A tax credit for teachers is no solution

This post is also published at rankandfile.ca

It was sad this week to see Justin Trudeau’s promise to give teachers a tax credit for purchasing their own classroom supplies.

Not because it means teachers buying their own supplies is a new phenomenon, or has necessarily worsened. Teachers have always filled in gaps in K-12 education funding, sometimes to the tune of several hundred dollars a year, especially in the early years of their careers.

Rather, it’s because it legitimizes the notion that teachers should be spending money out of pocket to do our jobs.

school supplies

A fanciful comparison: what if we gave nurses a tax credit if they bought their own medical supplies, or paramedics tax incentives if they paid to get the oil changed on their ambulances?

Parties (but especially the Conservatives) are often criticized for their use of “boutique” tax credits. They tend to be targeted toward their own likely voters, and at their most cynical are unrolled right around election time.

More to the point, though, the tax-creditization-of-everything removes more and more responsibility from governments to actually provide public services.

I do know some teachers who were happy about Trudeau’s announcement, and I understand why. They’re happy someone acknowledged that so many teachers spend their own money on everything from classroom art supplies to bus fare for field trips.

But have we undervalued ourselves and our work so much that we’re happy about getting back 15 cents for every dollar we spend, for things our employers should be paying for?

As teachers we should be fighting for the funding that allows us to give our kids the education they deserve. That means smaller classes, adequate supports for kids with special needs, and the necessary tools to do our jobs.

Yes, I’m aware that education is under provincial jurisdiction. But the squeeze on education budgets at the provincial level is partly the result of the federal Liberals’ deep austerity cuts to health and education transfers in the 1990s. These cuts downloaded costs onto the provinces who responded by reducing spending on public services like education.

In this context, tax credits that encourage us to keep subsidizing our own workplaces aren’t helpful.

What gets us worked up in education, and what doesn’t: The TRC and our schools

Today is the UN’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, which seems like as good an opportunity as any to write about what kids in schools learn about Indigenous issues here in Canada.

Source.
Source.

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.

Continue reading What gets us worked up in education, and what doesn’t: The TRC and our schools

What teachers (especially men) can do to fight misogyny

Dalhousie University is in the news again, to the dismay of its administrators. Following the scandal earlier this year in which male dentistry students made comments on social media that joked about rape and generally debased women, a more recent report told of how male students in a university residence shared explicit images of female students without their consent. A few days later, the Chronicle-Herald reported on threatening misogynist graffiti near the student union building, apparently targeting two women who have fought actively against sexism on campus.

The university has rightly faced intense scrutiny regarding its reaction to these incidents. In the dentistry case many raised questions about the restorative justice process that was used, and in the photo-sharing case, the parent of the student who reported the incident said Dalhousie was “more concerned with their reputation than with the welfare of those who have been victimized.” That student says she has been ostracized by her peers.

From the Children’s School Book “My Little Pictionary” by Marion Monroe, Scott, Foresman & Co, 1962. Source
From the Children’s School Book “My Little Pictionary” by Marion Monroe, Scott, Foresman & Co, 1962. Source

Obviously, however, misogyny and gender-based violence are problems that go far beyond behaviour at one university. (For an in-depth look at behaviour at another university, check out this series by journalism students at St. Thomas University in Fredericton.) How it is that the young men involved in these incidents think it’s at all appropriate to do these things in the first place? Continue reading What teachers (especially men) can do to fight misogyny

Be wary of quick fixes for Nova Scotia’s education system

With recent standardized assessment scores from Nova Scotian schools causing alarm, and education minister Karen Casey about to release her action plan to reform the P-12 education system, there are a few things that are important to remember.

Youth in Whitney Pier, Cape Breton's Boys and Girls' Club. Photo: Grade 8 students from the Whitney Pier Youth Club
Youth in Whitney Pier, Cape Breton’s Boys and Girls’ Club. Photo: Grade 8 students from the Whitney Pier Youth Club

First, there has not been any serious analysis that attempts to explain why test scores are down. Some commentators have said or implied that modern teaching methods are to blame. The idea here is that we need to get “back to basics,” that schools these days are full of warm fuzzies but not reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Drill the kids on their times tables, just like in old times, and all will be well.  Continue reading Be wary of quick fixes for Nova Scotia’s education system

Teachers’ unions need to keep close to our social-justice roots

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.

Teachers in Burnaby, BC make the connection between social justice and education funding in 2012. (Photo: Burnaby Teachers' Association blog)
Teachers in Burnaby, BC make the connection between social justice and education funding in 2012. (Photo: Burnaby Teachers’ Association blog)

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.

Overall, how are we doing with that?  Continue reading Teachers’ unions need to keep close to our social-justice roots

Protocol for native/non-native meetings

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.” 

Cathy Gerrior.
Cathy Gerrior.

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.  

Native Protocol

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

What is, and isn’t, in the minister’s report on Nova Scotian education

The panel reviewing Nova Scotia’s education system has released its report. Disrupting the Status Quo: Nova Scotians Demand a Better Future for Every Student makes 30 recommendations for overhauling P-12 education, based on an extensive survey completed by 19,000 people.

Photo via flickr.
Photo via flickr.

When I first heard about the plan for an education review, I got my guard up. In the U.S., education “reform” led by wealthy interests has wreaked havoc on public education for decades now, overemphasizing standardized testing, narrowing the curriculum, funnelling public money to semi-private charter schools, and generally creating problems when it purported to fix them. The six-person panel hand-picked to conduct the review didn’t set my mind at ease.

The report released in Nova Scotia last week didn’t fully follow the U.S. formula, which is a good thing. It contains some very positive conclusions, such as the acknowledgement of how teacher workload issues affect student learning, and the need to focus on students’ physical and mental health.

Some of the report’s other conclusions, however, are more problematic, as are some elements that are left out. Continue reading What is, and isn’t, in the minister’s report on Nova Scotian education