As teachers in Nova Scotia mull over their bargaining team’s third attempt at a tentative agreement in just over a year, here are a few observations about the dispute, and about teachers’ and workers’ power in general.
1) Teachers have a new idea of what is possible. Many of the issues teachers have raised over the last year – overcrowded classrooms, insufficient supports for students with special needs, excessive amounts of time spent on clerical tasks – have worsened fairly slowly over the past 10-15 years. Change happened gradually enough that opposition to it was weak, and a general sense of resignation slowly set in.
As the contract dispute has progressed, teachers have started to think big. Class sizes of 35-40 are no longer thought of as inevitable. (New Brunswick has class caps of 29 even in upper grades.) Teachers are speaking out against endless “improvement plans” and “accountability” measures that never seem to result in actual improvements or accountability. The impossibility of meeting the growing diversity of classroom needs under constant cost-cutting budgets has become a serious topic of discussion.
An incident in the last week of school this year underscored this issue for me. As a local education blogger, I’d been asked by a daytime radio show to comment on kids’ math and reading scores in our province. The interview came about because a council of local CEOs and other business-types had recently gone to the media with concern that some high school graduates’ math and reading skills seemed to have declined over the past few years.
Poverty. Racism. Democracy. Aboriginal rights. Climate change. Many of us explore issues like these in our classrooms. It’s our responsibility as teachers to see that our students become caring, engaged members of society.
In our unions, we also advocate for progressive change on issues like these. One of the my own union’s core beliefs is that promoting quality public education for all requires working for social justice.
Last week I received the following in a note from Cathy Gerrior, a.k.a. white turtle woman, a Mi’kmaw and Inuit woman in Northern Nova Scotia. Cathy asked me to spread this information widely with anyone who may be interested. Cathy is a counsellor for men who have been violent and was profiled in the January-February issue of This Magazine as a “social justice all-star.”
The Idle No More movement brought Indigenous issues to the forefront of Canadians’ consciousness. Many non-native people in Canada expressed a desire to better get to know Indigenous people and issues. Cathy offers the following protocols as advice for those of us who seek to deepen the relationships between native and non-native people in Canada. These are also useful knowledge for teachers who invite Aboriginal people as guest speakers to their schools. I’m grateful for these teachings and glad to be able to share them here.
Dear reader. Kwe. i am white turtle woman. i would like to take this opportunity to offer some reflections based on my observations and experiences as a native woman living and working in the dominant society of what is called “Canada” that doesn’t always understand or appreciate my nativeness. Continue reading Protocol for native/non-native meetings→
A few weeks ago, Halifax journalist Tim Bousquet wrote a brief piece about the history of slavery in Nova Scotia. Bousquet pointed to an article by University of Vermont history professor Harvey Amani Whitfield which contends that slavery was further widespread here than official statistics suggest:
Many years ago, many people had no qualms about calling themselves “white.”
Today, more people seem to be squeamish about it. Students in class have occasionally asked me if we can use another word in place of “white” to describe people – “technically we’re pinkish”, one once said. In casual conversation people sometimes take pains to avoid the word, substituting terms like “Caucasian” or “of European descent.” Continue reading Why we shouldn’t avoid the word “white”→