Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bullying and racism...two seeds from same tree of faux-superiority

By Ingrid Peritz and Karen Howlett, Globe and Mail, November 30, 2011
Ontario on Wednesday unveiling tough legislation that could lead to expulsion for students who send classmates hateful text messages or shove them in the hallways at school.

Quebec on Wednesday said it would review its school anti-violence programs, and Edmonton’s school board on Tuesday evening joined the Canadian school districts that have voted to adopt an anti-bullying policy for sexual minorities.
“We want our schools to be warm, welcoming, safe, secure and accepting,” Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said when the new law was introduced. “We want all our kids to feel free to be who they are.”
The worst fate currently facing students in Ontario caught bullying is a temporary suspension.
The political efforts follow a grim tally of adolescent suicides. Jamie Hubley, an openly gay Ottawa teen, killed himself in October after becoming a target of bullying because of his sexual orientation. Mitchell Wilson, an 11-year-old boy with muscular dystrophy, killed himself in September after he was attacked by a 12-year-old boy he knew from his elementary school in Pickering, east of Toronto. Jenna Bowers-Bryanton, a 15-year-old aspiring songwriter from Truro, N.S., killed herself last January after months of bullying at school and online.
It’s impossible to know whether legislation such as Ontario’s might have saved Marjorie (Raymond a 15-year-old who took her life) who complained of bullying after she switched to a new high school three years ago in the GaspĂ© community of Sainte-Anne-des-Monts. Her mother believes her daughter’s tormentors were mainly girls.
Quebec set up a program in 2008 to counter schoolyard violence, and about 80 per cent of schools have implemented it. Premier Jean Charest, calling Marjorie’s suicide a “terrible tragedy,” said his government would look at “what more we can do that could be more effective.”
And this Editorial from Globe and Mail, November 30, 2011
Ontario has entered “don’t ask, don’t tell” territory. Gay students in its publicly funded Roman Catholic schools would be given the right – in law – to form gay-straight clubs or alliances. But not necessarily under that name.

The government has gone so timidly about doing the right thing that it has done the wrong thing. Its measure on gay-straight clubs is part of a new law on school bullying introduced on Wednesday. But its timidity is reminiscent of that of a bystander to bullying who – with a bit more moral courage – could put a stop to it.
The government argues that it is the support that matters, not the name. Up until now, Ontario’s Catholic schools have blocked attempts at gay-straight alliances, saying that “equity clubs” can battle intolerance of all kinds, and that teens are too young to identify their sexual preference.

But the new support from the Ontario government goes only halfway. It is similar to president Bill Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” law of 1993, now repealed, under which homosexuals were allowed in the U.S. military, as long as they didn’t breathe a whisper of it. That put gay and lesbian soldiers in a terrible position – vulnerable to expulsion, and still treated as if they needed to hide who they are.
To be made nameless is not a small thing. It is to be told that some shame is associated with who you are. The clubs can exist but, depending on how the Catholic schools react, perhaps only in the closet, a place of shame.
The Catholic schools have the right to their beliefs about homosexuality. But they are public schools and they do not have the right to insist on a second-class status for students who identify as homosexual, or who simply have questions about their identity, or who have gay or lesbian parents. They need to try a little harder to make religious belief and equality work together.
This is not an abstract issue. It is difficult to be gay in high school, and gay teens suffer from depression, and depression is a factor in suicide. If Ontario truly wishes to defend those vulnerable to bullying, it should do so wholeheartedly. The best answer is to promote acceptance, and require it from those who refuse to give it.
"Second-class" is  a status imposed on others by those who consider themselves "first class." It is a prominent feature in Canadian schools, that some students impose "second-class" status on others using every conceivable method of communication, and thereby increasing both the volume and the frequency of the "attack" against those considered "second class".
A similar, and even more egregious situation parallels the school "second-class" status at Attawapiskat First Nation Reserve on the shore of James Bay where the people are living in shacks, without adequate food, clothing, clean running water, employment, education or medical care.
And this from Editorial, Globe and Mail, November 30, 2011
Images of children and toddlers with skin rashes lying on mouldy mattresses in decrepit shacks, and families of 10 crammed into wood-frame tents with wood-burning stoves create a distinctly un-Canadian scene. But this is daily life in Attawapiskat.

Community leaders, claiming frustration with the federal government’s response to their housing needs, declared an emergency last month and asked the Red Cross to step in. They say they are worried about surviving the winter in the remote northern community, located near James Bay, Ont. Generators, heaters, insulated sleeping mats, blankets and winter clothing were flown in to the Cree reserve of 1,800. But the tactic was also political, and it has succeeded in generating media attention, and opposition indignation.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan responded Wednesday by announcing that Attawapiskat would be placed under third-party management. He has concerns about accountability, and wants to know how the $80-million the federal government has invested since 2006 has been spent.

While critics call this a crude attempt to deflect blame, placing the reserve in third-party management will hopefully bring clarity and transparency to the crisis. A 2010 audit identified a lack of oversight in how funds for housing were being dispersed, and noted Ottawa wasn’t properly tracking housing projects. While there has been no evidence of misappropriation, the problem of mismanagement, if true, must be addressed. Effective First Nations governance is key to the community’s long-term viability.
However, Ottawa also has a responsibility to First Nations people. Two years ago, a sewage backup pushed wastewater into many homes, prompting a costly evacuation, and indebting the community.
Aboriginal leaders say that more than one third of the $80-million has been used to send children to school off-reserve. The community’s school was built on a diesel spill and had to be torn down. This year’s federal housing allocation was only about $1-million -- that is enough to build four houses. Yet there are 314 people waiting for new homes.
The children and families of Attawapiskat deserve better. Canadians don’t expect to encounter these scenes of poverty and devastation in their own backyard. But they also expect scarce public resources to be well-spent.
There is a legitimate argument that these stories are not linked, that they are separated by thousands of miles and eons of time and culture. However, suicide is just one of the spiked statistics on First Nations Reserves. And "second-class-ness" is at the core of both situations.
Adults and children are both caught is a vicious whirlwind of "putting others down" and the methods, while different perhaps, are nevertheless similarly heinous.
We don't use words like those chosen by the Ontario Premier in announcing his new legislation on school bullying: we want our schools to be "warm, friendly welcoming and accepting places" when we describe the social conditions we wish to see on First Nation Reserves. However, we do inflict a form of "second-class" status on those people through our abstract, detached and indifferent attitudes, policies, histories and relationships.
It is not, however, feasible to "expel" those responsible for the treatment of First Nations people, when such "bullying" occurs. The society is not as easily defined or monitored as the individual schools.
Social policy, government legislation, expulsion, closeted "gay-straight alliances"...half-way measures of acceptance and tolerance of differences...these are mere gestures and are not transformative, nor are they addressing the root causes of "racism" and "sexism" and bigotry and hatred. When these attitudes are exposed for what they are, and when they are addressed as the cancerous virus that infects us all potentially, and when we all take responsibility for their existence, their persistence and their galloping growth and sophistication, only then might we begin to see some sustained change in our social relationships.
Blowing trumpets about his government's spending $90 million in Attawapiskat over six years and wondering where the money has gone, as the Prime Minister did so self-righteously in the House of Commons yesterday, is no more effective than soft soothing words without adequate full support for "first class" status for all students from the Ontario Premier. The problem is not "where is the "$90 million"? The problem is our collective attitude of superiority and its accompanying "second-class" status that we see everywhere.
Until all persons and all groups are living in a world where we are all considered "first class" and there are no "second class" people or groups of people, then we can expect the victims of our extended "superiority" and "bullying" and racism, sexism, ageism,....and all other forms of denigration to continue and even to appear to be out of control.

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