Back to School Activism: Wake Up, Parents!


-- Download Back to School Activism: Wake Up, Parents! as PDF --


From BC's Kindergarten English-Language Arts Curriculum Guide

I’ve already begun with A Back-To-School Wishlist for Society and now that school is finally starting this morning it’s time to talk about parental advocacy and activism.

Parents: you are the most fundamental advocate for your students. The BC Minister of Education, for instance, is not.

Do not forget that this year, and not just because tomorrow is World Literacy Day.

Why? Her open letter to you [below] is perfectly reasonable, arguing about why we matter so critically to our children’s success. But when we compare its contents to some basic facts of how the BC Liberal government is undermining our social institutions and other trends in society, we really see what kind of manipulation is going on and why we need to be vigilant against the BC Liberals’ gruesome plans for education.

This is going to be a long 10 months. You need to stay frosty.

While the minister is correct in asserting the value of parents in a child’s education, the BC Liberals have done the following to support an anti-Robin Hood wealth transfer from the poor and middle class to tax cuts for the rich and large and mostly foreign corporations:

  1. closed over 200 schools
  2. laid off thousands of teachers and support staff
  3. refused to fund K-12 pay increases or carbon offsets they legislated themselves, meaning boards of education must make cuts to fund those costs
  4. attacked working people with a decade-long minimum wage stall, privatization, contracting out and legislated wage roll-backs, all of which impoverish workers, forcing them to take on extra work…all of which erodes parents’ and caregivers’ ability to spend precious moments with their students
  5. enhanced the high stakes testing regime and industrial warehousing of students which undermine individualized education
  6. forced budget cuts that erode supports for vulnerable students
  7. threatened the democratic legitimacy of boards of education who question the minister’s “wisdom”

Years ago I described the BC Liberal government’s political philosophy as sado-masochistic. They keep abusing us, we seem to keep electing them. I used to characterize it as forced sado-masochism, but since we have re-elected them twice, I’m not sure how forced it is. This is clearly an unhealthy relationship that feeds on feelings of apathy and powerlessness.

When you read the minister’s words below, you will surely see that time is of the essence. We must have free time to engage in all the positive support we can provide our children.

If the minister really wants to acknowledge the important role parents play in education and the solid research that supports that goal, the rest of her government wouldn’t be doing so much to undermine that relationship for the sake of tax cuts to the rich and global corporate shareholders.

The minister’s advice is still useful, though, assuming we can create the time to engage in political activism. In fact, the BC School Act’s fundamental purpose is to “enable all learners to become literate, to develop their individual potential and to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a healthy, democratic and pluralistic society and a prosperous and sustainable economy.”

The BC Liberal party’s goal is the economic focus, since so far this decade we’ve seen a constant erosion in our healthy, democratic and pluralistic society. But let’s look at how we can re-frame the minister’s advice to restore our society:

  • join your schools PAC [parent advisory committee]…to stay informed of parent and community action to protect our students and education system from further government cuts
  • get to know the teachers…to keep up with what kind of decimation is occurring in classrooms this year so you can mobilize to fight the government
  • learning truly is an active social process…that is currently being undermined by the government, so parental involvement in community action to protect public education is an essential civics lesson

And we need to keep up with our neighbours to see signs of things to come.

  1. We must be vigilant to make sure the government doesn’t engage in creative initiatives like attaching RFID chips to students to cut down on the time and expense of tracking attendance, so we can lay off some more support staff and help teachers focus more on weightier tasks. California is experimenting with this. Just because technology lets us do something doesn’t mean it’s right.
  2. Let’s avoid the thrust of academic inflation, cramming more and more knowledge and homework into the system at earlier grades because of some insane notion that the more students memorize before graduation, the smarter they will be. This comes from a lack of understanding of lower and higher order thinking. Learning is about learning how to learn, finding information, and improving analytical skills more than memorizing the dysfunction of Charlemagne, his heirs and the Carolingian dynasty. In fact, wise teachers have realized those addicted to the policy of increased homework are off the mark: “Once it leaves this building, we’re not using it for report card marks,” he said. “Once it leaves here, we don’t know who’s been working on it.”
  3. And in the same category as treating our children like RFID carriers, we need to avoid early streaming and its clones. At one Calgary school, despite their ineffective anti-streaming spin, they are streaming 7-year-olds into visual and performing arts, humanitarian and environmental issues, scientific inquiry and innovation, or sports and athletics streams. Streaming is wrong. It is particularly wrong with 7 year-olds who are far from able to pick or be assessed in one area. And more fundamentally, it perverts notions like Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory [which argues for enhancing students experiences in ALL intelligences] by picking a subset and ignoring the rest. But it can be quite cost effective to inject some Brave New World class juice into our culture. We must resist this.

Honestly. Happy first day of school!

It will definitely be a long 10 months. The system is more handicapped than last year. Our resources and time are strained further. But the need for our vigilance, advocacy and activism has never been higher. And it doesn’t hurt to read BC’s curriculum guides to find out what should be going on…and if you don’t see how they translate into real things in the classroom, ask your children’s teachers, who would be thrilled to see parents that engaged in learning.

But we are not along. Even the minister thinks we should get involved with the PAC, for instance.

Let’s make sure that’s the worst advice for her political career she ever issued, and I’ll see you at the other end in June.

Words from the minister:

As your child heads back to school this year, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the important role you, as parents, play in the success of all the children and young people in our education system.

Research has shown that when parents are involved and engaged, it not only helps their own child, it helps other children in the school. The evidence is consistent and convincing: parent engagement is one of the key factors identified by researchers in high-performing schools, and families have a major influence on their child’s achievement in school and through life.

I really encourage parents, when thinking about back to school, to talk to their child’s teacher. Really get to know your child’s teacher. Offer to volunteer. Become part of the parent advisory committee. You need to know what’s happening in the classroom to support your child.

Keep in touch with your school and discuss your child’s education. The close co-operation between home and school contributes significantly to creating a positive learning environment for children.

Learning is an active social process. You are your child’s first and most important teacher. Your role in their education remains as important today as it was when they were saying their first words or learning to walk.

As your child heads back to school, please get engaged to ensure all our children have a successful education experience. We can’t do it without you.

Margaret MacDiarmid
Minister of Education
Government of British Columbia

The following two tabs change content below.

Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website, dgiVista.org.

Latest posts by Stephen Elliott-Buckley (see all)

Leave a Reply