4 September 2014


Before we had children, even before we were married, my husband and I had many discussions about our future children's education. Nothing seemed as important. Home schooling them was an option that we talked about a lot. My husband was, and still is, quite taken with the idea. Before having children, and before my kids were school age, I thought about it quite seriously. I read some great homeschooling blogs and some good friends who had fantastic kids home schooled. But then I realized that it just wasn't for me. My boys thrived in group settings and I knew that I would soon grow resentful of devoting all my time to them, time that I could be writing, doing my own work.

Well now, thanks our province's teacher's strike, it looks like I have little choice. (Yes, I could send them to day camps, but we don't have the money to do that. And I'm at home with our youngest this semester, it just makes sense to keep them close.)

Our homeschooling is quite basic. I have them do math and reading every morning, and am trying to figure out how to keep up their French beyond just having my eldest read French books to my middle. I've also been reading Farmer Boy to them for the first time. I had read Little House in the Big Woods as a child and adored the television series, but hadn't read the series.

We are only a four chapters in to the book, but I'm fascinated with the school scenes. The antagonism of the older boys and Mr. Ritchie to the school teacher was a little shocking. It reminded me of the opening of Elizabeth Gilbert's great article The Last American Man:

Briefly, the history of America goes like this: There was a frontier, and then there was no longer a frontier. It all happened rather quickly. There were Indians, then explorers, then settlers, then towns, then cities. Nobody was really paying attention until the moment the wilderness was officially tamed, at which point everybody suddenly wanted it back.

Within the general spasm of nostalgia that ensued (Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, Frederic Remington's cowboy paintings), there came a very specific cultural panic, a panic rooted in the question, What will become of our boys?

Problem was, while the classic European coming-of-age story generally featured a provincial boy who moved to the city and transformed into a refined gentleman, the American tradition had evolved into the utter opposite. The American boy came of age by leaving civilization and striking out toward the hills. There he shed his cosmopolitan manners and transformed into a robust man. Not a gentleman, mind you, but a man. Without the wilderness as proving ground, what would become of our boys?

Why, they might become effete, pampered, decadent. Christ save us, they might become Europeans.

For obvious reasons, this is a terror that has never entirely left us.

The idea that being classically educated is somehow unmanly, that being masculine (which in this patriarchal society is highly revered) means having a disdain for education. That somehow being a brute, using brawn over brains, was admirable.

And, of course, it reminds me of the current situation between the government and the teachers. The joy the Minister of Education and our Premier seem to have bullying the teachers. They aren't using physical force, but they are pressing intense pressure on them financially (no strike pay for the teachers) and trying to turn public support against them. It's working, unfortunately. The bullies have the media on their side, and the public, many who have the American mentality towards education, are quick to find fault with the teachers.

It sickens me and saddens me.

I want to live in a place that values education, ideas, and inspiration. A place that creativity and creative though is celebrated, not disdained. How can we live in a strong society if we don't value the people and the institution that teach and mould the next generation. They spend thirteen years of their lives in public education. Don't we want to give them the best?

I don't understand people who don't value education, and I especially don't understand people who value it only if they can pay for it while giving the finger to those who can't afford to.

In Farmer Boy the teacher stands up to the bullies with a bull whip, literally beating them out the door. I'm trying to think how this can be a metaphor, as physical violence is not the answer, but I can't. I feel beaten down by this strike, by our government's attitudes towards public education. How do we fight the more powerful? How do we bridge this gap?


theresa said...

Although my children are long gone -- off to university and then the lives those years led to -- I'm still passionately interested in education in our province. Listening to yesterday's press conference with Christy Clark and Peter Fassbender was painful. The bald-faced lies, the innuendo, the sense of indignation that anyone would accuse the government of not bargaining in good faith. I can parse the contracts my husband had for years with his employer (a college, now university) and see the benefits packages which might look so luxurious on paper but which are simply fair in the larger scheme of things. Extended health care, dental care, yes, massage therapy (if a doctor orders it), maternity benefits -- and they seem like things a humane society would bestow upon all its citizens. And I hope for the day when that is true. And when our children all enjoy a classroom experience that allows them to develop as wonderful compassionate citizes with a full range of abilities and who would never elect a government like the one we elected last time around.

m said...

Theresa: Amen!