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Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
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June 2003

    Guest Commentary:

    Bill 51: Teaching as Bee Keeping and Media as Censor

    Pat Clarke

    Consider beekeepers. In order to be a proper beekeeper you have to have certain credentials. If you want to go commercial with your bees you have to have certification that indicates you are a  properly trained beekeeper. Once you have this qualification, in order to continue as a beekeeper, you have to follow certain rules enforced by an agency or ministry of government. You may have some opportunity to have a say in the drafting and implementation of the regulations governing bee keeping but in the end they are government policy and you live within them or find another trade.

    Trade is the operative word, you are not a "professional" if you are a beekeeper, you are a trades or crafts person. The difference between a professional and other sorts of workers such as beekeepers is the public recognition that the work of a professional is sufficiently complex that practitioners are best able to govern the credentials, qualifications and conduct of fellow practitioners. The job is seen as one that has more to it than basic skills training. Also, the nature of the work is varied enough and subject to such a vast array of circumstances that those practicing the profession are really the only people who have the knowledge required to make judgments about conduct and performance.

    Bee keeping is an important and valuable trade. Teaching is an important and valuable profession. It seems preposterous to suggest that there are any similarities, unless of course you are the current minister of education. Her recent hijacking of the B.C. College of Teachers actually has the effect of putting teachers in the same classification of worker as beekeepers, or undertakers.

    Evidently teaching is now viewed by the provincial government as an occupation, where the primary public concern is regulation. As such it can be controlled, or governed by anyone. As far as the government in Victoria is concerned since teaching is mostly about following rules people not affected by the rules therefore best control it. So we now get a "college" of teachers under the control of a minister of education who can have anyone she wants in the majority. Think of it as more like an egg marketing board.

    The minister may claim that the majority on the new "college" board will be educators just not members of an odious union. The problem is most of the members of the College are members of that union. Most of the members of the College are classroom teachers in public schools. For a college to have effectiveness or credibility with those members it must have a degree of responsibility to them. They must quite simply, respect it. This "college" will be neither responsible nor respected. It will be viewed for what it is, a political set up.

    As professional practitioners, public school teachers know the circumstances they work in. They know what constitutes effective teaching, they know the nature of teachers work in public schools. To have a governing body for the profession controlled by a group whose position is determined by a minister who has limited understanding of the real work of teachers is akin to putting airline passengers in charge of air traffic control, democratic in theory, disastrous in practice.

    The most insidious effect of this "regulatory" rather professional categorization of teaching is that it de-professionalizes teaching. Teaching in the eyes of regulators can only be about what they understand.

    In order to be effectively governed by regulators the work has to observed and assessed on their terms, ones they understand. So teaching becomes less and less a creative undertaking, less and less a teacher to student relationship determined by individual needs. Creativity and individualization are just not receptive to regulation. As such teaching starts to look more like a trade and teachers more like line employees than professional workers.

    So who cares? Teachers should first of all, and parents and the public should pay attention too. The beekeeper/undertaker model will not improve teaching. It will not make schools better.

    De-professionalizing teaching by setting up a watch dog agency that is about following rules will not make teachers more responsive to their students and creative in their classrooms. It will do the opposite. It will make us more wary. It will discourage "creative risk." Most important it will stultify the joy of teaching, the spontaneity, the energizing thrill of the teachable moment. Who is watching? How might this be misunderstood? Will that get me into trouble? These will be the questions that will direct our teaching not "what is best for this child?" And who is the real loser then?

    -- Pat Clarke, is the Director of Professional and Social Issues for the B.C. Teachers' Federation

    Editorial note:

    As the controversial reforms of the teachers’ college and the massive cuts to education by the provincial government continue to blaze across the province, it should be once again noted that the corporate elite media, namely the Global Canwest Corporation, which owns most of our media outlets, is censoring the views of teachers and public interest groups on these questions.

    This commentary on the proposed changes to the college, which governs teaching standards and practices in public schools, was submitted by the BC Teachers Federation, the union of public school teachers, to the Canwest owned Vancouver Sun. Given the legendary one-sided and often outright dishonest reporting that has plagued BC’s supposed “newspaper of record” on political and business issues over the last few years, it is not surprising that it was rejected.

    The Columbia Journal, as a pro-public interest, and pro-labour community media, recognizes the pivotal role of teachers in our education system. We feel that what teachers have to say matters—almost as much as parents, students and taxpayers—and certainly more than the BC Business Council elite and its Victoria politicians.

    This column makes a strong case against the college changes being implemented by the government. What do you think?


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