Democ­racy 101: The kids are all right

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - -- Richard Mahoney [email protected]­gar­rynews.ca

There’s a great line from a song by the artist for­merly known as Cat Stevens that goes, “From the mo­ment I could talk, I was or­dered to lis­ten.” Mem­o­ries of that “Fa­ther and Son” an­them about the eter­nal gen­er­a­tion gap were rekin­dled as high school stu­dents across On­tario walked out April 4 to protest the gov­ern­ment’s ed­u­ca­tion re­forms.

Watch­ing the one-hour, loud yet or­derly, demon­stra­tion in Alexan­dria one could con­clude that the kids -- well at least some kids -- are all right. It was re­fresh­ing to see young peo­ple get­ting their heads out of their apps, tak­ing their cause to the streets, par­tic­i­pat­ing in the demo­cratic process, ex­er­cis­ing their right to ex­press their views, de­nounc­ing dra­co­nian cruel gov­ern­ment edicts.

They chanted, sang, waved colour­ful posters, said bad things about Premier Doug Ford.

Some non-stu­dent on­look­ers were un­doubt­edly en­vi­ous, re­mem­ber­ing scenes from “Fer­ris Buehler’s Day Off,” the movie about a trio of Chicago high school kids play­ing hooky and driv­ing the prin­ci­pal crazy.

Envy may partly ex­plain why many adults were so quick to con­demn the prov­ince-wide walk­outs. Premier Doug Ford led the ver­bal as­sault on the demon­stra­tors, call­ing them lack­eys who were be­ing con­trolled by “union thugs,” who were only con­cerned with col­lect­ing union dues.

The cho­rus in­cluded Ford Nation dis­ci­ples who smugly crit­i­cized the stu­dents as be­ing pawns who did not fully un­der­stand the is­sues.

Wait a minute, folks. Is some­body try­ing to tell us that if you don’t com­pre­hend a topic, you can’t com­ment on it?

If that rule ap­plied to ev­ery­one all the time, imag­ine how peace­ful the world would be.

Peo­ple, adults, vot­ers, news­pa­per columnists, wags are con­stantly jab­ber­ing about is­sues they do not fully un­der­stand. Most of the chat­ter on so­cial me­dia has lit­tle to do with “de­bate.” In fact, emoti­coms are so fre­quently used that the ex­changes are the graphic equiv­a­lent of grunts and mid­dle fin­gers. Think of a so­ci­ety where only the in­formed could com­ment. The si­lence would be deaf­en­ing, and so sooth­ing. Yet, who would want to live like that?

If the demon­stra­tors were con­demned by the Premier, they know they must have been do­ing some­thing right, or left.

In­dif­fer­ence is a more se­vere in­sult than an ac­tual slur. The in­se­cure tend to at­tack those they per­ceive as be­ing threats.

At this point, we may put on the “Re­spon­si­ble Adult” hat and re­mind ev­ery­one that due dili­gence was demon­strated by school au­thor­i­ties who in no way and at no time con­doned the protests.

“It is our very im­por­tant task to main­tain stu­dent safety at all times,” reads a stern mis­sive from the Up­per Canada Dis­trict School Board. “This is made more dif­fi­cult if stu­dents choose to leave their class­rooms and/or school prop­erty for the pur­poses of a walk­out.”

Boards did not ap­pre­ci­ate mem­bers of the pub­lic cheer­ing on the demon­stra­tors.

“In no man­ner can we ac­cept oth­ers ad­vo­cat­ing that stu­dents are prop­erly cared for by walk­ing out of their school rather than be­ing in class. Stu­dents are su­per­vised in their class­rooms and in­side the school,” the board stated.

There was a cer­tain po­lice pres­ence dur­ing the marches. But there were few prob­lems re­ported. Stu­dents from Le Re­lais in Alexan­dria had a po­lice es­cort as they walked from their school to the North Glen­garry mu­nic­i­pal hall. The big­gest source of trou­ble was a strong wind that bat­tered the stu­dents’ hand-let­tered posters.

School boards’ con­cerns about un­su­per­vised stu­dents roam­ing in the com­mu­nity on a school day are un­der­stand­able. School of­fi­cials worry all the time.

“Staff will con­tinue to bring to the at­ten­tion of our stu­dents the ap­pro­pri­ate chan­nels avail­able to them to ex­press their views in a man­ner that pro­motes a bal­ance be­tween the in­ter­ests of stu­dents and our obli­ga­tion to safely op­er­ate our schools and su­per­vise stu­dents. We hope that this in­for­ma­tion will prompt open di­a­logue with your chil­dren about ap­pro­pri­ate means to give voice to mat­ters such as these,” the board writes in a mes­sage to par­ents and guardians.

It does not take a math ma­jor to re­al­ize that the gov­ern­ment’s school changes will have a huge im­pact.

The Con­ser­va­tives are stick­ing with an elec­tion prom­ise not to cut any pub­lic ser­vice jobs. The prob­lem is that those who leave will not be re­placed.

Some 3,475 full-time teach­ing posts will be elim­i­nated through at­tri­tion be­tween 2019-2020 and 2023, sav­ing about $851 mil­lion.

Mean­while, the av­er­age class size re­quire­ment for Grades 9 to 12 will be ad­justed to 28, up from the cur­rent av­er­age of 22.

Fewer teach­ers and larger classes will not nec­es­sar­ily af­fect the qual­ity of in­struc­tion, the gov­ern­ment con­tends.

Granted, the ed­u­ca­tion system could use a makeover in some re­spects. For in­stance, the re­lease of the Sun­shine Club list, the large group of pub­lic em­ploy­ees paid more than $100,000, con­firms that school boards are bloated at the top.

But the re­forms an­nounced by the gov­ern­ment will not af­fect any bu­reau­crats.

The fall­out from the aus­ter­ity moves will be felt at the class­room level. The cuts will af­fect stu­dents.

Per­haps that is an overly sim­plis­tic take on a very big com­plex subject which mere mor­tals have dif­fi­culty un­der­stand­ing. But that view is as valid as any other opin­ion. As the “de­bate” con­tin­ues, stu­dents are ben­e­fit­ing from a prac­ti­cal learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in school pol­i­tics.

So far, the ba­sics have been cov­ered. Les­son 1: Be wary of any­one who dis­misses you as be­ing a pawn of “union thugs.” Les­son 2: Adults can say the strangest things.

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