What Is The Purpose of Education?

It was a very interesting day to hear Susan Lambert speak.

It was the day teachers throughout British Columbia were voting on whether or not to ratify a new collective agreement, one which fell short of expectations and which merely represented the achievable at this moment in time.

While it was a difficult deal for educators to accept, one of the most important achievements for the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF) in the new agreement was the preservation of the integrity of their court case on class size and composition.

And Susan Lambert, who had other reasons for looking askance at the proposed agreement, knows how critically important that court case is for the future of public education in BC.

For those who may not know, Susan Lambert is the past president of the BCTF and a long time educator having started her teaching career in 1973/1974.  She is also an alumna of the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University (SFU).

And that’s how I happened to be in the audience to hear her speak.  She was addressing an education class at SFU, a class in which my nephew is enrolled.

World Peace

Yes, I have a nephew who is currently pursuing an undergraduate degree at SFU and whose long-term plan is to become an educator.

I not only support his choice, I celebrate it because no matter the hardship and the challenge, being a teacher, in my view, remains one of the most fundamentally important roles in society.

My nephew’s professor had invited Ms. Lambert to address his students and had told them guests were welcome.  When my nephew extended the invitation, I jumped at it: this was not an opportunity I was going to miss.


Because while I may not agree with Ms. Lambert on any number of issues, she is a passionate advocate for public education.  Not only that, but she is a firm believer in making the world a better place, particularly for those who are most disadvantaged in our economic system.

She is also someone worth listening to because of her experience in BC’s public education system and because of her commitment to advocacy.

At the beginning of her presentation, Ms. Lambert challenged the students to consider what their purpose was in becoming educators.  In other words, she wanted them to consider why it was they wanted to teach.  She asked them to consider the question because, as with any vocation or endeavour which we undertake, it is the meaning in what we do and the intent with which we do it that makes our choices purposeful and rewarding in good times and in bad.

I think this is particularly true in a profession such as teaching which is based on relationships and where doing one’s best is instrumental in helping others to achieve theirs.

As much as I appreciated Ms. Lambert’s challenge to the students, it was her summary of the purpose of education which crystallized why the fight for public education in British Columbia is so critical.

And it is simply this: a thriving and vibrant public education system is the essential ingredient for a civil society.

A just society.

An equitable society.

What greater purpose could there be but to work on behalf of a system which is the foundation to a better future for all citizens and not only those who can afford it?


  1. Azmina Anandji on September 20, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Hi Reema. I agree that Susan Lambert is a passionate advocate for public education. Whenever she speaks she always has the interests of teachers and students in mind. Having said that, at times she goes overboard and can instill false fear in people. In this last round of negotiations, she had put out the idea that the government wants to privatize education. Keith Baldrey asked Mr. Fassbender about that and Mr. Fassbender said it is utterly false and he didn’t know who put it out there. Mr. Baldrey said it was Ms. Lambert. Why does she do this if she doesn’t know. Does she just makes things up to scare people. That is irresponsible and in wanting to create a just and equitable society you don’t do it by putting false information out there and hope it will stick. When Ms. Lambert was the BCTF president I always felt she was on a continuous war path. The then education minister at the time, Mr. Abbott ( a congenial fellow) had one heck of a time dealing with her and relations fell apart between the two. I feel, if you want change you have to have patience and have to be able to negotiate with the other side in a way in which you hold on to your ideals but you are not continuously trying to incite the other side. Mr. Iker, for all the mistakes the BCTF executive made, was in the end able to do that. If Ms. Lambert was still at the helm, I don’t think we would have a agreement. Having said all this, she is passionate about public education and all her years of devotion to public education is very much appreciated.

    • RF on September 20, 2014 at 7:57 pm

      It’s always nice to hear from you! Thanks again for reading and sending in your comments.

      Yes, Ms. Lambert did put out a message on Twitter about increasing privatization of the public education system. In her talk on Thursday, she said that the information was provided by a credible source and that she thinks the government may have pulled back because of public pressure after the announcement of the $40/day scheme. She was perhaps hasty in sending out her message, but there are many who do believe the government — given its ideology — will continue to pursue this path. I’m inclined to agree to a certain extent because fundamentally I see this government as more libertarian than conservative and definitely not liberal in the traditional sense of the word. So, if we are committed to the idea of a public education system, then as voters we have to be diligent and to advocate vociferously to protect it.

      The BCTF has been on a war path but with good reason if you look at what the long-term consequences have been of the 2002 stripping of the collective agreement. Having said that, there’s room to argue that their strategies and tactics haven’t been successful although others will point to this mediated settlement and say they have been. I do believe that we need to reset the relationship and that will only come about through the efforts of the leadership on both sides of the table.

      Remember, Ms. Lambert was the president when the agreement mediated by Dr. Charles Jago was reached. I’m pretty confident in saying that under her stewardship a mediated agreement would also have been reached in this round because I honestly believe a negotiated settlement, even one as flawed as this one, was the necessary result for the public education system.

      The other thing I’d like to say is to consider how women in leadership roles are often cast. Jim Iker may seem calm and collected in comparison to Ms. Lambert, but I would argue he’s no less partisan. Ms. Lambert is often cast as shrill and strident and antagonistic, but was she? Being on the media centre stage is very, very tough on women and they often gain reputations or are attributed with characteristics which aren’t warranted.

      Yes, Ms. Lambert was aggressive, but caring deeply and passionately about a system which you truly believe is under threat needs a strong voice.

      Yes, she made a mistake in her views on the outcome of the last election, but so did many, many other people and pundits.

      And this is what’s so challenging with the issue of figuring out the forward path for the public education system in BC. Can we do so in a manner which is not so personalized and which draws people together rather than pushing them apart? I’m in no way arguing for conformity of thinking, but if we don’t build a consensus, then we will be doing our children, our society, and our future a disservice.

Leave a Comment

13 − eight =