Students should be outraged about this misuse of funds
Quebec student leaders and their Ontario band of brothers are hoping to light a fire under students in Canada’s most populous province.
And indeed, Ontarian students have a good reason to be outraged. But it’s not that they’re being asked to shoulder more of the cost of their educations, as the student leaders would have them believe.
Instead, they should be outraged that their money is funding a working vacation for people like Quebec protest leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.
Unions demand too much in era of high unemployment
How terribly drôle it must be for recent education graduates with a seat to the teacher contract disputes in Ontario and British Columbia.
In the province of Ontario, the teacher’s federation is busy expressing its “insult” at the latest government contract proposal to freeze their wages, which top out at around $95,000.
Meanwhile, as many as two-thirds of education grads in the province are under- or unemployed.
Anti-Movember editorial is offensive and just plain wrong
I rarely have trouble distinguishing seriousness from mirth when it comes to a piece of writing, but I had to read this post by Alex Manley more than once. Despite multiple, brow-furrowing reads, I’m still hesitant to say I think the Concordia student journalist is being genuine. But, no he can’t be! Surely he just forgot to write “PSYCH!” at the end.
If only. In his column entitled “No to Movember,” Manley lambastes all you dirty bigots who donated your money and mustaches to prostate cancer. The Movember campaign to which he refers sees men from all over the world grow their mustaches during the month of November to raise money for prostate cancer research.
Tantrum tactics don’t lead to social change: Urback
When a toddler is exasperated, he will hurl himself on his back and kick his feet up in the air. The action rarely wins him the coveted extra cookie or forbidden toy of mystery, but incapable of more advanced reasoning techniques, the child becomes subservient to his own uncontrollable desires. Eventually, this child will learn that he might acquire an extra Oreo by sweet-talking mom or taking on additional chores. He’ll come to realize that flailing and shouting may win him a feeling of persuasiveness, even though he’s actually just hurting his cause.
Trouble is, this youngster will regress again when he hits that tumultuous stage of young adulthood. Armed with terrible rhyming couplets about capitalism and a ‘Twitter for iPhone’ app (oblivious to the irony), he’ll march with his comrades, protesting for a vague, better tomorrow free of corporate greed.
Such men and women have taken to the streets of New York over the past few weeks, ostensibly with the aim of achieving some sort of goal. I say “ostensibly,” of course, because protesters have yet to put together a coherent, unified explanation of what they hope to accomplish by taking over the Brooklyn Bridge and releasing rainbow balloons into the air. A prettier skyline, perhaps?
The protesters have said they are against corporate greed, climate change, occupation of Indigenous land (uh… perhaps ‘Occupy Wall Street’ was a naming oversight), corruption, militarism, and whatever else will fit on the press release. Might I suggest Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedies and ubiquitous displays of public affection as well?
We lucky Canucks are not immune, poised to receive our first demonstrations October 15 in Toronto and Vancouver. The “Occupy Toronto” movement is, as of yet, just as poorly focused, if not more. Spokesperson and college student Bryan Batty told the Toronto Star that we, too, have many issues that merit sitting in the street, including youth unemployment, growing debt, environmental destruction, and the increasingly illustrious issue of corporate greed. The Vancouver protest will happen at the Vancouver Art Gallery for some reason—down with Emily Carr paintings!
The movement is unfocused, but that’s nothing new. Conflicting messages clouded the G20 protests in Toronto last summer, the unfortunate havoc that greeted the end of Vancouver’s NHL season this year, and the recent rioting in Britain where protesters were divided in their quests for social change and free sneakers. These sorts of demonstrations, void of any remnant of pragmatism, inevitably turn to clashes between protesters and police.
Those truly enslaved by the inequities of “corporate greed” don’t have the luxury of taking the day off work to protest, and the police, confronted with hoards of unpredictable demonstrators, usually react with an inappropriate amount of force.
So if we know it tends to end badly, if we know it’s not going to compel social and economic reform, why do so many people paint posters and hit the streets anyway?
Well, for the same reason that rogue senate page Brigette DePape donned a “Stop Harper” sign in the House of Commons last June, and why our lustful little toddlers kick their feet up in the air when they want a cookie. Because it makes us feel good. It makes us feel as though we’re making a difference. Brigette wasn’t going to “stop Harper” with her sign, and Occupy Toronto protesters aren’t going to stop corporate greed with their catchy rhymes. But occupying a street, or throwing a temper tantrum for a cookie, is a much more cathartic, immediately gratifying expression of discontent than working to reform legislation, which is what actually leads to change in democracies.
Canadians are fortunate in that they have the freedom to work within the system to compel social and economic reform—however slowly. Yet we so often opt to stage demonstrations in the name of “awareness,” and revert back to our lives when our voices become hoarse. Children eventually learn the key to cookie autonomy is to change the wafer power dynamic through negotiation or economic independence. If they can retire their temper tactics, we youth may find a better way too.
Urback: I didn’t vote for Jack, but I did respect him.
I have never voted for the NDP. Before the May federal election, when the NDP surprised us with 30 per cent of the vote, I fleetingly considered supporting Jack Layton’s New Democrats, but couldn’t swallow his proposals for spending and tax increases. Jack seemed like a good enough guy, but for mostly fiscal reasons, I didn’t want him running the country.
As someone who never supported Jack politically, and honestly, likely would not have if he were able to run again, I still feel his death is sorrowful loss for young Canadians. Despite being in his sixties, Jack was indisputably the best of the federal leaders at connecting with the nation’s youth. He reached out to us despite our record of poor turnout at the polls. For this reason, Jack transcended party lines as a man who spoke to Canadian youths.
Jack Layton’s record with the under-30 crowd started when he was as a city councillor in Toronto. He was known to always save time for questions from young journalists during scrums and worked directly with university students on local issues that they cared passionately about, even those as seemingly insignificant as saving a couple of Victorian homes. Later, as federal leader of the NDP, Layton spoke directly to Canadian young people through venues such as Much on Demand, encouraging engagement, interaction, and faith in the political system. And then, of course, there was his final letter to Canadians, in which he penned a paragraph specifically to Canada’s youth, expressing his “belief in [their] power to change this country and the world.”
Political pandering is often a deliberate, pragmatic process, which is why so few politicians give youth the time of day. With such poor voter turnout among 18 to 25-year-old Canadians, other parties think it’s better to spend the campaign retirement home-hopping than wasting an afternoon on a university campus. But for Jack, it didn’t seem to matter.
I didn’t always agree with what Jack said, but I did always appreciate the fact that he was trying to speak to me. I’m not going to fawn, nor do the opposite and don a silly wig while making a grotesque statement about “National Necrophilia Week” like Ezra Levant. But I will say that Layton’s death means young Canadians of all stripes have lost an important federal advocate. I may not have given him my vote, but he did have my respect, and that’s because I’m pretty sure the feeling was mutual.
Don’t blame the U.K. riots on unemployment or tuition costs
Eyes were on the Arab world earlier this year as waves of demonstrations catalyzed national revolutions. Civilians took to the street in revolt of brutal dictatorships, corrupt governments and the general lack of basic human rights. As protesters in the Middle East fought with their lives to achieve a better standard of living, there were those of us in the West—equipped with makeshift stop signs and a total lack of perspective—who dreamed that we would see our own Arab Spring. The way to overthrow a democratically elected government is civil disobedience, you see, and rogue acts the key to beginning the process.
And it seems those rogue acts are indeed underway, though not in Canada as a wistful Brigette DePape had once hoped. Rather, several cities in the UK have been set ablaze over the past several days as rioting has spread across England.
But in England, there’s no united cause or discernible reason. That doesn’t mean that explanations haven’t been offered. It started with protests in Tottenham after a man was killed by police nearly one week ago. But the violence has continued to spread.
While few pundits condone the acts of violence, many have offered their own socio-economic explanations. Guardian journalist Stafford Scott says that the behaviour of the rioters should come as no surprise, since restlessness among British youth, especially in impoverished areas, has been provoked by widespread institutional racism, bitter job prospects, the rising cost of tuition and other barriers to education. Scott explains the destruction of property as simply symptomatic of the nihilism among British youth. “On Saturday, instead of imploding and turning inward and violent among themselves,” Scott writes, “the youths exploded.”
Another Guardian writer, Nina Power, is of a similar mind, suggesting that those condemning the acts of violence ought to look at the “bigger picture” of a country with a struggling economy, poor social mobility, and ever-widening gap between rich and poor.
The trouble is, this “bigger picture” is not on the minds of those committing the crimes. Rioters interviewed by the BBC have blamed everything and everyone from the police, to the government, “rich people,” and conservatives, and many—by their own admission—blame no one at all. There are videos of looters grabbing handfuls of clothes and shoes from broken windows, hooded men and women running from shops carrying away flat screen TVs, and one particularly abhorrent capture of a mob stealing a Sony PSP from an injured student on the street. There’s nothing political about stealing a Playstation from a bleeding man.
While there may be very real causes for social unrest in Britain, this recent destruction is not about politics, tuition or unemployment. Protesters who loathe corporatism and big business don’t torch mom-and-pop shops in their local neighbourhoods, nor do they claim to be “getting their taxes back” as they loot from local shops.
And many of the rioters, in fact, are not disadvantaged youth, but 30-something teachers, youth workers, and graphic designers. To ponder socio-economic excuses for these crimes is to give those who have succumbed to mob mentality a political agenda to fall back on. This civil disobedience is not about changing policy. It’s about a moral breakdown — and free sneakers.
TDSB is breaking its own gender discrimination policy
The Toronto District School Board has gotten a lot of flak this week for its decision to allow weekly Islamic prayer sessions in one of its school’s cafeterias. While supporters and critics have been relentlessly debating the existential question of prayer in public schools, one group caught in the middle has garnered only a fraction of the attention. I’m referring to the female students who participate in Friday prayers at Valley Park Middle School, relegated to the back on the cafeteria and not permitted to participate when menstruating. Indeed, the TDSB itself has mostly skirted (no pun intended) the issue of gender segregation during prayers at Valley Park, absolving itself of responsibility by stating, ”We do not have the authority to tell faith groups how to pray.”
Indeed, the Board is not of such authority in most situations, but here the prayers are happening during school hours, on public school property. Based on sheer geography alone, the TDSB has an obligation to see that the values and provisions outlined in its own Human Rights Policy are upheld within its school walls. The policy states that the Board has, “a duty to maintain an environment respectful of human rights and free of discrimination,” and may not “allow or condone behaviour contrary to this policy.”
How is it that the TDSB can call for instruction on sexism and gender inequality in its Social Studies classes, yet look the other way when girls are facing active discrimination within its walls?
The TDSB’s position is clear. It allows for the differential treatment of girls within its walls by insisting that the services are a community-run initiative, solicited by Valley Park parents and run by a neighbourhood imam. Indeed, according to a statement released by Chris Spence, TDSB director of education, :The division of the sexes which occurs during the service is a part of the Islamic faith.”
But faith or not, and supposed autonomy or not, the TDSB has an obligation to its students to provide a safe space free from discrimination. And it is all clear in writing; all persons operating on TDSB premises much adhere to Human Rights Policy. It states, “This policy applies to all Toronto District School Board students, employees, trustees, and other users such as members of consultative committees, clients of the Board, parents, volunteers, permit holders, contractors, and employees of organizations not related to the Board but who nevertheless work on or are invited onto Board premises.” (Emphasis mine.)
But the problem is more significant than just an inherent contradiction in rules. Indeed, the more important issue is that when a public school—a supposed beacon of equality—suddenly tolerates discrimination within its four walls, it compromises its status as a safe space for all students. Religious accommodation in public schools should exist as a means for equity, not a medium of exclusion. And it should only be enforced insofar as the individual rights and freedoms of all students may still be upheld. The TDSB must practice what it (literally) preaches if it hopes to give any authority to its lessons on gender equality and discrimination. It cannot stand idly as its female students are sent to the back of the room, especially when that room is just down the hall.
Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform targets children
An anti-abortion group in Calgary has decided it is appropriate to take up on public sidewalks and parade graphic displays in front of public school students.
The Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform did a tour of sorts last week, visiting at least 12 high schools and setting up poster boards of aborted fetuses in order to win over young supporters.
“Our philosophy is if someone is old enough to have an abortion, they’re old enough to see the aftermath of an abortion,” Stephanie Gray, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, told the National Post. “Many of these young people are having abortions because they haven’t seen what an abortion looks like.”
Of course, that’s beside the point. While the group isn’t technically breaking any laws, the choice to demonstrate outside public high schools is dubious at best. These types of graphic displays have typically been erected on university campuses, where they have already met their fair share of conflict. But whereas the university campus is absolutely a reasonable forum for such a demonstration, the space outside of high school pushes the ethics of public pandering.
First off, nearly all of the students on university campuses are adults. The opposite is true at high schools. The anti-abortion protesters are essentially demonstrating to children, who—unlike university students on sprawling campuses—often can’t take an alternate routes to classes. Plus, those under 16 are required to be there by law, and so, in an ideal (perhaps kinder) world, they shouldn’t have to worry about being barraged with graphic images on their way to ninth-grade geography. University students are on campus by choice, and are often morally self-assured enough to be able to critically absorb and analyze such a demonstration.
It is true that inside high schools, most kids are exposed to other graphic imagery. However, it’s usually accompanied by some sort of context and discussion. High school students learn about drunk driving, the effects of smoking and drugs, and unprotected sex and STIs — but they are usually warned beforehand about graphic images and encouraged to express concerns in a controlled environment.
Holding up a poster of a bloody fetus provides none of the context, and little of the tact required when dealing with sensitive teens. As well, whereas we can pretty much all agree that driving with a six-pack is not a great idea, the ethics of abortion is a little murkier. Graphic imagery is fine for concerns that are more or less universally shared, but trudge through dangerous ethical waters when used in conjunction with more contentious issues.
The issue is not about being pro-choice or pro-life. The issue is about finding an appropriate venue for a morally controversial and graphic demonstration. The sidewalk outside of a public high school is certainly not the right venue.
Brigette DePape should not be lauded for abusing her position
If I were to interrupt Senate chamber with some sort of a makeshift traffic sign, I’d surely pick something a little more interesting than “STOP.”
Sorry, Brigette. I know you thought your “STOP HARPER!” sign was pretty nifty, but with a whole assembly of traffic signs and symbols to adopt for partisan purposes, why go for the most predictable choice?
How about something a little more positive, such as a bright red “YIELD” triangle? That way, you could get your five minutes of fame while also emblematically encouraging better decorum in the House of Commons. Or, if you’re looking for something with a little more snark, how about a reflective “WATCH FOR CHILDREN” sign? Of course, the best messages are often the most concise, so with that in mind, a simple “SLOW” should do the trick.
Of course, it doesn’t really matter what sign Senate page Brigette DePape used to interrupt the Speech from the Throne June 3, because the stunt was clearly void of any practical purpose. Of course, DePape’s press release gave vague allusions to Canada’s need to stop the Harper agenda, as well as misguided desire for a “Canadian version of an Arab Spring,” but DePape’s childish exploit served to achieve neither one of these goals.
Some have admired DePape, calling her “bright” and “brave” for her rogue act. But it is not admirable to abuse professional position to get access to the Senate floor. Nor is it bright to engage in some supposed form of civil disobedience with no pragmatic purpose in mind. The Silent Sentinels could be called “bright” and “brave” for engaging in civil disobedience to win American women the right to vote, but DePape, for her thirty seconds of Senate spotlight, hasn’t earned that.
Sorry DePape. “DEAD END.” Your stunt was just a show.
Nearby condo dwellers fear “ghosts”
A plan to build a hospice on the University of British Columbia campus is slated for approval in June, despite opposition from neighbouring condo-dwellers, who are worried about “bad luck” and “ghosts.”
They have protested the prospective 15-bed palliative since January because of culturally-specific fears. “Eighty per cent of the residents in this building are Asian, and 100 per cent of them are very upset,” said condo spokeswoman Janet Fan, at the time. “In Chinese culture, we are against having dying people in your backyard.”
While the project was initially delayed, a May 25 staff report recommends facility approval, to be finalized sometime next month.
I hope we will see construction sometime thereafter. This particular spin on ‘residents vs. new building’ can’t help but elicit hyperbole. You can dress is up with culturally sensitive language and subtle empathetic nods, but the issue will still be that a group of million-dollar condo owners don’t want to dying people soiling their 10th floor panoramic views. Physically or spiritually, it’s all the same.
But there are several reasons why UBC should not yield to demands to move the hospice. For one, the hospice does not pose any real, tangible threat to its neighbours. Data commissioned by UBC showed that property values of homes in nearby communities have increased since hospices have opened in the area. And unlike similar situations of community resistance—say, when a halfway house is proposed in a neighbourhood—the threat of physical danger is not present in this case. Bad luck can’t slash your tires.
But what about emotional turmoil? Surely some devout residents will experience anxiety and stress living next to a place where people are dying. Indeed, that’s unfortunate. But it’s no reason to change course. Institutions such as universities—as well as cities, provinces, and democratic countries as a whole—cannot allow religious belief to dictate policy. If someone legally purchases land and, for example, wants to open a LGBT community centre on that land, should she be prohibited based on its proximity to a church opposed to the LGBT lifestyle? Can a person prevent an interracial couple from moving in next door because he feels uneasy? Of course not. It would be unacceptable to force change in those cases, so it’s unacceptable to force change here.
The phrase ‘buyer beware’ is cliché for a reason. We too often forget that we can’t control who moves in next door. UBC has been shopping for a place for this hospice for years and it has done it’s best to balance different stakeholder’s concerns. I hope it gets built without anymore delays.
Photo courtesy of fauxto_digit on Flickr.
There isn’t a company in Canada that encourages “unworking”
Self-directed learning sounds like a great time. I would have loved to experience education as guided by my own curiosity, taught at my own pace, and marked by my own individual achievements. Want to learn about frogs? Sure! How to count change? Yes! The Harper government? Er—why not!? In theory, this type of ‘unchooling’ seems like the best model for education. Students typically absorb information more effectively if they are genuinely interested in the subject matter, rather than forced to follow a curriculum. And when compared to the structure of the conventional school system, whereby grades are often prioritized over actual learning, it’s not hard to see why some parents have opted for this model of education for their children.
But the unschooling movement, which recently garnered mainstream attention when two unschooling-advocate parents were featured in a story about their genderless baby, is not without its limitations. Unlike typical homeschooling, whereby parents often follow the provincial curriculum, or else set their own guidelines for instruction, unschooled children call the shots entirely. It sounds like a good idea in theory, but are unschooled children headed for a rough ride when someone else inevitably takes the reign?
The trouble with unschooling is that it eventually must come to an end. A child may decide to enter the mainstream education system to get the necessary prerequisites for university, or else choose to enter the workforce when he or she deems appropriate. The difficulty, then, is that the individual will be hard-pressed to find an ‘Unschooling U,’ and, as far as I know, there isn’t a company in Canada offering strong support for an unworking movement. There’s no such thing as unpaying your taxes, unreporting for jury duty, or unfollowing the speed limit on a busy road. Self-determination is a freedom we enjoy in a democratic society, but it is not an absolute. And for children who are given complete control over their education during their formative years, this hard reality may come as a bit of a shock later in life.
There are other potential problems with an unschooling education, including the limitations of parental instruction and possible gaps in knowledge. But I’d say the greater drawback of allowing a child total control over his or her education, absent any schedules, testing, or other forms of accountability, is that it sets an unrealistic and transitory precedent about autonomy and responsibility in everyday life. Like it or not, most people are going to have to show up for work at 9 a.m, pay their taxes on time, and figure out how to register their new vehicles. Gaps in physics knowledge can be easily remedied, but a skewed worldview cannot be.
Concerned parents want award-winning novel removed from Southern Ontario classrooms
Every once in a while, a keen group of helicopter parents—or else, an overzealous collection of educators—decides that classic novels are no longer suitable for the classroom. Lest their teenagers suddenly become privy to the knowledge that the world is not, in fact, butterflies and rainbows, these guardians decide that books such as Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn can’t be taught unless all of its dirty words are removed. Further to that, some have suggested that Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is far too controversial for the classroom and heaven help you if you let an adolescent of faith near The Handmaid’s Tale.
The latest target in this already-tired tirade is Timothy Findley’s The Wars, an award-winning Canadian novel about a young officer fighting in World War I. Parents in the Owen Sound area of Ontario are petitioning to have the book removed from all classrooms under the Bluewater District School Board’s jurisdiction. Why? In a meeting with board trustees, one parent remarked: “The book includes a number of very explicit and detailed descriptions of sexual encounters, most of them exploitive and violent.” It is “inappropriate to be presented to a class of young people,” she said.
Indeed, The Wars is not of the same creed as Goodnight Moon and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The book depicts violent exploits (it is war, after all), a scene in a whorehouse, and an act of gang rape by Canadian soldiers. Undeniably, The Wars is not a feel-good tale. But then again, war stories rarely are.
Depriving students of the chance to read and discuss The Wars not only robs them of a great novel, but also denies them the opportunity to learn about and discuss contentious issues in a relatively safe environment. Whether aged 17 in an English class, or 21 and flipping through late-night TV, the term “whorehouse” might come up (*gasp*), so why not talk about it in a controlled setting?
Many students in Grade 12 (the year during which the novel is typically taught) are gearing up to head to college, university, or enter the workforce in a few months. By that time, unfortunately, there will few people around to cover their ears if someone says a curse. High school students should be guided, not coddled.
But can boycotts really change the dynamic in the Middle East?
Students at DePaul University in Chicago have launched a crusade against a popular chickpea dip. Despite a similar, failed attempt at Princeton late last year, a group of students at DePaul University are pushing to ban the sale of Israeli-made Sabra hummus on campus. Students for Justice in Palestine launched the movement at DePaul, claiming that Sabra’s parent brand, the Strauss Group, supports Israeli military units accused of human rights abuses against Palestinians. DePaul’s student body is voting in a referendum this week.
It appears students are convinced that those are some mighty tainted peas. And, for whatever reason, they must also believe that restricting the sale of said tainted peas will culminate in a massive boycott, putting such dire economic strain on the state of Israel that it will have no choice but to change its military tactics. Here’s why I think it won’t work.
When the issue was being considered at Princeton back in December, I argued that the movement and (similar boycott attempts) will undoubtedly fail to get the Israeli army to change course for three main reasons. The first is the counter-boycott movement, also known as BUYcott, which acts in reverse of the boycott protesters. When a group in Maryland called for a boycott of an Israeli beauty product last summer, BUYcotters organized to buy the product instead and ended up clearing out the shelves. The same thing happened when protesters called for a boycott of Israeli-made wine in Toronto. If, indeed, DePaul students are successful in banning the sale of Sabra hummus on campus, I have a feeling sales may spike elsewhere.
The second reason DePaul and similar boycott attempts will likely fail to achieve their goal is because of the selective nature of the products chosen for boycott. Hummus, face creams, coffees—even academics—have all been targeted by the movement, while computer chips, medical technologies, and other Israeli products and scientific breakthroughs have been allowed to seamlessly cross borders. How persuasive can a boycott possibly be if activists pick and choose which products they can do without?
The third reason is the most intangible and arguably ideological. (Forgive me, I’m still in my 20’s.) Simply put, the situation that has been festering in the Middle East is not strictly about economics. In fact, I would argue economics has little to do with, but I know there are those who would debate me on that. Either way, the struggle between the Israelis and the Palestinians is largely one of existential values, boiling down to religious claim to land. As I said before, and I’ll reiterate now, not buying fruit juice from one side or the other won’t throw anyone off course. Core values are impervious to such external pressure.
So, if perhaps DePaul’s boycott of Sabra Hummus is more symbolic than pragmatic (a symbolic student movement, you say?! How novel!), is there really a reason to take issue? On the one hand, no. Each member of the student body has the opportunity to exercise his or her opinion via the non-binding referendum, so it is not as though a few ardent activists have totally seized control of the cafeteria.
That said, squabbling over hummus–even if just symbolically–does little more than cheapen the overall discourse surrounding the Middle East conflict, nevermind ignite hostility on already brewing bed of Israeli-Palestinian tension. Still, if one feels compelled to fuel campus fires, why not do so in a more pragmatic way? Perhaps it’s because “I’m working with my local government after reading up on both sides” doesn’t look as good on a poster board. Indeed, until then, it seems the war on delicious dips shall wage on.
STU profs who plan to boycott convocation should be wary of the message they are sending their students
A group of professors at St. Thomas University are protesting the decision to award an honorary degree to Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside, and some have now threatened to boycott the graduation ceremonies.
In an open letter to the Daily Gleaner, the professors at the liberal arts university objected to the decision to award the degree to a “sitting politician,” as well as because of Woodside’s “record on the environment and by his unwillingness to recognize gay and lesbian citizens.”
Back in the 1990’s, Woodside refused to declare a Gay Pride weekend in Fredericton until he was ordered to do so by the Human Rights Commission. However, since taking office again in 2004, Woodside has declared Pride Week and even participated in some of the events.
But for other professors, their decision to boycott the ceremonies has more to do with the ethics of awarding an honorary degree to a politician who is still in office. “There’s a general sense of unease about the kind of vulgarity and the crassness of that,” Ian Nicholson, an STU professor who signed the letter of objection told Global Saskatoon. “Of sorta paying up to power, of trying to buy favours from politicians by giving them one of these impressive sounding degrees.”
For these reasons, a group of STU professors may be absent at the convocation ceremonies of their students this weekend. And while I don’t agree with their position, it is understandable why they would choose to be so. The ethics of awarding an honorary degree to a sitting politician is undeniably complicated, and that decision is made even thornier when the recipient has held controversial opinions in the past, despite recent reforms.
But by boycotting the ceremonies, these professors are putting their own politics over their students. Which is fine, of course. But small liberal arts universities, unlike large, research-driven institutions, are driven by the reputation of having intimate classrooms and personal connections between students and professors. You go to the University of Toronto if you want to be lectured by a world-renowned theorist who probably doesn’t know your name, but you enroll in St. Thomas University if you want to develop a relationship with faculty and engage personally with your instructors. If these professors don’t show up to their students’ graduations, they will be inadvertently forfeiting one of the great merits of their institution.
Schools shouldn’t ban breast cancer support bracelets
Teens often come across many scary things once they get to high school: gangs, drugs, and—most menacingly—rubber wristbands emblazoned with the phrase “I Love Boobies.”
Luckily, the Durham District School Board has decided to crack down on the ominous bracelets, threatening suspension if students refuse to remove them while on school property. The “I Love Boobies” campaign was created by the American Keep a Breast Foundation, which is selling the wristbands to raise money for breast cancer research.
The Durham board has recognized the blemish on this whole brightly coloured charade, and ruled such manifestations of the word “boobies” to be entirely inappropriate. So fundraise if you must, children, but leave your crude language out of it.
In another, perhaps less authoritarian world, educators could have piggybacked off the popularity of the bracelets to lead classroom discussions about the ethics of out-of-the-box marketing campaigns. Is it appropriate to use a colloquial, perhaps lewd word like “boobies” to draw attention to a disease that is anything but jovial? Is cheeky humour key to lubricating potentially awkward discussions? And where are our “I Love Testes” bracelets?
But instead, the Durham board has decided to act as parent for many of its high school students and silence the discussion by removing the talking points from school premises. Because banning is key when confronted with uncomfortable or oppositional positions, right? The board would be better off guiding students to make up their own minds, rather than making the decisions for them.
Another sexual assault reported on campus
The news, unfortunately, is not surprising. Toronto Police have announced that they are looking for a man in connection with a recent sexual assault at York University.
The assault took place inside the main hall at the Seneca@York building on Thursday around 4 p.m. The victim says she was followed into the building and was sexually assaulted twice.
Sporadic news of sexual assault on or around York University’s campus is not unusual. There was the violent assault on a 20-year-old student by three strangers last April, three assaults in five months back in 2008, which included two young students being raped in their residence rooms, and, of course, the recent murder of York University student Qian Liu.
These events speak to serious problems at York University. Any scholarship to be revered coming from the institution is already being lost in the shadows of its dangerous reputation. York needs to take further measures to protect its students both on campus and in off-campus student communities. Its reputation–and more importantly, the welfare of its students–depend on it.
And please, stop calling it ‘ageism’
When I was 19 and off university for the summer, I ended up spending most of my working time behind a bar. Though it wasn’t a job of rigorous expectations, I undoubtedly lucked out by being in the right place at the right time. One of the recipients of my hurried CV was a little Toronto restaurant that happened to be losing its only front-of-house employee the same day I dropped off my resume. I fumbled my way through an interview that afternoon: “Hmm…” the owner said, scanning my hospitality-weak resume. “I really would like someone with a bit more experience…” But she gave me the job anyway (probably out of sheer desperation) and that summer I earned every penny of my server’s minimum wage.
Only now do I realize that my composure during the interview was totally to my own detriment. When the owner was mulling over her desire to have someone with more experience, I really should have shouted “Ageist!” and stormed off angrily, possibly flailing.
After all, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do now that pundits are expressing skepticism about our brand new under-30 MPs? The youngest is 19-year-old Pierre-Luc Dusseault, a Université de Sherbrooke political science student who became Canada’s youngest ever MP last week after winning his Sherbrooke riding. And of course, along with six or so other 20-somethings, there’s Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who we all now know as the non-French-speaking assistant pub manager who won over her Francophone riding despite vacationing is Las Vegas during the campaign.
Many of these new MPs were clearly just lending their names to the NDP in ridings that were almost certain to vote Bloc. So, naturally, people are questioning their ability to perform well in their new unexpected, perhaps unwanted positions. And, also naturally, reactionaries have labeled that questioning with that nasty A-word. Then there are those, perhaps more rational than the ageist alarmists, genuinely asking why these young MPs are facing more scrutiny than rookie MPs with experience in other fields.
To me, the reason seems obvious. A rookie MP coming from a business background brings with her knowledge about corporate affairs and economics. A farmer new to politics brings with him agricultural insight and perspectives on climate change. Yes, they speak for different communities, but also bring valuable, diverse experiences to the House of Commons. Unfortunately, a 19-year-old just doesn’t have that wealth of life experience to draw on.
That’s not to say, however, that a young MP can’t serve his or her constituents well. Indeed, I hope that is the case. But in the meantime, we’re justified in keeping a raised eyebrow, at least until these young MPs fill up their resumes.
Ontario Catholic schools will create anti-bullying clubs that definitely won’t be called ‘gay-straight alliances’
Let’s embark upon a little thought experiment, shall we? Suppose Johnny B. Seventh-Grader is being bullied mercilessly for his fiery red hair. “Ginger!” the kids call him. “Freak of nature!” they say. “You have no soul!” And so forth. Johnny, feeling ostracized and alone, looks to his school’s administration for support. Naturally, one would assume, resources would be available for our redheaded friend. After all, the school—a public institution—is part of a society where reds have the right to live freely from discrimination. Redheaded people can work in Canada, they can own property, they can vote, hell—they can even marry! So the school, you would expect, would be compelled to foster an environment of inclusion. Johnny’s principal hears his plight, and, in an effort to change the culture of taboo brewing around redheads, she creates a school club called, “It’s OK to be R**.” What’s wrong, Johnny? Don’t you feel more accepted?
The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) is doing the same sort of semantic dance when it comes to naming its new anti-bullying groups, created in response to requests for gay-straight alliances in Catholic schools. A reporter from Xtra, a national gay and lesbian newspaper, spoke with OCSTA president Nancy Kirby, who told her the new groups will not be called gay-straight alliances:
“When I look at a gay-straight alliance, I see an activist group,” [Kirby said]. We are answering the students’ request for support and assistance, not for activism. Students don’t want to become activists; they want to be supported in being bullied by their peers.”
Is standing up against anti-gay bullying not activism? “In some ways it could be and in other ways it isn’t,” she says. The groups will all have a “common name.”
That’s right—no activism allowed! On a side note, Kirby should probably look into St. Joseph Secondary School, where a lot of this GSA talk originated, because the school apparently has a Solidarity Action Committee “committed to creating a just world by working for peace, fairness and equality everywhere.” Sounds like trouble to me…
Consulate chronicles ‘militant student group’ involvement in 2003 anti-war protests
It seems someone is paying attention to student protests after all.
In this case, that “someone” is the American consulate in Halifax, which chronicled a 2003 anti-war protest held by “militant student groups, church groups, and the self-styled ‘Halifax Peace Coalition.’” In a document released this past Thursday, the consulate describes three “major” anti-war demonstrations in March 2003. The demonstrations were described as nonviolent, though participants “engaged in strong anti-U.S. rhetoric and burned U.S. flags on several occasions.” The cable also notes demonstrators as chanting, banging drums, sounding air horns, and throwing bags of paint.
Come now, silly U.S. consulate! We all know that no student group in Atlantic Canada would ever participate in cheap stunts like that!
The cable concludes with the consulate’s acknowledgement that “militant student groups” and the “Halifax Peace Coalition” intend to demonstrate every Saturday, and that the consulate is in communication with the RCMP and Halifax police.
Former radical militant denied entry to Canada in 2009, scheduled to return in June
In about a month and a half’s time, former education professor and intellectual theorist Bill Ayers will try to enter Canada to speak at a higher-ed conference being held in Toronto in June. However, the last time he tried to do that, he didn’t quite make it to the podium. Back in 2009, Ayers was stopped by Canada Border Services Agency in a detention he called “arbitrary.” “The border agent said I had a conviction for a felony from 1969,” he remarked at the time. “I have several arrests for misdemeanours, but not for felonies.”
Ayers has a less-than-stellar resume from a border agent’s perspective–there’s no doubt about that. In 1969, he co-founded a group called the Weather Underground that was vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War and expressed its disapproval through coordinated bombings of public buildings. The Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, and New York City police headquarters were all targeted by the Weather Underground. When that shtick got old, he eventually moved on to work in education reform, becoming a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago, but didn’t really become a household name until 2008 when he was connected to then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.
It was then that Ayers’ past started garnering widespread attention. Public appearances and speaking engagements featuring Ayers were cancelled, and of course, it wasn’t long after that Ayers found himself being denied entry to Canada, despite having visited more than a dozen times.
Now, the organizers of the Worldviews Conference on Media scheduled this June are looking to the Government of Canada to ensure Ayers makes it in this time. They issued a press release last week in which Prof. Mark Langer, President of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) said, “This is an issue of academic freedom, not one of a potential ‘threat’ to Canadian security. In the interests of open debate and the democratic exchange of ideas, Prof. Ayers must be allowed to speak.”