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McCaslin sounds off on teacher bashing

Poet takes umbrage with Vancouver Sun coverage of striking teachers: "The deepest reason for animosity against teachers is fear: the government’s fear of citizens who possess critical thinking skills."

May 27th, 2014

Susan McCaslin's new book, The Disarmed Heart, is about violence and peace-making.

“Some serious teacher bashing is going on in British Columbia right now,” says McCaslin. Specifically, she feels Shelly Fralic, a journalist for the Vancouver Sun, has exploited a personal issue to castigate teachers.


McCaslin alleges Shelley Fralic has written about teachers who are parking their vehicles on a public street in front of her house as a means of arousing hatred against teachers for their “sense of entitlement.”

SUSAN MCCASLIN WRITES:

Teachers, she [Fralic] suggested, are lazy buggers who work from 8 till 3 and then get the summers off. Her piece was perfectly timed to arouse animosity, coming out just after the BC Liberal government had threatened that if teachers proceeded with their intended job action, the government would retaliate by cutting, not increasing, their pay.

First, I must come clean as a retired educator who taught at a local college in B.C. for 23 years, and before that as instructor, sessional lecturer, and teaching assistant. I began teaching in 1969 but knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was in grade 8. Teaching has been for me not just a job, but a vocation (a true calling) and a passion. So I am not simply a bystander, but still believe I can be objective based on my long experience within the teaching profession.

My sense is that most educators are idealistic folks who received encouragement from a teacher at some time in their lives and wish to encourage and support youth in return, or, for some other reason, care about children and young people and wish to nurture and support them in their formative years. Though there are a few wastrels in any system (legal, government, business), the majority of teachers of my acquaintance are rather diligent and conscientious, people who entered the profession, not so much for its respectability or potential financial remuneration, but for the opportunity to help young people evolve into mature, civic-minded, fully human, integrated individuals. After all, one can go into law, medicine, accounting, business, and have prospects of a much higher income and more respectability than in teaching.

Unfortunately, here in BC, and in many other places in the world, public education is underfunded and undervalued. In B.C., teachers and local government are currently heading into a collision of apparent irreconcilables.

Clearly, our public education system is in crisis. Due to burgeoning class sizes, an increasing numbers of “special needs” students, the elimination of teachers’ aides, and lack of classroom resources, teachers are stressed to the maximum. Some of them are leaving the profession because they can’t cope with the pressure. Marking and preparation, extracurricular activities, class room management issues, and administrative responsibilities conjoin to take a toll.

The B.C. Liberal government’s position is that the need to balance the budget precludes the provision of classroom resources, smaller student to teacher ratios, and a raise in pay for teachers. Repeatedly, when teachers have demanded better working conditions, the government has legislated them back to work. Refusing to negotiate, the government continues to generously fund corporate interests. One has to wonder if the B.C. government wishes to allow the public education system to become dysfunctional in order to privatize education completely.

The question that recurs is “why?” Why such an adamant stance against teachers, students, parents, and anyone who desires a decent public education system for our children? Why such obvious distain of teachers? One would think such disrespect might be grounded in negative experiences with teachers in high school. Or perhaps the public has ingested the stereotypic depictions of teachers in the media.

And there is another reason for a lack of sympathy for teachers: a lingering, media-fed, irrational fear and hatred of unions. Yet without some kind of collective bargaining clout, how can teachers have any power at all to put forward not only their needs, but those of their students?

To my mind, the deepest reason for animosity against teachers is fear: the government’s fear of citizens who possess critical thinking skills. Historically, when right-wing dictatorial governments rise to power, the first to be targeted are poets, writers, activists, and educators. This is because, traditionally, educators and artists include those who have the long view, those who are not motivated simply by pragmatism and greed. Educators in the arts, sciences, and social sciences have a legacy of examining the human condition in a larger context, asking about its meaning and purpose beyond that of immediate gain.

“Something there is” (said Robert Frost in his poem “Mending Wall”) that doesn’t want the masses asking questions. “Something there is” that wants to turn out cookie-cutter consumers who will support the corporate status quo.

In my case, and that of many others, teachers helped us think and feel for ourselves. My grade 12 civics teacher helped me realize I could someday make the world a better place when he encouraged me to write on the United Nations and efforts toward world peace. A history professor showed me history wasn’t just about memorizing facts, but about asking what we can learn from the past. An English teacher in grade 7 taught me not just to memorize a poem, but to participate in the poetic mode of being, to be creative.

Now that I’m retired, this capacity to enter the creative process enriches my life as a writer. Without the encouragement and support of memorable mentors and educators while in school, I might be in a materialist’s void. Because of one particular teacher who told me I was a writer when I was 12, I am a full-time poet and writer. Because of a professor in grad school who introduced me to the power of myth in contemporary poetry, I am recreating myself through language and offering my gift to others. I am not just a consumer, a bored retiree, but fulfilled. Teachers proffered me the opportunity to truly be and to live more holistically.

Isn’t this what we want for ourselves and our children, as well as to earn a living and meet the necessities of daily life? Critical thinkers aren’t just passive victims of social patterns and corporate powers, but movers, shakers, activists – exactly what some governments most fear.

[McCaslin’s opinion piece first appeared on the Wood Lake Publishing site at essential-spirituality.com]

Author of thirteen volumes of poetry, Susan McCaslin is Faculty Emeritus of Douglas College where she taught English and Creative Writing for twenty-three years.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

The Disarmed Heart (The St. Thomas Poetry Series 2014)
Arousing the Spirit (Wood Lake 2011)
Demeter Goes Skydiving (The University of Alberta Press 2011) 978-0-88864-551-7 $19.95
Lifting the Stone (Seraphim Editions 2007)
A Plot of Light (Oolichan Books 2004)
At the Mercy Seat (Ronsdale Press 2003)
Common Longing: The Teresa Poems and A Canticle for Mary and Martha (Mellen Poetry Press 2002)
The Altering Eye (Borealis Press 2000)
Into the Open (Golden Eagle Press [self-published] 1999)
Oracular Heart (The Hawthorne Poetry Series, Reference West 1999)
Letters to William Blake (Mother Tongue Press 1997)
Veil-Unveil (The Saint Thomas Poetry Series 1997)
Light Housekeeping (Ekstsis Editions 1997)
Locutions (Ekstasis Edition 1995)
Conversing with Paradise (Golden Eagle Press [self-published] 1986)
The Visions of the Seven Sleepers (The Iona Press 1979)
Kindling (Arion Press [self-published] 1979)
Motions of the Hearts (Arion Press [self-published] 1978)
Pleroma (Arion Press [self-published] 1976)
Perfection is Dynamic (Being Publications 1974)


¹ http://www.vancouversun.com/news/Shelley+Fralic+Teachers+cult+entitlement/9847666/story.html

7 Responses to “McCaslin sounds off on teacher bashing”

  1. theresa says:

    What a good piece, Susan. Anyone who has spent time in a classroom knows how fatuous the assumption that a teacher’s life is 8(or) until 3, with long summer holidays. Try it out, I tell those who use this sort of thinking to suggest that teachers are overpaid or that they should simpy suck it up, re: class size and composition.
    Thank you for such a clear analysis.

    • anne cameron says:

      Oh, spot on, Susan!! Heaven forfend we raise a generation of logical thinkers! Thank you for this. I have grandchildren in the school system and the bullying tactics being used against the teachers are horrible. Please know, Pete Cameron is NO relative of mine!!

      • susan mccaslin says:

        Thanks, Anne. I’ll take both logic and imagination and hope to bring them together, art and science. That’s what the best kind of education does and so many of our teachers care about integration. I couldn’t do what they do under the present circumstances. My hope is that more and more people will see that supporting teachers and the public school system benefits the entire society and our collective future. Otherwise, we’ll have a broken system for the many and private schools for the elite. One has to wonder if this is what the current government really wants to see.

  2. Anne__Ominous says:

    I loved this article, Susan. Our governments, both federal and provincial, don’t want critical thinkers or an educated populace. With the conditions teachers must work under fewer and fewer young people will want to join the profession. The Harper government, in particular, hates the arts, the sciences, democracy, and Canada!

  3. Gary Kines says:

    Thank you, Susan, for articulating what, hopefully, more and more British Columbians with working brains are realizing. This government are bullies, plain and simple. Imagine: the government locks teachers out and then deducts ten percent from their pay for having the audacity to conduct a legal strike which, ironically and perversely, this government is encouraging because it means they don’t have to spend money on wages. In any other less civilized country, this kind of tyranny might result in the so-called leader having the red laser dots of guns all over them as they walk down the street!
    I’m the spouse of a high school teacher just completing 36 years of helping young people to think. Walking a picket line was not how she envisioned spending her last week as a teacher, but the behaviour and ignorant treatment of teachers by this Clarke government makes her glad she’s nearly out of it. As you insightfully (?) suggest, this government seems to want public education to fail so they can get out from under the perceived financial burden by passing the buck to the private sector. No, the present scenario is bleak, and if BC has to wait for the next provincial election before anything can be done to remove Clarke and her mindless cronies, we fear public education in British Columbia will be set back by a century.
    Something else to shake your head about: Clarke attended three universities and still never got a degree. Somewhere in her past a school teacher tried to get her to shake the fog out of her brain and Clarke has held a grudge since then, taking out her dim view of educators by denying them the tools and resources to do their jobs.
    Thanks for the opportunity to sound off. I feel a bit better now….

  4. Meguido Zola says:

    Well said, Susan!

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