Why Christy Clark should go back to school – and not prevent others from doing so

Statutory holidays require banal social media posts from politicians. But I was startled by the tweet sent out by B.C. Premier Christy Clark on Friday, April 3: “Good Friday reminds us that hard work and sacrifice are rewarded. I hope you have a restful and meaningful long weekend.”

Now I know it’s easy to be misunderstood or taken out of context when you’re working with a limit of 140 characters. But that is an extremely ill-conceived or poorly-worded social media post. At best the Premier was very inelegantly saying that people who work hard deserve a stat holiday. But then why preface that by talking about the lessons of the day Christians mark the crucification of Jesus Christ? The tweet smacked of clumsy insensitivity, and made it look like the Premier of B.C. hadn’t a clue about the story of Easter.

Premier Clark’s Twitter gaffe generated some backlash, and I noticed that public education activists were amongst the most snarky and unforgiving. And why not? The wounds from last year’s bitter B.C. teachers’ strike have not healed, and in some cases serious injury is being added to the insults of last summer.

New fees for adult education come into effect May 1 | Photo courtesy of the Province of British Columbia

New fees for adult education come into effect May 1 | Photo courtesy of the Province of British Columbia

Take the case of adult education. Last last year the B.C. Liberals announced that they would be ditching theirpolicy of providing free basic education to adults in the province. As of May 1, new exorbitant and in many cases prohibitive fees will apply for anyone who wants to go back and upgrade their education. This is a regressive policy. While it’s ostensibly about saving money, it will end up overwhelmingly punishing those with limited economic means. It’s just plain mean spirited.

“In a province with some of the highest levels of poverty and inequality in Canada, slamming the door on access to basic education is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing,” education specialists Suzanne Smyth and Shauna Butterwick argued in a recent op-ed in the Vancouver Province.

Whatever meagre savings are gained in the short-term are outweighed by the long-term costs of a less educated populace

“By putting up financial barriers to adults seeking to upgrade their skills, the B.C. Liberal government is making it much more difficult for hard-working people to further their education, gain valuable experience, and eventually secure well-paying jobs,” B.C. Teachers Federation (BCTF) president Jim Iker explained in a recent press release.

Iker also points to another way in which the Liberals’ cuts will exacerbate inequality in the province: “Those impacted most by these cuts to adult basic education will likely be people in B.C.’s immigrant and Aboriginal communities.”

Adult education centres in some of the poorest parts of B.C., like Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, will be closing permanently.

The BCTF and other education advocates in B.C. have begun campaigning against the cuts, and they are certain to ramp up the protests after May 1, when the changes come into effect.

The severe changes to adult education funding are one part of the squeeze that is currently being applied to school districts across B.C. In Vancouver, the school board anticipates budget restraints forcing the layoff of dozens of teachers and delaying much needed seismic upgrades to old schools. So, we have the absurd situation that, in a city where new luxury condos are going up everywhere, the government cannot even afford to have students learn inside of buildings that won’t crumble in the event of a major earthquake.

The changes to adult education are just the most egregious manifestation of the B.C. government’s neglect of public education.

Premier Clark needs to reverse these irrational and frankly cruel cuts. While she’s at it, she could sign up for a remedial course in Religious Studies. She’s not too old to get some basic education. She might even read the Sermon on the Mount and reconsider everything.