There is a term – armchair anthropologist – which refers to scholars (think colonialists) who would sit in their comfy chairs and read books or examine artifacts and draw conclusions about ‘the other’ – the ‘exotic’ – think: non-white, non-European. This lead to real errors in teachings and entire belief systems were developed based on no field work or actual observations.
I thought of this term rcently as I read comments following a guest article by an Educational Assistant, Laura Walton, who is also the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions. Walton was explaining to Toronto Sun readers the reasons that education workers and teachers likely would be taking job action this school year (and by job action she did not necessarily mean strikes, but most people don’t get that). Walton laid out the concerns of people working in the system and why the public needs to get onboard to fighting cuts to education.
The comments that followed were ridiculous. Many, many, MANY of the people threw out the usual tirade about how teachers are overpaid and have three months holidays and don’t care about students, they only care about wage hikes, yada yada. (Other commenters repeatedly pointed out that Walton is not a teacher which prompted a remark that Walton should go back to school so she could get a ‘real’ better paying job.) Others repeated the Ford government’s party line about pouring money into the education system and that there were no layoffs happening.
If you are a person who works in education, you’ve seen and heard it all before.
So here’s the tie in to armchair anthropology. The vast majority of people in the province have had some sort of intersection with education. They attended a school, they may have children or other younger relatives in the system, and/or they may know an educator. But unless you have done the work, really been a part of the system, you don’t have enough information to say what any particular education system role does and does not entail.
People do not have the knowledge to know about how funding cuts are affecting students and staff.
I worked closely with teachers for over a decade and I couldn’t tell you all the details of their role because it is much more than just what happens in the classroom. I could not tell you all that the clerical staff, the custodial staff, the psychoeducational staff, or the multitudes of others do everyday. Frankly, I cannot tell you what ever educational assistant does. Each role is too different.
Why does Person Q Public feel that they can sit in their comfy armchair and confidently comment about education? How can they believe they know better than teachers and other education workers who are speaking about their workplace and how funding cuts are detrimental to students?
The Education Minister, the Premier, any member of government who are making decisions about funding – are any of them educators? Who is making the decisions?
Minister Lecce – communications expert. Premier Ford – businessman (high school education).
You know who does have a PhD in education? MPP Jill Andrews from Toronto. Sadly this perfect candidate for the position of Education Minister is with the NDP, not the governing party.
I know I am spitting into the wind by saying that people need to stop criticizing what they don’t know. I know that I am walking into a brick wall to encourage politicians to step into classrooms for a whole day, or better yet a month, to get a sliver of a clue why job actions are likely to happen.
And yes, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: wages. When I left my full time role in 2014, I was taking home less than $30000. Yup. I “had summers off”. Unpaid. Yup, I had Christmas and March break off. Unpaid.
I also have life long injuries from being kick, hit, and punched. I was not entitled to enough WSIB compensation to take the time and therapy to recover fully.
Wages are part of the equation, but they are not all of the equation.
So, to those commenters I say: don’t sit in your armchair and tell an educational assistant that she should put up and shut up. Person Q Public needs to get out and do their field work before making assumptions about Walton and other educators’ motivations.
One of the keystones of a good educational assistant is their observational skills. We have a lot we can teach the public. Here’s the first field research question: What is the antecedent to the behaviour of members of the education system and what is the consequence of the negative actions of the province?