It is back to school for everyone now that summer has wrapped up. Heading back to the classroom was always something I looked forward to when I was a boy back up north in Attawapiskat. The school was more or less a refuge for me where I could find some kind of an organized existence. It was also a challenge in a clean, formal environment where I had the opportunity to learn all kinds of new things that excited me.

Other kids teased me for being a teacher’s pet and for being a geek – although that is not the word they used back then. Most of my classmates hated school and did not show up all that much. When they did they either made noise or just sat in their seats uninterested.

So, I guess I was a kind of geek and most of the time I was eager to participate and to learn. Even though it was difficult to operate in the school environment where I had to speak English I managed to do well. I had a lot of great teachers and some not so fantastic, but then again I guess that’s how the education system is everywhere. When my teachers were young and passionate then it was easy to learn, but some of the older ones who had been in the system for some time seemed jaded. I have to admit being a teacher in a remote northern First Nation is not the easiest thing in the world. Sometimes it is downright dangerous.

I have known occasions when students who were unwell or having a hard life at home were very aggressive and violent towards their teachers. Most teachers I had did not stay long as life was just too hard, tragic, dysfunctional, lonely and expensive in the far north. A lot of them came from the Maritime provinces and in general most of them had a more open and tolerant view of life than others who came from big cities in the south. Easterners also were full of good humour and that helped them cope with the freezing winters.

Many people I know become teachers because the pay is good and most get the summers off for vacation. However, the very best become teachers because it is their passion and they love to be around kids. Some of my friends who are teachers have inherited the passion from other family members who dedicated their lives to this profession.

I find it so strange and sad that when governments feel a need to cut budgets they usually hit education, health and the arts. For the past decade I have seen teachers discredited by government and rightwing lobby groups for having powerful unions and for asking for too much. It bothers me that our governments seem to want to drive the education system backwards to a time when class sizes were too big and the quality of teaching suffered because of this.

At this point in our social development in a developed country like Canada you would think that our education system would be a priority with government, but it seems like those forces that make most of the decisions in this world want people to dumb down. Could it be that the wealthy small percent of this world that pulls all the strings wants a dumber population that is less well informed and more apathetic when it comes to political, environmental, Aboriginal and health issues?

As far as I am concerned, education in this country should be free for everyone from the early levels right through college and university. We should be very concerned and focused on providing our children with the best education possible so that they become part of the solutions for any problems that arise in our world. I love reading about the history of this planet and my favourite period is without a doubt the Renaissance. Wouldn’t it be great if we could dedicate ourselves to providing the best possible education to our young people by making learning free, interesting and exciting. Wouldn’t it be great if your kids got to go to a school where they had many more teachers and smaller class sizes. I think it is time for such a new renaissance period.

Right now our planet is facing so many challenges with the environment, conflicts and an unfair balance in the sharing of wealth and resources. We really need an education system that will produce bright, passionate and capable people to help us face an uncertain future. So, let’s stop bashing teachers and instead give them the tools and environment they need to make our kids renaissance people. We need a breakthrough in education and we need it soon.