Sunday, February 27, 2005

Public Education - Not for Sale II

Last weekend I attended a conference sponsored by the BCTF, BCGEU, CUPE, Canadian Federation of Students, Confederation of University Faculty Associations, Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC, BC Federation of Labour, Canadian Teachers' Federation and the Charter for Public Education Network. It was all about commercialization and privatization of public education.

I learned about a lot of ways that for-profit companies are creating and grabbing opportunities to market to our kids in school and how school districts and the province are allowing it to happen - partly out of financial necessity, partly because they're not thinking about the implications, and partly from a conscious shift in ideology. I also learned about the ways school districts are going into business, selling education to international students both in our schools and overseas, and marketing intellectual property. It's all shady and stinky, but so much a part of the real world it's hard to know how to start to resist it.

Anyway, this article from Terminal City tells it better than I could. I did get some good ideas for Consortium 43's pre-election parent awareness campaign that we'll launch in March. I also found out more about School District Business Companies. Our own School District #43 (Coquitlam) has formed one of these, and is currently generating significant income through it and through international students in Coquitlam Schools. There are lots of reasons why this is a bad idea, and now I know how to explain them a little more clearly.

The worst part of all of it is that every one of these kinds of "business in schools" creates inequities from one school to another. Big, rich, urban districts like 43 benefit greatly. Remote districts don't get the extras, although maybe they're better off, not having their kids involuntarily subjected to quite as much advertising at school. Rich, resourceful parent communities like mine raise money for "extras" that aren't really extras like computers and software, playground equipment and even textbooks. Poorer schools have to make do with much less.

I came away from the conference wanting to vaccinate my kids against all of it, which I know I could never do effectively or completely. They are smart, and have a strong sense of social justice and skepticism about things that look too good to be true. I guess we'll just keep talking with them about the things that they see and do at school to help them understand hidden meanings etc. One cool thing, 14 year son has agreed to volunteer on the election campaign for our local NDP candidate, Karen Rockwell. About the best feeling in all of this is that the kids know they have choice and power. I know those are luxuries that not all families enjoy, and I guess it's our job to make sure our kids understand that too, that there are responsibilities that go along with it.

All of this has to have more impact than a Home Depot song. At least I hope so.

Question: how do we push back the tide?

mompoet - eye on a better world

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