Jan 302015

Solidarity Halifax member Ben Sichel warns against quick fixes for our education system. Originally published at No Need to Raise Your Hand. Ben is a teacher in Dartmouth and author of the P-12 education section for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ Alternative Provincial Budget.

With recent standardized assessment scores from Nova Scotian schools causing alarm, and education minister Karen Casey about to release her action plan to reform the P-12 education system, there are a few  things that are important to remember.

Youth in Whitney Pier, Cape Breton's Boys and Girls' Club. Photo: Grade 8 students from the Whitney Pier Youth Club

Youth in Whitney Pier, Cape Breton’s Boys and Girls’ Club. Photo: Grade 8 students from the Whitney Pier Youth Club


First, there has not been any serious analysis that attempts to explain why test scores are down.

Some commentators have said or implied that modern teaching methods are to blame. The idea here is that we need to get “back to basics,” that schools these days are full of warm fuzzies but not reading, writing and ‘rithmetic. Drill the kids on their times tables, just like in old times, and all will be well. 

But as anyone who has spent some time working in a school knows, the reality of our classrooms is much more varied and complex. Teachers and educational leaders are constantly revising and reflecting upon our practice. We blend more traditional techniques with new ideas, adjusting to the needs of our students. Experienced teachers will tell you that over time a “pendulum” swings back and forth between traditional and modern teaching methods: higher-ups will encourage one for a period of time, usually several years, and then move back to the other.

But didn’t the old ways work just fine? some might ask. Why fix what isn’t broken?

Again, the truth behind our perception of the “old ways” is more complex. On what do we base the idea that something “worked” in the past? For whom did it work?

We often view the past through rose-coloured glasses of academic rigour. But we forget that our standards for public education have changed. In my grandparents’ time, many people didn’t finish high school. Today, it’s expected that everyone will. We have much more knowledge of specific learning difficulties and disabilities that permits us to offer education to many more students, regardless of their circumstances. A “back-to-basics” rallying cry is attractive, but simplistic. (There’s a political dimension to this argument too, which you can read about here.) Too much focus on the so-called basics also can take away from the rich, varied curriculum all kids deserve, and which parents who can afford to send their kids to expensive private schools enjoy.

There is one thing we that know for sure affects student success: poverty. The lowest results on standardized assessments are consistently found in schools in the poorest areas.

Indeed, though more data is needed, poverty is probably the best explanation for Nova Scotia’s low test scores. A recent report notes that 1 in 6 children in Nova Scotia lives in poverty, including a staggering 1 in 3 in Cape Breton. As the famous quote by education author Alfie Kohn says, standardized tests “offer a remarkably precise method for gauging the size of the houses near the school where the test was administered. ”

Teachers in high-poverty schools often do great things in enormously difficult conditions, yet are still shamed for their students’ test scores. Rather than focusing on some of the more sensationalist suggestions for improving these scores, such as firing teachers whose students do badly (imagine the effect on a high-poverty school of having its teaching staff turn over year after year), we should acknowledge that improving student success involves concrete, systemic solutions for addressing poverty, such as higher minimum wages and income assistance payments.

As well, we shouldn’t get hung up on improved test scores as an end in themselves. I won’t get into the myriad problems with standardized testing in this space, but much has been written on the limitations of what these tests actually tell us (essentially, how good kids are writing tests on a given day). While test results are easily digestible as media sound bites, they should not be given as much emphasis as they sometimes seem to be in setting educational policy.

There’s lots that can be done to improve public education. Let’s hope any forthcoming changes are made for the right reasons.


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Jan 282015


Solidarity Halifax is hosting a reading group on Naomi Klein’s new book:
This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate

(Free books and audiobooks provided -Space is limited!)

What is Capitalism and how does it relate to climate change? What alternatives exist and how do they work? What is the difference between Climate Justice and environmentalism? What can we do to prevent further climate destruction based on free-market economics?

Come explore these questions with members of Solidarity Halifax, an anti-Capitalist organization, and activists of all stripes. We’ll reflect on the book, discuss the root causes of climate change, tie in past movements that have succeeded in creating more equal societies, and analyze what we can do to take back our collective future.
Meetings: once every 2 weeks. Location TBD
All welcome!

For more information & to sign up, email: JamesRobertHutt@gmail.com

About the book: Coming on the heels of the world’s largest climate mobilization, with 400,000 people marching through New York – along with thousands of actions across the world – This Changes Everything reflects and advances the hope that this new movement can change everything: “The climate movement offers an overarching narrative in which everything from the fight for good jobs to justice for migrants to reparations for historical wrongs like slavery and colonialism can all become part of the grand project of building a nontoxic, shockproof economy before it’s too late.”

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate is a must-read guide to the climate justice movement. It summarizes the science of climate change, the extractivist industries driving it, the system to which they are connected, and the growing resistance. Through her dynamic style, Naomi Klein describes the changes in the climate, the changes in the movement, and inspires us to change ourselves as well.

Jan 222015

Solidarity Halifax member Jackie Barkley joins Leo Panitch, Carlos Pessoa and Antoni Wysoci to discuss the role of political parties within the Left and what is means today for the Left to take political action. The panel discussion was hosted by the Dal/King’s Platypus Affiliated Society. Videos originally posted at the Halifax Media Coop.


– Jackie Barkley, Solidarity Halifax
– Leo Panitch, Socialist Project (Toronto), Author of “Renewing Socialism”
– Carlos Pessoa, Author of “Post-Marxism and Politics: the case of the Brazilian Workers’ Party”
– Antoni Wysoci, Stand

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


Note: Statements by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Jan 222015

Judy Haiven, management professor at Saint Mary’s University and member of Solidarity Halifax, announced during a recent panel on campus misogyny that women’s voices should be prioritized in the classroom. She explained her experiment in her own classrooms where she always gives first voice to women during discussions and group projects in order to avoid having men monopolize discussions and debates.

Judy explains her classroom practice in the following two interviews from UNews:

Dr. Judy Haiven, a management professor at Saint Mary's University, has started an experiment where women speak first in the classroom. Photo: Keili Bartlett

Judy Haiven, a management professor at Saint Mary’s University, has started an experiment where women speak first in the classroom. Photo: Keili Bartlett / UNews


Note: Statements by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.

Jan 202015

Solidarity Halifax member Shay Enxuga reports for Rankandfile.ca on the recently announced decision regarding the NS Liberal’s Health Authorities Act.

Bill 1 protest

Bill 1 protest

Today Arbitrator James Dorsey released his initial decision regarding Bill 1, the Health Authorities Act, and addressed some of issues at the heart of the controversy surrounding the legislation – union representation.

Bill 1, introduced by the McNeil Liberals on October 3, 2014, radically restructures health care in Nova Scotia by merging the nine existing district health authorities into one, and merging the 50 previous bargaining units into just four: nurses, healthcare, administrative support, and service support with four collective agreements.

Bargaining association
During the summer, all four healthcare unions worked together to propose a bargaining association model that would allow all of the unions to retain their membership while bargaining collectively. Today, Dorsey proposed the formation of an amalgamated healthcare union which would bargain collectively on behalf of healthcare workers.

“We’re please because he has ordered the ability to create what we believe is a collaborative bargaining structure that would include multiple unions being part of that and this is really what we’d been arguing for all along,” says Lana Payne, Atlantic Regional Director of Unifor.

Under the proposed model, 3 of the 4 bargaining units (healthcare, clerical, and support) would amalgamate to a provincial entity that would then bargain collectively on behalf of workers while all four unions retained their membership.

This proposal significantly lessens the destructive impact of Bill 1, which was, for all intents and purposes, meant to arbitrate workers into unions. Without violating the trade union act or the legislation, Dorsey has put forward an alternative which balances the unions desire to retain their membership while continuing to honour the government’s intention of streamlining healthcare.

Payne welcomed the proposal as a “made in Nova Scotia solution” that manages to “avoid clear division in workplaces which really is what happens when you end up with run off vote or massive carving up of members from one union to another.”

“We’ve really been able to push the envelope. I think that the Nova Scotia government should be proud of some of the outcomes here because, as I say, this really is a big compromise. For him to be able to take what was a complex piece of legislation and craft a solution like this, I think this arbitrator needs to be commended for that.”

Joan Jessome, President of the Nova Scotia Government Employees Unions (NSGEU), also welcomed this “union of unions,” and stated that, “It’s better than we could have ever hoped for as far as what he had to work with in the legislation. I could have been saying goodbye to 9,000 members instead of saying let’s negotiate a process that lets you stay where you’re at. That’s in the best interest of them and of the public they serve, too.”

Under the proposed model, 3 of the 4 bargaining units (healthcare, clerical, and support) would amalgamate to a provincial entity that would then bargain collectively on behalf of workers while all four unions retained their membership.

trade unionists blockade the premier's car during Bill 1 protests

trade unionists blockade the premier’s car during Bill 1 protests

Unresolved issues

However, the issue of LPNs and RNs within the nursing bargaining unit remains unresolved and it seems possible that the matter may be decided by a vote.

The major factor yet to be determined is which union represents a majority of nurses. Janet Hazelton, President of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union (NSNU), states Dorsey has asked several questions of the provincial government regarding whether or nor the Provincial Health Authority and the IWK will function as one employer at the bargaining table and whether or not they intended LPNs to be included in the nurses bargaining unit.

As well, “generic positions”, or, “positions that may be filled by a nurse but don’t have to be filled by a nurse,” have been removed from the nurses bargaining unit, according to Hazelton.

“All of these things change the numbers to get that majority rule,” says Hazelton, “So all that’s to say, there’s some questions that need to be answered before the decision of where the nurses are going to be is made clear.”

Dorsey has posed questions to the government and the employer (HANS).

A second round of arbitration will take place from February 2 to 6, 2015.

CUPE was unavailable for comment.


Note: Articles published by Solidarity Halifax members do not necessarily reflect positions held by the organization.