Increasing British Columbia’s Freedom Of Choice in Education By Starving The Public System

We know that British Columbia’s Liberal party has no affiliation with the federal Liberal party, or any other provincial Liberal party.  They are a collection of right wingers determined to keep the power-hungry left-of-centre party (the NDP) out of power.

Lately though, I have been asking myself if the BC Liberals stand for anything else?

In particular I have been wondering what motivates the seemingly endless assault upon public education?  Christy Clarke’s father was a teacher (though to be fair I do not know if he worked in the public system) and I would think that she would have a greater respect for education because of her direct knowledge of it.

She did, however, drop out of a number of universities, but there does not seem to be any attack upon these institutions.

I am motivated in part from some recent reading I have been doing, particularly an essay by Steve Patten (2013) in Conservatism in Canada.  Patten’s (2013) work doesn’t actually deal with the BC Liberal party, but it does describe three tenets at the core of neoliberalism: 1) Embrace free enterprise and markets as essential to achieving individual and social well-being; 2) Shrink the state with the goal of limiting state expenditures as the foremost priority; and 3) Privilege individualism and freedom of choice (p. 61).  With this framework in mind the seemingly heartless decisions taken by the BC Liberals can be placed within an ideological context.

Of particular interest to me is the third tenet (the idea of privileging freedom of choice) in light of what many would argue has been the unraveling of our public education system since the BC Liberals came to power in 2001.  If you are interested in the decade and a half long war between the BC Liberals and the public school teachers of BC, Katie Hyslop at the The Tyee wrote a nice summary a couple of years ago.

After reading over her summary, I am left with the feeling that something grander is motivating this ceaseless battle.  When I refer back to Patten’s (2013) definition of the essential elements of neoliberalism, I can place the decisions of the BC Liberals firmly within these parameters.

Why not remove any class size cap from classes over grade 4? The the legislation that did this (Bill 28) called the “Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act”?

The title of this bill is truly bizarre.  “Choice” for who?  Those students who are stuck in an overcrowded classroom?  Ahhh, I hear the superintendent reading this article saying “The research says class size doesn’t matter”.

Really though you know when you hear “the research says” you are hearing managerial code for “I can’t do anything about it and I lack the integrity to fight for what is right”.  For further reading, I would refer you on to Mathis’ research brief from June of this year showing why empirical research on this topic broadly supports a reduction in class size to improve student learning.

So what does the word “choice” mean in Bill 28.  This is when I come back to Patten’s definition of neoliberalism.  If the neoliberal wishes to privilege individualism and freedom of choice the best thing to do is to create more choice, something that the public system was not designed to do.

Overcrowding the public school classroom, while at the same time giving record funding to private schools is one way to do this.

I was speaking to the founder of a Waldorf school last month and she told me that funding for private schools hasn’t increased, it has just went up with increased enrolment.  Again she lacked the intellectual curiosity, or if I wish to be cruel, integrity, to ask why enrolment has increased so sharply in recent years?

As I wrote about in a previous post the chief selling point of many private schools is lower class size and homogenous composition.  If we are honest with ourselves can we not say that they are able to offer these things because they are publicly financed and do not face the same restrictions as public schools?

This is how the neoliberal of British Columbia seems to like their increased freedom of choice in education: publicly finance and at the expense of other children.


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