• SETHICS 16.09.2014

    Today, in the wee hours, the BCTF and the BC government reached a tentative deal to start the schools up again for the 2014-15 season. Sethblogs doesn’t want to take all of the credit, but this past Friday, Sethblogs, two Sethblogs siblings, and our teammate, Natalie, started a petition gently asking the BCTF (whose rhetoric we found to be annoyingly self-celebrating, and emotionally manipulative) to focus on the facts of bargaining. Apparently, our request worked! You’re welcome.

    In the meantime, as both sides head to their neutral bunkers to discuss whether tentative should become definite, I think our petition remains relevant to keep the incindiary discussions from catching fire again. For instance, I just heard CKNW quoting teachers as relieved to be going back to work after they’ve been “without a paycheque for months.” Such language (uncriticized by CKNW) suggests that the teachers have missed months of pay for their cause, when of course, most teachers are paid for the summer in advance, and so would already have been compensated for that timeframe, and so really were out a salary for weeks. Certainly not an easy position to be in when one has bills to pay, but I think most dictionaries would back me up that “weeks” are not the same thing as “months.”

    Thus, for your consideration, I present the petition created by the SethBlogs Society. Check out the link for reading/signing, and/or you can view the entire content here. Said us:

    We call upon the BCTF to stop using emotional and misleading arguments in the current dispute with the BC government.

    Dear BCTF, Mr. Iker, and supporters of the teachers’ side of the labour dispute:

    While we acknowledge that the government may also have some unfair language to answer for, we find that the BCTF and their supporters have more often engaged in unreasonable rhetoric. They seem to position themselves as a collection of infallible representatives of truth, integrity, and the rights of our children, while simultaneously portraying the government as uncaring misers set on destroying our education system. We find this contrast to be based largely on red herrings and emotional mischaracterizations of contentious matters.

    The following is not meant to be an exhaustive list of controversial issues in this dispute, but a collection of arguments by which we feel the BCTF and supporters are distracting us from the issues at stake in bargaining.

    1: Binding Arbitration:

    Binding Arbitration has its virtues, and may still have a place in the current dispute, but please stop insisting that the government’s refusal to go this route at the present time is somehow immoral and unreasonable. It is not necessarily in the best interest of the taxpayers (by way of the government who represents us), to put our collective chequebook in the hands of a third party, who could easily settle on a figure that is beyond what we feel we can afford.

    Moreover, binding arbitration may settle on a middle figure between the two sides’ positions, which sounds reasonable in theory but in practice could have an unfair result. For instance, one side could purposely ask for the stars so that they could settle for the compromise of “just” the moon.

    2: Provincial Comparisons:

    The suggestion that BC teachers should get a raise because they make less than the national average is a red herring. Just because another group in another province has a better deal does not define ours as unfair. The provinces have different priorities in terms of how to spend their money (as determined by elections); as well, they may have a lower supply of teachers (which, we understand, BC has in abundance). The notion that all workers must make more than the national average creates a perpetual raise policy; that is, every time a province leapfrogs above the average, another province will be pushed below and will thus be expected to make their own leap.

    Please keep in mind that we, the electoral majority of the citizens of BC, voted for this government. We believe the voters of BC were fully aware that this labour dispute was approaching. If the electorate had wanted teachers to receive a more significant raise, perhaps we would have voted for the NDP. Elections and voters matter.

    3: The Importance of Teachers:

    Please stop asserting that the importance of a job definitively justifies a high level of compensation. As much as we may wish it were otherwise, we are not living in an economic moral meritocracy. In our current economic structure, our society does not compensate based on virtue. Otherwise Red Cross workers would be millionaires and Justin Bieber would be a pauper.

    4: The Poverty Argument:

    We find the claim that teachers “don’t go into teaching to make money” (implying that making a teachers’ salary is difficult financially) to be disrespectful to the women and men of this province who make less than teachers and don’t have access to their generous benefits packages. We don’t know the motivations of all teachers; many may indeed have chosen teaching to benefit society. That is admirable. However, the implication that teachers (who average $71,000 per year in salary, plus impeccable benefits) are in a low-paid field is difficult for many of us to fathom. (And, that doesn’t take into account that this salary is based on ten months’ work: over a full year, pro-rated, it would be $84,000.)

    5: The Poverty Argument, Part 2:

    Similarly, we find the claims from some teachers that they “have to take a second job during the summer to cover [their] bills” to be disingenuous. Teachers receive their summers off and, for the most part, are paid over a 10-month period rather than 12 months. In other words, they have access to their full salaries earlier than the average worker.

    Thus, suggesting they don’t have employment and are not paid over the summer months is misleading. If anything, the two months are a rare benefit, in which teachers have many options, including vacation time (perhaps with their kids, who are conveniently off at the same time) or the choice to bump up their salaries by teaching summer school or taking other jobs. How many other occupations have this kind of flexibility?

    6: Ignoring the Benefits:

    We feel that, when making direct comparisons to the compensation of other workers, the benefits inherent to these public sector positions need to be factored in. Teachers have a high degree of job security, good health benefits, and generous defined pensions usually not available in the private sector.

    7: “It’s not about money”:

    We’re dismayed by the common assertion that teachers aren’t striking for the money; instead, they claim, they’re striking for the students. Maybe that’s part of their motivation, but, a casual look at their contract proposals indicates quite clearly that they’re looking for a substantial boost in compensation as well.

    8: “If you host the Olympics, you can afford to pay teachers more”:

    The argument that, because we invested in big projects such as the Olympics, the construction of the new convention centre, the BC Place roof upgrade, and Christy Clark’s trips to Asia, we can afford to pay teachers more is fallacious. Our province has a right to different priorities than those of the teachers, and not all taxes are collected just to pay for public sector employees.

    9: The Money Saved From the Strike:

    BCTF advocates argue that savings from the strike should go back to the teachers. We find this strange. The argument seems to suggest that there should never be a consequence for workers when they go on strike, and that they should always be retroactively paid for the time off.

    10. The $40 “Bribe”:

    Some people have been “incensed” at the government for offering $40/day for children under 13 to help cover childcare costs. While we agree that there may be a politically motivated angle to this offer, we feel there is also a reasonable justification: assisting parents who may be struggling during this strike. Dismissing this offer as a “bribe” is elitist and not respectful of people in a more difficult financial position.

    Moreover, when teachers say to parents, “school isn’t daycare” (in response to parents complaining about having to adapt to the strike), we feel the teachers are missing the point. School’s primary function may not be childcare, but since it nevertheless has the effect of performing that role during the school season, parents have appropriately adapted their work lives to fit. Thus, it can be daunting to suddenly have to find childcare when the teachers are on strike. That doesn’t mean that it’s only teachers who are to blame for the sudden change, but when they complain about the $40 going to parents instead of themselves for work they’re not doing, they seem out of touch.

    11: The Signing Bonus:

    During the summer, the teachers were offered a signing bonus to avoid a strike in the approaching school year. Some teachers called this a bribe. Now, while on strike in the school year, they demand a much larger signing bonus. We don’t mind if the teachers eventually profit from the strike through their raise, but we think it’s important that there be a serious initial consequence to striking; otherwise, what’s the disincentive? Signing bonuses ought to avoid long-term strikes, not to reward them.

    12: The Arguments of Children:

    Please stop appealing to the alleged opinions of children to push your cause. A child holding a poster calling on the government to open up the schools is a vacant argument; children are not well informed on the issues, and will likely take whatever side their parents (or teachers) tell them is correct. Such use of earnest six year-olds oversimplifies while attempting to tug at our heartstrings. Again, it is a standard marketing (i.e. manipulation) ploy, one which has no place in this important debate. Let’s keep the discussion of this issue between adults, shall we?

    13: Assuming that the Government Doesn’t Care:

    The suggestion that the government doesn’t care about kids is an unfair accusation without evidence. The government is accountable to all parents in the province, but also to all people wanting to access health care, the roads, and the criminal justice system. Sometimes, the government has to make tough choices; this doesn’t necessarily mean they are indifferent to the needs of students.

    14: The Government’s Right to Appeal a Court Decision; The NDP’s Right to Share in the Blame:

    While at this point it looks like the government broke the law when they quashed the last NDP-BCTF contract, they – as with any other person or party – have the right to appeal that ruling. Please stop suggesting that the government is automatically playing the role of dictator when they defend themselves (i.e. the taxpayers) in court. Moreover, even though we disagree with the government if they broke the law, we feel the NDP should share some responsibility for setting the teachers up with that “sweetheart” deal. They left the Liberals to choose between accepting an untenable (ie: “sweetheart”) deal or breaking it.

    15: Class Size and Conflict of Interest:

    While we agree the teachers are in a valuable position to understand the challenges with class size and composition, we argue that they are acting in a serious conflict of interest due to the fact that they stand to gain personally from smaller classes and more teachers/aides. As such, we propose independent third parties be responsible for defining optimum class sizes and composition. The teachers’ oft-claimed dearth of resources to deal with their special-needs-heavy classes is hard to authenticate based solely on their own, potentially self-serving pleas.

    CONCLUSION:

    We are not arguing that the government is without fault in this dispute. However, we feel they have done a better job of keeping the debate focussed on facts as opposed to rhetoric. We call upon the BCTF, Mr. Jim Iker, and the many people in support of the teachers’ position to focus on the facts of bargaining rather than the fallacies of emotion and misleading characterizations.

    Posted by SethBlog @ 9:37 AM

  • 2 Responses

    WP_Modern_Notepad
    • Tom Durrie Says:

      If I read correctly the implication in your writing that we are spending too much on schools, i.e. teachers have it easy and are well paid (Having been one, I agree), it may be that the sums spent are not justified by the results. If schools truly educated, they would cost a lot more. Please read about schools in Finland, for example. The government, in my opinnion, is mainly concerned with busting the BCTF, and every other union they can. Ms. Clark already sends her son to a pretigious private school, illustrating her contempt for the public system. Privitization (of all services) is the goal of our right-wing governments. Lower taxes and big money for private interests. Whoohoo, we can be just like the U.S.A. Truly good public services cost money, and that money must come from taxes. All the most progressive countries in the world have far higher tax rates than we do, and/or manage their resources for the benefit of their citizens (see Norway) rather than for corporate interests.
      Finallly, you can probably guess that my hope was that the prolonged strike would end up with a collapse of the whole system. Parents and others (excluing the wealthy) would then be compelled to create their own grassroots means of educating their children. Some interesting projects were already beginning.

    • SethBlog Says:

      Thank you, Tom. I’m always impressed by your ability to find your way home to your favourite soapboxes from any topic. 😉

      While I do think that teachers on average are well paid for their expertise and hours put in, from my vantage point, the thesis of our team’s argument wasn’t necessarily that teachers are overpaid, but instead that they’re over celebrated. That is, we found their – and their supporters’, and much of the media’s – rhetoric around this dispute seemed to suggest that teachers, by definition, are a wonder breed of people. Humanity 2.0, if you will. I don’t dispute that there are some exemplary people in this profession (as there are in many), and if research suggest that teachers, on average, have a more finely-tuned moral compass, worth ethic, and generosity, I’m interested. But can we please be careful of profession-profiling them as a uniform collection of super beings?

      I disagree that Ms. Clark’s sending her child to a private school is relevant to the discussion, (A) because individual parents such as herself may have particular reasons for such decisions beyond contempt (for instance, maybe she’s worried that, since she’s the natural enemy of the BCTF, some of their membership will treat her child slightly less wonderfully than other children), and (B) I think that politician’s personal outside-of-work decisions should be kept private (as opposed to privatized ;).

      As for your ongoing dream to overhaul the public school system, I don’t have the expertise to agree or disagree. However, I would argue that, since such a reconstruction does not currently seemed to be on the radar of our educating powers that be, it is worth continuing to try to improve the system we have from within (while simultaneously seeking out philosophical advancements).

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