The consequences of this BC educational conflict are real

Above video: the Johnston Heights senior choir performs for students

At Johnston Heights Secondary in Surrey, where I completed my grade 12 education early last year, the ongoing disputes between teachers and the government have caused the cancellation of at least one major school event, one of which I was looking forward to attending: the year-end music (band and choir) concert.

The J.H. Music Program is one of the best in the city, having participated in numerous major provincial events such as MusicFest in Ottawa, 2010 (earning the silver award for both band and choir), several consecutive Kiwanis Music Festivals, and the Envision Jazz Festival in Surrey. As an alumni of this program and a member of both the senior wind ensemble and jazz band, I cannot stress enough how important the year-end concert is in the spirit of learning and school culture.

The year-end concert is a celebration of music and school culture, and it represents the culmination of a year’s worth of practicing, learning, dedication and team-building. It attracts other students, parents, and alumni who were in the music program to witness the music-making talents of a new generation of students who participate in the Grade 8, 9 and 10-12 senior bands; the grade 8, 9-10 junior and 11-12 senior choir; the chamber choir; the string ensembe; and the intermediate and senior jazz bands. The latter four are courses that are held outside of the school time and are the culmination of willful attendance, participation and commitment from both the teachers and the students who are involved.

With the school inaccessible outside of normal school hours (which is also preventing students from using the bandroom facilities for practice), this event has been put off indefinitely for the year 2014. It may be the first year in several consecutive years that the school music program did not hold a year-end concert, and I am sad to see that my peers aren’t going to be able to celebrate their hard work and dedication to music.

This is just one of the many inconveniences students have to face because of the ongoing conflict between teachers and the government. Not just now, but in the past several years of deteriorating school conditions.

North Surrey Secondary's 5 block schedule

At the North Surrey Secondary school here in Surrey, too many students and an overcrowded school building have forced the school to adopt an awkward five-block schedule [CLICK HERE]. NSSS staggers students across the 5 blocks, so that older students study for the first four and younger ones for the last four (or combinations with study blocks).

I have often – in letters to the editor, and in other posts on this blog – discussed the realities being faced by students not just in the current conflict but on a year-by-year basis. Not far from Johnston Heights Secondary and at North Surrey Secondary, 5-block schedules are needing to be adopted to deal with increased overcrowding, lack of facilities, and growth in the community.

In the same manner as North Surrey, many schools have been forced to make serious, critical cuts to deal with cut funding levels and increased teacher stress. I’m not sure if North Surrey still requires a 5-block schedule this year, but I was hearing about it from numerous close friends when I was in high school – and I was also hearing about the troubles this schedule gave them – troubles in scheduling conflicts and stress.

See also: The Real Reason Children Have Lost the Freedom to Roam

One of the dangerous criticisms I’m hearing in the current debate is how kids are being used as “bargaining chips”, resulting in the implication that the teachers fighting their battle over class sizes and competition and pay levels are careless.

However, critics also forget that many teachers have kids too – and these kids are as much participants in the pubic education program as the ones who are being taught. Many of the teachers I personally knew were parents of one or more kids, and a few of them gave birth to new kin while I was in my high school years. In the short term, these kids will theoretically suffer as much from their parents’ course of actions as the rest of the students participating in this school system, and I think it shows that what the teachers are fighting for is more than just their own living conditions and demands. I think it is evident that it is also about good learning conditions for their kids and ours.

BC Govt. one-upped for Bill 22

Nearly two years have passed since my involvement in a student rally in opposition of the upbringing of Bill 22, where I helped gather thousands of BC students to walk out in solidarity and in frustration over educational issues.Yes, the above video is, in fact, my video – one that gained more than 10,000 views overnight to help make the walkout a reality.

However, for the past two years it seemed the effort we put forward to launch this event didn’t go that far. Us students had a duty to go back to school and make the best for ourselves under whatever system was in place, because most of us really didn’t have time for this kind of advocacy. The BCTF went into a brief strike as the education situation continued to stagnate and it was unclear whether there would be any improvement in the situation. Skills training programs got cut, the student-educator ratio became the worst in Canada, and it seemed that just about everybody was out of luck.

Students from across Metro Vancouver protest overcrowded classrooms at a rally on March 2, 2012
Students from across Metro Vancouver protest overcrowded classrooms at a large-scale rally on March 2, 2012

After the election loss last Spring, I touched on how a big issue that our society in BC might face is a disconnect with younger people [SEE: Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people.], who have been put through the trials and tribulations of a broken education system with disappearing scholarship opportunities, larger class sizes, and more stressed out teachers being treated like they have no idea about how to teach students.

So, when I woke up today I was expecting a usual morning. Prepare breakfast, read news on phone, walk to SkyTrain station, take newspaper from canvassers in front of the station, open it and read on the train. That part of the morning didn’t actually differ from the usual, but my outlooks for the day changed rather drastically when I read the front page of 24 and spotted the words opened today’s print of 24 to find the words “B.C. teachers awarded $2 million in Bill 22 fight” in decently large letters staring me right in the face. I read the article with a potent grin on my face.

B.C. teachers awarded $2 million in Bill 22 fight

The B.C. Supreme Court has ordered Victoria to pay $2 million to the union representing the province’s teachers, saying government was “playing politics” by trying to push educators to strike, and imposed unconstitutional legislation that limited collective bargaining rights.

In a decision handed down Monday, Justice Susan Griffin slammed the provincial government for creating Bill 22, a now-rejected law governing collective bargaining that was nearly identical to legislation previously deemed unconstitutional by the courts.

She said the ruling BC Liberals were trying to provoke teachers into a strike in 2011 by putting forward unacceptable suggestions during bargaining…..

[READ MORE – 24 Hours Vancouver]

The Supreme Court has had their say and it looks like it’s clear that students back then were sending the correct message to the B.C. Government and to everyone paying attention, in solidarity with our teachers and principals. Give yourselves a pat on the back, everyone. It’s now just up to the government to comply with this ruling and we will be rolling again in no time.

Below: a video summary of the action we took in March 2012.