Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Below you'll read an editorial I wrote for a magazine about five years ago during a public school-teacher strike in Ontario. It came to mind recently as I read about a similar strike in BC going on right now. It's dedicated to all my relatives who are Christian school teachers (and there are many).


Thankful for Christian School Teachers

By George van Popta

As I look out my study window, I see three public school teachers picketing the offices of the county board of education. At 8 o'clock in the morning, when they started pacing back and forth, it was quite cold. It's raining a bit. They hunker down in their coats. One pulls his toque down a bit and his gloves up over his wrists. They look miserable. Shall I bring them a coffee? I decide not to. After all, they've chosen to be out there instead of in their schools.

They stop everyone who enters the road that leads to the board offices. Canada Post is let by. A delivery truck backs up and turns around. A board of education vehicle passes through after a long conversation.

The rain stops. The sun comes out. Heavy coats, gloves and hats are shed. The three picketers look a little happier. They wave cheerfully at those who honk their car horns as they drive by.

Yesterday the 126,000 public and Roman Catholic school teachers left their classrooms and abandoned their chalkboards. They went on strike. Less than 1 % of teachers in Ontario reported for duty. 2.1 million students are on enforced vacation eight weeks after school began. The teachers are patting themselves on the back. They successfully staged the largest walkout by teachers in North American history.

It is an illegal strike. The teachers are under a current contract. Premier Mike Harris is seeking a back-to-work injunction that would subject the teachers to fines and their union leaders to fines or imprisonment if they disobey.

At the heart of the conflict is Bill 160, the government's Education Quality Improvement Act. The bill proposes new regulations governing size of classes, a fixed minimum amount of time the teacher must be in the classroom, possibility of hiring non-certified teachers for physical education courses and guidance, setting of tax rates for funding of education, collection of these taxes, and the funding of education.

The teachers union sees the control of education slipping out of its hands. To them, that is intolerable. Hence, the strike. They unabashedly call it "a political protest. They carry signs which declare: "Bill 160 hurts children"; "Teacher's care"; "Save public education"; and, "Standing up for democracy."

One question keeps emerging in my mind about the conduct of the teachers in this protest. If they are concerned about the children, and if they care, why do they so carelessly hurt the children by giving them the message that it is acceptable to flout the law? Putting aside the question whether their complaints are legitimate, the means they use to protest are illegal and revolutionary. They are under mutually agreed upon signed contracts to work. They are obliged to teach. They are guilty of open revolt. 2.1 million students are learning some lessons they'll surely not forget: "If you don't like something, you may disregard the law"; "If it does not suit you, you do not need to keep your promise, even if you have signed your name to it." Some lessons! I wonder how these teachers respond to students who put what they've learned into practice in the classroom. The teachers have called down the government's authority. The students should now be able to call down the authority of the teacher. If a student flaunts school rules, what does the teacher have left to say? The teacher would need to praise the student as being a good disciple and having learnt his lessons well.

This strike makes me all the more thankful for Christian school teachers. I am thankful for schools that offer an education founded upon the Word of God and circumscribed by the Reformed confessions. I am thankful for schools that teach the students how to live in this world unto the glory of God and the welfare of their neighbour. I am thankful for schools that provide a safe environment for children to spend a substantial part of the week learning and interacting with peers. I am thankful for all of that. But today, as I see the three picketers trudging back and forth, I am especially thankful for Christian school teachers. Recently, someone prayed that we not be smug because "our teachers don't go on strike." A worthy prayer! There is no call to smugness, only to thankfulness.

Christian school teachers are different. They gladly acknowledge they are under authority. They will not "shut down the schools" if the body governing the school makes a decision they do not like. Christian school teachers keep the Fifth Commandment. They honour those in authority over them and submit themselves with due obedience, having patience with any weaknesses and shortcomings of those over them. Christian school teachers keep the Third Commandment. They realize that the contract to provide the service of teaching for an agreed upon salary is an agreement made in the presence of God. To break unilaterally that agreement is to play fast and loose with the Name of God. Christian school teachers keep the Eight Commandment. They seek to promote the good of both their students and their employers, and deal with these as they would be dealt with.

Christian school teachers are vastly different from the teachers you find at the public and Roman Catholic schools. Christian school teachers model what it means to submit to those in authority rather than to revolt. They teach their students how to resolve conflicts in a biblical way rather than a revolutionary way. They teach their students what it means to keep ones promise.

Hats off to Christian school teachers! I'm thankful for Christian school teachers.