Tag Archives: school

Tory Puts Faith in Wrong School Plan

By Jason Menard

When it comes to faith-based education, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory has the right idea – just the totally wrong way to implement it. To meet the needs of an increasingly multicultural Canada, we have to embrace the thought that less is more.

It’s time to bring religion back to schools – but not in the traditional way. To meet the needs of its students, the public school system should offer a mandatory faith component that exposes children to all the world’s belief systems. We can easily make do with what we have, we don’t need to add more – especially when through addition of schools we’re actually subtracting the exposure our children have to each other’s cultures.

Already we’re facing a funding crunch for our two existing school systems. Both public and Catholic school boards are forced with dealing with changing demographics, dwindling attendance, and outdated buildings. The addition of public funding for more faith-based institutions won’t help either financially or socially.

Tory’s argument is that by validating faith-based education through the auspices of public funding, we’ll be creating an environment where all religions are blessed by the approving scepter of government finance. And while that’s fine for us adults, how exactly does that filter down to the kids?

In essence, this plan would stop kids of different religions from interacting. Children will be placed in their own corners and prevented from mixing with others. And, more importantly, they’ll be prevented from learning.

The way to fix this problem isn’t with more public funding of faith-based education – it’s with less. And that starts with the elimination of the Catholic school board. By consolidating the resources currently duplicated across two school boards, our educational system would be able to better manage resources, combine efforts, and use existing facilities to cope with shifting demographics.

We live in a secular society that’s growing increasingly multicultural. To offer taxpayer-funded services for one religion and not the other isn’t right. However, that doesn’t mean you just eliminate the one religion. Rather, you create a system that embraces the teachings of religion – all religions.

Religion should have a place in schools – and this is coming from someone who doesn’t believe in any one religion. But despite my lack of belief, I fully understand and support the idea of exposing our children to all the world’s religions. Not only will this open their minds to new ideas and experiences, but it will help them understand the people around them.

A public school system with a faith component would have a greater impact on global acceptance of religion than Tory’s validating-by-separating agenda. When students learn why their friends mother wears a hijab, or why their friend can’t mix meat and dairy, that makes it seem less strange. Our religious and societal differences no longer become fodder for mockery, but they become aspects of intrigue and respect.

In addition, students will see that despite the various differences and belief structures found in religion, the underlying message of all is basically the same – and that’s about being good to each other and being the best person we can be. By experiencing a faith class where that message is reinforced by exposure to the world’s religion, our children will be able to grow up in a world where our religious differences don’t matter as much.

Unfortunately, ignorance breeds mistrust and fear. Unless one is exposed to a religion, some of the practices, clothing, and imagery can seem odd. And kids deal with things they don’t understand by shunning them. However, imagine the benefits of having one public school system, where children of all faiths come to learn together and share their personal experiences. Then there would be no need to fear the unknown, because we’d have a better understanding of each other.

Then, just maybe, those kids can teach their parents a thing or two about tolerance.

Of course, there will be those who want their children educated in an environment that’s solely focused on their own belief system – and that’s their right. It’s also their obligation to pay for that privilege. Again, we live in a secular society – our obligation to our children is to teach tolerance, not make equal educational services available to all.

It’s a new world with an ever-changing demographic. The days of the Protestant/Catholic school board split are long gone – today’s Canadian mosaic is richly woven with threads from many different races, cultures, and religions. What better way to foster understanding and respect for each other than by learning about the very things we hold dear – our beliefs and our culture.

Sometimes less is more. We don’t need more publicly funded religious-based schools – we just need to reallocate the resources we have now in a way that makes sense for today’s children.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

School Boards Have to Stop Focusing on History

By Jason Menard

As a parent, you’d be pretty upset if the only class your child’s school taught was history. So why are we any less upset when the respective school boards are living in the past and refusing to accept a modern reality?

Faced with budget shortfalls, shifting demographics, and challenges in putting appropriate programs together, it’s no longer enough to look to what’s been done in the past. We must learn from those successes and redefine how our education system works in the future.

The Thames Valley District School Board is currently struggling to deal with a projected $7.6-million deficit, while the London District Catholic School Board may be forced to pry open the coffers and dip into a reserve fund to make ends meet. We’re presented with heart-wrenching stories of how counselors – a position that’s currently on the chopping block – are saved students from challenging pasts.

We’re presented with a lot of vivid imagery, but nowhere are we seeing a true vision. It’s time to bite the bullet and revamp our education system to meet the needs of today’s London – not try to push the round peg of today’s needs into the square holes that are left by yesterday’s infrastructure.

I have a vested interest in this with two children in the education system. My son is finishing Grade 7 in the TVDSB system, while my daughter is finishing her year in jardin, at Académie de la Tamise – a school for children of French-speaking parents, which is part of a separate school board. Personally, I’d like to ensure my children have access to the best possible education, but our desire to keep everything everywhere, regardless of modern demographics, is hampering the ability to do so.

One undeniable fact is that there are fewer students today, rendering some schools almost obsolete due to declining attendance. In addition, where people live today is far different to where they were even 20 years ago. Times have changed and it’s time for the school boards to change with them.

The first change that should be made is the amalgamation of the Thames Valley and Catholic School Boards. It’s time to fully embrace the secular nature of our country and – more importantly – recognize that this duplication of infrastructure is a cost that could be eliminated fairly easily. After all, would you rather cut administrative costs or cut teachers and counselors on the front lines?

This isn’t to say that there’s no place for religious education. However, if you choose to want your child educated in a faith-based environment, then you should have to pay for that right. Throughout Canada we see parents sending their children to alternative schools focusing on religion or culture: Arabic, Jewish, Armenian, Muslim, and many others. Why, then, do we assume that free Catholic education is a – pun fully intended – divine right?

In fact, this rationalization of resources could bring forth a return to religion in schools. After all, a course on faith – one that teaches an appreciation for all the religions of the world – would go a long way towards fostering an environment of understanding amongst our children.

With two separate school boards pooling their resources, you may be able to stave off cuts in both the short and long term. That may also require looking at the existing school buildings and making the tough choices of closing some schools and selling the property.

Just because an area was populated with students years ago, doesn’t mean that a school that was viable in 1970 meets today’s needs. And sentimentality can’t play a role in this. Already many of our schools are environmentally non-efficient buildings that are bordering on out-of-date, so why compound the problem by operating many of them at less-than-peak capabilities?

My former schools in Montreal have been made into a health care centre and a community centre, respectively. The same can be done here, or the land can be allocated to other needs, such as residential or commercial requirements. And any money raised through the sale or lease of properties can be rolled back into updating the remaining facilities to ensure our children are getting the best education in the best possible environments.

We go to school to learn how to learn. The education we receive is more than just memorization of facts – it’s an education designed to help us take what the world throws at us and make the most out of it. We learn how to adapt, change, and take the lessons from our past and apply them to creating a better future.

Isn’t it time for our school boards to learn those same lessons? It’s time to close the books on living in our history and turn the page to a more creative and successful future – one that meets the needs of today’s students and, hopefully, their children.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

London School Path Could Lead to Death

By Jason Menard

Violence in schools, unfortunately, is nothing new. What people should really be concerned about is how it’s only going to get worse due to the inertia of school officials.

On Wednesday, in Toronto, one student snapped. In retaliation to a prank gone wrong, a student allegedly overreacted and returned firecracker fire with a more lethal blow from a bullet. Those types of incidents are tough to avoid because one way or another that student would have snapped.

It’s not the extreme violence that we should concern ourselves with. It’s the rising tolerance of day-to-day aggression that our school system has come to accept – and, in some cases with its policies, encourage.

The school in London, ON, at which my seventh-grade son attends has a hands-off policy. Unfortunately, it’s a hands-off for the victim, not the victimizers. For students who are being bullied they’re trapped on both sides by fear – fear of the bullies, and fear of the school system punishing them for defending themselves.

Students who are prone to bullying are generally those who are more likely to abide by the rules – and fear the ramifications of disobeying them. Students who bully take pride in flaunting the lackadaisical approach of school administrators, knowing that any punishment certainly won’t match the crime. What’s worse, lying and deception is encouraged – and, in some cases, rewarded.

I turn to a recent example for illustrative purposes. During the course of one day, a student accidentally kicked a basketball into the chest of another boy. That was the extent of the transgression. However, the boy who was hit by the ball then stewed in his own juices, formulating a plan, and building his anger. At the end of the day, this boy walked out into the schoolyard, asked who the ball-kicker was, and – without warning or provocation – assaulted him.

Assault. Violent, malevolent, viscious.

Without giving the unsuspecting boy a chance to defend himself – or even be aware of the fact that a blow was coming – the child who had the ball accidentally kicked into him pounced upon the other boy, punching him repeatedly in the eye, at best oblivious to (or, at worse, completely aware of) the fact that the victim was wearing glasses.

In the end, the victimized boy was taken to the hospital and was told that he was lucky that nothing was broken. He suffered lacerations to the face and back, severe swelling and bruising around the eye, and an unhealthy dose of psychological trauma.

The assailant? One day suspension and a slap on the wrist. How? Because he lied. He told school officials and police officers that it was a mutual fight. Although he suffered some wounds due to defensive injuries, the fact of the matter was this was an assault. The police, in turn, were unable to progress any further.

One day off school. That’s it. That’s supposed to be a deterrent to kids in the future?

What’s worse, a crowd of students stood around watching the assault. No one stepped forward to break it up, or even to help. And then we wonder why school violence is rising?

Bullies will continue to bully until there are serious ramifications to their actions. And those who are bullied will continue to not fight back because they’re actually worried about the “no-touch” policies in place. So we have to get tough now unless we want the next school shooting to take place in The Forest City.

First, longer suspensions for fight instigators. Yes, there will always be schoolyard dust-ups as youth trying to carve their space and identities in this world come into conflict. But there are clear aggressors in most cases and they should be dealt with harshly. One day, three days is not enough. Make it hurt – and make it impact parents who refuse to understand the severity. One month out of school? That’s going to impact parents and child alike and will set the wheels in motion for change.

Punish those who stand around and do nothing. If a fight breaks out, the natural reaction should be to break it up. Two combatants can’t do anything against 30 or 40 kids. So if people decide to turn schoolyard fights into a spectator sport, then they should be sent to the sidelines – detention or suspension. By encouraging interventionist behaviour, schools will be able to prevent these fights from escalating into something worse.

Abolish the “no-touch” policies. They’re great in theory, but horrible in practice. I’ve heard several good kids say they are afraid to fight back because they’re going to get suspended. Where’s the common sense in that? Defending one’s self is a right, but through their policies, schools are taking it away from those who need it most. The meek, the studious, the bullied aren’t going to go against the rules, so why should they be hamstrung against aggressors who ignore the rules outright?

Bullying is real. Bullying is getting worse. And it’s only a matter of time until one of our own children lies dead from a bullet. As parents and teachers, we have the ability to affect change, but hiding behind established procedures and policies only serves to hurt those that need it most. School should be a safe refuge for all and the only way we can do that is to get tough on those who prey on the weak.

I refuse to accept that my son’s after-school activities could include a trip to the morgue. But if we keep on following the path we’ve defined, that’s where some unlucky parent will find themselves. And at that point, the community will rise up and the cries to get tough will be shouted from the rooftops!

But why do we have to wait? One dead child is one too many. Toronto and other communities have shown us where school violence can lead, so why must we follow that path? Let’s blaze a new trail – one along which students can feel safe about travelling.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Delusion Key to Surviving Kids’ Concerts

By Jason Menard

The true sign that the holiday season is in full swing? The fact that many of us willingly subject ourselves to the ear-splitting phenomenon known as The School Concert. And the greatest gift of all during these holiday concerts is the gift of self-delusion.

Well, perhaps I should amend that. It wouldn’t be ear-splitting if it were just my child performing. Your kids are terrible. Honestly.

My son, playing the clarinet, hits all the right notes, has the right tone and pacing, and displays a musical ability that obviously wasn’t passed down by his parents – or shared by many of his fellow band members. And my daughter sang with the voice of an angel, rising above the pedestrian voices from the rest of the school to shine like the star she is.

Of course, I may be biased.

And it’s that bias that makes these concerts tolerable. If I didn’t believe – like all parents – that my own kids were great, then the only plausible explanation for attending some of these events would be a penchant for self-mutilation. Seriously. The caterwauling at some of these events would have even the most ardent PETA activist clamouring to put down that injured cat.

Just as love is blind, so too can it be deaf – at least conveniently deaf. When we get together to watch a group of young children perform, we concern ourselves less with the quality of the performance than the quantity of the cuteness. A group of kindergarten-aged children can elicit oohs and aws just by appearing on stage in a collection of cute dresses.

But next time you have the opportunity to watch one of these performances, truly watch them. They are spectacularly bad, but enjoyable all the same. From stilted, shuffling dances to choirs singing what appears to be four or five different songs all at the same time, they can be entertaining in a sort of “watching a disaster unfold” manner.

Nowhere is this more evident than in musical performances. In any choral group you’ll have a collection of kids singing in time with the music, some who figure they can simply race through the song regardless of the beat, and others who just lip synch their way through the performance. And the same holds true for the band. Squeaks and squonks aside, some players play like they’ve never heard the song before – off key and off beat!

Of course, my kids are in the group who are on key and on time.

And that’s what we, as parents, all believe. That’s why a person can watch their kids up on stage, facing the wrong direction, with a finger up his or her nose, and still convince themselves that their child put on a virtuoso performance. And it’s that shared experiences that make these performances a joy for parents across the board.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all shared in how bad these things are. But we do so together, understanding that our children have poured their blood, sweat, and tears into these performances. It’s at times like this that we’re truly able to share in our kids’ imagination. When they get on stage they’re the prima ballerina, the concert pianist, or the award-winning actor. What to us appears as uncoordinated dancing to them is a routine worthy of Much Music.

That’s the greatest gift that these Christmas pageants can provide. They allow our kids to dream. To believe that they’re performing at the same level as the stars and professionals with whom they may be familiar. They don’t see the obvious flaws in their performances – they simply revel in the joy of performing. And when they think back upon those experiences their memories will be filtered through that combination of enthusiasm and fantasy.

To them, they’ll have all performed on time, on cue, synchronized, and in perfect harmony. And while they may, in truth, have sounded like wounded antelopes in heat, to them they’ll believe that they sang with the voices of angels, danced with the feet of prima ballerinas, and played with the grace and skill of the Philharmonic.

Well, at least that’s the case for your kids. Because it’s plain to see that mine performed perfectly. Of course.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

What Happens When the Promise of a New Day Gets Broken?

By Jason Menard

Today marked the first day of school for many of our children. Little faces were aglow at the thought of re-acquainting with old friends and meeting new ones. Older faces were awash with a mix of anticipation and anxiety wondering where they’ll fit in the social pecking order.

All in all, it’s a day of promise – one where we hope for the future. Most importantly, it’s a day of fun and the anticipation of more days of fun ahead. While we want our kids to savour each and every moment of their days, it’s hard not to feel a little jealous about the freedom that their lives carry.

For them, the promise of a new day is always positive, but the true test of life comes when, as we get older, that promise gets broken.

The question is often asked as to why gossip rags and tabloid TV are so popular? Why do soap operas capture the imagination of so many? Why do we get lost in the search of fantasy? The answer is that we’re obsessed with an idealized version of life, the kind of which we’re not likely to obtain. And that promise of an unlimited future we enjoyed as a child, slowly ebbs away under the eroding forces of everyday life.

Driving past any schoolyard, we are regaled with the sounds of joy: raucous laughter and squeals of delight. We experience so much as youth and enjoy so much more, one has to wonder where does that sense of joy go as we get older?

Bogged down by financial constraints, time commitments, and interpersonal challenges, we spend too much time focusing on the can’t-dos and the negatives, instead of appreciating the positives. Every joy comes with a cost, which tempers our ability to fully feel everything that life has to offer. As a child, we enjoy the experience, as an adult we take measured joy out of the activity, balancing it with the financial cost and its impact on our budget.

That’s why we love the tabloids and that’s why we’re obsessed with stars. They’re not living beyond our wildest dreams – they’re living our wildest dreams! They’re living life free from the constraints that shackle us down and prevent us from exploring and expressing joy to its fullest. They have the financial wherewithal and time to enjoy the best that life has to offer without worrying about family budgets and mortgages.

The old adage states that money doesn’t buy happiness. And that’s true, but money does buy you the opportunity to maximize your return on life’s investment. Having the financial wherewithal to allow the mundane aspects of day-to-day life to recede into the distance doesn’t mean you’re going to be happy. But it does provide a freedom that we average folk just can’t enjoy – and that’s why we so hungrily gobble up the tabloid garbage.

And that’s also why we take such pleasure in discussing their failures. We don’t build them up to break them down – instead, we break them down because we can’t be built up ourselves to that level. If we can’t enjoy that idealized lifestyle, then we don’t want others to do so either.

It certainly isn’t an attractive aspect of humanity. In fact, it’s downright ugly. And it’s also a taste for schadenfreude that we acquire. After all, our kids are living life blissfully ignorant of the challenges that they’re going to face. They’re living in the here and now, not budgeting and forecasting for the future. That’s our job as parents and our jobs as adults.

Sometimes life throws you curveballs. Sometimes you get hit by that pitch. But as painful as it may be, getting hit by that pitch offers you an opportunity to get on base and, eventually, come around to score. Of course, some of us will be tagged out at second, some of us will come tantalizing close to home plate, only to be met by the catcher. And others of us will circle the bases and add another run to the board. Life’s not offering us promises, it’s offering us potential – and how we use that potential is up to us.

It’s forgetting that potential that prevents us from being happy. Sometimes we forget and lose our way, weighed down by the challenges that we’re facing. Instead of meeting the day with hopeful anticipation, we face it with grim resolve, stoically ‘getting through’ the day, instead of relishing every moment.

Our kids have it right. They don’t live Utopian lives: they face peer pressure and rejection on the school yard; they carry the weight of their parents’ struggles with them; and they are facing a future as full of uncertainty as promise. Yet still they’re able to laugh long and loud – they’re not wasting the freedom and joy that life has to offer. The key is to do the same as an adult. It’s not about forgetting about your challenges, it’s about maximizing the good in your day and dealing with the bad, but not letting the latter taint your appreciation of the former. It’s simple to say, but not so easy to do, but it’s something many of us have to get better at doing.

In the end, living in spite of life is no way to live. And when we look back on life do we want to say we endured it or enjoyed it?

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved