COLUMN: The wrong approach for education

Posted in:

Have you ever heard of Niccolo Machiavelli? If you’re a fan of the TV program The Borgias, you may recall that he made a few appearances. He was a writer, diplomat and political operative during the Italian Renaissance. Among political scientists and philosophers, he is best known for The Prince, a very short and to-the-point rendition of his observations and advice on statecraft.

Excerpts from his work include “A wise ruler, therefore, cannot and should not keep his word… But it is necessary to know how to disguise this nature well and to be a great hypocrite and a liar.” In short, his advice is about manipulating the public, keeping up appearances and holding on to power at all costs.

I bring this up because you can be assured that Christy Clark has read The Prince –it’s standard reading in first year political science classes. But, based on her approach to public education, she has gone further by putting it into practice.

This week saw the announcement of $20 million back into public education school districts. The Education Minister says this can go to keeping schools open and addressing cost pressures. Sounds great. A welcome reprieve from the cuts and underfunding. Yes, it looks that way, but let’s see what’s beyond that headline.

Just three weeks ago, the Christy Clark government’s Next Generation IT network was in the news because it is going to cost school districts an extra $24million. The province decided that the network is mandatory but won’t be funding it. Christy Clark says that school districts have to pay this bill from their existing budgets, perhaps cutting administrative functions like bussing –yes, she considers bussing kids to school “administration.”

Of course, school districts have been underfunded and seen cuts for years, leading to the current province-wide realities of school closures, overcrowded classrooms and school maintenance deferrals. This year, Vancouver School Board alone considered cutting $24million from its programs, services and staff while Osoyoos’s only high school is being closed.

In our local school district, six schools are currently being considered for closure. Six. And our share of the $20milion, $252,000, is nowhere near enough to keep any of them open. That amount is the equivalent of 2.5 teachers, or a drop in the $85million bucket of deferred maintenance needed in our schools.

But today’s announcement makes it sound like school boards are to blame if they don’t use this money to reopen schools. Christy Clark failed to mention that she’s only letting school districts keep money that was theirs to being with, and has further failed to be upfront that this $20million doesn’t even cover the administrative cost increase she’s forced on them with a new IT network.

Announcements like this are about keeping up appearances and holding on to power. They are about shifting blame for the results of BC Liberal decisions to underfund public education. One BC parent characterized it well while on a radio talk show, “it’s a clear cut case of election platforming at its best and it absolutely has nothing to do with what’s best for children.”

That said, the issue missing in Machiavelli’s advice is that the truth always comes out, revealing the great hypocrites and liars for what they are. When that happens, the desperate clutch on power is no match for the public will. If British Columbians want to see their schools in their communities meet the needs of their children, they have the power to make that happen come May 9, 2017.