Friday, March 8, 2013

ExtraCurricular Activities: the Straw Man No One Wants to Confront

by Phil Allt

There are many issues associated with teachers withholding extra curricular activities as a protest against the Ontario government violating the principles of free collective bargaining:

- Ontario Secondary School Teacher President Ken Coran’s correct assertion about who will resume these activities (20%), who won’t (20%) and those who are in the mushy middle (60% or most teachers);
- the less than 100 percent of students who partake in these activities less than 100 percent of the time. No one can precisely, or even “guesstimate”, the number of students who actually engage in extra curricular activities throughout the year. The reason? No one wants to find out the answer;
- the exorbitant cost for activities that is incurred by the families of those who can afford them (for example playing hockey at many schools can cost upward of 200 dollars per season and then there is football, basketball, rugby, swimming and the list goes on;
- the exorbitant cost of these activities that cannot be afforded by most families in Ontario;

are but a few of the concerns that should be taken seriously.

But there is another issue too and that is the elephant in the room. Should music, art, drama, physical education and lifestyle clubs be extra curricular activities at all? Should these not be part of a curriculum that is fully supported through taxation? Should these activities be taught by properly qualified teachers staff in classrooms, on playing fields and elsewhere?

Teachers who believe that extra curricular activities are just that, are missing a great opportunity to press for full funding for education. Similarly the hue and cry that is heard from those demanding more after school activities should be replaced with a demand for fully funding of all activities within the school - funding that was always inadequate but was chopped years ago by the Conservatives and never restored by the Liberals.

If those skills that are developed by children partaking in extra curricular activities are so important, why are these not part of a full curriculum? 

Why do high school students not have 4 mandatory years of arts and 4 mandatory years of physical and lifestyle education where musical appreciation is developed and respect for healthy living is promoted? The answer is quite simple: Ontario as a culture is too cheap to pay for the things we regard as superfluous to training for a job.

I do not think that I am alone in wanting physical education restored and properly funded. I also want art and music appreciation and education made mandatory in all schools and provision made for musical instruments in all schools. As a culture it is morally repugnant to require poor kids to rely upon the “kindness of strangers” i.e. welfare, donations and school vouchers to have the chance to learn an instrument or play a sport. 

Sure, many can coach the well-to-do kid who can afford the extra curricular fees - I, for one, am a certified rugby coach - whatever that means. I am, however, not certain that I am doing a good job anymore and my certification attests to that - 2 weekend courses with the National Coaching Certification Programme - 20 years ago.

A well skilled athlete or musician might be better at the job than many of those who currently coach out of altruism and pressure from inside the school. Furthermore, we are not helping the kid who cannot afford even the shoes to play a sport (and as I write, I am looking at the desk where sits a student who cannot afford athletic shoes). I wonder what will happen to students like him who do not have someone to buy athletic equipment for them, pay their participation fees and maybe even buy them the food they often do not have to eat.

Sadly, we do not want to pay to hire a person with the skills to properly promote music, the arts or athletics. We do not want to make the activities that are lost to better off kids universally accessible. We do not wish for excellence in arts or athletics - we merely want cheap childcare and cheap extra school activities to fill the gap before parents get home for supper. Hence we rely upon volunteers and coercion within the schools in order to offer playtime opportunities to kids.

Until we fund arts and athletics appropriately, teachers, politicians, boards of education and parents are making hollow arguments about the merits of restoring extra curricular activities for which Ontario does not wish to pay. Please, do not tell me it’s about the kids. Its about a province being cheap.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


by Jeff Kanter, a secondary teacher in Ottawa.

Many people are just now beginning to understand and perhaps even recognize
that the simple truth of the matter is that the public at large has had it pretty good
for pretty long. There has been a significantly uninterrupted period of time in which
extra curricular activities have been freely and widely offered.

And now that there has been a withdrawl of this no cost, overtime-equivalent by
teachers who provide thousands and thousands of hours of their time in order
for these activities to exist and flourish, reactions within the public, fanned by a
consistently unsympathetic media, have been very noticeable.

Perhaps some of those who are most vocal in their attacks on teachers for simply
having all those weeks and weeks off in the summer (never mind that teachers
do not set the instructional schedule) might wish to rethink their invective. If a
summer represents 40 work days, then those 320 hours pale by comparison to the
number of hours many teachers contribute to after school voluntary activities.

Perhaps saner heads could call that one a trade off? That is somewhat optimistic,
I am afraid: someone nursing an anti-teacher grudge could surely manufacture
some form of disagreement. But if that person is you, consider this: what other
professional offers such extensive, daily, year long services (with some pretty damn
fine results, to boot) gratis?

And if you are going to start that nonsense about making extra curriculars a
part of teachers’ job descriptions, hold it right there. To even suggest it is just a
contradiction in terms as well as an affront to logic, reason, and common sense.
It would mean the beginning of the end for any value to be derived from extra
curricular activities. And that suggestion is offered not out of anger or rancor, but
rather with sadness.

It would be a sad situation indeed if it were ever to come to that. The very idea has
nothing to do with ensuring meaningful after school programs and activities, but
is a transparent attempt to simply make sure teachers could never take the kind of
“pause” which is happening right now, ever again. How does creating a scenario in
which teachers are forced to coach or direct plays (never mind the skill set required
for those endeavours) benefit students? Or, better yet, what about an unprincipled
principal who, for whatever set of reasons, ends up requiring a science teacher
without any arts’ background (sorry for the possible stereotype) to do that year’s
school play?

The only logical and reasonable scenario is one in which teachers freely –in the
fullest cents of the word – give time that they could otherwise be using for marking
and prep and, damn it, even relaxation, for coaching and supervising teams, and
running art shows and music nights and drama productions and improve teams and

debating clubs and yearbooks and the dozens of other initiatives that get so easily
lumped into the impressive array of things falling under the heading extra curricular

There is too much focus on the teachers’ taking their pause from the voluntary
activities and not nearly enough on their reasons for it.

It is a classic case of putting way too much emphasis on the wrong part of an
issue. For example, in the recent G20 riots in Toronto, there was considerably less
attention paid to the dull drab illegality of vandalism and destruction of private
property in the face of what was more likely to sell: the sexiness of mass arrests and
the hint of police excesses.

Fueled by media, our attention is constantly aimed at unions and the consequences
of union leaders’ actions and decisions – when all they are really doing is fulfilling
their mandate (looking after their members). This in itself is rapidly becoming akin
to criminal activity – part of a thinly veiled government strategy to discredit unions
in general.

This hyper focus uses misdirection to muddy the issue unnecessarily, with the
result that the real villain of the piece escapes the full impact of journalistic and
public wrath. The crisis was caused, created, enhanced, perpetuated, sustained, and
then totally misplayed by the provincial government. And then, right on cue, the
provincial Conservatives added to this mess by pursuing its own extreme policies.

Let’s deal with the cause and not just the symptom. Teachers took a pause from
voluntary activities when their bargaining rights were eliminated and “contracts”
were imposed. This cannot be just overlooked, which is the all too often theme
of journalists who, despite the fact that they pay that little fact lip service, want
to just overlook it. Yeah, we know (these journalists seem to be saying) that the
government messed up but hey, let’s all just get past that and move on.

That is more easily said than done. Teachers cannot simply overlook that rather
huge departure from democratically accepted processes – nor should they have to!
As so many teachers have clearly indicated, they will be happy to return to business
as usual on their side when the government is ready to negotiate instead of dictate.

And that does not automatically mean that teachers are after unreasonable raises
and unrealistic benefits. On the other hand, they wish to avoid having to endure pay
CUTS and the slashing of benefits negotiated over years and years.

Bill 115 turned a potentially unpleasant situation into an actual crisis. To suggest
that teachers could have done “something else” to express their sense of outrage
is just plain stupid. The legal recourse favoured by some columnists and MPPs
could easily take, by conservative standards, three or four years. Why not make
the suggestion that, given the significant opportunity provided by Mr McGuinty’s
sudden resignation, Ms Broten could have done something else?

There would have no point in the teachers choosing a reaction strategy that had
no impact. A serious abuse requires a serious response. Anything less would have
been pointless. Anything less would have pretty much ended the crisis with full
blown teacher capitulation.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Education Workers Need Collective Action Against Attacks
by Jeff Kanter, secondary teacher in Ottawa.

Here’s a thought: how about the leaders of OSSTF and ETFO sit down with each
other and come up with a collective, cooperative, collaborative, and united course of

The most effective weapon teachers have –unified action – was seriously weakened
months ago when OECTA leaders caved in to governmental pressure and accepted,
without permitting a vote by membership, the now infamous MoU. In spite of this
setback, the elementary and secondary panels of the public system seemed to be on
the same page moving forward. Now, that has suddenly changed, as the nightmare
has become a dream.

A dream for the new Liberal minority government: dissension among the teachers’
ranks. OSSTF has inexplicably caved in to provincial pressure and has supported a
return to voluntary activities for teachers while getting absolutely nothing in return
for these teachers other than vague notions of continuing to have meaningful and
polite dialogue. What the hell does that mean?

OSSTF members have been sent emails which have been long on word count but
short on substance. According to a recent communiqué members received, OSSTF
was partially responsible for Mr McGuinty’s decision to resign as well as Ms Broten’s
decision to not seek the Liberal leadership. At least there was no claim about
the discovery of fire but then again, I may have gotten bogged down and stopped
reading too soon.

Meetings are happening at secondary schools, as union leaders and their
representatives will be surely asked many pointed questions beginning with words
like “what” and “why”. Hopefully, their answers will be substantive.

In the meantime, the media is already starting to have a field day with OSSTF saying
yes and ETFO saying no to the government’s suggestion that everybody just go back
to business as usual without anything other than the government’s intention to be
nicer in the future.

Take, for example, the nonsense spewing forth on the OTTAWA SUN editorial page
today. It is sad that people in positions of influence write this kind of garbage; it
is worse that people who are then easily influenced read it; it is then essential that
Somebody respond to it and try to inject some common sense into what is rapidly b
becoming the problem that just won’t go away.

The editorial is entitled: “ETFO stamps its tiny feet, again” and begins by referring
to its members as “crybabies” who are having a tantrum. Can’t the staff writers
who work at that publication get over that tired metaphor? If there is ANY infantile
perspective in the present situation, it is being exhibited by a government expecting

professionals who have been wronged and mistreated to simply drop all resistance
and give in because Mommy Premier (is it too early to do that?) asks them to do so?
That is far more pathetic than a measured response from ETFO to a ridiculous
proposal from the government.

Now that there has been a change in leadership, there needs to be some real
leadership displayed.

Leadership is more than repeating the suggestion that teachers are valued. In light
of months of abuse at the hands of the McGuinty government, to simply change the
tone, while a significant first step, is simply not enough. Nor should ANYONE, Sun
editorial writers included, overlook this.

Instead, the editorial goes on to paint a picture of Ms Wynne, described as “ETFO’s
spiritual soul mate” repeating the mantra, “ad nauseam…how wonderful teachers
are…About how she’d practically stand on her head and spit nickels if teachers
would only restore extra-curriculars”.

What the government is, uh, ‘offering’ is NOTHING other than the repetition of
the hope that everybody talks nicely to each other from now on although the
imposed ‘contracts’ will not be torn up.

If THAT deserves the spitting nickels visual, its author has a bright future selling
snow to Inuit.

Teachers are paid appropriately. This is only because their union representatives
have fought and negotiated in collective bargaining – something th has now come
under attack. It is becoming tiresome to have to constantly rationalize –to those
who have no clue about the demands of the work – things like those pesky summer
holidays and all those other breaks. That is not the issue here, even though it
somehow gets mentioned yet again in this vacuous editorial.

I have been trying to be a teacher for almost 40 years. Uh, I think I have a pretty
damn good idea about the “real world” as I juggle payments and responsibilities and
the demands of family dynamics and economic challenges. So, to the author of this
piece, stop whining about how my working schedule is structured and maybe you
could try a fresh, new approach…one that actually addresses that ‘real world’ you
seem to embrace.

To assess the unconscionable submission by OECTA several months ago as laudable
would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. Calling that disgraceful abandonment
of the collective bargaining process a creditable decision borders on disgusting,
because it implies that an actual agreement was reached. Nope. Didn’t happen.
Instead, the government screamed JUMP and OECTA’s leadership responded by
asking how long it should remain in the air.

OSSTF has NOT simply restored extra curriculars. And to reduce ETFO’s reaction
to a tantrum trivializes rather than enlightens. Of course, without that tired picture
of teachers acting like the children that this writer obviously thinks they are, there
would not have been that oh so snappy riproste of an ending. If this journalist/
editor wants to contribute to a significant situation, fine. A careful reading of the
piece, however, clearly argues this is not the case.

The crisis in education is not going to disappear just because a new premier and a
new minister would like that. And it certainly is not going to improve with the kind
of editorial nonsense that all too often graces the pages of the OTTAWA SUN.

Looking Around, Looking Back, Looking Ahead

FEB 28th, 2013
by Jeff Kanter, secondary school teacher in Ottawa.

Premier Wynne recently received some very strange support from a most unusual
source: teacher union Leaders. That teacher union Members are wondering if they
are possibly being left out of a loopy looking loop should not be ignored by either
governmental or union bigwigs.

But some looking back first. To succinctly sum up the situation: there is a
substantial provincial deficit in Ontario, created in part by the 2008 global recession
and nurtured by the provincial Liberal government by continuous corporate tax
cuts, ill-conceived spending, and politically motivated financial mismanagement.
Premier McGuinty’s solution was to summarily suspend the collective bargaining
rights of teachers and educational workers and then impose “contracts” which
basically enabled his government to steal approximately 1 Billion dollars from them.

Hence, the source of the present problem is not extra curriculars, but rather what
caused these voluntary activities to be withdrawn. Repealing Bill 115 is a useless,
meaningless, political gesture – when all of its effects, restrictions, and negative
consequences are still firmly in place. And, to repeat yet again, the core of this
source is not a wage Freeze; it is a wage Cut, as so few see fit to acknowledge.

Even the alleged ‘new’ approach, growing out of the provincial government’s
somewhat sudden and certainly new-found sense of respect for teachers (where
did this new attitude even come from??) to the issue of the unpaid days would sadly
seem to be nothing more that smoke and mirrors: at the end of the day, teachers
stand to lose the equivalent of 1.5% of salary in the 2013-14 year.

Perhaps MPP’s salaries should be summarily reduced by 1.5% in exchange for some
unpaid days. Of course, given the number of typical sitting days to begin with, along
with prorogued sessions, that might very well mean that many members of the
legislature will never actually set foot IN Queen’s Park.

But back to the present: just days ago, we receive Ken Coran’s somewhat surprising
and unexpected announcement regarding the reinstatement of extra curricular
activities - which leaves more questions than answers – the rather important
one being just what is being actually offered to the teachers in return for this
extraordinary act of ‘good-will’?

The fact that meetings involving the “new” provincial government and teacher
union leaders have been taking place was openly recognized and welcomed by
all concerned. The new premier made reference to a new attitude of respect
for educational workers and a new dialogue with them. But, if there is no
concrete ‘gain’ of some sort for teachers, then chances are that all the ‘new’s’ will
merely result in the same Old Mess.

A promise to be Nicer in dealings with teachers just isn’t enough. Promises made by
provincial Liberals, given their track record, need to be listened to with a pound of

If there is nothing tangible on a bargaining table that has become scarred and
warped by governmental intransigence and arrogance, delight could quickly
(re)turn to dismay. And whatever is being ‘offered’ (and let us assume for the
moment that this is indeed the case), it needs to be immediately communicated to
the thousands of teachers who have supported union directives regarding extra
curricular activities, and then, in the light of Bill 115, continued in their efforts to
resist bad governmental decisions and policies by making choices of conscience. If
there is nothing other than a vow of perpetual respect, there is the potential for such
backlash as to make what has hitherto occurred seem mild.

Ushering in a new era of respectful co- operation between government and OSSTF
will simply not solve this government-created crisis. Since the implementation of
the recently repealed but still applicable Bill 115, union leaders were under the
microscope to absolutely not force members to withhold voluntary duties. These
leaders should perhaps be reminded that they also cannot magically cause teachers
to return to them.

To vote in a motion supporting a return to the provision of voluntary extra
curricular activities without any tangible quo for that pretty significant quid boggles
the rational mind. And then, to reinforce the idea that all extra curricular activities
are voluntary – the subtext is all painfully clear – serves only to confuse it.

And now, to confuse an already confusing scenario, there is a growing suspicion that
the union leaders have agreed to make nice without ANY significant or meaningful
return. Never mind that Conservative Education Critic and Official Constant
Chirper MacLeod continues to suggest that the new premier has caved in to the
big bad mean old nasty teacher unions. The lack of anything remotely resembling
something concrete in return for the return to voluntary extra curricular activities is
both distressing and downright alarming.

All that noise about union leaders making sure that they clearly did not violate
terms of the repealed Bill 115 by suggesting what members should or should or
should not do regarding voluntary activities… now, for some inexplicable reason,
there does not seem to be any restriction on having union leaders telling members
to go back to the fields and auditoriums and pools and ski slopes etc. Let’s recap:
if union leaders publicly stated that members should NOT do voluntary tasks, that
would be a violation of a bill which has been repealed, but it is somehow perfectly
acceptable for them to tell their members it is okay to DO same. Just a bit confusing,
is all.

Can this all be because it is the time of year when parents choose schools for their
children? Is the threat of a full scale exodus to that other school system, you know,
the one whose leaders meekly accepted without blinking (and without offering
their members a chance to vote) the now infamous MoU, behind the sudden spirit of
acceptance and co operation being displayed by OSSTF?

Those who were around in the mid 1980’s may remember then Premier William
Davis’ decision to extend full funding to the Catholic system. That too was
supposed to result in a massive shift of Catholic students then registered in the
public system back to the Separate School system. Didn’t happen. Certainly some
transfers occurred – just not the wholescale migration that Ms MacLeod is presently
predicting. Nothing like continuing to be a part of the problem instead of part of the
solution. MacLeod’s constant and continuous noise is political point scoring, impure
and simple.

But what a bonus for the newly appointed premier! Without breaking a sweat, she is
now participating in what could very well be the beginning of the end for unions in
education. Of course, there are a few provincial politicians who would not shed too
many tears if this were to take place.

Without giving ANYTHING concrete, Ms Wynne has managed to introduce
noticeable disruption into union ranks, getting the initial signs of serious cracks in
what had only recently been significant solidarity as payback for her efforts.

And of course, before the ink on the motion by OSSTF leaders concerning the
cessation of the withdrawl of voluntary activities was dry, everyone in the media
seemed to be celebrating a fait accompli. Thankfully, there were a few contrary
articles, hinting that all might not be well and happy among the ranks of those who
actually Provide those thousands of voluntary hours.

Union leaders should be communicating more effectively with their members and
should be giving these same members the opportunity to react to what is now
allegedly on the table. We pays our fees – we should gets our chance to yea or nay.