Tag Archives: students

Clothed-Minded Parents Wrongfully Fearful of Sexuality

By Jason Menard

How am I not gay?

Seriously. I mean, I’ve dressed up as a woman TWICE in my life: once in my mid-20s on Hallowe’en and once, way back when I was 17, and we went to a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Actually, I guess I was dressing as a man, who dressed like a woman, but you get the point. Continue reading

Whitewashed Huck Finn a Lost Opportunity to Learn

By Jason Menard,

You all know how the road to Hell is paved, right? Well, a report in Publishers Weekly suggests that a pair of scholars is editing the book Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to remove segments that have caused the book to be banned from some schools. By following this path, these scholars are steering our kids away from exactly the wrong thing – an opportunity to learn.

While the motive behind this action — exposing more kids to a classic piece of literature — is good, the devil is in the details. And those details are leading us down a slippery slope where ideas that run counter to the culture can be smoothed over, made more palatable – and, thereby, neutered.

At hand is Twain’s frequent use of the N-word. So while a literary giant like Little Wayne can “nigga” his way through life with impunity, because he’s not a modern-era rapper, Twain’s cultural output is going to get edited to make it more palatable for today’s readers.

Yes, I’m well aware that this edition is designed only for schools and that the original offensive-to-modern-sensibilities version will continue to exist. But isn’t school the best place to address these issues? Is it not in an environment where a qualified teacher is overseeing a group discussion examining not just the word, but how it got there a better way to deal with the past other than just whitewashing it?

I started this with reference to one adage, so why stop at one? You know what they say about those who forget history, correct? Slave, the preferred alternative, is not the same as the N-word. And if this squeaky-clean version exists, how many schools are going to stockpile that version over the original – just to avoid potential conflicts and complaints?

Instead of removing this word from the book, we should highlight it. Today’s youth has become desensitized to the power of the N-word through music and cultural assimilation of the term. They don’t understand what the word truly means.

It’s not just a rhyme for “trigga” – it’s a word that’s filled with generations of hate, ignorance, and the worst of human frailties. It’s a word that grew powerful upon the backs of men who were powerless. It’s a word that should be retired from the English language as a whole – not just in edited books targetted to a school-aged audience. But until that word’s been eradicated from our society, our society must be educated about its meaning.

Kids know it’s a bad word. But it’s not enough to know that it’s bad – one has to know why it’s bad. And that comes from understanding the societal forces that led from slavery, through Emancipation, to the equal rights and Black Power movements, to where we are today. If a kid questions why this word – so taboo in our modern culture – is so freely used throughout a classic piece of literature, then maybe that sparks a discussion about the way the world used to be. We can revisit our society’s horrors and our successes, and we can teach how to overcome ignorance – not just ignore it.

The Conspiracy Theorists will come out saying that this is just the start of a long path towards castrating our culture’s harshest critics. After all, some of our greatest social commentary has come from the realm of fiction. I don’t see this issue as the foundation upon which a 1984-esque totalitarian state will arise (although, very likely, in that case the government would be editing out parts of 1984, wouldn’t they?)

One of the scholars stated that it’s not about eliminating the question of race from the equation, but rather, “it’s a matter of how you express that in the 21st century.” The thing is, how we express that in the 21st century is directly attributed to the lessons we’ve learned leading up to 2011. If you remove the initial expression, does the lesson get learned in the future?

In the end, it is nothing more than our society’s reluctance to deal with the harsh things in life. It’s our society’s insistence of treating children like idiots. Just because they’re amused by Jersey Shore doesn’t mean the capacity for deeper thought doesn’t exist.

Yes, it may be harder to have a discussion about this particular word, but the benefits of that discussion will be far more valuable to students than going through life ignorant of the past.

We haven’t always been a good people. We, as a white culture, have done a lot of bad things to a lot of different races. And future generations have to know about our collective mistakes so that they can learn from them and prevent them from occurring in the future.

Anything less and we’re just whitewashing the past.

Pageant Cancellation Means My Hollies Are a Little Less Jolly

By Jason Menard

My hollies are a little less jolly today. Earlier we found out that, as a result of multiple school closures caused by Snowmageddon, Son of Snowmageddon, and Hey?-Isn’t-This Just-a-Normal-Canadian-Winter-But-We’ve-Been-Spoiled-By-Higher-Than-Average-Temperatures-Lately-And-Why-Are-You-Still-Not-Driving-On-Snow-Tires-Ageddon, the highlight of my holiday season has been postponed into the New Year.

Yes, it’s true. The annual Christmas pageant has been cancelled. So where else am I going to find that wonderfully festive combination of shock and awe? This is the most wonderful time of the year – especially for those of us with school-aged children. We approach this day with equal parts anticipation and dread! Continue reading

Epic Overuse Symbolic of Me-Now Generation

By Jason Menard

Fed up of the word epic? Join the club. Unfortunately, we’re only going to see more of it as it’s the perfect word to illustrate the narcissism of today’s youth – a narcissism that we’ve created and nurtured.

Nowadays, everything’s epic. It was bad enough when Web hipsters coined the term ‘epic fail’ to describe whatever pseudo-hip meme they posted on the Internet showcasing someone screwing up. What we used to call badly voiced-over Bob Saget-era America’s Funniest Home Videos and brushed off as mindless, now lives on in the Internet bestowed the same categorization Virgil’s Aeneid and Dante’s Divine Comedy. Continue reading

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

Lessons Learned

By Jason Menard

You know what’s the best thing about university? It’s the opportunity to learn and explore exciting new worlds and experiences. And what’s the worst? The fact that everyone around you thinks they’re right and has all the answers.

Despite the cacophony of people all-too-ready to pounce on them, Ian Van Den Hurk, the editor-in-chief of The Gazette, and his staff have learned the greatest lesson of all from their spoof edition – the lesson that people make mistakes and it’s OK.

Now, if only others would be as tolerant and forgiving as they expect The Gazette staff to be. But when it comes to savaging the wounded, it seems that whatever slings and arrows that are nearby are fair game – even if they’re not based in truth.

I know, I’ve been there. Ten years ago, I sat in Van Den Hurk’s chair as editor in chief of the daily student newspaper of the University of Western Ontario . I had the honour of working with a dedicated, passionate group of people who were committed to excellence. Most importantly, they were committed to sacrificing their lives for the cause of serving the student body at large. We were a diverse group of men and women, working together knowing that we were fighting against various interest groups that only had one agenda to push – their own.

In a university environment, you’re immersed in a world of passionate people, who are learning new things and gaining new experiences every day. They are exposed to new causes and embrace them with the passion and vigour of youth – unfortunately, that’s not always tempered with experience and knowledge, and that enthusiasm without wisdom can be the fuel that fans the flames of anger. Passion often overwhelms perspective when dealing with various interest groups.

One of the arrows recently lobbed at Van Den Hurk and his staff is that The Gazette has long been a bastion for sexist comment, which is ludicrous. Over my four-year time at The Gazette I had the distinct pleasure of working for and with an unparalleled group of women, many of whom have gone on to positions of influence in the media and business world. They brought a passion and dedication to the publication of the news, but also were able to shape and refine our perspective. These were some of the strongest women I’ve met and they are the type of people of whom I would proud to have as role models for my daughter and my son!

In my exit column, I wrote how much I valued the contribution that everyone made at the paper and stated that the ignorant critics would always remain so. That opinion still holds because it’s not that people don’t want to understand – it’s that they choose not to.

Looking back on my days as EIC, I was vilified for choosing to run a Cultural Diversity issue in February. The decision was motivated by our desire to be more inclusive with the various groups around the campus, but due to financial and advertising restrictions, the only month we could afford to do this edition was February – the time of our Black History Month issue. We were vilified as racists, despite running a month’s worth of articles focusing on black history, because we chose to forgo a dedicated issue in lieu of embracing all cultures. Despite the positive feedback we got from the campus at large, a select few groups chose to focus solely on their own interests – to the point where we were told the African-Canadian co-ordinator of the month’s worth of coverage wasn’t “black enough.”

From that experience and others during that year, I learned a valuable lesson about respect and tolerance. I learned that in a position of influence you have to be even more sensitive to cultures than you think you are – but, in the end, you have to do what you feel is right.

But the key point is that I learned – and isn’t that what higher education’s about? Don’t forget that Van Den Hurk and the rest of his staff are students, juggling a passion for journalism with educational, familial, and social commitments. Many have to hold down second jobs because the pay they receive is a pittance – but they do it for the love of the craft. They’re passionate, dedicated people who only want to do the best, but sometimes make a mistake. And now, in rectifying that mistake, they have the opportunity to grow as writers, as editors, and — most importantly — as people.

In retrospect, the article lampooning Take Back the Night and women’s issues should have been vetted a little more closely. It should have been handled with the utmost in delicacy understanding the passions that the issue can inflame. But the topic is not taboo – no cow is too sacred for satire. How one puts that satire into effect is the key, and it’s a lesson that the staff of The Gazette are certain to have learned.

In this rush for everyone to mount their moral high horses, common sense is getting trampled underfoot. If there was truly no malice – and I can’t fathom, knowing the caliber of women that join the ranks of The Gazette, that there would be – and the staff is genuinely remorseful for the impact of their work, then we should afford them the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. For those who are preaching tolerance from their respective pulpits, perhaps it’s time for them to lead by example.

In the end, the writers at The Gazette will be better, more well-rounded people for going through this experience – and isn’t that what higher education is about?

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