Tag Archives: school board

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.


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.