Tuesday, July 31, 2018

A modest wake-up proposal (with a tip 'o' the hat to Jonathan Swift)

The rest of the world simply can no longer leave it up to the United States, and its government, including the Special Prosecutor, Robert Mueller, to depose trump.

There is a serious need for the world to step up to the plate recognizing the imminent and serious threat trump (and all other political decision-makers) poses to the environment of the planet. And, of course, given the availability to and access to legal systems like the International Criminal Court in the Hague, (the U.S. still is not a signatory), whatever proposal one might make would have to be ensconced in a literary model.

So, what would that look like?

If all of the agencies dedicated to the protection of the environment were to pool their resources, including their scientists, lawyers, accountants, statisticians, perhaps under an umbrella funded and co-ordinated by Michael Bloomberg and his foundation, and then create a movie script (or series) of an epic trial of trump (et al) in absentia, using the definition of a crime against humanity as the underlying pretext for the project, the  world would finally see just how close we all are to the precipice of our own doom.

“A deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign, that causes human suffering or death on a large scale,” is the definition of a crime against humanity. Of course, historically, specific individuals have been charged and convicted of specific acts of mass slaughter, ethnic cleansing, tribal or terrorist killings, and the evidence has not been exclusively “circumstantial” as it would have to be in this case.

Nevertheless, from a literary, dramatic, and global perspective, this “proposal” references other literary masterpieces like E.J. Pratt’s poem, The Truant, or the epics of Homer, or the tragedies of Shakespeare. And, the literary model has the clear advantages of immediacy, relevancy, symbolism, erudition, imagination, universality and headline grabbing. And the current political morass that is the United States of America ought not to have sole responsibility for either the clean-up of the planet’s environment nor for the responsibility of ridding the world of trump.

He is a menace to the world trade order, to the system of immigration, refugees and asylum seekers, the nuclear disarmament initiative, the notion of racial integration and collaboration, and clearly all efforts to protect the people living now and in future generations from the ravages of climate change and global warming. And  add to that list the under-the-radar deviousness that he is attempting to turn the U.S. into a fully operational military materiel production machine, including his opening the right to publish specifications for a 3-D printer version of a hand gun on the internet. His “patsy” genuflecting before the NRA, as well as the Russian “spy” who has allegedly infiltrated the NRA on behalf of Russia and is now standing trial in the U.S. are more of the mounting evidence of some collaborative attempt to turn the country into an armed camp, obviously a threat to human life, in case no one has noticed.

Fires, drought, tornadoes, floods, melting icebergs and glaciers, and the combined impact of these “circumstantial evidence” events on creatures living on the earth, under the sea and in the air prevail hourly from too many quarters to permit the denial of “connecting the dots”.

The “dots” themselves are scorched communities, scorched millions of acres, towns and cities no longer habitable, in Ontario, California, Greece, and potentially many other sites at any moment. To be complicit with trump, and his terrorist gang of climate deniers any longer is not tolerable, or even conscionable. What is also unacceptable is to wring our hands and say, “What can I do?” when we all know that re-cycling, while noble, is merely a “drop in the bucket” of prevention. Electric cars, too, while honourable and worthy alternatives to fossil fuel vehicles, will take decades to become the norm. Local market farms, too, highly esteemed as legitimate efforts to erode the over-weening power of the behemoth argi-corporations (now proprietors of most seeds in the world), are like holding an umbrella against a hurricane. Non-profits like the Council of Canadians, too, while noble, honourable and separate from government, corporate and labour funding, rely on the donations of individual donors. And while they compile research and disseminate that data to their members and the world, they also have a limited impact, and could be invited to join this project.

Another ingredient now “baked into the cake of our political culture” is the world wide web, connecting every person (at least theoretically) in real time to the news from every share mile of the globe. Local and provincial/state politicians, as well as national leaders, while still somewhat relevant, have become restricted agents of all voting publics. And the restrictions are not limited to the local/national laws on the books of their respective jurisdiction. They also include the media pawns of the financial moguls who underwrite their business plans and the primary cheque-writers of their political campaigns. None of these restrictions could be permitted to impede or curtail the scope of this proposal.

We simply have to move out of our micro-focussed and micro-financed and our micro-ideological rabbit holes and join a global project if we are to have any hope of rising about the tide of political raw sewage that comprises so much of our current political debate.

Aaron Sorkin, for example, and Rob Reiner and Ken Burns, along with environmental experts like Bill McKibbon are prospective “brains,” writers, animators and energizer “bunnies” whose experience, reputation and networks would command the respect for such a project, while removing concern about the need for substantive funding. And the cast of characters could and should include the world’s people, from all corners and all strata, all religions or none, all languages and all ideologies. We are all ONE on this issue, and the sooner we begin to behave with that mind-set, the sooner we begin to recover our own immense power to influence events, another of the missing ingredients in our current hopelessness.

There is a significant hurdle to overcome: the risk that such a drama could arouse so much “fear and trembling” around the world that an onslaught on psychotropic drugs, including alcohol, marijuana and even opioids could ensue. Faced with the full dimensions of the danger, without a considerable amount of cognitive
“table-setting” to prepare potential viewers, such  project could conceivably also arouse political anger, disgust and resentment that protests could erupt on the streets of major cities around the world.

There have been reputable scientists like David Suzuki telling us that it might already be too late to save the environment from our incessant and unrelenting spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. His lament has hung over the planet for decades. Others also of note, have been sounding alarms even about the dangers inherent in a 2 degree rise in global temperatures. Reports of the Arctic’s icebergs and glaciers sliding into the sea continue as many of our ears grow increasingly deaf and immune to the danger; we have been hearing doomsday predictions for decades, so they have grown thin in our consciousness.

Naturally, politicians in many countries resist writing and passing laws that would hold their corporate benefactors accountable for their emissions. Even in Canada, so-called enlightened Canada, the federal government’s attempt to put a price on carbon is meeting strong resistance from at least two provinces, Ontario and Saskatchewan) who have signed a class action to take the federal government to court, calling the attempt “unconstitutional”….the word the provinces use for all federal initiatives they despise.

It is at least in part the short-term thinking, planning and acting, not a second beyond the next election, that limits many politicians’ “vision.” Self-interest of the political class that seriously handicaps the global survival needs and interests has to be confronted in a manner that wakens all people in all countries up from a shared and dangerous somnambulance.

Coal mining and burning has to be shut down; fossil-fueled vehicles have to be replaced by clean transportation including air transportation. The military establishments, especially that of the U.S. has to be compelled to transform their thinking and their need for fossil fuels, (and as a potential by-product, perhaps limit their pursuit of military conflict). If the personal health of individual humans has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to have resulted from the smoking of carcinogen cigarettes, and those companies have been forced to “cough” up billions to pay for health care costs of those individuals threatened, then is it not high time for the fossil fuel companies to have to come clean for having ripped all legitimate electric-powered engines from the market decades ago, as they consummated their ravenous rape of the planet with their deadly products?

One of the prime adages from the Bush administration’s boondoggle invasion of Iraq was the phrase “shock and awe” used as his bravado pretense to promise a very short and highly successful invasion. This proposal can be seen as a literary, creative, imaginative, high profile wake-up call to the leaders, the corporate boards of directors, the CEO’s, the institutions of governance around the world, including but not restricted to the Security Council, that the world’s ordinary people will no longer remain silent, on the sidelines, and complacent on the issue of the survival of the planet’s environment.

We are, as was the case in the proverbial story about the French Revolution, when a politician sitting in a pub saw a crowd marching down the street. Jumping from his stool, he cried to the bar-tender, “I have to go and find out where they are going so I can lead them!”

Today, we, the people of the world, are those people, and the politicians of all ideologies, ethnicities, religions, languages and cultures are sitting in that pub waiting for us to begin a very long march to show them not only where to go, but how to get there. And a television series, DVD’s, hard copy books, magazines and a longer term news organ dedicated exclusively to the threat/opportunity of global warming and climate change is another way to incubate a generation of activists, ready and unrestrained by that bane of too many western regions: political correctness.

That slogan has worn itself into oblivion. There is no time to wait. As Obama proclaimed on election night, 2008, “We are the change the world has been waiting for!”

Women enlighten the foreign policy debate

Allison Smith hosted a CPAC series of discussions on Feminist Foreign Policy which aired last night. Former Canadian Prime Minister, Kim Campbell, articulated a reasoned view of broadening the issues included in foreign from the narrow “masculine” dominated “national security” issues to include education, health, work with dignity and protection of the environment.

Co-founder of Foreign Policy Interrupted, Elmira Bayrasli, shifted the conversation to “a foreign policy for the 21st century. Citing the many global threats, including global warming and climate change, terrorism, cyber security, epidemics, and the growing gap in income, along with the global deficit in girls education, Ms Bayrasli noted the name of her organization has been borrowed from Madeline Albright, former Secretary of State in the Clinton administration. Ms Albright has commented that, because the stereotypical conversation on foreign policy is conducted by men, the only way to bring other issues to the table is to “interrupt” these men, in order to educated them on the nuances and the larger dimensions of the changes needed as seen from a woman’s perspective.

This perspective, originated by Ms Albright, has considerable advantage over a “feminist” foreign policy, for the obvious simple reason that it confronts the reality on the ground of the need to “interrupt” the traditional conversation plus it embraces all people on the planet, men and women. As Ms Bayrasli noted, it will take all hands on deck to break through the wall of resistance that stands in front of such a significant and needed shift.

 As an example of the “tokenism” being paid in public statements by political leaders about including social development funds in the foreign policy envelop, a professor from Carleton University, cited the $70 million Trudeau has added to the military budget, while simultaneously cutting the foreign aid budget. It is the view of many that foreign aid, for the purpose of lifting up cultures, especially those in which women are barred from full participation in the life of the community, including the opportunity to start their own business, must be an integral component in foreign policy.

As the host reminded her viewers, research demonstrates that the education of women, and the support for their full integration into the economic life of the community lifts the prospects for everyone in that community. So, clearly, there is an economic benefit of considerable proportions to such a policy shift. In fact, whether we call it “feminist foreign policy” or a foreign policy for the 21st century, the move away from “hard power” as the primary instrument of foreign policy, toward a much broader and more deeply penetrating injection of aid seems to undergird this conversation.

Education, and health care, and environmental protections, and personal and community security.. as the main thrusts of an enlightened policy would clearly leave people like the current occupant of the Oval Office out of the game, and thereby also exclude the United States from the game.

So, obsessed with the innovative and creative initiatives of his predecessors, Obama and Clinton, in their foreign policy that he is likely unaware and unwilling to learn about all the work Ms Clinton did to fuse women’s issues with all her activities and policies in foreign policy. This president’s view is not merely blinded by his own psychotic hubris, it also leaves the world stage open to the Chinese, the Indian and the Russian governments to fill the vacuum left by the American truculent withdrawal.

The infusion of the female perspective into the foreign policy debate, through television talk shows, including the Sunday shows, is a primary objective of the Foreign Policy Interrupted organization. And they are seeing some limited success for their efforts. Reports indicate that the ratio of women participating in foreign policy discussion has risen from 14% to 22% in the last couple of years. Perhaps the reportedly large cadre of women candidates entering the mid-term elections for November 2018 will have a salutary impact on those numbers.

Two of the more prominent women who appear regularly on American television, Robin Wright and Anne Marie Slaughter, both have the learning, the experience and the “savoir faire” to commend themselves to the editor of any public affairs show dedicated to foreign policy, or the editors of any of the best print organs that focus on foreign policy. After serving as an editor for Thompson/Financial Post, and appearing on American television’s top shows, Chrystia Freedland, is now the Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Canadian government, effectively responsible for two portfolios that command a single voice: foreign affairs and international trade.
It has been her steady hand, and voice, that has provided and sustained public confidence that Canada will not be victimized by the trump tariffs, threats to NAFTA, and general blowing hot air.

Already mentioned, Madeline Albright, has demonstrated her intellect, and her tough spine through both her stint as Secretary of State, and also in her latest book, Fascism, a warning. It would be difficult if not impossible to conceive of a single male counterpart meeting Ms Albright who would have the gall and the temerity to show her even a hint of disrespect.

Foremost, currently on the international stage, fortunately for all of us, and especially for the thousands of refugees landing in Europe, Angela Merkel, another scholar, this time in Chemistry, provides steady, moderate and courageous in Germany and through her in the European Union as it faces the impending Brexit negotiations and the fallout from those.

Another woman scholar, a doctorate in Russian studies, Condolezza Rice, has served as both National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under George W. Bush, and although the Iraq war is not a star in the galaxy of either Bush or Ms. Rice, nevertheless, she did provide some measure of gravitas and clear thinking to that administration. Similarly, Susan Rice, served Obama as National Security Advisor, and provided a maturity of perspective and integrity to each of his foreign interventions.

Nikki Haley, too, current American Ambassador to the United Nations, is a valuable foil for the machinations of her boss, as he continuously strives to bring chaos to each and every U.S. relationship with a foreign power.

There is a current full slate of competent, even exemplary women who have or are serving in the foreign policy and international relations field. And that choir will only grow in both size and competence as their numbers in the graduate schools of International Relations climbs. And if it takes “interruption” or outright defiance, our subtle diplomacy, women’s voices and perspective will become an integral part of the foreign policy of many nations…and the sooner the better.
Noticeable, in their absence, are both China and Russia, in the profile of women as leaders in foreign policy in both countries. India, too, seems to have reverted to a male-dominated role on the world stage, several years after the tenure of Indira Ghandi, as has Pakistan after the emergence of Benazir Bhutto…followed by her exile and murder.

Although she has not served in the state department, let us not forget that the only woman who has confronted the trump administration over the potential for compromise that Michael Flynn appeared to be under, was Sally Yates, then Deputy and Acting Attorney General successively. Her firing, while tragic, only demonstrates how deeply her submission to the White House impacted the occupant of the Oval Office. Her courage in bringing truth to power exemplifies the kind of spine so far invisible from the Republican members of Congress.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Advent '89

I know Marc Lepine
                never understood
                    or his family
he bore a self-inflicted
of hatred
but that’s only half the story—
                        he signed the registration
for the .223 semi
                    he failed his
              his relationships
                           his military admission
and his biographer
                                   he left no other criminal record
but mostly he failed
                        Canadian men
his steel larynx
and the curtain of
between the sexes
                     and now the drum-roll
                  to dialogue  
                                     and tears
as Advent advances
                   from sea to sea.


I saw the black cat
between us
                   before us
the hair on my neck
as I recalled Sianna
                            the Siamese
that bit
               and snapped
at the red sweater
                           she wore
I screamed silent
                    shrieks of resentment
between females
                   a mother and a wife
as the black cat
nuzzled along my ankle
                  and Sianna bristled
along my spine.

Air Power

I watched the chick-a-dees
         for a perch at the
            their wings drummed their
                I felt compassion  
then I watched the
thwart the chick-a-dees'
                      struggle to feed
triple in size
                    double in strength
and decibels…
                    I grew older
                                        and sadder

Spring Break-up

the twelve-foot cedar strip
                      belongs to the headman
the assignment challenged the wind
                  funnelling up the river
      following the boys I entered the tunnel
seated as a sail
                   of cotton, denim and wool
around and around
                               and over
grab the keel
grab again
blood slows and
                        pictures of summer dances,
report cards and roast beef
                                           on my screen
as the light in the projector
                             f l i c k e r s
the sound stops
                    and death reaches out
                                  to take me in
not counting on the vial
                of hidden adrenalin…
a side-stroke and the head’s canoe
                                       floats ashore
with my capsized ego.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Al Purdy on tv

surprised that an A-frame in Ameliasburgh
                                                  still stands
         after a half century serving as a fire-pit
sending sparks and shards of poetic flame
                                           over the lake
 and into the frozen bush
                            Purdy’s hearth welcomed
seasoned and sprouting emulators
                                 to his life-craft
and to his fridge
                         disheveled in a tweed suit
in front of the television camera,
                          hoping to meet
Adrienne Clarkson for coffee
                                       in the afterlife
discomfited by babies
                      father to two sons
in a public-private dichotomy
                          of full disclosure
and dark secrecy
                  kept alive by a foresighted wife
        and her land-purchases
                           with each award he received
         he nailed a single
shingle of wisdom into the leaky roof
                         of the minds of millions
with “all those people building skyscrapers and bombs
                           are wasting their lives”

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Does my human right include my name and character or just another number in someone else's program?

A few blogs back, this space argued for the break-down of walls of fear that segregate us from others, especially others who are different from us. There are other almost unconscious ‘walls’ or barriers that also entrap us in “roles” and performances, which risk a fusion of “who” we are with “what” we do. Just think for a moment about the “roles” we have all played: wife, mother, father, coach, mentor, student, teacher, lawyer, doctor, accountant, programmer, patient, client, parishioner, customer, sales person, bus driver….and the list of job occupations seems endless…as it grows.

There are job descriptions for workplace assignments; there are oaths and codes of conduct for many professional roles; there are norms and traditions for roles like mother, father, parent; and there are real conflicts that emerge if and when anyone of us steps across some “line” in our approach to our “role” that does not comport with social, politically correct and ethical expectations. Instantly, we become a “problem,” once again relegated to a “role” with protocols for those in charge to implement, mostly to eliminate the problem by sending it off to some form of purgatory, exile, or worse, prison.

In many instances in which ‘deviation’ occurs, for example, in corporations, or public bureaucracies, the ‘legal’ department leaps into “crisis” mode, in an public relations-steroid-driven initiative to reduce the damage resulting from the “extremely bad judgement” that could/would/will likely damage the public “face” of the organization. We are all “wonderful” contributing workers, unless and until we are not. And like the frog in the boiling pot, we very often are unaware of our impending demise, until it is over, and we are “out”.

Investigations, due process, a fair hearing, a full account of the circumstances in which some “act” occurred fall off the official table, in favour of an expeditious, clean, surgical and almost imperceptible political, professional, and even domestic death. Those in power abhor deviance; those in power are so afraid of anything that would bruise their public reputations, and their perfectly clean curriculum vitae, and their driving ambition to rise to an even higher level of power, income and status.

Affairs in marriages, for centuries, have fallen into this trash-can. So too have individuals who have spoken out against their bosses, either privately or publicly, given our contempt for whistle-blowers and the courage such acts demand. Insolence, too, especially in schools, is an offence ‘too far’ given the highly charged and neurotic political stance of school boards and most administrators. Teaching novels that risk public outcries, because of their albeit artistic and sensitive references to anything to with human sexuality, is another of the verboten acts committed by teachers, in towns so myopic and moralistically pure that their hypocrisy betrays them.

And with a culturally eager compliance with anything that smacks of “judgement” (given that social media have permitted everyone to be investigator, prosecutor, juror and judge, without so much as a hint of “finding the facts”) we have in effect turned everyone into a potential “deviant” or “social leper” without the least sense of the long-term impact of our lethal judgements, offered with impunity.

Now that we have fallen into the pit of our own “self-loathing” whereby we ascribe our own worst attributes to others with abandon, we have also reduced our humanity to one of victim or judge, in our simplistic, and contemptuous obsession with “power” and “success”.

We are digitized in eternity, in multiple storage “clouds” around the planet, andi now that we have accommodated the mandated expectations of the efficiencies, and the benefits of technology. And  with the technology now linked to a perverted and neurotic sense that “if I am not doing it to him/her he will be doing it to me”….mentality, we are regressing to a state in which poverty, the poverty of expectations, opportunity and altruistic engagements has been swept aside by overt and unrestrained raw ambition.

Whether we are “case” number, in a court room, an operating room, a classroom, a church, or a business account, we are a number, and that number fails utterly to grasp all of the relevant details of who we are, how we live, how we think and whether or not we are worthy of the Judgement Day that a moralistic and blind sense of hubris has come to hand down.

And, not only are we highly exposed and vulnerable to unjust charges, we are also at risk of pouring gorilla glue into the emptying space between our ego and our mask (persona). Our roles have come to define us, and our performance in those roles matters more than what we think, how we feel, what kinds of perceptions of compassion, and criticism seem appropriate.

And we have, it seems, willingly and perhaps even blindly fallen into this trap,  eliminating our essence from our personal and professional encounters.

How we arrived at this destination is both complex and historic. We have, for centuries, bent over backwards to bow to the “idol” of objectivity, detachment, and disengagement as our way of  “protecting ourselves” and our institutions from falling into what is considered a “trap” of personal subjectivity, including our emotions, our personal observations, our intuition, and our individuality, In sanitizing our environments (both and private) from our personalities, and emphasizing our objective accomplishments, (like meeting sales quotas, like graduating X% of our students, like reducing the number of “deaths” or accidents in any of several spheres, like acquiring X number of clients, or X $ in our investment portfolios, or X degrees) all of these “benchmarks” for accomplishments), and thereby justifying our worthiness, and our social acceptability.

Measuring each person, both overtly and covertly, publicly and even in our self-talk, as “honourable,” “decent,” “upstanding,” “sober,” or “brilliant” or “co-operative” and “compliant” clearly says much more about the person doing the evaluation than about the subject of the evaluation. After all, except for the superficial “tag” we have applied, we barely know anything else about the person, unless and until some “aberrant” behaviour erupts.

Contributing to this demise of character, wholeness and personality, of course, is the depiction of the worker in any workplace as a “cost” a disposable resource like any other “natural resource (like coal, iron, nickel, copper etc.) that is useful in whatever process, whether manufacturing, data processing, selling or distribution, or even educating and any of the many services performed for paying customers. We are numbered by our seniority, by our benefit package, by our identification number, by our retirement package (if we have one), by our patient number, by our case number…..etc.

Simplistic line drawings, reminiscent of a Picasso, represent more than the average person knows about another, even members of a family. The occasional adjective, (messy, vocal, stubborn, feisty, shy, or possibly insecure, or hard to handle) is applied in our early years. In the public arena, such epithets as “you have a lot of potential, _____” quietly literally drive my consciousness “up a wall”. This depiction is damning with faint praise….and merits a rejoinder like, “If you have something to suggest I need to work on, please let me know!”

Arguments like “confidentiality,” or privacy, or it’s none of my business….are frequently deployed as rationalizations for failing to get to know even those who are “close” to us.

So, the walls that separate us from others imitate the walls that separate us from ourselves, our whole persons, known, appreciated, grasped and honoured by those people and situations from which we could reasonably expect such “encirclement”.
And, so long as most of our encounters are expenditures, purchases, or numbers in the data banks of institutions, banks, corporations, universities, hospitals, we all risk a kind of crushing as if we were all undergoing what happens to a pie crust as it is rolled out…a flattening, into an unrecognizable shape, size, form and identity.
Such deformation demeans both sides of this equation, while complying with the efficiency, and objectification and detachment so obviously demanded by hierarchies. And the more we all comply, the more minimalizing will come our way.

This reductionism does not enhance race relations either; if all people are merely numbers, then any minority has two strikes against it: the first as a number, the second as a minority with even less or lower status. Gender equality is not enhanced either, given that numbering fits a masculine stereotype of efficiency, and power over and the march to complete control, something that many women find objectionable.

Whether the banks, insurance companies, or government bureaucracies appreciate this “reduction ad absurdum” (that is the way they would depict this argument) or not, there is a strong argument for ordinary people to rise up and take back our natural value, beyond our “production” or “performance” numbers would indicate.

We often hear statements like, “I have made mistakes, but they do not define me!” Trouble is, everyone who knows about those mistakes has already filed an identity card with that misdemeanour as the filing “code” in their memory. So while the individual works to dig his/her way out from under the “scourge” society too often fixates on the “trouble” from the past.

And the only real difference between the person who acknowledges his/her mis-steps and others is that s/he was caught, or reported or discovered or charged, while millions who committed the same act(s) were not.

Is it not time for such an advanced and developing culture as our’s to re-think how destabilizing we are as we participate in the simplifying reductionistic digitizing of the human being.

As the old proverb holds, “I am a human “being” not a human “doing”….yet there are few situations in which we are regarded as a “being” rather than a function in another’s equation.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Let's put public education on the front pages, the front burner and the daily news feed

It is really no longer reasonable or acceptable to relegate matters, issues, policies and budgets dedicated to education to the “family” pages of our dailies, not to the back pages where there are no ‘family’ pages.

In America, public education, like most of the “public square” is being decimated by the trump administration. Like the EPA, it is being replaced with conditions and regulations and options that obsequiously bow to the interests of the private sector. Corporate America is now ruling in the United States.

In Ontario, there is a rather heated debate over a so-called sex-education curriculum designed and implemented by the previous Liberal government to which right-wing conservatives are strongly opposed. Parents’ “rights” must trump the public’s imposing a view on sex-ed that might result in increased promiscuity and enhanced fear among young people. The dangers of the internet, notwithstanding, parents are the first and primary educators on matters of sexuality, as the opponents’ argument goes.

There was a time when the titles of novels deemed to be too risqué were the targets of conservative parents who, at that time, feared the mention or depiction of intercourse in a novel written for adults, and taught in senior high school classes, no matter how sensitively and articulately the scene(s) were depicted, would result in increased promiscuity, venereal diseases and an irretrievable slide in public morality.

Trouble is, education and schools are about much more than the boundary on adolescent morality. And in an age when public airwaves, the internet and the entertainment menu to which all of us are being exposed are all overflowing with images and innuendo around the human body and sexual relationships, whether through wardrobe, dialogue or physical acts. As in most generations, it would be reasonable to conclude that parents are less familiar with the breadth and depth of the available invasive sources of much of this material than are their kids. Public health resources are also gathering and interpreting public data that tell them, and through them the rest of the public, what they are witnessing in emergency rooms, public health clinics, doctors’ offices and other agencies dealing with public health issues.

Of course, there is a fluid scale for if and when each young person is “ready” and “open” and strong enough to integrate “public” information into their view of their world and their relationship to that world. And, while “one size does not fit all” is a reasonable argument for parental control of sex education, anyone who thinks believes that parents are doing or have done an adequate job in conferring the complexities of sexual relationships to their children has been living under a rock for most of the last century.

There is a place for the “public” to participate, along with parents in the design or curriculum, and, in saying that, the public representatives have to be cognizant of the depth and breadth of the grasp of those individuals on both the private issues facing families and the public issues faced by the relevant culture. Culture “wars” so called, have taken a high profile in discussions of all issues these days, represented by two main factions: conservative and somewhat liberal, although  even the latter category has been pulled to the right in the last decade or so.

Employment standards have been gutted through the erosion of labour organizations; taxes have been skewed in favour of private enterprise, and corporations, in the belief that the public sector squanders “hard-earned tax-payer money” and also that “the most effective engine for reducing unemployment is the private sector. While there is some validity in this shibboleths, they are not holy writ, although their proponents act as if they believe they are. However sacrificing public interests like the environment and education to the private sector (not only literally private charter schools but also to a mind-set that elevates the for-profit view far above the public interest) is both dangerous and extremely short-sighted.

To simplify, or to reduce public debate about schools to money and sex, the way too many public debates have come to do, is a scathing indictment of the political class that participates in such reductionisms. The potential and demonstrated success in facilitating a capacity to accommodate complex inter-racial, inter-ethnic, inter-linguistic, and inter-ability is a matter of public record. Further, the segregation of schools by race or ethnicity, also plays into the hands of those who seek dominant control of their child’s experience, shielding him/her from the complexities of the streets, restaurants, movie houses, dances and parties he will experience.

Public education, as has been argued more forcefully and articulately by people like John Ralston Saul is the cornerstone of democracy.  But what elite, or elite wannabee supports the messiness of democracy, when the perfection and purity and “security” of  religious, private, charter and for-profit schools can and do eliminate all of that messy complexity, especially for young people too naïve and innocent to be exposed to such “trauma”.

Religious fundamentalists, evangelicals, corporatists, ethnic purists and public officials dependent to and obsequious before their flush donors all comprise the forces that are already eroding public education. Parents of children with intellectual, emotional, physical and social impairments, on the other hand, are left to fight for the scraps that fall under the tables from debates over budgets for public education. Resources that would clearly prevent much of the later social unrest on our streets are withheld from public education budgets so that more incendiary issues like sex-ed can distract from the public debate that is needed to protect vulnerable students.

And the public, including the media, fall for this ruse every time. Stephen Lewis, back in the late sixties, delivered a speech to high school teachers, as leader of the New Democrats on Ontario, in which he noted, with derision, that coverage of public education was reduced to numbers: dollars and students. We have never really recovered from that indictment. We suffer from a surfeit of public debate about money and sex, as the condiments to a dish of depleting student numbers and the resulting closing of school buildings. Just last week, the Ford conservative government eliminated some $100 million budgeted by the former Liberal government for school restoration and repair, in order to better afford the budget promise of extracting the province of Ontario from all environmental protection projects of their predecessors, and deliver on that 10-cent reduction per litre on vehicle fuel (thereby increasing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere).

The sex-ed debate, naturally, gives the government cover for their other “school” and education decisions, none of which are in the “public interest” in the broad sense of that phrase. But, the “public interest” now takes a back seat to the private interests of their corporate friends, just as it does in the United States.

Any attempt to broaden and deepen the public debate about the intricacies and complexities, the potential and the rewards of a vibrant public education system now faces a wall of public “expectation” that such issues do not concern the private lives of most people, that such issues are of interest merely to those who volunteer to serve on school councils, or offer their names for school board elections. Sadly, the issues that schools confront every day in every classroom, like collaboration, team-building, conflict resolution, compromise, awakening to the indigenous issues of other ethnicities go under the radar of the public television screen, and the tablet. That is, unless and until some disturbance disturbs that quietude, a solo shooter kills and maims the innocents, or some teacher crosses some professional boundary.

There are numerous obstacles to overcome in order to turn the minds of the editors of daily newspapers, television and radio stations around from their stereotypical mind-set that stories about schools and kids do not rate their best reporters, nor their front pages. So transfixed by the sensational and especially the negative sensational news story, unless a kid is killed or maimed in a school yard or gym, the story does not rate prime coverage. It is used as a “filler” to fill empty space after the “real” news stories have been laid out.

Pitching to editors, and advertisers (because if advertisers were convinced to place their ads on a page with an assurance that educational news stories would complete those pages, editors might be more inclined to listen to school board, teacher and administration officials seeking to get more visible coverage. Of course, for the school systems, there is a risk that not all of the stories will be “positive” but the benefits outweigh the risks.

And in covering “education,” editors will have to stretch their gaze beyond the athletic scores, to include the debating clubs and competitions, the drama clubs and competitions, the science fairs and any new discovery by a student, as well as foreign and national trips that reach beyond the parochial comfort zone of both current readers, editors and advertisers.

The cynicism surrounding public school teacher labour contracts, another of the “black eyes” the education system has been enduring for decades (after all teachers only work five or six hours a day, never on weekends, and never during Christmas, Spring or Summer holidays, according to the myth that hangs over the profession). Countering such myopic and disdainful reductionism, by both boards and teachers’ federations, parties who often do not see eye to eye during negotiations, will make it more necessary for both sides to seek common ground, and enhance their mutual respect, a by-product worthy of considerable effort in itself.

Stories, for example, that boards of education failed to hire male teachers for the elementary panel for many years, would not have a place to hide from the view of parents, who vote for board members. Stories of teacher and student sacrifice and accommodation of diversity among both staff and student populations, bridges being built in obscurity, would serve as both conversation topics and role models for enhanced racial integration and acceptance across the local culture. Turn-around stories, in which students reversed what previously were less than outstanding reports would not only ennoble such students, but serve also as fodder for others whose current path seems to be a downward spiral. Of course, the permission of the student and his family would have to be garnered prior to the publication of such stories, and a final vetting process would have to ensure the future repercussions of such stories would not backfire on the subject. Confidentiality, naturally is very important, and none of these ideas would get out the gate without an oversight panel including students who could and would vet the process and the final publication.

There have to be legitimate ways to bring the education system out of the classroom and into the public square for so many clear, positive and progressive purposes.

Another large obstacle that needs to be hurdled is the penchant for privacy and secrecy and the negative impact of comparisons and competitions (both covert and overt) among and between teachers, principals, administrators and boards. And undoubtedly, there would be a period of trial and working out the “bugs” before full exposure of the school system could or would be achieved in a manner that comported with the ethical, legal, cultural and educational expectations and standards currently extant.

There are “special events” nuanced stories of honour, achievement, innovation, surprise and occasionally disappointment that walk through the corridors of elementary and secondary schools every day. And there are educational precepts and philosophic foundations that are in constant tension in each classroom and school and school system. “Nice,” “comfortable” “friendly” and “motivating” are adjectives ascribed to both the professional and learner populations. Yet, there is much more go be discerned, discussed and learned given the rather copious trainloads of public cash that underwrite the school systems.