Teachers in Politics

GWEN CASH July 15 1933

Teachers in Politics

GWEN CASH July 15 1933

Teachers in Politics



MAY IT please you, ladies and gentlemen. to consider the fourteenth convention of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation and its implications.

This convention was held in Vancouver in April of this year. Over 1,400 teachers from all parts of British Columbia registered. At every session, the hotel ballroom in which the meetings took place was crowded.

Now, in the past, teachers have attended professional conventions to exchange ideas of a professional nature; to discuss ideas in methods, courses of study, class-room procedure and, generally speaking, to increase the efficiency of the teaching body.

But what was the general tenor of the convention in Vancouver, when these 1,400 teachers gathered to discuss their profession?

G. G. McGeer, K.C., made the opening address. It was on managed currency and was broadcast. He called his address “The Money Changers in the Temple.”

Dr. W. A. Carrothers, professor of economics at the University of British Columbia and Ottawa appointee of the Board for Administration of Relief for Single Men in the Province of British Columbia, talked on “The Realities of the Present Economic Situation.”

Dr. G. M. Weir, head of the Department of Education of the Provincial University, in “The Financial Stampede of Education” advocated radical changes in school financing.

“Let’s go fishing,” cheerfully suggested Dean D. Buchanan of the U. B. C., and proceeded to analyze the philosophy of education for a changing civilization.

B. C. Nicholas, editor of the Victoria Daily Times, addressed the teachers on “Education and thé Press.” but managed to get in a good many pungent remarks about the deplorable “state of Denmark.”

Attacking Economic Realities

HIERE I convention: ARE a few of the resolutions passed during the

“That the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation go on record as favoring the immediate appointment by the Dominion and the Provincial Governments of a single Royal Commission with wide powers to enquire into a report on our whole governmental system, for the purpose of recommending such changes in it as will fit it to meet more adequately the needs of the Canadian people.” “That the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation take immediate steps to acquaint other Canadian teachers’ organizations with its views on this matter, with the object of securing their co-operation in drafting a common memorial for presentation to all governing bodies in Canada.”

“That the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation institute a province-wide campaign to induce our governments to control interest rates by immediate debt refunding. with provision for the future of a scale of rates rising and falling inversely as the value of the dollar.” “That this convention do urge the Federal Government to bring about the complete nationalization of the banking system of Canada, reserving for itself the sole right to the issuance of currency and the control of credit.”

“That, whereas a small privileged group of property

owners in various British Columbia communities are attempting to curtail, and even to abolish, free educational facilities, particularly in the secondary schools; and

“Whereas we believe that such facilities are essential to the development of Canadian democracy, and to the maintenance, industrially and culturally, of Canada’s position among the nations of the world; and

“Whereas we believe that the abolition or marked curtailment of free educational opportunities will inevitably tend to pnxluce a stratification of society resulting in economic enslavement and social submergence of a large section of the Canadian people;

“Therefore, be it resolved that the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation adopt an active public policy of bringing home to the people of this province the vital necessity of maintaining intact our educational services."

Eleven foolscap jwges of resolutions were passed at the convention. A few of them had to do with curricula.

In fact, the motif of the convention was present economic realities. It showed a great similarity to the general tenor of the huge convention of the Department of Superintendence of Schools of America, which met in February of this year at Minneapolis, with educationists of note from all parts of the world in attendance.

For this last year has definitely seen the teachers of British Columbia “go political."

Shaking Off Outworn Tradition

DON’T MEAN in the narrow sense of supporting some particular jxirty. though they may eventually do that, for all I know to the contrary. I mean they have become vocally, critically and actively interested in the science of government, and in the ethical preservation of the safety, peace and prosjxrity of British Columbia and Canada for tin: youth of Canada.

One cannot help feeling a sense of exquisite irony in watching the teachers shake off the shackles of outworn tradition.

For decades they themselves have been used as a means for conveying propaganda the idea that the jx>st furnishes the present with reliable permanent standards of conduct and public policy. They themselves have to a great extent been the means of slavishly inculcating in the coming generation the same illusions and misplaced confidence in existing institutions and ideas that have landed the world in its present mess. They have pampered children with sugared lies about their country and existing conditions. Theoretically, they have taken the stand that a job of work waits for every child when he or she leaves school.

It seems that until recently teachers, as a class, have been little inclined to examine critically the social, economic or political system. Or if they did. it paid them to keep pretty quiet. They weren’t supposed to talk out of turn as it were. Their training was supposed to make them thinkers, but thev must never, never think for the

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good of the community or the nation.

The Daily Colonist (Victoria), commenting editorially on the B. C. T. F. Convention, said that “The interest of teachers’ organizations seems to have shifted considerably.” And, after several paragraphs of invidious comment:

“The question of chief import in all this does not relate to the soundness or otherwise of the opinions expressed, but to the propriety of teachers, not as individuals but as an organization, mixing in politics.”

But the teachers of British Columbia quite evidently feel that in unity there is strength. They feel that education as a means of political reform has hardly been thought of, much less tried with any honesty. They are going, it seems, to try it. They are going to ask sister organizations throughout the Dominion to try it.

They show themselves disinclined any longer to accept the rôle of passive onlookers. They are determined to get into the procession. They have thrown their various chapeaux into a very large ring.

Reasons for the Teachers’ Revolt

WHAT JOLTED these teachers out of their sequestered complacency? What dissipated their lethargic miasma?

First, salary cuts, of course. Loss of income has a dynamic effect on any of us. We begin to investigate cause and effect pretty quickly when we have to support other members of the family who are out of work, when the mortgage falls due or we are hard put to it to pay our insurance premiums, when Junior wants a man’s-size suit and daughter Dorothy piano lessons, and there isn’t the wherewithal. Teachers are human like the rest of us, and, being perhaps on the whole more thoughtful, they don’t see how, in the long run, salary cuts will help the situation. Less salary means depleted buying power and more depression, still less salary and so on ad infinitum.

But the second and more important reason for their change of attitude was the consistent and growing attacks on the services and philosophy of education and what can only be called the integrity of the teaching profession.

All the class-conscious persons—parents who can afford to send their children to expensive boarding schools, those who had little education themselves and do not see why the coming generation should have more, others who want to write “reserved” on culture and hand it over to the monied class; in fact, snobs, reactionaries, larger property owners and the ignorant-—joined forces, the teachers found, to decry all education save the three “R’s” administered à la Little Red School House.

What’s been happening, they claim, has been like a witch hunt of medieval days, with organized education as the unfortunate witch—the raison d'être for taxes, land policy and everything else. The villageminded will yet hustle her to the duck pond if they can.

At first the teachers of British Columbia, in common with their confrères in other parts of the Dominion, viewed the “witch hunt” with mild amazement. They read the letters in the daily press with interest, and began to wonder if they, who had been trained in the business, could really know so little about education as these correspondents implied.

Slowly and cruelly the truth was forced upon them. Financial support—the only support they had ever asked of the public for a work which was for the general and future good of the community—was to be grudgingly, inadequately given to them. They had been too self-sufficient.

And so, slowly and ponderously, even a little truculently, organized education in British Columbia, as in many other parts of the world, rouses itself from what might be called a coma of educational introspection and surveys the political scene.

That survey in British Columbia is evidently not reassuring.

In Britain, despite ten years of depression. educational services have not been cut and teachers' salaries have been reduced only ten per cent.

The National Survey of School Finance for the United States of America—author! ized by Congress in 1931 under the auspices of the U. S. Office of Education and under the direction of Dr. John Cooper, U. S. Commissioner of Education, with the cooperation of a distinguished group of experts on public finance—gave out as one of the most important findings of that commission that the school tax burden should be shifted to the larger units of government to which the benefits of education largely accrue.

Is Curtailed Education Wise?


I the reverse has taken place. The provincial authorities “passed the buck” to the municipalities. And the cities of B.C., especially Vancouver, where nearly fifty per cent of the teachers of the province are employed, must struggle under increased education charges. School boards throughout the province have had to retrench considerably. In Vancouver, according to a recent report in the Vancouver Daily Province, school services have been cut very drastically. The dental department has been completely eliminated. One third of the medical department was done away with, and all social service work through visiting school nurses was stopped. The open air school, or school of recovery, has been closed. Teachers were withdrawn from the Preventorium. Crippled Children’s Home, and Detention Home. The sightsaving class was completely wiped out.

I lome economics and manual training are to be eliminated in grade six. The number of supervisors—never before considered to be too many—was cut in half. The Bureau of Measurements was curtailed and vocational guidance wiped out. And for the remainder of the year teacher salary cuts will be equivalent to thirty-five per cent under schedule rates.

At the moment of writing there is a proposal before the board that the schools be closed for several months of the school year. This will almost certainly go through. The trustees, loyal as they are to the children of Vancouver, can't help themselves. Financial pressure is too great.

“And why,” reason the teachers of British Columbia, “should such things be? This is a time when there should be more, not less, educational opportunities for the children who are facing the vicissitudes of a changing and very bewildering civilization.”

“Why should such things be?” was, therefore, the keynote of the B. C. T. F. Convention this spring, as indeed it has been that of their various association meetings throughout the winter. “Let us enquire into basic causes. There can be no further development in organized education until this mess is cleared up. And we are going to take a hand in it.”

“Young Canada, we stand on guard for thee,” aptly and intentionally misquoted Dean D. Buchanan of the University ol British Columbia in his address to the convention.

It is a good slogan and one, the teachers feel, that we might all adopt to advantage. If we build for the future generation, they insist, build sanely, wisely and educationally, stupid economies and flamboyant extravagances are less likely to become the order of a future unthinking day.

And so the teachers of British Columbia “go political”—in the Greek sense you understand—and ask that the United Teachers’ federations of the Dominion meet I during the summer. Whether the teachers have gone party as well as political, remains to be seen. There is to be an election in British Columbia in the early fall.