The stories we tell each other about the world in which we live are powerful. It is a privileged position to participate in popular debate comprised of a million tiny questions; it is also the right of any civic-minded individual.
With so many voices, it is inevitable that the more complex or controversial the conversation, the more easily obscured its truths will be. In the fraught matter of the teachers’ job action and the questionable constitutionality of Bill 115, finding the truths requires not only asking difficult questions, but also curating the responses. What isn’t written reveals as much as what is.
So when writers in the public forum ask why the teachers are “using kids as human shields” — as Luisa D’Amato did in her column Nov. 21 in the Waterloo Region Record — they manipulate the debate to intentionally suppress the stated objections of the teachers themselves, and to foreclose any possibility of real discussion.
D’Amato is representative here of the media’s general approach to reporting on the strike: the same reliance on a tired line of rhetoric which posits the teachers as villains for protesting the erosion of their rights as workers, without asking why those rights are being eroded in the first place, or who might benefit from weakening one of the remaining unions with any real power.
They could just as easily portray the teachers as putting themselves in the firing line in front of their students, braving the blast of media and political criticism as a meaningful demonstration of the democracy they teach in the classroom.
Teachers declining to volunteer their time as part of job action highlights the degree to which educators commit their own hours and resources to the job of teaching, well above and beyond the hours for which they are paid. Ideally, this particular job action should increase public support, not decrease it, as the public is encouraged towards a fuller understanding of the high demands of teaching.
The insistence that teachers continue to work for free in order to maintain public support smacks of a haughty requirement that groups must ask nicely for their rights or risk having them denied.
My parents are teachers, and I remember vividly the strike of 1996. Then, as now, the issues for teachers were the erosion of their rights as workers, the legislating of wages and benefits usually negotiated through the unions, and the dilution of the quality of education for students.
Yet again, the actual issues are left out of the discussion in favour of gleeful harping over senior teachers’ paycheques and job benefits to which we should all be entitled. Why would we ignore the voices of teachers and the actual content of Bill 115 in favour of the voices of politicians and yellow journalism?
This is not about a cash-strapped provincial government trying to make ends meet; this is a bully tactic shrouded in the language of fiscal responsibility and legitimized by the stories the media chooses to tell. I support the teachers because I can’t abide a bully.