of this mess lies directly at the feet of the Ontario Government.
There are too many elements in this dispute, with all its permutations and combinations, to address in one article; therefore, I am going to speak to only a couple.
The entire government script, dutifully espoused by Education Minister Lecce, is about wages. Interestingly, wages, although part of the negotiation, are essentially a minor item on the teachers’ list of demands. On the matter of wages, an increase of one percent, two percent or whatever, is not the issue. I dare say that had the government not contravened labour relations and collective bargaining protocols and unilaterally prescribed a cap on all provincial salaries without any discussion, wages would not even be an issue.
One interesting piece of the government plan, that has managed to avoid much airtime, is that of Internet based teaching. Snippets have emerged of a desire to develop an exclusive on-line education platform and sell it to other provinces and education providers for profit. I am a supporter of technology and the internet in the right place and for the right purpose. Technology and the Internet do have a place in education. Unfortunately, this plan of corporate exclusivity leads essentially to privatizing the education system. First class, universal education would be lost, only the privileged and the corporate providers would benefit, and the government would go on record as having saved we taxpayers millions in education costs.
Whether one supports the government’s position or the teachers’, we all agree this unrest must come to a speedy, congenial end. We cannot further disadvantage students with a fractured education. They deserve better. Will the parties please get back to the bargaining table with open minds. Bullying and entrenchment does not work. Zero sum is achievable. Negotiation is the art of the compromise. Remember, the real issue is education. Education involves learning, and both parties have a lot to learn.
Other views are welcome.