Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fighting Authority?

SCRIPTURE: Titus 3:1-2
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 22 Mar 2012

"Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men." (Titus 3:1-2)

Currently, there is an ongoing dispute between the British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) and the provincial government over pay and class conditions in the province. After several months of limited strike actions by teachers, the government has passed a law making it illegal for teachers to initiate job actions. Called Bill-22, if the teachers union decides to go on a strike, not only will it be an illegal act, the federation will be fined heavily for every day of job action. As the two parties go after each others' throats, the rest of the province helplessly look on. Many parents have to rearrange their work schedules in order to provide for alternative arrangements for their children. Some take no-pay leave. Others decide to put their children into private schools instead. The entire situation is not only messy for many households, but utterly embarrassing for the entire province. It has made Canada look silly, like children refusing to let go of each other's demands.

A) No Winners

I tell my kids that in situations like these, there are no winners. Everybody lose. The government loses credibility. The union leaders lose respectability. The teachers and many parents lose financially. Children lose out on instructional time. Anyone associated with businesses during a normal school day will also lose substantial income. When schools are not in session, there will be minimal business. I have heard from several teachers that they too are on the helpless end. Even for those who desire to simply concentrate on teaching, they cannot flout union regulations. If the union asks them to strike, they have to strike. So much for democracy. It is a socialist platform in which majority rules. Unfortunately, the BCTF has unwittingly isolated many parents as they look to become more militant in their demands. Just this week, the leaders even dare to broach the idea of 'breaking the Bill-22 law.' This raises alarm bells. It begs the question: What kind of a message are the teachers sending to our children? I think, the recent actions have given me concerns about the elevating stakes. As both BCTF and the government go back and forth at each other, the following unwittingly gets communicated.

  1. "If you do not get what you want, DEMAND!"
  2. "If you still do not get what you want, STRIKE!"
  3. "If you still do not get what you want, and forced to back down, STRIKE BACK!"

This is deeply troubling. I think it reflects frustration on the part of the teachers and parents. It also reflects the complex situation that the BC Government has dug themselves into. For the government, with their net-zero mandate, in which they are trying to manage the budget as best as possible, they simply do not have the money to meet the demands of the BCTF. For the BCTF, they say have tolerated for too long the classroom sizes and the wages they have been given. There are no winners. Even graduating Grade 12s are left on a limbo as the lack of proper grades can affect their applications for college and university places. Recently, the University of British Columbia has allowed the use of results obtained in Grade 11. I believe many BC institutions will be sympathetic to the situation of the children. Unfortunately, colleges in other countries may not show the same understanding.

B) Different Messages

As a parent, I try to understand both sides as much as possible without desiring to take sides. I appreciate what teachers in general are trying to do, in terms of better classroom conditions and wage increases to keep up with inflation. As workers trying to make ends meet, pay our bills, and cope with rising costs of living, there is nothing unreasonable about that.

From the perspective of the government, I appreciate too that the education sector is only one part of provincial matters, albeit a big part. Balancing the budget is a tricky thing. In an environment where taxpayers are particularly tax-rise sensitive, it is not easy to give everybody what they demand without newer sources of revenue.

Unfortunately, do our children understand all of these things? Are teachers unfairly using their influence with our children to hit back unfairly at the government leaders? Are the TV commercials that promote the two sides of the arguments fair in depicting the different points of view? In fact, are parents themselves given the big picture of what is going on? I am afraid not.

C) Warning: Indoctrination in Progress

(Snapshot of a Grade 1 child's letter to the Education Minister)
Many of us are simply given all kinds of information from different sources. Just take for example some of the comments to news articles. In general, public opinion is shifting against the BCTF. I believe any antagonistic actions done in a tit-for-tat manner by the BCTF will be harmful not only for public opinion and sympathetic parents, it will send a wrong message to our children. When the emotions are high, the temptation to manipulate young minds is equally high. There is one horrible example where one elementary school teacher manipulated her class to write something against the government. My opinion: Teachers, the issue is between you and the government. Keep our children out of adult matters.

There is a way of fighting for our rights that is very wrong. We do not employ illegal ways simply to fight something that we think is wrong. In terms of principles, even if the BCTF feels that they have been unfairly victimized by the government in Bill-22, they cannot break the law simply because they feel it is not right. An unfair decision is one thing. Taking the law into our own hands is another. Two wrongs do not make it right. If the teachers do decide to hit back at the government, BCTF will go down in history as law breakers themselves. What is worse is that, they are telling our kids that it is ok to fight authorities when we feel we are victimized.

D) Teaching Moments

Titus 3 begins with a call for us to obey our authorities. It does not provide conditions. Neither does it tell us to fight authority according to how we feel. Instead, it urges us to do more.

  • be ready to do what is good;
  • to slander no one;
  • to be peaceable and considerate;
  • and to show true humility to all men.

The focus is never on our rights. The focus is on doing the right thing in true humility to all people. That means we do not slander anyone no matter how heated are the discussions. We need to learn to live peaceably. We need to show due consideration to all. We need to show true humility to everyone. Maybe, non-believers do not feel any need to obey Titus 3:1-2. They have their own principles and agendas. They have their own versions of what their rights are to be. I write this opinion for Christians. We are called to obey our authorities that have been legitimately elected within the laws of the land. There is no option to break the law simply because we do not like it. Having said that, let me attempt to be as constructive as possible, by taking the position of asking what is best for our children. From this angle, I have three reasons why I believe the BCTF should NOT break the law, even the hotly disputed Bill-22.

#1 - Teachable Moments

As far as children are concerned, teachable moments can be highly important. By coming back to the classroom, not only are teachers maintaining a lawful attitude, they are cultivating in young minds the need to respect authority whether we like it or not. Imagine paying taxes. Can we stop paying taxes simply because we do not like it? Or take the traffic lights at a junction. Do we simply beat the red-light simply because of our liking? Of course not. We obey the law because this is a lawful society. Laws are meant to protect ordinary citizens like you and me. When people flout the law, they risk hurting other people. Even for teachers who say that they have exceptions when they break certain laws, are children able to understand? No. As far as children are concerned, many are not ready to distinguish which laws can or cannot be broken. They need to be taught the general rule of thumb: Laws cannot be broken simply based on our feelings or our interpretations.

#2 - Big Picture Understanding

By presenting all sides of the story without slandering anybody, teachers have the opportunity to teach and help children come to a conclusion of their own. It is one thing to teach fairly. It is yet another to manipulate minds. Teachers have a responsibility not simply to espouse their own views, but to fairly represent all the different viewpoints. 

By coming back to the classroom even though one feels unfairly treated, it is also an opportunity to teach our kids that life is not always fair. Sometimes, it takes a real life experience to learn the fact that this world is cruel. We do not always get what we want. Think about the growing rich and poor divide. Kids do not really see the difference, that the world outside Canada is far worse than simply fighting for our rights. Think about the different wage conditions in our communities. is it fair for one to work hard and get small wages, while another works little and gets huge pay? Is it fair for employers to hire people based on their personal connections? Is it fair? No. Many things in life are not fair. Learning to live responsibly in an unfair world is an opportunity to teach the big picture.

#3 - Teach Humility

Teachers have a sacred duty to teach responsibly. Titus 3 shows us a higher standard of performance.

"...and to show true humility toward all men." (Titus 3:2b)
We establish moral authority and credibility through humble living. Whatever stand that we take, humility is key to constructive negotiations and living in a community. Whether you are with the government, the BCTF, with parents, or any one particular group, we are to demonstrate true humility toward people. Feelings do not dictate breaking of any law. Interpretations cannot be used to fight authority. Loving humble is not just the domain of Christians. It is desired of all people. I hope and pray that many more people will be encouraged to learn obedience to authorities, to be wise in understanding the big picture, and to live humbly with all.

Teachers, please do not embark on a crusade to fight authority.  It is one thing to stand up for what you believe. It is another thing altogether to break the law. Worse, any actions to fight to government may lead to unintended wrong signals to our children.

THOUGHT: "One cannot imagine St. Francis of Assisi talking about rights." (Simone Weil)


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