I have been on the pickets again today. It took me three hours to thaw after the three hours I spent in the sub-zero temperatures. We are now getting two days’ respite, as the strike action is an escalating one (two days in week 1; three days in week 2; four days in week 3; all week in week 4). I doubt there will be resolution by next Monday, but at least the universities and union have now agreed to talk to each other.
Education strikes are nothing new for me. Three of my key school years were affected by long, all out, strikes: my final year of primary school; my first year of secondary school; and my final year of secondary school. By the final year, I was participating in teachers’ marches; their cause had become my cause. A society should value its educators, pay them well, and give them dignity in retirement. That is the bottom line.
I have learnt a great deal about striking from one of my Latin school teachers. Her name was Madame Peiffer, and she was a hard-core unionist. She was also a great story teller. I will never forget reading passages of Ovid’s Metamorphoses with her. To this day, I prefer Latin poetry to Greek poetry, even though I would identify as a Hellenist (sorry Homer – nothing personal).
My mother was not the greatest fan of Madame Peiffer, and I guess that was a lesson in itself: as we grow up, we form our own opinions, and these may well differ from those of our parents. As teachers too we should encourage our students to disagree with us, to critique (rather than criticise), and to become independent thinkers.
Recently, I was rereading the Hippocratic text Law, and I came across this beautiful passage, in which learning is compared to plant growth:
The learning of the medical art is like the culture of plants growing in the earth. For our natural disposition is like the soil. The opinions of our teachers are like the seeds. Instruction in childhood is like the sowing of the seeds into the ground at the right season. The place where learning occurs is like the food provided to plants by the surrounding environment. Diligent study is like working the soil. And it is time that strengthens all things, until they are fully grown. (Law 3)
Learning requires hard work; learning takes time; the opinions of teachers are merely small seeds. I could not agree more.