In the mid 1990s, while working at a newspaper as a young scribe, I wrote what I thought was a great story about a teacher who was taking a sabbatical. He was going to visit an overseas country and increase his learning and experience. He would inevitably accumulate new wisdom to bring back to future students one day.
Except that particular story never ran. I was told to get the ‘real’ story. How much was this going to cost? What sort of burden would this be to ‘taxpayers?’ The headline was altered, the focus shifted. In the end, the teacher and board of education were meant to feel shame for allowing such a thing to happen. I was embarrassed to see my name on that byline.
I continue to see vestiges of this attitude today in our City, and it doesn’t make sense to me. Kawartha Lakes grapples with a high unemployment rate and low wages. More than 44 per cent of residents here have just their high school diploma or less education. Individual income from employment is a full 22 per cent below the provincial average.
When a kid grows up in a situation where the parents do not have a high level of education, those parents may not know how to offer guidance and support. Teachers, then, can play an outsized and critical role in our kids’ development.
So I am suspicious of millionaire leaders like Premier Doug Ford who see fit to wear the cloak of ‘the people’ while making cuts to public education. Increasing class sizes in high school will mean less teachers and a poorer learning environment. (The people won’t benefit.) The loss of OSAP funding will mean areas like Kawartha Lakes – where income levels are lower – will be penalized more than many other places. (The people lose out.) Universities and colleges are getting less funding and will be making cutbacks, affecting the quality of post-secondary education. (The people should be upset.)
Meanwhile in Finland teachers are highly educated, requiring a Masters degree, and they are given great autonomy. They do not work under a microscope of mindless testing and forced evaluations. And college and university? That’s free for students, because Finland recognizes the value of a well-educated society.
It’s time to stop supporting politicians who find, or make, enemies of the people who work in public education. Teachers guide and transition our kids into their careers and they help shape the kind of people they will one day become. That’s a job description that deserves investment, not cuts.
And to that editor from long ago, I say that’s the real story.