Friday, February 1, 2013

Teacher Oversupply or Pupil Undersupply

[This article originally appeared on the blog on January 31, 2013]

My high school education spanned a now unusual five years, over an even more unusual two continents and three countries. I started in the south European backwater that is Macedonia for my first two years, took my “junior year” in Florida, and finished up in Ontario with the last of the OAC regime. Despite the great differences between Macedonia and Canada, in terms of economic development, there was a connecting theme between the two places for me. It was the desperation felt among would be and new teachers. In Macedonia, if one were a certified teacher, it meant that unless his or her parent was a retiring teacher, this person would be nothing more than another addition to the unemployment statistics. I was surprised to see a shockingly similar fate for new teachers in my new home. I recall a number of young student teachers that made the rounds through my Ontario high school, hoping to get hired for the next year. I also remember the onslaught of layoffs that resulted with the discontinuation of the 13th grade. One of these young teachers, let’s call him Mr. Gidley, got canned three years in a row, only to be recalled the following September. In my graduating year, this fellow, having got tired of the annual farewell he’d been given at the yearend assembly, asked me and a couple of buddies to join him in a bit of a prank involving the performance of Monty Python’s “The Lumberjack Song” to the unassuming audience in the school’s auditorium. He got called back the following year. He was lucky that way. It was not so for most of the others. For instance, there’s this other guy, let’s call him Mr. House. He worked as a stock boy in the nearby supermarket when he was brought in as a student teacher to my grade 12 English class. He never got hired. Eleven years later, I still run into him at the same supermarket, where he’s still a stock boy.

Coming out of high school, as kids do at that time, I was contemplating what career path to choose for myself. In Macedonia I had put myself on the path of physical education—though I never intended to make use of my degree; I just needed to attend school through the age of 18, so I chose one majoring in sport. Having seen the fates of Misters Gidley and House, and the close to a dozen other student teachers that filed through Sir Winston Secondary, I knew there was no bread for me in education. Unfortunately, many of my cohorts failed to see this. I, like probably any given twentysomething can think of about a dozen people in my social circle that are either in teacher’s college, or are on their way in or out. I have a sneaky suspicion that this came about as a direct result of the education and indoctrination these people received through the public education system that they were forced to attend through their formative years. Is there a more damning exhibit of the imbecility produced by public education than the oblivion to reality displayed by these teacher-ed novices? Many more continue to do so every year, the result of which is Ontario’s oversupply of teachers. How bad is it out there for young and budding teachers? University Affairs reports the following:
The effect of an ever-growing pool of job seekers is reflected in a 2010 survey by the Ontario College of Teachers (PDF), the provincial body that licenses teachers. Most neophyte teachers aren’t getting full-time jobs, or anything close. In 2006, 30 percent of teachers in their first year after graduation were either unemployed or underemployed. By 2010, that proportion had more than doubled, to 68 percent. Nearly one in four new teachers got no work at all, up from just three percent in 2006.
Paraphrasing the stories I relay above, Yvonne Ringles says: “It’s like your life is on hold.”
Since graduating in 2005 from Lakehead University’s one-year bachelor of education program, the 30-year-old has worked a variety of daily supply and long-term supply jobs in a school board east of Toronto and even taught overseas. But she has been unable to secure a full-time teaching position. Two of her friends are in exactly the same boat.
Life on hold, indeed. The teacher oversupply situation in Ontario represents a microcosm, a case in point if you will, of the problem with this Province’s politico-economical regime. Well, not just of this Province, but of North America in general. Jobs, and therefore, careers are in short supply as a result of the government meddling in the economy.

As one that is far from the troubles brought on by child rearing, I was quite unpleasantly surprised to learn from my neighbor, who is not as lucky as I am, that Ontario children are by law required to report to school at the age of four. Government solution to a government created problem. Having created an oversupply of teachers through its easy access to post secondary education and loans to pay for it, the government has seen the problem: there is no teacher oversupply, there is a pupil undersupply! It’s the same at the other end of the spectrum, too, as post secondary education, which used to last four years, is now pushing an average of six. Here’s how University Affairs puts it:
Lobbying by universities’ education faculties and the Ontario College of Teachers pushed the provincial government to fund an extra 1,500 one-year teacher education spots, bringing the total number of those spaces – which make up the bulk of teacher education spaces – to 6,500 in 2003. That doesn’t include additional places contributed by the four- or five-year teacher-education programs or by three wholly new teacher-ed programs that were approved and opened at Ontario universities during the decade. When all was said and done, Ontario ended up with more than 9,000 spots for teacher-ed students in its education faculties in a given year.
And not surprisingly, there are calls for extending the length of teacher’s college:
But those at education faculties say it’s tricky to correctly predict what future needs will be. They suggest that Ontario may need to take a different perspective on the role of education faculties, and even to start discussions about a longer time to earn a BEd, upping it from one to two years, like Alberta has.
And where post secondary education was something reserved for a small percentage of the population, now it’s as common as having a driver’s license. We have university grads coming up the proverbial Ying Yang, specialized in all sorts of useless fields! Ah, another parallel between Macedonian and North American societies (not the driver’s license part, the university grads part). It’s how Marshal Tito disposed with so much unemployment in the late 1960s in Yugoslavia, the last solution to unemployment before rounding up the young and shipping them off to war—and as I was taught by the products of Tito’s educational policies, the rotten, backward capitalists of the West had no choice but to follow the predetermined course of history as prescribed by Karl Marx and join us in socialism. Boy, were they right!?

I was seven years old when I started my education. By the end of my first two grades I was fully literate in both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets; knew how to add, subtracts, divide and multiply. On my last day of the second grade I declared to my parents that I had attained all the wisdom that formal education had to impart on me, and was ready to take up employment with the family business. “You have to finish high school; it’s the law,” they said. So I did. They were going to send me to the agricultural or trades school, where all the idiots were sent. As far as my parents were concerned, those were the only two high schools that offered anything of educational value. In grades 3 and 4 I was taught about the Basics of Nature and Society (a precursor to geography and history). Most of it turned out to have been wrong. In grades 5 through 10 I was taught some more history that was written from the point of view of the ruling Regime, so it was useless. Here I was introduced to the Marxian determinism of history. I forget how it goes exactly, but the important part went: feudalism, capitalism, chaos and destruction, followed by socialism and finally communism. I was taught this in 1994, four years after Macedonia officially abandoned socialism. I was taught physics and chemistry, too. By grade 10 I knew the Periodic Table of Elements by heart and could write chemical formulas just by being told the name of some complex substance. You name it, I could do it: Tetracholiudwhatevermajigi, Hydroxysoandsuch, Natriumperoxideidium. Don’t remember jack. Don’t need it. I also knew how plants and animals reproduced, and when, and how they came to be. Don’t remember jack. Don’t need to. All the math I was taught by grade 10 was useful only inasmuch to get me through grade 13. Practical use for the stuff I learned after grade 2: practically non-existent. In grades 11, 12 and 13 I was taught how to write essays. Finally, something I’ve put to practical use. All the history and economics I learned came through my independent study of the subjects, reading the books that textbooks are derivatives of. Actually, textbooks hardly touch the majority of these subjects. In Macedonia I was taught that the Communist uprisings against the Nazis in Yugoslavia turned the tide of World War Two decisively in the favor of the Allies. Turns out this didn’t wasn’t quite the case. In North America there was no mention of the fire bombings of Dresden. Nowhere was I taught what the phrase “History is written by the victors,” was really put to use in the schools I attended.

The greatest benefit I received from my years in education was my learning the English language. But, this didn’t happen through the government educational system. I took courses at a private institution, and supplemented that with exposure to the English language through movies and travel—all of it paid for by my parents. All that I could use from my government sanctioned education was my familiarity with the Latin alphabet. By the time I was done grade 4 I spoke English well enough to be sent to England for a month-long excursion. By grade 5, when English was introduced in the curriculum in my elementary school I was correcting my teacher. She was not impressed. I never figured out why. Now, I also wanted to take private music lessons, but my parents said “no.” It wasn’t because they couldn’t afford it, it was simply because they could tell how unmusical I was. They were right: I can’t even keep a beat. It would be a waste of my time and their money. I was better off playing in the street with my friends. My parents didn’t believe in the notion of gaining a degree or education for the sake having it. They needed me to learn English so that we could expand our business toward the West. In the meanwhile, there were opportunities for my brother and I to make a quick buck interpreting for my dad when he had business associates visit—or when CNN broadcasted the First Gulf War, live. He had to pay us under the table, of course, due to child labour laws. My parents never cared about my grades at school, or in my private English class. They simply laid out the opportunity which would be useless to me if I had not grasped the English language as well as I had to. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there was a purpose to my learning the English language, which is why it turned out not to be a malinvestment. Pretty much all of the rest of my formal education, which, unlike my English education, was paid for through tax coercion has been more or less useless—which is what a malinvestment is. Human action is purposeful; its purpose is to substitute a present unease with a more desirable outcome. The government fueled production of thousands upon thousands of university and college grads unnecessary to the market flies in the face of the axiom of human action, which is why North America is following in the footsteps of Macedonia, and not the other way around. Our budding politicians tell us that “we” are “investing” in “our” future through education paid for through coercion. But, a malinvestment, is a malinvestment; so was the case with Tito’s educational system, with Saddam Hussein’s Republican Army (reputed to be the 5th best, or most vicious, or biggest in the world—or whatever they measure themselves by), with the tech and housing bubbles in the US, and so on.

Now, I’m not positive, but, I’m pretty sure that kids in North America aren’t fully literate in one alphabet after two years of schooling, let alone two; nor are they competent in the basic functions of math. That’s not the point of their being in school anyway. The point of any child’s “education” within a government sanctioned system is to create jobs and perpetuate the myths of the ruling regime—no matter what country we are talking about.

Oh, and by the way. The Macedonian government recently figured out the reason for their economic woes. They are happy to report that economic restrictions, high taxation, regime uncertainty, and a lack of security concerning private property were not among the culprits. Turns out Macedonians aren’t reproducing themselves enough. Wouldn’t you know it, Ontarians aren’t either. So we have an oversupply of teachers. And so, us Ontarians need not worry about the fact that the reason why we have the most educated cab drivers in the world, imported from raging bastions of capitalism, like Pakistan, Eastern Europe, Somalia, etc., is the same reason for which we now have the most educated bartenders, servers and cooks: central planing of education. If government could only come up with a plan for population expansion, now that would be capital!

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