Friday, January 25, 2013

I'm concerned about the kids these days.

No, no... not because they act like horned-up rhesus monkeys after you've injected them with research-grade amphetamines most of the time.

It's the god damn music they listen to, and will be listening to for decades.

Let me explain.

A couple of days ago, I was in the Bulk Barn that opened up close to me. (For years I was concerned that BB was owned by Loblaws, which is owned by the Weston family, who is close with the Fraser Institute, who supports private schools. Apparently not, though.) As I walked into the store, their background music was about a minute and a half into "Stairway To Heaven" which is, of course, one of the most famous and possibly the best rock song ever made.

It was released in late 1971, which is a little more than 41 years ago.

The girl at the cash seemed to me as if she'd grown up here -- if you spent your formative years on a walnut farm in Mongolia, you can be forgiven for not knowing about Stairway -- so I thought I'd give her a little pop quiz (and no, there is no "off" position on the teacher-switch). She looked to be about maybe 16 or so.

Me: "The song that's just finishing up now on the speakers. Do you know what that is?"
Her: "Uh... not really, no."
Me: "Yeah, I sorta thought that would be the case. It's called 'Stairway To Heaven,' and it's by a band called Led Zeppelin."
Her: "Oh yeah, that sounds sorta familiar. I remember my dad talking about them once."

Listen... I know we're in good hands with the generations that follow us. There are a hell of a lot of fantastic kids who will accomplish things we never even dreamt possible. They will invent, innovate, think, create and explore, and they'll build upon and eventually surpass our accomplishments. But, for fuck's sakes, they should know god damn Stairway.

This got me thinking about music being released today. I realize that there's a reason "classic rock" radio stations exist, and that's because baby boomers want to hear the same songs they've heard ever since they were 18, so they can relive the parts of their lives that didn't suck, and for a few minutes they can think about that chick Lisa they boned in the back of their parents' Datsun up on Lovers Hill after the Under The Sea dance and it was totally awesome, and oh yeah I saw Lisa at the church pot-luck last month, damn she's put on a bit of weight but she looks good after having the four kids and the spleen-replacement surgery, and I wonder if she still puts out like she did back then, damn that was groovy.

(Not to say all boomers' lives suck. I'm caricaturizing, because that's what an older kid told me writers do.)

But honestly, what are the kids today going to reminisce about when they get older?
  • "Wow, 'My Humps' is on the space-radio! That song really had a lot of merit."
  • "I think I'll buy and cranially-download the entire My Chemical Romance discography. *blinkblink* Ooooh, now that's a generalized malaise and feeling of ennui I haven't felt in decades."
  • "Hey, Ke$ha joined the 27 Club, right? Yeah, I thought so."
Yes, I'm being a music-snob here. And no, I don't think that all music released these days is bad. Just most of it that makes it to mainstream radio. But honestly... listen to top-40 radio, and for god's sakes, think of the children.

Friday, January 11, 2013

In which I tear a guy a new one.

It's a strange time for public education in this province... as you well know if you (a.) live here, and (b.) don't live under a rock.

Today ETFO, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, was supposed to do a one-day walkout to protest the enacting of Bill 115, which imposes a contract on any teacher in the province that didn't already have one; namely, the public elementary and secondary teachers. (The Catholic union's leadership sold their members down the river by agreeing to a horrendous contract back in the summer without their membership's consent, and the French union finds it hard to negotiate being so small so they took the same lousy deal too.)

Last night -- actually, at 4 am this morning -- the Ontario Labour Relations Board determined that this walkout was, in fact, not a political protest (protected by law) but was an illegal strike (which means possible fines for union leadership and for individual teachers, over and above being docked a day's pay). So, ETFO backed off; our union was supposed to do the same thing next Wednesday, but has since cancelled it.

This has provoked a lot of response, both for and against teachers and their unions. A friend of mine wrote a fairly anti-teacher-union post on his Facebook wall today, and someone he knows (but I don't) took it to a whole new level. This guy's name is Matt (but not the One And Only Matt that I've known for years, don't worry). I felt I had to respond. So here's my response. Enjoy.

Matt, I disagree with you, but I'll do so calmly.

First off: if teaching is a cushy, easy job with glorious benefits, you're much more than welcome to join us. No? Not into spending all day with dozens of crazed teenagers trying to ram knowledge into their heads? Alright, then.

Secondly: the Catholic union's provincial executive accepted a contract. Exactly zero local deals have been ratified by Catholic (or French) teachers. So, representing those contracts as anything less than their union leadership selling them out -- because there's pressure to eliminate Catholic boards entirely -- is a huge misrepresentation.

Thirdly, a few small points: unions essentially agreed to wage freezes in April. Banked sick days also doubled as our short-term disability plan. We don't get vacation pay like many other jobs (nor do we expect it), because our non-working days are scheduled for us. We coach and supervise and volunteer our time because (a.) we enjoy it, and (b.) the kids appreciate it. I coach baseball and supervise a student club, in addition to teaching my timetable, being a department head, and being the school's union rep (full disclosure).

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly: I am an employee, with an employer. I am represented in negotiations by a union, and through it I have the right to negotiate a contract with my employer, without outside interference. Agree with the idea of unions or not, Matt, but (a.) they exist, (b.) I'm in one, and (c.) our ability to bargain with our employer -- the school boards, not the province -- has been sabotaged by the government. Complain about wages and benefits and such all you like -- as you have -- but the facts stated in this paragraph are clear and unambiguously correct. And that's what we're mad about.

Do students get "held hostage" in negotiations? That's debatable. I was a student during two strikes in my high school career, and it was lousy. I don't disagree with that part at all. But I only truly found out what the issues were when I became a teacher myself. That's the problem here: everyone thinks they're an expert in education because they were once a student. Are you an expert in medicine because you were once in a doctor's office? Of course not. So I suggest you learn a little more about the situation -- from both sides -- before you go shooting your mouth off again.
I dunno, I thought it was pretty good.