Category Archives: Children

Respecting Differences…(cough cough)


Now that the Ontario Catholic School Board has solved the problem of how to scupper the Gay-Straight Alliance movement within its system, while giving the very superficial appearance of support, all the poor, bullied, abused, suicidal Catholic students can rest easy. They’ll get their club. Sort of.

For instance: the name itself does not and will not contain the word “gay”, or any other word that implies “gay”. Also, any discussion or material that promotes awareness of homosexuality, or encourages activism for it, will be shut down by the mandatory supervisor, or by the invited chaplaincy. In other words, the catholic school board will support its gay population, provided it does not attempt to discuss (re: encourage) homosexuality.

What the administration says:

“We may not agree with the advocacy of a lifestyle, but still believe that gay students, and for that matter any students, should not be bullied.”

What the administration means:

We disagree with this lifestyle, and we will do everything in our power to shut these kids down, and, if possible, cure them of their affliction through the teachings of our Christian doctrine.

{By the way, the Catholic Church’s singular reason for existing is to advocate a lifestyle.}

What the administration says:

“We are totally against bullying on the basis of sexual orientation and have nothing against homosexuality. But this is about anti-bullying specifically, not promoting a lifestyle that goes against our Catholic teachings.”

What the administration means:

Children should leave the business of bullying homosexuals to the experts: the Catholic Church. Look, for instance, how we’ve managed to satisfy the government’s demand that we allow GSA-style clubs, without permitting any discussion of homosexuality. And look how we give the illusion, to the public and parents, if not the students themselves, of caring. Brilliant, if we do say so ourselves.

{You may have noticed that the two sentences in the quote contradict each other.}

What the administration says:

“[The Respecting Differences clubs] are not intended as a fora for activism, protest or advocacy of anything that is not in accord with the Catholic faith foundation of the school.”

What the administration means:

If you can’t live like a good Catholic, you should get outta Dodge.

Good idea, children. If you are, or think you might be, homosexual, it behooves you to get away from the destructive influence of the Catholic Church in all its forms, including its schools. They will never help you. They will only hurt you. If you don’t believe me, re-read the quotes above. Ask a native Canadian. Ask a Protestant Irishman. Ask around, kids.


Note to School: Grow Some Balls


Now that public schools have reduced gym class to 15 minutes per week of Wii Sports® (any longer and they could be promoting carpal tunnel syndrome), now that schoolyard playgrounds have been dismantled due to falling/bumping/pinching dangers, now that schools have eliminated all opportunities for children to burn off pent-up energy except for hallway bullying, they have now taken away the balls. Yes, no more balls for the kiddies.

Yes, there were “incidents.” Children are spazzy, which is why we give them things like balls to toy with; it promotes bodily coordination and muscle control. And, of course, it burns off pent-up energy that would otherwise manifest itself as a classroom disruption or hallway bullying. But people were getting hurt. Students, teachers, parents. One mother received a concussion after taking a ball in the head. This is serious. We are only now realizing how dangerous concussions are. My deepest sympathy to that woman, and anyone else who has suffered from a ball “strike.” Perhaps there could have been better supervision in the schoolyard. Perhaps the blow was intentional (boys sometimes have a strange idea of what “fun” is); who knows?

But here’s the thing: the world is filled with misadventures. Accidents happen all the time, everywhere, to all sorts of people, indiscriminately. There is no way to prevent accidents from happening. By confiscating the students’ balls, is Earl Beatty Public School a safer place to be? Doubtful. There is an innate need in children to launch things into the world. If not a ball, maybe a rock, a stick, a shoe (some other kid’s shoe), anything that can be kicked, thrown, spit, swung, lobbed. It gives them easy satisfaction, teaches them the principles of physics, makes kooky splotchy patterns as the strawberries mom packed for lunch strike the brick wall.

If you ask the school administration, they will tell you it’s in the interest of safety, this castration. They brought it on themselves, those spazzy, uncoordinated kids! Above all, we must protect the children from all potential harm, at any cost, no matter how silly or misguided our actions. In other words, they wish our children to grow up and venture into a world where they are afraid of everything. Afraid because they’ve been padded and helmeted and coddled to such an extreme, they have no idea what pain is. Falling down and scraping your knee is as integral to the learning process as kicking a ball or throwing some other kid’s shoe. If you have never felt pain, you can have no empathy for other people’s pain (including pain you might cause). Pain can teach a child where the limits of safety and common sense are. And this pain is most often inflicted during play time, during a physical activity; something modern day children sorely lack, through no fault of their own. It’s natural for them to want to see how fast they can make the merry-go-round spin before they lose their grip and get flung willy-nilly to the cold, hard ground. Never mind the grass stain or torn jeans: they risk a broken collar bone. So be it. Now they know, and probably won’t have to explore that question again. Lesson learned.

And that’s the point of education, isn’t it? To learn their lessons? There has to be a better solution than taking away the balls. If the staff sit down and think about it, they will discover a better solution exists. The fact that harried teachers are no longer motivated to do anything beyond the minimum requirements (thank you corrupt school board and unreasonable, angry helicopter parents), and the fact that the school administration is more afraid of liability than anything else (except more budget cuts), it’s no wonder they’ve taken the easy road. Take away the damned balls. It’s not really about safety, or at least not about the children’s safety. It’s about getting the phone to stop ringing ringing ringing.

Children need balls (and not just the boys). They need to be given the chance to play ball, with all its inherent risks, if they are to grow into sensible, sane adults. As opposed to cowering ninnies, peeking nervously out from behind their living room curtains at every hooting owl and passing bicycle. All this ball-taking may be good for the future of the therapy industry, but it’s bad for the kids.

Wake up, educators, and smell the rubber.


Scary Stuff


It must be something in the water out there. After judging the term “early-school-leaver” to be a more appropriate (re: sensitive) label for the high school dropout (a slur, said they), the Calgary School Board has taken another giant step into the Dark Ages.

Two of its elementary schools have banned scary costumes, including weapons, violent imagery and masks of any description, from in-school Halloween celebrations. In fact, the staff have neatly hijacked the occasion from its relatively harmless pagan origins, and recast it as a “caring” assembly. Lo!

Don’t get me wrong, caring is important, but if they were going to shoehorn it into an occasion, surely Valentine’s Day or Family Day would have been more appropriate. Or they simply could have chosen a day at random during the school year. What difference would it make, unless you are a crackpot whose veins are coursing with politically correct righteousness?

I’ve met the type before. Some years ago, parents and staff at my daughter’s private school petitioned to ban witches and ghosts, because they promoted the occult. That mob even objected to black crayons in the classroom—the preferred colour for all things evil. It was our cue to rescue our little one from the clutches of PC evil.

But you don’t have to look very hard to find comprehensive studies showing that children are not only attracted to all things “scary,” but in fact use the experience of being scared to help them develop into sane and sensible adults. In other words, we need to be scared as part of our early development. It’s not for nothing that the horror genre, in all its mediums, is most popular with young people. As adults, we already know how frightening the real world is, so we lose interest in it, as a stimulus—substituting red wine to dull the fear.

If a boy dresses up as King Arthur, wearing crown and sword, is he promoting violence or honour? Evil or chivalry? If a girl dons a witch’s costume, is she accepting or promoting the occult, or is she is merely dressing up? Is the Fairy Godmother’s star-tipped wand a weapon? God help the poor child who wants to be Spiderman for a day!

It’s only the grownups who read more into it, which is a shame for those Calgary children who will be denied the opportunity to celebrate Halloween, and forced instead to talk (or listen to talk) about “caring.” Once again, the public school system demonstrates that it knows little about education, or children. A little superstition might just help these school leaders stop over-thinking things, and permit the children, one day a year, to be children. The real “scary” stuff is misuse of political correctness.

 


School For Sale: Needs a little TLC


Headline: Ban school fundraising.

I get it. I have a child in grade eleven. That’s roughly, um, eleven years of non-stop fundraising, in and around my household. In elementary school, the students were required to fundraise, but forbidden from soliciting door-to-door. This could be seen as sensible from a security standpoint, but the financial reality meant that the term “fundraising” was essentially a back door into the family’s wallet, including aunts, uncles and grandparents. Magazine subscriptions and boxes of processed chicken breasts were a small but delicious compensation. (I confess: I am obsessed with my Food & Wine magazine. Thank you, Athabasca Public School.) So, another way of looking at public school fundraising is this: family donations. Or this: school fees. At least with the former, it’s a pay-what-you-can scenario. The latter is a prix fixe.

Social Planning Toronto believes the fundraising should stop, or, failing that, the money should be pooled, and then distributed equally amongst the schools. A nice idea, in a unicorn-infested world.

Here’s the reality check. How hard is a student (and her well-heeled family) going to work at fundraising for the Rosedale Public School, knowing that most of those bucks are going to fund a field trip for some poor schlep from the wrong side of Avenue Road, at Kipling Collegiate Institute? I dare suggest many of those Rosedale families will simply decide to save the donation and take the family to St. Lucia for March break. Again. After all, don’t they donate to charities every year? It’s good for the taxes. Oh, and it’s a good deed, too. Still, enough is enough, they will say.

And those students living in the poor neighbourhoods, well, there will be even less incentive to fundraise, knowing those rich bastards will be filling in the holes. About time those rich bastards contributed something to the world. High on their horse, those rich bastards looking down on us, mocking us with their Jaguars and iPhones.

Of course, an objective observer might note that the overwhelming disparity of funds raised between schools—a divide that, for the most part, runs even with socio-economic boundaries—is a lesson for all students on how the real world works. Once they graduate, these students will learn that wealth generates opportunity. Better universities; exposure to travel and culture; advantageous relationships with business leaders through family connections; and so on. Sure, there are plenty of examples of the ambitious kid, rising from the muck of poverty and oppression and, in many cases, bigotry, and making a success out of a seemingly hopeless situation. Hard work and gumption cannot be undervalued. The exception, not the rule.

Back to Social Planning Toronto’s idea. Throwing all the loot in a pot and distributing it equally might give those students a misleading impression of how the real world works. At the risk of sounding cynical, very little about life is fair or equitable. And is it not the educator’s job to prepare our children for the real world? Warts and all?

So what, you ask, is my big fat idea? Now that I’ve laid out all the problems, what is my brilliant solution? Maybe it’s not brilliant, but it’s obvious. More money has to trickle down to the schools, so that fundraising in unnecessary.

Whoa! Now who’s galloping through the daisy fields on the back of a unicorn?

Listen: I’m not saying we should pay more school taxes. We give them enough money. But it’s a bit like sending donations to relief organizations in Somalia. Somehow, only 5 cents of every dollar ends up in the dusty village. The rest pays the administration, gets blown on fact-finding tours, business lunches, advertising, golden handshakes, and, naturally, an undisclosed amount goes the way of corruption. There’s the real world in action. And I’m sad to report, this model fits the school board perfectly.

The modern school board is a juggernaut of waste and corruption. Like most government bodies, it is bloated and inefficient. It’s preposterous that it should cost billions of dollars to administer our schools. And it’s despicable that the people in that administration feel that any and all cuts must be made at the school level, without a thought to slashing their own office budgets or salaries or benefits. This decision is political, not practical. I say, shut the whole thing down! Hire twelve reasonably intelligent people to sit down and come up with a simple plan for operating our schools, using the funds at hand. I doubt it would take longer than a week for them to come up with an outline that will get them started. It’s not rocket science.

While I believe our children should be taught how to manage money, both at school and at home, I agree that the fundraising needs to stop. It puts an unfair burden on many families that can’t afford it. It forces the poorest families to add even more things to the list of things their children will be denied. And it’s not necessary, if only the school boards would put the money where it’s needed, rather than where it suits them.

Now, excuse me, while I go feed my unicorn.


Cousin It


Remember Genderless Baby, the poor kid who made the local news lately because her parents didn’t want anyone to know she was a girl? Researchers have discovered the source of this parental “illness”: Sweden.

I had mistakenly assumed it started with the original Addam’s Family and their neither-boy-nor-girl cousin named…what else…It. But apparently the epicenter is a pre-school in Sweden called Egalia, where a comprehensive policy of gender neutrality is the main thrust. No blue for boys, no pink for girls. No Tonka trucks for boys, no Barbies for girls. No him or her. A class of It’s, run by It-iots.

Flash forward 15 years:

Two hundred young adults, roaming the streets and bars and churches of Stockholm, hair a shoulder-length bob, skin depilated to a smooth sheen, dressed in androgynous green jumpsuits, named for plant life instead of biblical icons, searching for love in all the usual places. What are their chances for success? Pretty much zero. I suppose they could stick together, marry each other. But imagine their own children’s confusion; no Mum & Dad for those kids. It & Theotherit.

Jesus God, what has mankind come to?

In the real world, gender serves a fundamental and specific purpose. To deny it or hide it is completely misguided. Of course we don’t want gender to be a source of prejudice or discrimination—which it often is, even in today’s enlightened world—but the solution is to teach equality and tolerance, whether it’s gender, race, religion, body type, eye colour…you get the idea.

Michael Jackson tried to hide his true colour, which was black, by bleaching his skin white. He gave himself Caucasian facial features. He fashioned himself as an androgyne. His voice was ambiguous. He wore just enough makeup to make people wonder. Nobody was fooled. No amount of cosmetic surgery could change who he was.

Same goes for gender. In the simplest primal terms, we need to be able to identify each other’s gender if we are to propagate our species (population control is another topic). This school, and the families who buy into its philosophy, are only setting these children up for a different brand of abuse and discrimination, as the general public tries to figure them out.

Kids will naturally gravitate to the things that interest them, be they dolls or cars of rare shades of puce. Whether the influence is genetic or environmental is irrelevant. What matters is if and how they are taught tolerance, equality, kindness. Protecting them from what is perceived to be “negative” influences only fails to arm them with the proper tools to analyze and cope with these influences. It’s too bad these so-called educators feel they can cram this crackpot notion into the children’s heads, instead of allowing the kids to develop their own ideas and philosophy, through trial and error, and through exposure to all the various realities in life. Including the basic reality that humans are made up of boys and girls. No classroom can make that reality go away.


Thank Heaven For Little Gurls


Headline: Little Girls Reveal Their Fears of Getting ‘Chubby Wubby’

Be afraid, be very, very afraid, little girl. If you live in my town, you may be at genuine risk of the dreaded condition.

I have a teenage daughter who is definitely not at risk. Her diet consists mainly of home-cooked meals, made from scratch. There is very little processed food on her table. She hasn’t even asked for McDonald’s in years, which her parents take as a positive sign. Occasional Chinese takeout is a treat for which we all suffer an overdose of sodium, but enjoy nonetheless as a rare guilty pleasure. In our house, there is no dieting, no talk of dieting. We are not vegans, nor are we organic fanatics; we simply eat a balanced diet in relative moderation. And it shows on our daughter, as she has developed into a beautiful adolescent who shows no signs whatsoever of chubbiness.

But she has many friends who are not so fortunate. If they aren’t already on track to obesity, diabetes, depression, low self-esteem, they are at least poorly nourished. I know, because I have had the misfortune of cooking for these impossible eaters, these kids. I don’t eat eggs. I don’t eat potatoes. I don’t eat seafood. I don’t eat tomatoes. I don’t eat mushrooms. You get the idea.

To be fair, my little one does not like mushrooms; nor did I, until I was an adult. But it’s pretty depressing to watch her 15-year-old girlfriend intricately pick out and eat each individual noodle from my world famous Penne Mediterranean, after first painstakingly scraping every molecule of red pepper, garlic, feta and sundried tomato from the surface. It’s not depressing because I worked so hard to prepare a healthy and delicious dinner for this guest (foolishly thinking that “pasta” would be a no-brainer for even the pickiest eater), it’s depressing because that friend had clearly never eaten a red pepper or sundried tomato or feta cheese before, and we all know there is nothing more frightening to a picky eater than the “unfamiliar.”

“What do you eat at home?” asks my wife, making it seem an innocent inquiry.

Pizza (cheese). Spaghetti (chef Boyardee). Taco Bell. Hamburgers. Cake. Again, you get the idea. None—and I mean none—of these friends has ever eaten a piece of fresh fish, pan fried with sage brown butter. Few are ever served salad or vegetables at home. Asparagus: just say no! The things they willingly eat come from a box, or are delivered to the front door.

Asks my wife, as she lights the candles: “Does your family also sit down at the dining room table for dinner every night?”

After a nervous laugh: The dining table is covered in old newspapers and cardboard boxes. I eat in my room, or in front of the TV.

It’s not their fault. It’s not solely the public school board’s fault for serving vats of poutine in the cafeteria (although they should know better). It’s their parents’ fault. Nutrition starts at home. If the parents don’t understand and practice good eating habits, their children have no chance. And it’s no surprise that so many of these kids are Chubby Wubbies, smaller versions of their obese, diabetic, careless parents.

There’s hardly a place now for the old favourite pastime of “picking on the fat kid.” The fatties outnumber the skinnies in today’s playground. Of course the media is still skinny-obsessed, which only adds stress and worry to these little girls, who are already fighting a losing battle on the home front. They start smoking at twelve because their mothers say that smoking curbs the appetite. And even though it has not worked for their mothers, they start dieting at thirteen because everyone and everything around them tells them they are fat.

It’s not news that today’s little girls are preoccupied with their weight, and are afraid of becoming Chubby Wubbies. By the time they graduate from kindergarten, so many of them are already overweight. And even though they still feel the natural childish urge to mock the fat kids, the mockery is half-hearted. Kettle and pot.

We can blame the fashion industry, the fast food empires, the uncaring school boards, the government (for which we blame most things), but to address these little girls’ fear of the dreaded Chubby Wubbies, one needs to look no further than the kitchen table. Parents have to make just a little effort to feed their kids properly and healthily; it’s their parental duty. Too many get a failing grade. God help the little girls, and boys.

And by little, I mean young.


Oh Baby, What Are You?


Ordinarily, I wouldn’t dream of telling another parent how to do her job. In the case of Kathy Witterick and husband, David Stocker, because they have elected to publicize their parenting “experiment” in a prominent newspaper, I reserved the right to make my opinion known.

What is this “experiment?” They have chosen to conceal the gender of their third child, Storm—at least, I suppose, until the gender manifests itself physically, making Storm’s gender obvious. In other words, sooner or later, the child will develop either breasts or an Adam’s apple. In the meantime, even the grandparents and other close relatives are left to wonder.

Why? you ask. Here is what Mr. Stocker says: “If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs.”

Hm. I’ve gotten to know quite a few people in my fifty-odd years, for a variety of reasons: business, friendship, romance, proximity (ever been stuck at a campsite with your parents and been forced to play with the obnoxious brat at the next tent because he was the only kid for two hundred miles?), and I’ve not once had to ask what was between a person’s legs. Not to mention that such a question would be monumentally rude. Okay, I understand Stocker didn’t mean the question was being asked aloud; I get it. But he doesn’t seem to understand how humans operate. How did he come to be married to Ms. Witterick if he didn’t ask himself, at some point, what was between her legs? Did he just close his mind and hope for the best? Talk constantly about the weather during their courtship, cross his fingers on his wedding night and hope it didn’t turn out to be a “Crying Game” moment?

In matters of romance, gender has mattered a great deal to me; but once I was assured I was dealing with a girl, the “getting to know you” bit was not strictly focused on what was between her legs; all that came naturally, later (sometimes). And how did I get that gender assurance? Well, if it wasn’t obvious by dint of apparent breasts, hair and fashion, shoes (deserving a separate category from fashion), voice, first name (sometimes), and perhaps her seeming interest in me…taking all these things into account together, I could often tell if I was dealing with a female human. If, after all that, I was still unsure, I would most likely withhold any romantic advance until further data was collected. In all other relationships, gender has been largely irrelevant to me.

Since Storm is still a child, the romantic scenario is some years away, and will presumably come after (s)he has been “outed,” genderly speaking. For the moment, it’s easy enough for Storm to deal with this secret. (S)he is a baby, and so does not have an opinion, so far. But what will happen when (s)he is in kindergarten, or, heaven help {it}, grade seven? Other children are cruel and merciless. If it isn’t hard enough growing up, now (s)he will have to contend with constant harassment from peers and relatives—those who aren’t in on the deal.

Storm’s parents call this, “a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation.” Well, it’s their freedom and choice being applied here, not Storm’s. Yes, there is gender prejudice out there in the real world. In business, women are still discriminated against. If Storm is, in fact, a boy, he will face very little gender discrimination in his life, in Canada, anyway. But for any developing child, gender is firmly connected to self-image, and ultimately to self-esteem. Children are rarely discriminated against because of gender; they are discriminated against because they are different. Storm’s parents think they are protecting {it}, when they are actually setting {it} up for a painful childhood filled with tension and ridicule. Even Storm’s two brothers, among the few who know the truth, will suffer a constant onslaught of questions about their sibling. They, too, will be victims to this folly.

This experiment is doomed to fail. With any luck, these misguided parents will see the light before it’s too late, for the sake of their children and the rest of their family. In any case, it will be impossible for the seven people who know Storm’s gender to keep the secret for any length of time. That, regardless of gender, is simple human nature, thank heaven.


Cell Hell


Once again the Toronto District School Board has proven it doesn’t know jack about children or learning; to wit, they have wisely chosen to lift the ban on cell phones and other electronic devices in their schools.

Why?

They qualify the decision thusly: “…provided it does not distract from student learning or school activities.” And they go on to provide individual teachers with the authority to banish the devices from their own classroom.

First of all, as the owner of a fully-formed teenager, I can attest that these devices can, and assuredly will, distract these children. If the phone is in their hand, they simply are not able to ignore it. Period. They are also unable to have a normal conversation, as we know it—one where eye-contact is made with the other conversant, and where full attention is paid to said conversation. They cannot do it. I repeat: they cannot do it.

And what reasoning, by a supposedly educated body of adults, could support this decision? Why does a child need her cell phone or PDA in the classroom? I can promise every overly concerned parent that, if there is a trench-coated gunman roaming the halls of the school, anyone with access to a phone (cellular or not), will be on it, ban or no ban. Your child will not be cowering under her desk, afraid to turn on her phone in case she gets detention. Apart from that rare and frightening scenario, there is no practical value to having these devices in a classroom. They are anathema to the learning process in the context of a school, a room and a teacher. Just ask the teacher.

Speaking of the teacher…the TDSB will be putting the onus on the teacher to make the decision. Isn’t that nice? Any teacher who sensibly banishes the students’ cell phones will now face an onslaught of anger and outrage, in person and online, from both students and those aforementioned “concerned” parents. You know the ones; the helicopter parent who’s inflated sense of entitlement is as great as his child’s; the one who demands a ban on black crayons in the kindergarten classroom because they “send a negative message” to the little ones; he demands a ban “witches” on Halloween for the same reason; he will expect his child to respond to his text messages within a minute, regardless of whether or not the child is in the midst of a science lesson. Mark my words. A handful of teachers will try to do the right thing, but they will give up, sooner or later. And the biggest losers will be the students, who will get a poorer education, not because of the teachers but because those PDAs, resting in their laps for the entire school day, will prevent them from retaining any information imparted by the teacher.

If the TDSB really felt it was necessary to allow cell phones into the schools, a sensible compromise would have been to limit them to the corridors and grounds, but forbidding them to be used in the classroom.

My teenager, with her small-screen obsession, is under a complete ban of these things at her Durham Region high school, and she accepts this ruling without the tiniest squeak of complaint. It’s simply the Rule, and it applies to every student. The phones cannot be turned on or used anywhere on school property. She gets very good grades, and I believe she is getting a very good education. And because she is completely unable to have a conversation with me without constantly monitoring her screen, I know that to permit such a thing in the classroom would be a disaster for her, and every other student.

So there you have the TDSB in a nutshell: supply the students with Coca Cola and candy bars, flatscreen televisions in the hallways, and now PDAs in the classroom. Is there anything else they can do to ensure the demise of public education? They’re smart people; I’m sure they’ll think of something.


Politically Correct?


A while back, a national newspaper article informed me that, in Calgary at least, I was no longer permitted to call a high school dropout a “high school dropout,” that the term was derogatory and demeaning to said dropout, that it was unfair and unkind to belittle these poor creatures who are already at a low ebb in their young lives. I was instructed by that School Board to henceforth refer to such a child as an “early school leaver.”

Oh brother. I thought I’d seen it all, Political Correctness at a new, ridiculous low. When will the pendulum swing back? I asked myself. It always does. Social and moral trends throughout recorded history have continually shifted between extremes. Surely, I thought, this latest development signaled the apogee of PC madness. Here comes a new order, and not a moment too soon.

Alas. Just the other day, Toronto Star writer Valerie Hauch verified that the PC movement is alive and well, thank you very much. As she reported, a new book, entitled Journal of Animal Ethics, has put fresh batteries in the pendulum. According to its authors, we can no longer refer to our pets as “pets,” that we must henceforth refer to them as “animal companions.” The word “pet” is, they say, an insult to said pet. Oh dear. Apparently, the animal kingdom has been getting a bum rap from us humans, with our thoughtless and hurtful language. The remedy? No more “silly” geese. No more “stubborn” mules. Not one more “drunk” skunk, if you please. Come to think of it, about 45 years ago, I recall one of my sisters telling me, snottily, that I “ate like a pig.” Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was offended equally for myself and the porker. And it’s possible I was eating pork at the time, which surely would have nettled the poor, abused even-toed ungulate. So come on, people, show a little sensitivity. Have a little compassion for our beloved…ahem…animal companions.

I suppose a group of people more intelligent than me could sit around for days, hashing out the ethics of our name-calling predicament…oh, wait, the authors of that book have already done so. But, in all seriousness, my real beef is this: Why does the PC term always have to be so inconveniently long? Why all the damned syllables? Apart from the fact that a dose of humility might benefit the average dropout, the word is concise, and rolls nicely off the tongue. “Early school leaver” is just too much to say, and from a grammatical standpoint, it doesn’t say much about the Calgary Board of Education. I’m pretty sure they made up that last word: leaver. I know, I know; Shakespeare made up a lot of words, too, as did George W. Bush; but they were geniuses.

As for my own beloved pets, they don’t deserve the humiliation of a six-syllable moniker, no matter how kindly intended. My ancient cat, Missus Grumpypants, has lived a long and fruitless life on my windowsill, and cares only that the feedbag remains topped up. And my gallumpy Labrador retriever, Samuel Pepys, continues to love me unconditionally, even though I call him “wild” and “silly pet” to his face. He just wags and wags. His eyes say it all: Who cares? His English vocabulary is limited to three words: “walkies”, “din-din” and “Sammy’sbed.” He cannot be offended by anything I say, however hurtful. Good boy.

And because I’m an author, and I don’t wish to be associated with the people who published the Journal of Animal Ethics, let’s say: “writers-down of the words on bound pages.” I certainly don’t wish to offend.