Recent events suggest now (or relatively soon) might be a moment to stop shouting insulting epithets at one another―whether “homophobe” from one side or “rainbow stealer” from the other―and tone down the rhetoric in favour of sincere dialogue.
Ottawa’s public school board reports at least nine schools had an absentee rate over 40 percent (two over 60 percent) for the June 1 launch of Pride month. Planned Pride-related activities were a motivating factor for students to stay home. In London, Ontario, nearly a third of students at one school absented themselves last month for school board ordered observance of the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.
The York Catholic board decided to not include 30 days of Pride flag flying in its month-long activities, resulting in combative action. Along with the threat of litigation, an appeal was made asking the provincial government to overturn the decision of parents’ elected representatives. Some York parents took things into their own hands, keeping their children out of class on June 1 to wave Pride flags in protest. A Toronto Star columnist suggested the board’s decision would beget the end of the Catholic school system in Ontario.
The Kawartha Pine Ridge board prepped for Pride month by reminding teachers to not reveal a student’s gender identity to their parents without student permission.
An Edmonton teacher told a Muslim student who did not attend the school’s June 1 Pride flag raising he did not belong in Canada if he would not support Pride activities.
Earlier this year a high school student was suspended indefinitely from an Ontario Catholic school for stating in a class debate the Catholic position that people are born male or female and subsequently publicly supporting silent (afraid?) female friends uncomfortable that gender-self-identifying girls with male genitalia were using girls’ washrooms and changerooms alongside 13 to 18 year-olds.
In New Brunswick, a review of the policy concerning LGBT+ students in schools might cause the premier to seek an early election.
No large group is entirely homogenous. Parents and students are no exception. Neither are the diversity of communities described by the 2SLGBTQ+ acronym.
These substantial groups do, however, need to arrive at some resolution about kids in schools. Parents and students have differing concerns that won’t be resolved by slogans, ad hominem attacks, or unenforceable commands from third parties.
Beyond the headlines, what is the in-school by in-school reality as neither school boards nor schools are consistent on Pride-related activities or classroom instruction?
The role of teachers has traditionally been described as in loco parentis, in the place of the parents. This parental substitution is only in regard to carrying out parents’ desires for the education of their children, not to replace all parental responsibilities and decisions, even during school hours. Parents elect school boards to supervise those providing education for their children, and what they’re teaching. Parents cannot be excluded from the conversation.
The role of the warrior has traditionally been to fight with the goal of winning the war, or demonstrate sufficient force to secure the peace. Warriors don’t necessarily make good diplomats but are routinely thrust into the role when a truce is called. The Canadian military prepares for such occasion by deploying specially trained soldiers to engage in the diplomatic process when opportunity presents, each one accepting the responsibility knowing it comes with the risk they will meet with opposing warriors who do not share the desire for peace. Still, the soldier-diplomats take the risk and commit to dialogue. Now is a time for diplomats willing to listen, with intent to hear what adversaries and allies alike have to say, with intent to secure ongoing peace.
Parents, students, administrators and trustees need to be able to listen and to talk under truce conditions; diplomatically, without fear of being turned in or canceled for asking or saying the wrong thing―demonstrating their interest and any ignorance along with discussion of differing opinions in a safe space.
The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2015 government has a legitimate interest in the education of children, in order that schools graduate good citizens. The decision in Loyola High School v. Quebec noted that a Catholic religious-informed perspective on classroom instruction that produces good citizens is as legitimate as a secular non-religious perspective that does the same. In paragraph 48 of the decision, Justice Abella states, “The state, therefore, has a legitimate interest in ensuring that students in all schools are capable, as adults, of conducting themselves with openness and respect as they confront cultural and religious differences.”
Perhaps its time for a little less action and a little more conversation about diverse perspectives on this cultural issue, confronting differences with openness and respect. Discussion and civil debate should be welcome, provided they don’t overrule parents’ position as parents or damage educational contribution to the development of good citizens.
30, 40, or 60 percent student absenteeism to protest participation in a forced school “citizenship” event suggests a need to do something differently, or expect similarly divisive results after graduation.
The message has been stated loud and clear about the importance of students being able to see themselves in classroom curriculum and school-observed commemorations. What’s increasingly clear is growing numbers of students are absenting themselves because they do not see themselves as included. Is anybody listening? Really listening, not just impatiently sitting still in judgment before trying to convince them to behave, get along, and perhaps conceal their thoughts rather than discuss them?
Speaking about the diversity of our culture and citizenship, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau noted, “Uniformity is neither desirable nor possible in a country the size of Canada.” He went on in his remarks to state, “A society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate.” (P.E. Trudeau, The Essential Trudeau, p. 146)
It seems we’ve arrived at a juncture where healthy discussion is required about whether diversity and inclusion includes freedom for parents and students to openly hold and respectfully express differing opinions. If so, how will we accommodate our differences? If not, can we still claim to be the “free and democratic society” declared in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
In the best interests of our children, school is supposed to be a safe place for all students. At the end of the day, reinforcing a safe place in our schools for open and respectful disagreement and discussion would pass any test evaluating the quality of our citizenship. It would also prepare today’s students for post-graduation life together.
In a time for culture diplomats, will we find them? Will we welcome them? Or will we cancel them?