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I wonder if it’s because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is actually a teacher that so much of his Canada Day speech today reminded me of all that is good about public education?

For every example he gave of Canadian values, I thought of what those values looked like in the place where I teach.

When he spoke about Canada being a place of refuge, I can certainly see how our school is that for many of our students. A place where too many of them get their only daily meal. A place where LGBTQ students can use a gender neutral washroom. A place that provides an oasis from the storms that sometimes erupt at home because a school designated “inner-city” is much more than a building.

Trudeau also spoke about Canada’s diversity. Sixty-three languages are spoken amongst our school population. When then Governor General Adrienne Clarkson visited our school in 1999, she was greeted in forty-one languages. In our classrooms, you will see students from Syria sitting next to students from the Sudan. In our sports teams, students whose ancestors have been here for centuries, play along with those whose families have newly arrived from all over the world.

Kindness and generosity were also mentioned by Trudeau and, once again, I can think of multiple examples of this in our school. From the fundraising for Christmas hampers for families to the annual fundraising for Surrey Memorial Hospital, to the little kindnesses I witness each day in the interactions amongst students, our school provides an example of all that is good about Canada.

But, with all that being said, why am I spending Canada Day unspinning the obfuscations of our Minister of Education? Why is public education, the very cornerstone of a democracy, under such sustained attack here in B.C.?

For the past 14 years, the public education fund has been deliberately shrunk through changing funding formulas and by downloading more and more costs onto school boards. Much has been written about the details of this sustained attack but perhaps not enough about how such an attack undermines all that we celebrate each Canada Day.

We are well on our way toward a two-tier education system here in B.C. and perhaps it’s opportune to ask on this Canada day: since when was it a Canadian value to spend public funds on privileges only a few can access in private schools?  If small class sizes are good for the few, why not for the many?

Minister Bernier insists that he will withhold funding for seismic upgrades until schools achieve 95% capacity. Since when is that what Canadians do — choose the children to be protected when an earthquake hits?

Our rich province has the highest childhood poverty rate in the country. Our province that boasts about its “strong economy” is also where a media corporation fundraises to fill the needs our B.C. Liberal government ignores in our schools.

Last year, worried about the effects of a Harperized Canada, I wondered what kind of Canada I should celebrate. 

Today, I hope that when I celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday next year, I’ll also be celebrating a new beginning for public schools in B.C., a beginning that is a return to a time when public schools were seen as crucial, not only for a strong democracy, but because it’s in our public schools where Canadian values are nurtured and maintained. 

Image: Flickr/Sillywaigo

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