Category Archives: Education

Canadians Need a Real Education in Politics

Ipsos/CanWest just released a poll that shows that Canadians need far more education about how politics is supposed to work in a parliamentary system.

Here’s what they found [see below for some of the ambiguous juicy quotes]:

  1. a large minority think Igg would do a better job of running the country
  2. a slim majority think parliament isn’t working
  3. a slim majority think Harper is doing a good job of managing the issues

The conclusion from Ipsos? Most support Harper and are wary of Igg, so they don’t want an election.

That’s the best they could hobble together from the ambiguous data available.

Here’s the real answer that also supports the inconclusive data: Canadians don’t understand the relevance of the following–majority governments, minority governments, what parliament is supposed to do, what de facto coalitions do, what real coalitions could do, why majority governments are tyrannical, and how “issues that are most important to Canadians” have anything to do with the operation of government…especially minority governments.

The two parties that have governed Canada, with the polling firms and corporate media are incapable and uninterested in properly informing Canadians about the parliamentary system and all the other features of how politics actually occurs in Canada.

Why? They have a vested interested in manipulating perception for electoral purposes.

Democracy, informed civic participation and intelligent planning for the short and long term future are not the object of the Liberal Party, the ReformConservative Party, the polling firms and the corporate media.

When people start to learn about why we are being so poorly represented by the governing establishment, we have an actual hope of making democracy work while we watch the perfect storm of peak oil, climate breakdown and the implosion of neoliberal capitalism and globalization.

Education is the key.

Without it, we are at the mercy of people continuing to jerk us around.

The polling Ipsos paradox:

While many (53%) Canadians ‘agree’ (21% strongly/32% somewhat) that ‘our parliament isn’t working’, a new Ipsos Reid poll conducted on behalf of Canwest News Service and Global Television reveals that a majority (53%) ‘agrees’ (20% strongly/34% somewhat) that ‘Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are doing a good job of managing the issues that are most important to Canadians and should continue to govern’.

via Majority (53%) Say Harper Conservatives Doing ‘Good Job’ and Should Continue Governing as Only 39% Believe Ignatieff Liberals Would Do ‘Better Job’.

Politics, Re-Spun on Coop Radio, 5.4.09, a Vista Video Podcast

On Monday, May 4, 2009, Politics, Re-Spun met Coop Radio on “The Rational”, a Monday evening issues program. This is the second visit, with the next scheduled for Monday, May 11th, the night before the BC provincial election.

Imtiaz Popat and I talked about the leaders debate last night, how horribly condescending and unprofessional Gordon Campbell was, how the parties are polling, why STV is so important, all parties’ environmental plans that generally need to be far more expansive and robust, how the BC Conservatives’ leader, Wilf Hanni, will beat BC Liberal Bill Bennett [not that Socred guy] in Kootenay East, the carbon tax, the Port Mann bridge, the Gateway project, who will win the election, how much corruption in candidates the BC Liberals tolerate, why Mel Lehan will likely defeat Gordon Campbell in Point Grey, John van Dongen’s teflon political career, and the importance of voting on Wednesday to Saturday in the advance polls to set the trend of a higher voter turnout which will signal a change in government…so vote early! But we didn’t get to how Campbell cancelled his upcoming CBC radio debate with Carole James because of how poorly he did last night, and we again missed a chance to debrief the Billy Bob Thornton mayhem.

The video podcast of the conversation lives at Vista Video. 

You can watch it in Miro, the best new open source multimedia viewing software:


You can watch it in iTunes: itpc://


The podcast file is at


Gordon Campbell Fires Himself During the Leaders Debate

I was thoroughly astonished at how effectively Gordon Campbell maimed his political career during the leaders debate. But really, I shouldn’t be because of his utter inability to have any meaningful breadth of vision as a leader.

I can understand why the Liberals are hiding out and not attending all candidates meetings. Their record is so bad, that being perceived as arrogant and dismissive by not showing up is less damaging than having to answer to–or actually not answer to–their record.

But while Campbell is clearly afraid of having his empathy-free personality exposed in a debate with his NDP opponent Mel Lehan, he couldn’t hide from the leaders debate.

And since his no-contest plea to drunk driving in Maui in 2003, after spending years hiding in an undisclosed location with his ego-inflating RCMP security detail, he has clearly lost whatever populist appeal he had in the 1990s as an opposition MLA. I’ve recently looked at the leaders debates going back into the 1990s and he’s certainly lost even that edge. Unfortunately he hasn’t lost that nervous hand thing where he holds his hands in front of his belly, palms facing forward, holding a non-existent soccer ball. In the 1990s, a friend suggested his hands looked like they wanted to strangle someone, but I have always believed Campbell thinks it makes him look pensive.

And tonight he showed us all some of the worst elements of his character while Jane Sterk took adequate shots at the front-running parties and Carole James calmly and empathetically addressed issues, asked fact-based questions of Campbell and showed real maturity in the face of Campbell’s addiction to all things economic, and his chauvinism and condescension.

“It’s the Economy, Stupid!”

One of Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign epiphanies was all about getting elected on this: “it’s the economy, stupid.” Gordon Campbell, being obsessed with neoliberal economics, privatization, and reducing regulation, taxes, the government and all things public, spent much of the debate talking about how an issue or question affects the economy, no matter how far he had to drag the idea over.

Sure the Liberals have polled well on the economy, but he has drunk the neoliberal Kool-Aid so deeply that he still sees the global recession as a means to actually continue advancing his neoliberal agenda! It’s like Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine is his play book.

He knows that the recession is caused by neoliberalism and he loves it. It means more of the same.

What he isn’t hearing is that actual human beings enslaved by this global neoliberal economy are suffering under it since the economy doesn’t currently exist for them. And it scares them. So every time Campbell talks about how everything has to do with the economy, he just names their fear even more. Fear-mongerers like Campbell hopes this translates into votes. But hope and optimism and positive suggestions for a better province and world negate that negativity.

There were plenty of examples of Campbell’s obsession with economics. During the debate moderated by Russ Froese, he criticized Carole James for not having business experience. The assumption is that government is a business. That’s actually an ideology skulking around inside neoliberalism called New Public Management. But there are other more philosophically sound ideas of what a government is than that, the Social Contract, for one.

The pathetic thing about Campbell’s criticism is that elsewhere in the debate he reinforces what is commonly known about him, but seldom analyzed with his claim of being a businessman: he has spent the last 25 years in political life in municipal and provincial politics, so he himself has very little business experience. Whoops. George W. Bush may actually have more than him!

But to get a true sense of how economistic Gordon Campbell is, we only need to listen to the easiest softball question any politician could hope for, in the leadership category: what are three reasons why we should vote for you–and please answer without attacking or referring to your opponents. Sounds awesome. First, Carole James waxed eloquently about her resume and skill sets. To wrap up the trio, Jane Sterk did an good job of explaining sometimes vague experience, but right in the middle, Gordon Campbell failed his job interview:

“Well, Katy, that’s one of the more difficult questions I’m sure all three of us have had to try and answer. First let me say this, I think this is a very critical time in our economy. I think it’s important for us to have people with some business experience who can help deal with that. I think it’s important to have real leadership as we move forward and take advantage of the Pacific Century. That excites me. I also think that it’s important for us to have a government that’s willing to deal up front with the hard decisions we have to make with regard to climate change.”

Beyond the fluff of this nebulous Pacific Century, he went on talking about how the NDP did nothing to stop the pine beetle in the 1990s and why a new relationship with First Nations is important. 

But the beginning of his answer showed just how rarely he thinks about what public service really means–and he’s the premier! And he clearly wasn’t listening to Carole James inadvertently yet utterly destroy his lack of imagination, insight and breadth of personality just before him as he claimed that all three leaders couldn’t answer that question easily.

Still, if we are to take his current dubious First Nations policy seriously as a reflection of his leadership self-concept, we need to also remember that he stormed into office in 2001 and promptly embarked on a province-wide treaty referendum that was panned as purely racist and horribly worded to ensure the government could do whatever it wanted. Now that’s a sign of a special kind of horrible leadership!

Later, in responding to his neglect of the poor by not increasing the minimum wage for 8 years, Campbell again dragged out how the average wage in BC is $22/hour. My eyeballs swell with pressure every time he says this because he assumes we will all think we’re ok with that so we don’t need to care about the poor. But I wrote about that annoyance more here and I can’t go into it again or else I’d have to vomit.

And during his closing comment of the entire debate, the very first thing he said was that this election is about the economy and leadership. It’s clear that he doesn’t even have a vision of his own leadership and the issue around the economy is not whether the neoliberal government should continue to maim us during the recession, but whether we’re fed up with an economy that abuses people so that we can build an economy that actually serves people.

And to close, from the economy he invokes his fear-mongering hobby by threatening thousands of jobs that are at stake if the NDP forms government. Sure, BC is leading Canada by thousands in jobs lost in the last several months, but he’s hoping we’re not paying attention to that right now.

The trouble is, we are paying attention to that right now.

Chauvinism and Condescension

Aside from his reframing of everything into an economic lens, Gordon Campbell’s dark and dirty side came out during the debate as well.

Gordon Campbell’s first slip into condescension–or rather, insight into his character–came when Carole James asked him to justify his tough on crime stance with the cuts to prosecution and corrections officers in his February budget.

Campbell: “I think, Ms. James, you should understand...I know this is a big job and it’s hard to get it–a handle on it, but the fact of the matter is we’ve added additional prosecutors to fight crime and fight the gansters, BLAH BLAH BLAH,” and at that point nothing else he said mattered.

He just called her stupid!

And it wasn’t like she said anything stupid. She was just asking about line items in his own budget. Of course he had no answer, so he just verbally slapped her on the top of the head. Eight years of bullying policies seem to fit nicely with his personality.

The second condescending gouge came when the three leaders were talking about addressing crime. Campbell was all about the variety of retributive justice and policing interventions. Carole James was talking about policing as well as the prevention programs while Jane Sterk spoke against a policing-only strategy, supporting prevention programs and decriminalizing illegal drugs. 

To this, Campbell mumbles in response to the alternative perspectives, “it is a multi-faceted approach that is required of us.” 

This is one of those phrases people use to let their audience know that they are, again, too stupid to understand the complexities of it all. Yet Cambpell has only a single-faceted policing/prosecution strategy, while both of the other leaders have a multi-faceted approach. So on top of his habit of insulting people to get them to shut up, he wasn’t listening to what multiple approaches actually sound like.

It also means that Campbell is either unaware of the social determinants of crime, or he doesn’t care about them. It’s all about the hammer for him.

The next example of Campbell’s chauvinism and condescension came when Carole James asked him whether he’d fund his pet hammer projects by transferring money from other areas like auto safety or community safety. After the question, the moderator, Russ Froese, said open debate time was up and Campbell would have to answer the question during his rebuttal time.

Campbell laughed.

Sure it could have been the nervous laughter of a child unable to adapt to a tense situation. Or more likely it’s the typical behaviour of someone who enjoys demeaning others in the legislature. Unfortunately, he let that slip during a debate that more than a few people would be watching. It simply made him sound like someone who doesn’t have the time for this nonsense.

It is also at this point that Campbell starts answering questions and issues by speaking to “Russ” by name. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but with two female leaders attacking him, it sure looked like he was seeking a connection with the other male on the stage. It might be out of insecurity. It might be because he is playing to a male voter demographic that happens to dominate his party’s base. It might be to marginalize the women on the stage by establishing the dialogue as a male-to-male context, thereby making the women interrupters. 

Then, in a flagrant violation of the respectful tone of the debate so far, when talking about healthcare, Gordon Campbell got truly ugly.

His government pledged to build 5,000 new long-term care beds for seniors. It turns out they built almost 5,000 assisted living beds, which are useful but are far from the same level of intensive service of long-term care. Then George Abbott, in one of his first public bids to distance himself from the Campbell regime for a leadership run coming soon, ultimately agreed that they didn’t actoually build 5,000 beds, instead it was about 800.

So Carole James asks, “I’d like to ask Mr. Campbell, is his health minister telling the truth or are you?”

It was a classic catch-22. Campbell was screwed. So he did the best thing he could think of, attacking Carole James by saying, “no, you’re not.” And if you saw it, you’d know it was as transparent an attempt at dodging a tough question as Campbell could provide. And it had the added bonus of petulance and absurdity as her question was based on Campbell’s own health minister’s admission of facts.

Then on the environment, Campbell tried to spin his woefully inadequate climate change program with airy nonsense and unicorn tears by saying our grandchildren will thank us for making the hard choices and “building a bridge to the future,” whatever that means, when the climate intervention program will fail miserably based on what scientists say is required. 

Then Carole James replied to his nonsense by saying he is inconsistent on the environment with a pathetic carbon tax along with pushing for offshore oil and gas drilling, irresponsible fish farms, firing park wardens and reducing environmental protection. And during this description of Campbell’s duplicity, a man with a microphone turned on just laughed. 

I doubt it was Russ Froese. If it was Campbell, such a laugh is useful for dismissing the legitimacy of someone’s criticism. But in stating those blatant hypocrisies in Campbell’s approach to all of the environment, there’s nothing illegitimate about the criticism. The laugh just sounds like a desperate attempt to avoid the reality.

So, in an era where electoral reform will likely sweep BC’s electoral system out of the 19th century, it is stunning that the leader of the governing party would allow himself to exhibit such despicable behaviour in public. But then again, for someone who has been in hiding since Maui, he seems to have forgotten that the soon-to-be passe rude and dishonourable behaviour in the legislature is part of the reason why people will vote for change this month.

And it’s not useful to let that nasty behaviour show up in public!

It made him look even more misanthropic than he already is, especially when Jane Sterk was attacking the polarized blame game of BC politics and Carole James was presenting an enlightened, human-centred vision for what the BC government should make the economy do for people.

So in just over 59 minutes, Gordon Campbell’s failure to relate to human beings, his obsession with the economy, and his rudeness, condescension and chauvinism will be a strong likely explanation for significantly increased voter turnout, a new electoral system, and an end to his days as premier.

Some Early Justification for NDP’s Gender Policies

I saw today three examples that support the need for the BC NDP’s affirmative action candidate policies. As much as it has been and will continue to be controversial, today alone justifies it for me.

But first, being in an anti-no-spin zone, my take on this issue is affected by being a white male, with university degrees, raised in an upper middle-class suburban Judeo-Christian, English-speaking home. So of course I lose out on typical affirmative action policies, and I’m fine with that.

As an NDP member and as someone who attended the last convention and voted for the affirmative action policies, it is not because of some kind of male/white/oppressor guilt. It is because breaking generations-long sociological trends can take generations without some intervention.

Not everyone was ready to stop owning people 240 years ago, nor was everyone ready to let non-whites drink out of whites-only public drinking fountains 40-odd years ago. We could have waited for multi-generational educational programs to make the glacial change necessary, while watching old bigots slowly die off.

Honestly, I don’t have that kind of patience.

And when David Chudnovsky decided to not run again as my MLA, I was saddened at what would be the end of his accomplishments and his future potential in the ledge. But I also know that over a dozen women were approached to consider running for his seat, and every single one of them had the qualities to be a successful MLA. But how many of them would have considered it if men were allowed to run? That we’ll never know for sure, but ask around and you’ll find that a few probably wouldn’t have.

So what did we lose with the new policy? People of my demographic weren’t able to run and that left us in the end with Mable Elmore and Jinny Sims to choose from. Quite a fantastic choice. Each signed up over 500 new members in the riding and were an example of on-the-ground democracy in action for 6 months leading up to the nomination meeting. It was an embarrassment of riches since either would be a fantastic MLA.

As far as I can see, Vancouver-Kensington will not suffer under this policy and I expect that with hard work and dedication of already dozens of committed volunteers and staff, the NDP will keep the riding, for many many reasons.

So what happened today to further vindicate this policy for me?

The Victoria Times-Colonist perpetuated sexist reporting yesterday in remarking on how Carole James “looked comfortable in a brown suit and silver earrings as she began her campaign.” The story neglected to comment on how comfortable or uncomfortable Gordon Campbell looked wearing his business suit. Perhaps the premier was wearing jewelry too, but we’ll never know now, nor will we know if that made him more or less comfortable.

Then in the comments section of a Vancouver Sun piece today on the carbon tax, this unenlightened soul wrote about Carole James “Has anybody else noticed that Carole James starts every sentence with the same two words (Gordon Campbell)? Thank you for repeatedly reminding us that Gordon Campbell is our current premier. I do believe I shall vote for him in May. Now run along in your Hillary Clinton-esque pant suits and go celebrate your much-anticipated 2nd place finish with your union buddies.” No spin necessary here. If you don’t get my point, you can stop reading right now.

And finally tonight on Vaughn Palmer’s Voice of BC show there was discussion of the new candidate policy and how it is being received. To wrap the short conversation on that topic, Palmer mentioned that the Liberals have about two dozen female candidates, to which he added, “and that’s not bad for them.” Two dozen is just about right when you look at their list.

Wow. What an astonishing accomplishment getting around two dozen of 85 candidates to be women.

I don’t mind spinning this if it isn’t obvious. No one expects much from a radically right wing party like the neoLiberals in terms of authentic representation, particularly in representing the majority gender of the province. So Palmer is giving a nod to the efforts of the neoLiberals for accomplishing that much anyway. And he’s absolutely right when he said that’s not bad for them. It isn’t bad…for them. But they are a party that is as far from egalitarian in policy and procedure as we have ever seen in BC. And if they are any kind of benchmark we should be seeking, then we are criminally deluded.

In light of these three instances alone, and even without how wonderful it was to choose from two fantastic contenders in Vancouver-Kensington, as a member of the demographic unable to run for the party nomination, I do not begrudge the policy at all and I’m glad I voted for it at the last convention.

Further, I expect it will change the face of the ledge and legitimize in bigots’, cynics’ and anyone’s mind that women can do the job.

And while all the arguments about negative consequences and precedents of affirmative action policies still have merit, a little tweaking now and again can vindicate itself substantially. And I know that the ends justifying the means are not always a strong argument to promote, but inaction is itself a choice with political ramifications. After all, in the STV referendum we are tinkering with our 19th century electoral system that was designed for two broad-based parties that fight for seats. Our population and society don’t reflect that party norm today, and frankly the two parties did a poor job of representing everyone 140 years ago anyway.

So while there will continue to be great arguments against this policy, I’ve found great peace in supporting it so far and I look forward to the day when my idealism is better realized and we can do away with this tweaking because our political culture will have become less bigoted.

The BCTF Says to Take 5 People When You Vote

YouTube – BCTFvids’s Channel.

The BCTF’s YouTube videos [above] are pretty powerful. One of the best ideas in them is for each of us to make sure we take 5 people to vote for public education.

Do a quick mental survey of people you know, those that are politically curious, those that tend to avoid political topics.

Send them this link to pro-education videos and ask them if they’re registered to vote. Then be their democracy guardian angel.

Too many people will end up not voting, but the world is run by people who show up, especially in a democracy that is struggling with legitimacy in our electoral system. Let’s make sure that the people we know who care about solid policy that respects what a healthy future requires, actually cast a ballot.

And many grade 12 students are eligible to vote. Do you know any of them? Ask if they’re mad as hell yet. If they’re not going to take it anymore, make sure you help them along to being registered and vote.

Is Controlling for Race Inherently Racist?

I think so.

Here’s why.

The advantages to having demographic information out in the open far outweigh the disadvantages, said Prof. Fullan, who is also professor emeritus of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

“We said we should use the information to make all schools better, but I understand the fear,” he said in an interview yesterday.

Prof. Fullan believes in setting targets for test scores, and in the idea of statistical neighbours, whereby schools with similar demographics can be compared with each other.

via Data on schools website divides parents, educators.

Let’s start with this poll. The last time I saw such a close race was the Quebec separation referendum over 10 years ago. This is the vote tally as of 11:30pm tonight. Apparently it was also evenly split earlier this afternoon.

The poll shows that over 4,000 people agree with Michael Fullan that the demographic make-up of a school in the form of parents’ immigration background is a significant enough variable in determining which school’s product they purchase.

The Ontario government removed income and education levels from the presentation of information. That is a rather damning self-indictment. They initially included it because it fit the profile of what they wanted educational consumers to consider when making their purchases, then they removed it. Perhaps people couldn’t stomach the blatant reality that some would choose a school based on the wealth of parents, but clearly, that does go on.

Essentially, what we’re dealing with here is the Ontario government’s tacit support for a class based public service. Pick some variables that determine the class you want your children to associate with, then publicize the data for informed choice. Society should not be condoning or supporting such class-based decision-making. Period.

In BC, we’re well aware of the criminally narrow range of high-stakes testing that our students suffer to generate Foundational Skills Assessment scores for the hyper-libertarian, unregulated market-worshiping Fraser Institute to use in ranking schools. The whole process is obscene and celebrates active ignorance of the breadth of what it takes to evaluate our multi-faceted human beings in the K-12 education system and the system as a whole.

And now in Ontario, the government is essentially controlling for race in the statistical analysis that parents unjustifiably wish to make. When we talk about immigration background, we’re talking about the polite way of describing parents’ race. I have a hard time thinking that if Michael Fullan tried to float this concept as an academic project past OISE’s research ethics board, he would have been roundly rebuked–at least I’d hope so.

The government is inciting a firestorm of bigotry by enabling people to be able to move their students from schools with too many of the wrong kind of classmates, with people defining wrong in whatever mildly to severely racist tone they wish.

This is the height of social and political irresponsibility. In an era of economic crisis when local communities will increase in importance for enhancing individual and regional socio-economic resilience, inserting this wedge that will split communities is simply reprehensible.

And since I’ve only taught high school and have never been a professor emeritus at OISE, I’m totally open to hearing all these great arguments in libertarian social engineering that Michael Fullan feels far outweigh the provincial government condoning race-based divisive education policy.

Challenging the Myth of Non-Partisanship and the NPA’s Stability

Two nights ago during dinner, one of the candidates for the Vancouver Park Board phoned me. He is running with the Non-Partisan Association, the NPA…a group that I have written before [see “The Lie of Non-Partisanship” from July 8, 2005 at]. In fact, the NPA is anything but non-partisan, being all conservative and neoliberal. And it turns out that partisanship is the theme of this article.

Now, I won’t go into who from the NPA ranks phoned me the other night, mostly because I block out trauma, explaining to him that I would never in a million years vote for the NPA. He was jovial, wanting to engage with me despite our differences of opinion: a total waste of time.

He said he phoned me because my sister gave him my number and that I would consider voting for him, so he should call me. Right. I have no sister. Maybe the woman he said who came into his store and gave him a phone number wrote it down incorrectly and this hapless fellow phoned me. Or maybe the NPA candidates are cold-calling people in the phone book because that’s where they’re at now.

The phone book seems to me to be the best explanation. It reflects how desperate the NPA is, poised to lose all their seats on city, school and parks boards as they are, what with the COPE-Vision-Green coordinated slate. Well done Mayor Sam Sullivan, destroying the NPA brand in but one term.

But the synchronicity arrived this evening at dinner time when a pollster phoned. It was Innovative Research Group, another group I’ve written about before [see “Racist Survey Questions on a Survey about Multi-Culturalism” from October 15, 2007 at]. A year ago I wrote about one of their omnibus online polls that asked me many things, including to rank how I felt about a variety of racial groups living in our multi-cultural Canada, on a scale of 0-10 on whether I have a favourable or unfavourable impression of each race. I included a screenshot of those poll questions in my article last year.

Tonight’s IRG poll asked about my awareness and voting intentions in the Vancouver election. And while the poll wasn’t as offensive as last year’s, it did ask one question that bothered me: was I concerned about the number of Vision and COPE school board candidates who have been education union members.

The poll didn’t at all ask how I felt about the number of business owners or candidates with corporate connections in any of the parties. This reflects an ongoing, ingrained mentality in our society that there is a “normal” group of people, and then there are the special interest groups, like unions. This is the same mythology that the NPA has perpetuated for decades, pretending that they are neutral, objective or somehow not beholden to any ideology or group. This is nonsense. Everyone has a bias. Pretending you don’t is a lie.

And while it was far from clear that the NPA commissioned tonight’s IRG poll and loaded it up with that union question, the presence of the question indicates a mindset that special interest groups are treated as marginalized.

Now with the global economic meltdown in full swing and former US Federal Reserve Bank Alan Greenspan testifying before Congress this week that deregulated, neoliberal capitalism doesn’t work, I think that questioning people with corporate connections should be fair game.

An interesting twist came this evening when I swung by the website of Innovative Research Group: It turns out they’ve gone off the radar. Here’s a screenshot of their website tonight:

When you click on the image you can see that their entire website consists of one page saying “Welcome to the future home of This Page is currently under construction.”

Maybe it’s semantics, but honestly, they used to have a full website functioning at that location. Thanks to the marvels of the Way Back Machine, you can see various incarnations of their past websites at*/ There could be lots of reasons why they’ve gone under the radar, no longer promoting the coverage of their polls or letting people easily contact them. But their lack of presence, especially because they used to have one, just looks fishy to me.

Shirley Bond is Desperate for Re-Election

If anyone has any pretense about being an effective school board trustee in British Columbia come this November 15th, read this piece from our Education Minister.

If you do not fly into a focused righteous rage at the insanity of it and your mission to destroy the provincial government’s anti-human, anti-social agenda, step out of the way for those who will.

As Bond pretends to have nothing to do with boards of education closing schools, my jaw hangs in shock at her gall and offense to anyone connected with the 177 schools closed under their watch since 2001.

Boards of education are arms-length blockers for a government out to privatize education as they gathered $10 billion in surpluses in the last 3 years. To avoid doing the nasty work, the Education Ministry strangles the budgets of school districts forcing them to enact Campbell’s “tough choices” in his “new era.”

Neighbourhoods of Learning is a fascinating solution to the problem her government created, but it is a solution implemented in the 1990s by the NDP government. The fact that it is showing up now indicates its effectiveness and the fact that Bond et al have realized they are behind in the polls with an election looming. Absolute cynicism.

Neighbourhoods of Learning as a broad philosophy could have been used to put in more subsidized childcare space to empty classrooms to avoid closing any schools. Since the ministry knows the declining enrolment is but a blip, when numbers rise again and our facilities will not be able to accomodate the capacity, expect provincial subsidization of private school infrastructure, just like last October’s announcement of provincial subsidization of private child care infrastructure. It’s all part of the crisis creation in the privatization agenda.

Shirley Bond: desperate for re-election, about to receive her termination notice.

Source: Nanaimo Daily News

Boards, not government, decide to close schools

Published: Friday, September 12, 2008

I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify some misconceptions that may
have been created by an editorial on education that appeared recently in
your newspaper.

Our government has not, in fact, directed boards of education in British
Columbia to close or sell schools. Those are decisions that have been made
in good faith by locally elected school trustees — the people we believe
are in the best position to make them.

Over a decade of declining enrolment has led boards to close under-utilized
school spaces in various parts of the province. However, I must point out
that the trend of school closures did not begin under this government, nor
is it limited to B.C. Declining enrolment is a nation-wide occurrence and
many provinces are considering solutions that include incorporating more
community usage of school buildings so that valuable assets don’t sit empty.

The Neighbourhoods of Learning concept announced by our Premier last week is
just such a plan – encouraging the development of community solutions to
fill excess space in our schools and create community hubs where services
are co-located within underutilized space.

This is not a new direction — our government has encouraged community use
of underutilized space through the School Community Connections program
since the beginning of our mandate and our rapidly growing StrongStart B.C.
program has continued in that vein. Our recently announced school closure
and disposal policy requires boards to consider such usage, as well as
potential space needs for early learning programming, in their future

It should also be noted that despite a decline of more than 50,000 students
since 2001, our government has increased overall education funding by 23% —
to a budget this school year of nearly $5.7 billion. That clearly dispels
claims of underfunding made by the president of the Nanaimo teachers’ local
that appeared in a recent letter to the editor in your newspaper.

Per-student funding in the province has risen to an estimated $8,078 this
school year, up nearly $1,900 per student since 2001. We have the highest
budget for education in B.C.’s history, despite a significant loss of
students over the last decade.

Shirley Bond
Minister of Education

Poisoning a Community: What Forces Teachers to Leave

Jeepers. This piece [see below] was terrifying, mostly because of the angry abuse making up many of the comments at the website.

“It’s just a job.” That’s a scary phrase. But I can relate to it. I quit just before I got to that place, and that was after 12 years teaching in first a pretty good climate leading to a steadily soul-destroying climate.

I still deal with the regret of spending almost a decade wanting to become a teacher, doing the training and getting a job, then building professional competence, only to see it assaulted by political forces. Reforming from within is something so many are capable of doing without becoming too bitter. I have immense respect for them. The price became too high for me.

Now I have stepped out of the classroom to find more politically powerful tools to address the underlying hyper-individualistic ideological and neoliberal economics motivations for destroying the public, universal, communitarian, society-building education system in exchange for one that worships the inherent god of free-market economics.

But I still resent having my vocation stolen from me by a poisoned climate. Yet, I am still optimistic. Optimistic and unwavering in my belief that when my children turn 5, they will have a rewarding public school experience despite others’ attempts to defund and undermine it for their own material greed, misanthropy and hatred of “the inferior”.

Oh, yes, the soul-destroying climate:

– parents who blindly stand behind their students who are caught cheating, insisting that the teachers are lying, despite evidence, perhaps because they feel being a good parent means always believing your child
– arbitrary statistical school “performance” goals that encourage fudging enrollment in provincial government exam courses
– the institutional mentality that increasingly needs to pound square peg students into round holes
– “customer” satisfaction surveys
– corporate “food” companies building food fairs in cafeterias
– parents claiming I am discriminating against their students because I didn’t catch all the other cheaters on the test, therefore their students shouldn’t be “consequenced”
– labour flexibility = servitude
– functionally illiterate administrators who believe they are inspiring
– administrators soliciting parents to complain to them about teachers instead of following district policy asking them to show enough respect for the teachers to speak to them first
– administrators trying to subvert any due process to get teachers to quit
– administrators soliciting students to complain about unfavoured teachers
– high stakes testing
– the ignorance-championing view that what cannot be measured with “objective,” “verifiable” statistics is not worth teaching
– new teachers having to justify their grade distribution to their administrators as a statistical whole, rather than an aggregate of actual individual students’ achievement
– staff meetings split into 4 different groups in different rooms to keep the staff from discussing contentious issues affecting the entire learning community
– the Fraser Institute–with its website and publications riddled with spelling errors–promoting myopic, research-rejecting educational values
– teachers who welcome and even champion government violations of their labour and human rights
– Ministry staff and government functionaries who believe consulting stakeholders means refusing to speak with BCTF representatives because they are a special interest group, different from all the other special interests
– legislating used car salespeople to have a self-regulating professional body, but removing teachers’ ability to have the same
– students who feel it is a human rights violation to be asked to handwrite or not write formal essays w/ txt msg abrev’s and shit, u no?
– Emery Dosdall
– Christy Clark
– Gordon Campbell

Why I Left the Classroom
Teaching changed, so I changed my life.
By Shaun Cunningham
Published: March 28, 2007

One in five teachers leaves the profession within the first five years of teaching. Or is it one in thirteen, as the Ontario government claims? Whatever the stats, they don’t reveal how many vanishing teachers were young and restless, old and exhausted, or, like myself, somewhere in between.

Based on what I’ve overheard in the public school staff rooms of British Columbia, about 98 per cent of teachers say they seriously consider getting out about once a day. The other two per cent are, of course, either Buddhists or medicated. I am one of these. Gone, that is, not medicated.

My own stand-up performance lasted 15 years, thus outlasting by ten years all those who leap from the ship within the first five years. It’s not so much that I’m a slow learner, but rather that this is how long it took me to achieve the spectacular kind of burn-out which hasn’t been seen since one of my Junior High math teachers declared in the middle of class, “This doesn’t add up”, left the room, and was never seen again.

Teaching was my identity and I miss it. So the answer to why I left isn’t simple. The answer, “to look after my children” brings sighs, nods of knowing commiseration, and the occasional hug from young mothers who barely know me. But in truth, I have a kind of laundry list of items which, taken together, may or may not constitute the dirt on why I and so many teachers leave the best profession on earth.

Numbers that add up

Those who believe that the 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. school bells constitute the parameters of teachers’ working hours subscribe to one or more illusions. One of these is perhaps based on recollections of the kind of schooling that depended primarily on textbooks, workbooks and on matching words to pictures. A second might be the vision of a teacher standing before a group of “average students” who are all able to learn at roughly the same rate and in roughly the same way.

Teachers now stand before a group of individuals. Each of their learning styles, their needs, their contexts, abilities and disabilities needs identification, respect, modification and thought. In one split class of 29 students, I was faced with 19 different “labels,” nine of which required completely individualized education plans. After countless meetings and forms, at June’s end that particular year, I waved good-bye to a group who seemed not to be significantly hampered by my inability to meet their needs. I, on the other hand, was mute with both exhaustion and a sense of personal failure.

Given the expectation of individualization, textbooks (where updated versions exist in sufficient numbers) have become only semi-useful tools of instruction. Many teachers run, by necessity, a “resource-based classroom.” This involves locating, evaluating, modifying and adapting material wherever you can find it. When two parents asked for homework in advance so as to pack it along on a trip to Disneyland, I suggested that they would need to make room for me. “I’m the program,” I said. “What time do we leave?”

Discussing this often inspires lectures from experts on education, most of whom work at jobs outside the field — like my Uncle Bob, for example. He had 40 or 50 kids in his room and his teacher carried a stick and wasn’t afraid to use it. He refers to these times as “the good old days,” which is why no one wants Uncle Bob at Thanksgiving dinner.

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll

When did I get so conservative that I wanted to skip the class debating session and work on negative integers instead? Well, the day I intervened to stop a vote on who was hotter, Hillary Duff or Britney Spears, that’s when.

The voice in my head says, “I
can’t believe I’m talking about this with 30 twelve-year-olds and I REALLY can’t believe that kid just asked that question in public. Is this something to discuss openly? In a classroom? Is my face red? Is this really in the curriculum?”

Yes, it is. Everything is: reading, writing, arithmetic, sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

The hat rack

Teacher training programs provide hats, which are trendy in style, to suit the basic tasks of daily organization, instruction and assessment. There are many of them, but they’re quickly outdated. Then teachers add their own new hats in the day-to-day dealings with 30 students, which we wear proudly into staff rooms: “Hey! Check out my new counsellor cap!” Each new one makes us feel as though we have responded, made a difference in young lives.

We collect more hats in our service to school-based managers, formerly known as principals. The boards themselves, who often speak as though CEOs of a publicly traded company, remind our captains never to remove their “fiduciary duty” fedoras. Where budgets rule, the quality of leadership is determined by numbers.

By year three, my headgear had expanded from the day-wear of a classroom teacher into the evening-wear of other roles: Attender of Many Meetings (some of which are called to cancel the initiatives announced at the last), Neurologist, Pharmacist, Public Speaker, Filer of Documentation, Punching Bag, Conscientious Objector. . . .

As I sat at home one night ignoring my own kids while polishing my union helmet before another evening meeting, it finally hit me. “Hey! This is just another hat!”

Flip flopping

In theory, schooling is about “the basics,” and in reality, at report card time at least, it returns to those roots. Between this tri-annual grounding, however, schooling has become very much about the societal ill du jour and about ideology. What’s on the talk show tonight may well be in your classroom in the form of a draft document by the end of the week. Then cancelled shortly after. I recall gulping down supper before heading off to do an evening workshop on “How to read your Year 2000 report card.” My fork froze halfway to my mouth when I heard Mike Harcourt announce on the TV news that the Year 2000 program was dead.

Though not funny at all really, it became a form of entertainment for my teacher wife and I. “Wait for it!” we would say, while listening to a talk or call-in show. Sure enough, someone would say, “Schools need to do more about this.”

Of course, schools need to address the ills of a society. It’s just that some of these ills are diagnosed awfully quickly and the prescription tends often to be a program apparently hashed out in the back of a cab on the way to a booksellers’ convention.

If the governments used the same method to plan public health as they do for education, medical treatments would be determined by the callers to yesterday’s phone-in show.


My son, at seven years of age, got mad at me for referring to my students as “my kids.” “They’re not your kids, Dad,” he said. “I am.”

I tried to keep that fact in front of me afterward when trying to manage how much of my life became occupied with the dilemmas of the troubled little souls I dealt with. It didn’t work. “My students” came to inhabit my thoughts, my planning and my approach to what was needed as surely as my own kids did. Sometimes, in those cases where students were in serious trouble or seriously troubled by their own circumstances, where I was not getting through, they took up even more space in my head. What was I to do — adopt them? No room in the house.

I took to phoning those radio talk shows instead. “Listen,” I said. “If you’re going to ask teachers to deal with all the complex issues and dynamics of the day (in between the regular public bashings, that is), you’re going to need smaller classes. There’s a reason that people don’t have 30 kids when they decide to raise a family.”

The answer to this demand, sadly, was a new 2002 contract that replaced class size limits with “flexibility.”

Feeding the students

By at least one measure, B.C. tops the provinces with the highest rate of child poverty. Those who dispute the numbers might visit what now constitutes a typical classroom. Depending on the locale, you will find an alarming number of children coming to elementary school without proper wear on cold days, without nutritious — or any — lunch, without sleep, without acquaintance with books and quite likely, without the slightest conviction that their schooling might change anything about their contexts and choices. The children of poverty require you to work at the level of need for which a degree in social work might have been better preparation. And when you have a choice between finding a warm spot for a kid to eat the school-provided, clandestine lunch or finding a replacement bulb for the overhead projector you need for the afternoon lesson on addition, it’s the math that goes by the wayside.

Until, that is, the quiet and loud demands for care become overwhelming and you realize you don’t feel you are making the kind of difference that needs to be made. You can too easily relate to the prejudice promoted by conservative governments and think-tanks. You begin sounding like someone else, speaking resentfully of “all these needs.”

Getting revenge

When I was a student, my own experience of schooling was mostly abysmal. Part of the rationale for becoming a teacher, I have always claimed, was “revenge.” I thought the best way to overcome the bitterness I felt was to join the ranks and do the job better, make schools better. Ten years into the profession, I recognized in myself an exhaustion akin to that which my Grade 11 social studies teacher must have been feeling when he had us spend the year copying notes from a textbook while he sat reading the newspaper at his desk.

Though I spent very little time at my desk — and no part of my day on “personal reading,” I asked a friend for a favour when I saw the potential for burn-out coming on. “When you see me starting to fizzle, when you see that look that says, ‘Please kill me’ on my students’ faces, tell me,” I said. I didn’t want to stick around and torture kids more than the general experience of life in school already burdens some of them.

Unfortunately, my friend left town too soon. It became my own responsibility to spot the signs and, sure enough, they accumulated. Meeting-by-meeting, form-by-form, minister-by-minister, and kid-by-kid. So I left.

I have great admiration for those who remain to fight with the kind of wide-ranging involvement energy, time and conviction required. As for me, I volunteer in my children’s own schools now and I write thank-you notes to their teachers at the slightest provocation. Perhaps I’ll give it another try someday, but only after practicing the mantra it seems to require: “It’s just a job. It’s just a job. It’s just a job.”

Shaun Cunningham was a B.C. elementary school teacher for 15 years, who recently moved to New Brunswick. This week, he started substitute teaching in his daughter’s school.

Real Soap, “Real” Beauty, “Real” Feminism?

Dove soap’s Campaign for Real Beauty is very interesting to me. I’ve seen the billboards and I appreciate their attempt to legitimize beauty beyond what we’re brainwashed with in Maxim, Playboy, Baywatch and the like.

But I’m not so sure about Dove. I’m not so sure that even if their soap products, etc. are stupendous that I respect them co-opting a legitimate debate for corporate ends. True, they may be spurring some to expand their sense of beauty, but underlying Maxim, Playboy, Baywatch and Dove is the consumerist necessity of defining for us what we want so we can buy it from one company, as opposed to the other.

So cynically–or perhaps realistically–Dove is merely engaging us in clever market segmentation: they are the soap for people who don’t wish to recognize any legitimacy in stereotyped constructions of beauty. How post-modern of them.

Then there’s the Dove Self-Esteem Fund, that helps “girls all over the world to overcome everyday beauty pressures.” Right. Again, Dove may be god’s gift to women’s dermatological health, but do we really want Dove being in charge of this dialogue? They sure want to be in charge of it. Great viral PR [we’re encouraged to invite friends to the website]. In fact, instead of them actually having to advertise to you about how great they are in funding socially-conscious projects, we end up seeking that information from them. It’ll stick to us better that way because we want to know about them. The cosmetics and health products industries are prime culprits in destroying women’s self-esteem. How ironic–or socially healing?–of Dove to try to rectify this. Either way, they will probably sell more soap.

Happily for Dove, 2 of the 5 items listed as success stories for the Self-Esteem Fund are photo exhibitions they created themselves.

It may be terrible to rub this in, but Dove is even doing market research on us as we navigate their site. In providing information about their motives [thoroughly altruistic sounding, of course–remember, they’re on our side!], they ration the information so that we need to click to further screens for elaboration. They end up with a good sense of just how much each of us is interested in various depths of information. This information about us can be combined with a log of all pages we visit on their site [including the time we spend between clicking through pages] to give them a pretty wonderful sense of how much we care to know. Heck, even I track my access logs to examine reading/clicking habits on my site [anonymously, though, because I collect nothing about yall but IP numbers]; I’ve got to believe Dove does it too. Worse still, if we actually log in and supply demographic data when we create our profile on the site [assuming a certain percentage of those signing up are not lying], they get an even broader sense of us, despite their claim that they only collect navigation data anonymously and in the aggregate. And what is our benefit from all this? Better soap? Better self-esteem through Dove products?

Even more cynically, perhaps, how many of the people taking part in the definition of beauty discussions on that site are Dove lackeys spinning conversation in defined PR areas? If I were running this campaign, I wouldn’t leave the discussion board completely at the mercy of regular normal people without having my branding agents subtly making it all worthwhile.

So then I dug through my hard drive to find the August 1992 update of the soc.feminism faq that defines various flavours of feminism to see which ones would support Dove’s campaign and which ones would condemn it. The updated faq of Different Flavours of Feminism is more useful.

Applying each flavour to Dove’s campaign will require great thought: more than I can accomplish without a few more days/weeks of mental meandering. [Maybe in the meantime I’ll write something in here about the disaster of w.Caesar’s election. Or not]

For now, until you follow the link to the full faq with descriptions of the flavours, here they are, listed:

Amazon Feminism


Cultural Feminism

Erotic Feminism



Feminism and Women of Color

Individualist, or Libertarian Feminism


Liberal Feminism

Marxist and Socialist Feminism

Material Feminism

Moderate Feminism


Radical Feminism


Men’s Movements:

Feminist Men’s Movement

Men’s Liberation Movement

Mythopoetic Men’s Movement

The New Traditionalists

The Father’s Movements