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.

Biggest issue B.C. will face under Liberals is a disconnect with young people.

It’s been more than one year now since that day when we stood there protesting Bill 22, outside and in the rain and snow, probably close to some 20000 strong students all belonging to a generation that researchers of this society have labelled with the letter “Y”.

We weren’t just a random group of high school kids who wanted to skip school just to take the opportunity to join a bunch of other people doing it. Granted, there were probably some of us who were out of school for that purpose, but in spite of that, there were a lot of us had real concerns about our education – and we showed it in rallies and protests that, for that one day, attracted attention across the province. We were everywhere. The average joe who kept up would have seen us in Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Penticton, Squamish….. and even in a small town somewhere north of Prince George.

And then, after that, we had to go back to school.

The reality of being young and needy in British Columbia

It’s hard enough for a young person in BC to show their concerns about their society and their environment; the majority of us, under 18, don’t have a vote in any elections. However, facing school and pressures that take up our daily lives, we really don’t have the time to commit to involvement in protecting our own futures and prosperity. Less yet do we have time to be skipping school and making a big show of it like we did that one time on March 2nd, just to show people that we’re concerned about what’s going on. We don’t have time to launch mega-massive protests like the ones Montreal students did at about the same time over rising tuition fees.

Students protest Bill 22 in Victoria in March 2012
Students protest Bill 22 in Victoria in March 2012

So, what we don’t have an ability to do in this society is properly represent ourselves. We rely on the 85 important and older people who go to Victoria with the hope that they will make decisions that do accomodate us, and steer us towards the prosperity that other generations of past got so that they could become great and successful people, in much the same way we want to be. We have to rely on you, and we can’t rely on ourselves – and that, I believe, is becoming one of the most critical mistakes in modern-day politics in every democratically-run sovereignty.

In May 2012, a few months after the March student walkout and after months of job action, teachers across the province were forced to give up. They accepted a horrible legislation that was called Bill 22, a legislation that has brought to B.C. the worst student-educator ratio in Canada and the associated effects to students and to our society in the indirect ways.

Our say, in addition to their say, just simply wasn’t enough.

Young vs old in BC polls

Yesterday, when thousands of British Columbians took to the polls to get in their vote in the 2013 elections, elementary and high school students across the province participated in Student Vote: a parallel election program coinciding with the British Columbia provincial election. They elected a majority NDP government. But, when the actual elections came, they were then out-voted by the rest of the population.

When British Columbians in a surprise flip elected back the same government that brought us the horrid Bill 22, young people under 18 in British Columbia didn’t have a say in it at all.

We won’t have a say in facing another 4 years of the B.C. Liberal government that has brought us inferior education compared to other provinces in Canada (including the worst student-educator ratio in the country). We won’t have a say in the cutbacks in skills training programs that will affect us as we graduate from high school and look for these programs to get us the skills we will need to start benefiting from (and contributing to) the economy in the future. We won’t have a say in any of this.

On top of that, we also have to face the fact that well over 70% of people in this province simply didn’t think about us when they made their vote. That 70% being: the 52% of people who didn’t show up to the polls at all (only 48% of voters voted in the May 2013 provincial election, a record low), in addition to the voters around the province who brought back the party that has largely governed without our interests in mind for the past 12 years.

There is a growing disconnect between the young population of British Columbia and everyone else.

I think that, starting today and proceeding as more and more of the issues young people face in their society get worse and worse as little is done to effectively solve them, young people in this province are going to lose hope in our modern system of democracy. They’re going to lose hope in their ability to be accommodated in a society that really doesn’t care about young people, has given them a much more difficult situation than was faced years ago by the generations that are now voting their concerns out, and doesn’t have a way to allow them to properly represent themselves in modern politics. (see video above, titled “What Is Generation Squeeze?“)

They’re going to start favouring something much more convoluted and scary in nature: something else.

In my view, this will create a tendency in British Columbians’ generation Y and (as they grow) generation Z: a tendency for us to be generally dissatisfied, unhappy, rebellious, and perhaps violently rebellious in our futures, as a result of the inconveniences we faced as a result of an incompetent government surrounding us at our young age. It will have dire consequences on the stability, economy and strength of this entire province.

That, I believe, is going to become this province’s single biggest future issue.

That, or the fact that based on the elections results there are probably few – if any – educated people in British Columbia who will ever take my concerns about the growing disconnect between young people and their society seriously.

Surrey Now: Low tax rate adding to city’s strain (editorial)

Guildford Rec Centre. Photo: Wikimedia Commons - Leoboudv
Guildford Rec Centre. Photo: Wikimedia Commons – Leoboudv

This is probably the best editorial or article about Surrey that I have read in the local papers lately, because I think that the points and the pains that have been mentioned are absolutely correct, and are legitimate concerns that need to get more attention.

I’ve had a feeling that spending limits have been a part of what I perceive as a city-wide infrastructure shortage on many fronts. Many new growth areas are so far from existing services because they haven’t been serviced with new ones, and many of our services (i.e. roads… sidewalks anyone?) are crumbling and underbuilt. I’ve pointed it out a few times in other newsletters and I’ve been hoping for more people to bring it up to light. I guess that with this excellent editorial by Surrey Now’s Michael Booth, the battle can begin.

I submitted a follow-up newsletter response to this editorial that points out how low taxes have created spending limits that are affecting our young population. I hope it gets published.

By Michael Booth, Surrey Now April 11, 2013

In the world of politics, nothing turns off voters like the notion of raising taxes.

The very notion of giving more of our hard-earned money to government at any level evokes a reaction not unlike a small child encountering a large bug – shrieks of terror followed by a determination to squash the source of the anxiety.

And woe be unto the politician who has the temerity to suggest a hike in the tax rate may be a prudent move to address a given fiscal problem. Such a statement inevitably brands the poor soul with a stigma that makes Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter look like a participation ribbon at an elementary school’s sports day. The day after the next election, voters can observe the crows picking at the desiccated corpse of the offending suit’s political career.

These thoughts come to mind after reading Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts’ latest State of the City Address, which she delivered last week.

Watts heads the Surrey First civic political party, a group that holds every single seat on Surrey city council.

In keeping with the party’s title, Watts’ speech is littered with rah-rah, civic-booster language, including such delightful terms as state-of-the-art, world class, culturally vibrant, brightest minds and, of course, “the largest construction and investment plan in the city’s history.”

New civic plans include renaming a stretch of King George Boulevard (last year it was King George Highway, but hey, signs are cheap) as Innovation Boulevard and investigating the expansion of a Canarie fibre network from SFU to Surrey Memorial Hospital.

What’s a Canarie fibre network you ask? Well, it’s not a carrier pigeon network using canaries. Nope, it’s an “ultra high-speed fibre optic digital infrastructure” that is “highly coveted in the health technology and research community.” Nothing but the best for Whalley.

The city also wants to “leverage new opportunities in the arts and culture sector” as well as foster growth in the aerospace industry. On top of all this, Surrey will strive for improved transit service with a light rail transit system, create “significant infrastructure projects” such as the new city hall, two new swimming pools, a new community plaza and a “district energy system” in City Centre (ie: Whalley).

And don’t forget the new walking and cycling trails that will link up the 8,000 acres of parks in the city.

Now juxtapose these grandiose plans with a niggling little phrase mentioned in passing near the start of the mayor’s speech: Surrey has the lowest residential taxes and second lowest business taxes in the region.

Now I’m no math wizard, but something has to give here…..

[CONTINUED – READ MORE AT THE NOW WEBSITE]

Michael Booth can be reached at mbooth@ thenownewspaper.com

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