Schools and the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games
In February 2010, Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. Shortly after winning the bid in 2003, Vancouver started preparing itself for this international event. Along with all the changes that the city was experiencing, the educational system was also going through some major changes.
Around 2005, the BC government began putting a higher proportion of funding into private schools and decreasing the percentage of their annual budget for public education.
As I write this, the government is proud to say that they are putting more money than ever into education. This is actually true, however what they fail to mention is that in actuality the Ministry of Education’s funding as a percentage of the total provincial budget has decreased significantly in the past 7 years.
In 2002, 19.67% of the total budget was allocated to the ministry of education compared to 15.34% in 2009. The difference is even more significant if we go back further. Indeed, in 1992, 26.36% of the total provincial budget was allocated to the Ministry of Education.
As soon as the 2009-10 school year began, the millions of dollars put towards Olympic educational programs, such as “Sharing the Dream” (which provided every school in the province with Olympic materials), began bombarding schools. Educational programs have always played an important role in the Olympic games.
Early on in the school year, I started wondering about why all this money was being spent when we did not even have enough money for basic school supplies. I began reading more about the Olympics and the history of the IOC (International Olympic Committee), and it quickly became apparent that the Olympics were not just about sports and fun but also about social justice issues.
Christopher Shaw, a professor at the University of British Columbia, author of the book Five Ring Circus: Myths and Realities of the Olympic Games, and a founding member of the No Games 2010 Coalition and 2010 Watch, was a very important critical voice of the Vancouver Olympics.
In his book, he writes about the corruption of the IOC and the Olympics, which he calls the greatest sham on earth. He goes in-depth about a number of issues, including the negative impact on the environment, issues around security and surveillance as well as the economic cleansing or gentrification of those areas of the host city where the poor and homeless live. In Vancouver, it means the Downtown Eastside (DTES).
The Olympics Meets Vancouver’s DTES
Strathcona Elementary School is located in Vancouver’s DTES. In this neighborhood, known as Canada’s poorest postal code, residents have typically been people that are marginalized in our society: poor people, drug users, sex workers and people of color. The DTES also has a history of community activism and is the neighborhood that has been most affected by Vancouver winning the 2010 Olympic bid.
Anyone who traces the history of the IOC can see similarities between what takes place in each city that hosts the Olympics. As is typical, the Olympic “economic cleansing” (better known as gentrification) began soon after Vancouver was declared winner of the Olympic bid. Some residents of the DTES were forced out of their housing units so the housing could be renovated or torn down to make room for condo development. Market housing development in the DTES rapidly outpaced the development of affordable housing.
Promises that better social housing would be created were broken. City council appeared to have started mimicking what had taken place in Atlanta in 1996 when they hosted the Olympics. Anita Beatty of the Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless documented that “9000 people were arrested or given a one-way bus tickets out of town, 15,000 people were evicted from their homes, and the final number of people displaced in one way or another totaled over 30,000” leading up to the Atlanta Olympics.
Teaching 2010 Resistance in Schools
I was thrilled in September 2009 when I came into contact with a group of activists and teachers dedicated to providing an alternative to the pro-Olympic materials that had inundated our schools and classrooms. The Vancouver-based Olympic Resistance Network had created a workshop titled Teaching 2010 Resistance. I attended the first meeting where different lesson plans were shared in order to get feedback from other teachers.
An example of a lesson was using pie charts to track how much money had been put into the Olympics (an estimated $6.7 billion dollars) and what programs could have been put into place had this money been spent elsewhere (social housing, shelters, schools etc.). Unfortunately, the meeting did not attract very many people, and so I suggested that we host another one in my classroom.
Perhaps teachers would feel more comfortable if it were held in a familiar venue. The workshop would be held after school and would be an opportunity for teachers to browse through some lesson plans and give them some ideas of how to teach critically about the Olympics in their classrooms.
A few days before the workshop was to be held in my classroom, the media got ahold of one of the flyers. The Vancouver Sun ran a front-page article claiming that anarchists and radical politics were entering the school system and that students were being indoctrinated and brainwashed. Parents and the media frantically began calling our principal demanding answers, and an emergency meeting was called.
Check the VO website again soon for Part II of this 3-part series.