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Education should be high priority

By James Bow

Anybody who doesn’t believe that it takes a village to raise a child got an education on Tuesday when local elementary school teachers took part in a province-wide strike.

I am not a union man, but I am generally sympathetic with working people trying their darnedest to get the best deal for themselves and their families.

I do wonder about the strategies of certain union executives (especially those protecting Toronto transit workers), but in general I respect workers’ rights to organize and bargain as a unit. I believe that this ability is one of the reasons our society is as prosperous as it has been.

But, of course, my commitment to this is tested when I personally am inconvenienced by strike action.

On Tuesday, I was luckier than most parents in that I had the flexibility to stay home and take care of the kids when the school closed. I was even able to lend a hand to a parent who had limited options for childcare.

However, finding things to do for my kids still took a chunk out of my day. It also gave me an appreciation of just how much work our teachers do.

Polls suggest that most people in Ontario are sympathetic to the teachers’ cause. At the same time, most people oppose the teachers’ strike actions.

Who wants to have the inconvenience of scrambling to find alternate arrangements for taking care of their children? Who wants to worry about their kids being left behind if work action continues?

But I do sense more sympathy for teachers these days — certainly more so than when the teachers struck against Mike Harris and a lot of misinformation swirled about how hard teachers did or didn’t work.

That sympathy we see today has been around even before the stories of the selfless acts of teachers during the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Teachers today are expected to do so much. Not only are they educators, they are child psychologists. They are the first line of defense in identifying learning disabilities or other problems. They are vital parts of our children’s lives and development.

It’s too easy to underestimate the value teachers have in our community. I suspect many parents — myself included — just hand off our kids and walk away, thinking more about the things we have to do in the time our kids are away, than what our kids are doing while we’re away.

I think we have a better understanding today than we had 15 years ago that our teachers are worth more than what we pay them.

I think the McGuinty government needlessly poisoned the well by coming in with a hammer and bringing in legislation to impose settlements rather than negotiating in good faith. Like the rest of us, teachers have very little to negotiate with, and they deserve to be treated fairly.

Yes, this province is in a difficult financial position, and teachers, like the rest of us, might have to accept a smaller settlement when push comes to shove.

But given the value of the services teachers provide society, both now and into the future, maybe we should accept that education should have a higher priority in Ontario. Perhaps other government services need to give way a little, or perhaps our taxes need to be increased slightly.

Most of us could not be where we are without the teachers in our lives. Our future depends on the work our teachers do today.

One day of strike action should remind us how valuable these people are.

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James Bow is a writer and a father of two in Kitchener. You can follow him online at or on Twitter at @jamesbow.

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