Thursday, October 27, 2011

Always plenty of fault to spread around

I've been mulling what the appropriate post could be on the death of 15-year-old Ottawa teen Jamie Hubley and the reaction to this tragic event across various media.
It's been inspiring to read things like the op-ed piece by Ottawa Citizen education reporter Matthew Pearson — who I had no idea was from Woodstock. He sent the piece to the Sentinel-Review on the weekend and it ran as the line item on Oct. 24. The Citizen later ran it as part of an op-ed package.
Then the online world has simply been buzzing since Tuesday's airing of the Rick Mercer Report, where Mercer (who is gay but has never been, quite appropriately, "the gay comedian") ranted about Hubley's suicide. He flushed out his thoughts on Thursday morning's The Current on CBC Radio, where the podcast of that segment is sure to be linked from the show's website. It was posted Thursday afternoon.
That a person — of any age, sexual orientation, gender identity or ethnic background — would choose to take their own life because of harassment, intimidation and sheer feelings of insurmountable loneliness and an inability to survive it all is wrong. Period.
Things that irk me however, are the predictable rushes to assign fault to the school and/or school board. Schools have, in my opinion, been quite responsive to these issues— the quantity and quality of programs, clubs and initiatives have vastly improved since I was a middle- and high-school student in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Let's talk about our culture though.
Despite how tolerant we all say we are, our continuing actions and inaction speak louder than our words, ribbons, clicks and pledges. While many out there have made Gay-Straight Alliances the hill upon which tolerance won't die on, I'd like to see the hard statistics on whether reported harassment at those schools has changed.
High school culture is, if you're not popular, is a horrible phase of life. It just plain sucks. Personally, until I hit Grade 11/12/OAC and stopped caring about what others said and thought, these years weren't good ones for me either. Homophobia was rampant (as it remains today) and even if you were straight but not as masculine in your stance, the jump to the world of being called every homophobic slur under the sun was quick, short and brutalizing.
Ironically, I always found the taunts tended to be harsher and more frequent from those who in hindsight came from well-educated, middle-class families.
The homophonic undertones of our teen and youth culture haven't changed. Being openly LGBTQQ is such an obvious difference from "normal" that it puts a target on your back. It bleeds through our popular culture, the culture of our athletics and youth culture.
Since youth spend a majority of their day in school, it's only natural to expect it's through schools that much of this harassment will take place. Those schools who can't change the culture in their student and staff bodies will continue to struggle with ending harassment and holding the perpetrators accountable.
Schools are no different than the rest of our society on this mark though. We need to understand that it happens in our schools because it's embedded in our culture. Harassment is a learned behaviour. While some of it may be learned in a school setting, a lot of behaviours aren't.
Something to think about the next time a tragedy strikes a harassed youth and everyone rushes to blame the schools for not doing enough.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Could Peterborough break the mold?

Doubtful. Very doubtful on this one, despite a strong connection to the City of Peterborough and its collegiate and vocational institute.
For those who haven't met it, PCVS is the city's historic high school Built turn of the century ish, like many other schools across Ontario that have the CVS or CI to their names. In the heart of the city, surrounded by heritage buildings of a similar ilk. Home to a Kawartha Pine Ridge DSB specialty arts program that accepts students from the PCVS attendance area and from across the district after an entrance exam/evaluation of sorts. There is (or was) a school like PCVS in every city and larger town like Peterborough in this province.
Through my former camping career, I've had the honour of getting to know a few Peterborough families, most of whose children either attended or currently attend PCVS.
The school -- along with three others in the city -- was involved in a closure review. The numerical reality of life is that there aren't enough school aged students in Peterborough to support full programming, etc., at four schools. While the early bets, and committee report, suggested another school would close when it came time for trustees to vote they voted to close PCVS.
So the campaign -- not really in high gear during the accommodation review because, c'mon, who would close PCVS, after all -- has begun.
These clips are from the Examiner, although I'm sure Peterborough This Week's coverage has been similar.
First, allow me my usual bristling at the continued misuse of terminology. It's not an appeal. It's a petition to review the process that was used (under which the decision of the school board cannot be reversed). Appeal implies the possibility of a change in the result and the ministry's petitioning process doesn't allow for that.
In that sense, Coun. Riel was absolutely correct in earlier coverage linked above when he says it's all hot air for council to support or not support the petition since it won't change the result. I was also intrigued by his comments to council on what students are saying about the PCVS decision on social media.
Interesting also as he was the councillor on the accommodation review committee that looked at the four high schools and recommended (under a shotgun process he called flawed) closing one high school but not making any recommendation to trustees on which one should close. I have no doubts in my skeptical mind that if the board had chosen to close the high school in his ward instead of PCVS that Riel would be one of the ones leading the parade.
Anyway, regardless of all that.
Anyone drawn to this post involved in the PCVS campaign, please hit accommodation reviews in the labels box on the left and spend some time reading coverage of other reviews, other petitions to the ministry. Not one petition to the minister (or even judicial review) to review the process used for a school closure under the province's pupil accommodation review guidelines has resulted in overturning a school board's original decision. Not one.
Spend some time in particular looking at what happened in Niagara-on-the-Lake and that town's futile efforts after a District School Board of Niagara decision to close Niagara District Secondary School.
Peterborough is now treading down a road that many, many other communities have already tread. I know, maybe you weren't really paying attention at the time because it wasn't in your backyard yet. Well, now it's been in your backyard and there might be an opportunity to realize what lies ahead.
I don't think anything the save PCVS crew does will change this decision of the school board. Despite there being a new minister, etc. etc., the process won't change for the time being.
As I mentioned in an earlier comment on the last post, I would urge some contemplation of where energies are best allocated (somewhat tying into what Riel had to say). The programs and people are what makes a school like PCVS tick. What gives it is substance. The bricks and mortar can add character, but without the people and programs they don't do it alone.
So what are you going to fight to the end of days for? To keep the programs alive, healthy, sustainable and fully funded and enrolled? Or to save the building?
You can yell and scream that the process is flawed, but it's the process that exists and it can, rarely, net recommendations that school boards can support in their entirety. Just imagine, under a different government, under previous guidelines, whether the decision would have been as consultative and whether the end result would have been the same.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Ontario's next education minister is...

... a question that surely has been circulating through people's minds since the results came in on Oct. 6 showing Leona Dombrowsky had been defeated in her Belleville-area riding.
I was somewhat shocked, to say the truth. Not being as connected as people in the region, I wasn't anticipating that her seat was under threat. Coverage from the night shows it might have come as a surprise to her as well, though fingers also pointed at the HST and the ongoing debate over wind energy developments. While no one's thumping their chest on the first, at least one group is on the second.
Regardless of all that, the question now becomes who will Ontario's next education minister be?
Looking at who was re-elected, an easy choice is Dombrowsky's predecessor, Kathleen Wynne. Wynne, despite the shuffle / lateral move / demotion to Transport a few years ago, has been Dalton McGuinty's longest-serving education minister and was in that ministry when she defeated then OPC leader John Tory in 2007.
Wynne may not have been shepherding the implementation of full-day kindergarten (and let's face it, the premier was the public face of that program), but she shepherded Bil 177 and the first few tests of the province's school-closure guidelines. She was the minister when the current and soon-to-expire collective agreements were negotiated.
If McGuinty chooses to leave Wynne at Transport or move her into another portfolio whose minister was shown the door Oct. 6, who's left that's a known quantity on the Liberal bench that has the chops to handle the education portfolio?
Looking at former parliamentary assistants to the ministry is one way to go.
The most recent was Ottawa Centre MPP Yasir Naqvi, who was in the PA slot until the writ was dropped. His social-media outreach is incredible and he appears to be very well liked by his constituents. He's a lawyer by trade though and the preference of late has been to either put reformers in the slot or people with political experience in school boards.
Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale's Ted McMeekin was an education PA earlier in the McGuinty government, and he's been in cabinet since 2007. If memory serves he was PA when former minister Gerard Kennedy pushed through the first omnibus bill in the government's first term of office. He may have also had the role during Sandra Pupatello's brief tenure in the ministry.
Guelph MPP Liz Sandals was the longest-serving PA for education since 2003. In addition to that honour, she chaired a number of strategic legislative projects around safe schools and the initial shepherding of FDK legislation. Sandals is a past public board trustee and past-president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association.
Looking around the rest of the caucus, some others' names have popped up. In my work riding (Brant) reelected MPP Dave Levac is a former teacher and I did see a mention or two of his name and education within social-media feeds. That position would surprise me for Levac, who isn't (publicly anyway) egging for a cabinet position of any kind.
I don't know enough about the background of the rest of the field elected or reelected Oct. 6 to confidently predict whether any would be in contention as strong candidates for education minister.
The next minister will have to work to complete implementation of FDK, negotiate a new round of collective agreements for every school employee group and take boards through what will no doubt be interesting times of trying to muddle through times when the education budget will be under severe pressure to match the enrolments that will for the most part continue to drop throughout this next term of government.
For my vote (and a coffee, whatever it's worth to you as a reader), I say Sandals gets the nod, with my backup choice being Wynne. For all the complications of cabinet-making, the minister will likely be a woman and this may be a post that helps the government if it's not given to a Toronto-area MPP.
Place your friendly wagers in the comments section. I promise I won't email you to collect on any coffee.