Our Op-ed September 26, 2016 Calgary and Edmonton Sun
Blasetti, Silva and Turner: Education’s at a crossroads – one path leads to inequity, the other to true public education
It’s no secret Alberta is facing one of its toughest economic challenges in decades. It’s on the minds of all Albertans, including families and kids.
What an incredible summer our family has had. We’ve been on both our best and worst camping trips this year. We’ve covered a big chunk of Alberta, as far North as Whitecourt (if you’ve never been to their Rotary Park, you need to go. I promise, even if you live in Lethbridge, this place is worth the drive http://www.whitecourt.ca/RecreationCulture/RotaryPark/tabid/675/Default.aspx) and as far South as Pincher Creek and Frank’s Slide. We even discovered an amazing gem just an hours drive from our front door: Dry Island Buffalo Jump http://www.albertaparks.ca/dry-island-buffalo-jump/information-facilities/.
Alberta is truly a spectacular place. I’m so grateful to have the chance to raise my children here and to be able to see so much of what our province has to offer. I’ve lived here my entire life; my childhood was spent in a teeny tiny town in central Alberta, my twenties in the far, far North, and now my husband and I are raising our children in a nice size town south of Red Deer.
My husband works on the road so he misses a lot of things, but this fall he gets to be home for a big moment: our oldest child D’s first day of Kindergarten! It’s hard to say who’s the most excited in our house; we are a family of adventurers after all. It’s gratifying to see your children grow up and take big steps like riding the school bus for the first time, but there’s a little trepidation as well. I worry about our son making friends and following the classroom rules. I worry that coming from a liberal household in a conservative, rural area is going to limit his social life, even more so because he’ll be starting French Immersion in Grade One.
But even those worries can’t dampen the thrill I feel about all the things D is going to be cramming into his head in the next ten months. The other day, he told me that when his Daddy gets home, he’s going to get him to build him a time machine so he can take me back to the day the dinosaurs died, so that I’ll die. (Quiet time is pretty controversial in our house) Beyond being upset about his death wish on me, I did admire his creativity. It’s exciting to think of how much more imaginative his insults (and compliments: he’s good at those too) are going to get with exposure to new ideas.
Some of those new ideas will have to be corrected: yes, girls can marry other girls, no Jesus is not going to send you to hell if you don’t believe in him. But we’re going to live our lives by the values that we hold. Love, kindness, generosity, curiosity, learning, justice, and loud-mouthed exuberant affection. I might get called into the office because D drops an F-bomb. We’ll work that out if it happens. If he does have trouble making friends, I’ll hold him and make sure he knows that boys do cry. And I will always advocate for him and his classmates, because children deserve the very best education this beautiful province can give them. Happy First Day of School everyone!
Warm regards from rural Alberta
P.S. In the interests of embarrassing D as much as possible, please enjoy this recent picture of him in the bathtub.
When an SOS Alberta supporter read this article on our Facebook page (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/two-private-schools-won-t-comply-with-alberta-lgbtq-policy-says-pastor-1.3740138), she took the time to write us about her experience growing up in a similar school environment. We admire the courage it took to write this piece. We found it enlightening and moving. With her permission, we are sharing her open letter:
This morning I woke up and read the most unsurprising news of my life. In a world where water is wet and blue mixed with red makes purple, the chair of two Christian schools announced that they would not comply with guidelines designed to protect the human rights and dignity of LGBTQA2S+ students. The only thing shocking to me about this news is that it took until the thirtieth of August for media to hear about it, because in the world that I grew up in, this one is just a no-brainer.
I was raised in a lifestyle that I like to refer to as “fundagelical”: fundamentalist evangelical. The intricate subtleties of fundagelical culture would fill tomes, and we just don’t have that kind of time here. What I do have time to tell you is this: fundagelicals speak a different language than everyone else. The reason you’ve never noticed this is because this language is entirely comprised of words that also exist in English. So when I say something like, “I want what’s best for my children”, what I mean is exactly what you think I mean, that my intentions and actions are guided by a desire to see my children benefit from having their emotional, mental, and physical well being prioritized. When a fundagelical says, “I want what’s best for my children”, they mean something slightly different.
You see, in their culture “what’s best for children” can be summed up this way: to be raised in, devoted to, and reflective of the glory of their god, and eventually saved by his grace in order to enter the kingdom of heaven; henceforth referred to as “The Prime Directive”. Now, just to clarify, I am not suggesting that fundagelical parents do not care about the physical, emotional, and mental health of their children. What I am saying is that those things don’t fall under the category of what they mean when they say “what is best for my children”. The bottom line is that, given a conflict between those things and the Prime Directive, the Prime Directive will win. Almost every time. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and check out the mission statements on one of the aforementioned schools, and the one I attended as a child:
When I was five years old, my mother helped me pack a lunch and drove me to my first day of Kindergarten. I remember the blocks stacked against the wall by the entrance and the circle corner on the opposite side of the room. I remember my teacher Miss P. (that’s a whole other letter). We prayed to start the day. We heard Bible stories and memorized Bible verses. We prayed to end the day. None of this was odd to me; I grew up in this culture after all. In truth, I can’t recall when it was I finally figured out that our school wasn’t like other schools. Maybe around grade five is when we started whispering behind our hands to each other about the other kids on our busses who had to go to schools where they learned Evolution. What was Evolution? The EVIL idea that we all came from monkeys. We all knew this was ridiculous of course. Anyone with half a brain knew that God made man from dirt and woman from his rib.
It’s hard to recall, exactly, when I first heard about gay people (that’s when boys marry boys and girls marry girls). “Ewwwwwwww” we all said, as if we actually understood why the adults around us would find it gross. Transgender people were not even on our radar, although to this day, I am convinced there was at least one very close in age to me. Occasionally, I’ll think of them, and hope so fervently that they made it.
I’m a little ways into adulthood now. The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that I truly do not understand the scope of my own lack of knowledge. But I’d like to think that I’ve gained a relatively good perspective about my time spent in fundagelical culture. After all, few things are more humbling than realizing that you’re wrong about almost everything.
Looking back on myself as a young teenager, I’ve no doubt I was an unpleasant one. A strong, stubborn personality combined with a childhood focused on holiness instead of personal development, topped off with an environment steeped in authoritarianism and indoctrination. Mix all that up with the raging hormones of puberty and the fact I’d been surrounded by the same thirty odd peers for eight years, it’s no surprise I was friendless at school. And believe me when I tell you, in an institution like that, there is no better target than the smart-mouthed loner. When the other students don’t like you and the teachers think you need to be put in your place, the only place you can turn is your parents……except when you can’t………because……..Prime Directive.
I am not gay or bi or transgender. Cis-hetero privilege right here folks! But I know what it feels like to want to die rather than go to school. I write with no exaggeration that my former fear of hell is the only reason I am still alive. There were so many nights when I wondered if I could swallow enough pills from the medicine cabinet, wait until I was on the brink of passing out, repent to God by telling my parents before I died but too late to get me to the ER, and still manage to pull it off so I could go to heaven. Because being fourteen with no sanctuary at home or school is the worst hell I know.
IT IS THE WORST HELL THAT I KNOW.
And right now, what Pastor Coldwell and the rest of the people and parents involved in the “religious freedom” and “parents’ rights” crusade are trying to do is make sure that kids with no sanctuary at home also find none at school. Because while they may be concerned about the LGBTQA2S+ student’s well being, they’re more concerned with the Prime Directive. They’re using words that make you feel like you can get behind them, but THEY ARE SPEAKING A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE!
Did you hear me? THEY ARE SPEAKING A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE!
Stop agreeing with them without understanding what they are actually saying.
Recently, a friend of mine (also raised in a fundagelical household) told a story: As a child, after learning the story of Abraham and Isaac (http://www.gospelweb.net/YouthItems/abrahamandisaac.htm), he asked his father “if God told you to sacrifice me, would you do it?”. His father answered, “I hope I’d have the strength”. Make no mistake, this is the standard answer in fundagelical culture. The ability to throw children onto the altar of their god is a point of righteousness within their community.
There is one more cultural quirk I’d like to talk about before bringing this epic to a close. I want to talk about the word “bitter”. When those in fundagelical culture use the word “bitter”, they are not referring to someone who is resentful. They are using that distinction as a way of dismissing a narrative that is troubling to their culture. In fundagelical communities, forgiveness is very much a power play. The parable of the Unforgiving Servant (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_Unforgiving_Servant) is frequently used as a bludgeon to force victims to forgive the perpetrators who have wronged them. It’s an easy way of maintaining the status quo without having to do any actual internal reflection. As long as the perpetrator behaves with some contrition, the victim is required to forgive them, lest they be labeled as “bitter”.
If this open letter reaches any significant portion of Alberta, there are going to be pastors and principals, teachers and parents who claim that I am bitter. My own mother has called me bitter to my face more times than I could ever count. She said it to me on the nights I thought about that medicine cabinet. She said it to me after my children were born, when I knew what it was to be a mother and to have a deep and primal instinct to protect my children. Those people are speaking their language. They are not trying to convince you that I am “resentful”. They are trying to convince their own that I am unforgiving. That I am the Unforgiving Servant, so that what I have told you today can be dismissed.
There are going to be those who do dismiss my words right away. I’m not writing this for them. I’m writing this for people who have misinterpreted the language of the fundagelicals. They are defrauding you and they are doing it by appealing to your basic instincts as parents. But they don’t mean what you think they mean when they say things like: “Love! Freedom! Parents’ Choice!”. They mean something different.
I am asking you to look into the eyes of your children and see the people that they really are. They are so beautiful. And they shouldn’t have to flounder through their pre-adult years alone. I was unpleasant, but I was beautiful. The transgender person in my school was beautiful. The gay students I knew, but never knew were gay, were beautiful. And we all deserved so much more than the Prime Directive.
Please, stop the funding. Just stop it.
And for anyone, queer or straight, who is reading this while trapped in one of these places, you need to know that there are people out here who can see you. We know that you’re there and if you can make it out, we will be here to catch you. So just hold on. I don’t believe in hell anymore, but I’m still glad I made it. There’s a beautiful life waiting for you on this side. I know because I’m living it.
On May 21, 2016 we were very proud to accept the Alberta Teachers’ Association Public Education Award for Outstanding Contribution to Public Education at the ATA’s Annual Representative Assembly. We were overwhelmed and impressed with the dedication to all facets of education displayed by teachers from every corner of the province. It was amazing to see and hear from the representatives from Fort McMurray who travelled to Calgary to attend and participate in the Assembly despite their personal displacement from the Fort Mac evacuation. Numerous stories were shared about teachers helping students during the evacuation and teachers, schools and ATA locals continuing to support everyone who has been impacted by the evacuation. Teachers are the true allies to students in public education and the kind words of support we received will continue to inspire us to work towards a public education system that is truly equitable for all Alberta children.
The following is our acceptance speech:
Thank you, Greg, for your kind words. On behalf of the executive committee of Support our Students Alberta, I am honoured to accept this award. SOS Alberta started on the playgrounds of Alberta schools. Concerned citizens who were living, firsthand, with the results of years of chronic underfunding of education. Citizens who could not stand by without speaking up against more cuts to education. We’d like to recognize everyone who contributed to SOS Alberta including our committee members and citizens at large who sent letters to their MLAs. Thank you to all for caring about public education.Our primary goal last spring was to get people talking about education, about the impact of repeated cuts, and eventually, to bring education to the forefront of the provincial election campaign in 2015. Through viral videos, social and traditional media, education did become one of the key ballot box issues during the election. Since the election, we have put our focus on promoting equitable and accessible public education. We know there are many issues facing educators today, and we want to support and give voice to a stakeholder that often doesn’t get a voice, especially when dealing with the government: the Student. We are proud and staunch supporters of a well-funded, equitable, accessible and barrier-free public education system. All students deserve the same level of opportunity from their schools, whether they are in Milk River or Calgary or High Level or Edmonton. There are still have and have not schools in Alberta, there are schools that exclude students, there are families that face financial barriers just to access public education. Albertans can do better, and we will continue to work with all stakeholders to strengthen public education in Alberta.
It was a beautiful day to travel to Edmonton to the Legislature for Budget Day! We were invited to attend the stakeholder lockup and the Budget speech.
As education advocates we are keenly interested in how government prioritizes education in this province. As advocates for a strong, quality and equitable public education system we are pleased with the progress this government has made to responsibly fund education.
By committing to fully fund enrolment growth, this government demonstrates the understanding that education is an investment that pays dividends. This budget also shows a firm commitment to repairing damage caused by the previous government’s year over year of education underfunding.
The commitment to forge ahead with capital projects, such as schools and modernization projects, starts to fill a long standing gap that has gone unaddressed for too long. Forty eight of those projects are on track to being finalized by September, giving Alberta students safe, accessible learning environments.
We believe strongly that the quality and accessibility of a child’s education should not be contingent on the price of oil. This government’s budget and dedication to funding enrolment echoes this sentiment.
We look forward to continuing to work with a government who shares our commitment to public education.
Students of Alberta
SOS Alberta wants to give you the chance to highlight your student and their experience in schools across Alberta.
These Facebook posts will be student-centred, to highlight and share their daily experiences. We will not name your student, but please include their age, grade and school board. We will consider any photos included as permission to post. Your photo can show as much or as little of your student, depending on your comfort level.
This is an excellent opportunity to start a dialogue with the student(s) in your life and to highlight the diversity of experiences in Alberta’s public education system.
Our first student will be featured on Friday, March 11. Please go to our Facebook page and send us your submissions for future Students of Alberta posts.
October and November have been quite busy for the SOS Alberta network. Here is what we’ve been working on since our last newsletter:
Alberta Budget 2015
Thank you to Calgary MLAs, Rick Fraser and Craig Coolahan, for providing SOS Alberta with two guest passes to attend the reading of the Provincial Budget in the Alberta Legislature on October 27.
We were very pleased with the tone of the budget, happy to hear that education funding has been stabilized in the province, and that the proposed elimination of “funding for growth” has been reversed. That said, there was no mention of addressing class sizes, and reducing school fees for families is a budget goal that appears to have been pushed further along the fiscal calendar. Here is a link to Alberta Budget 2015 for your own reference. There is still work to be done.
If you’ve been following us on Facebook and Twitter, you already know that on October 30, three representatives from the SOS Alberta network were granted a meeting in Edmonton with Education Minister, David Eggen! We reiterated to the Minister that we believe that guaranteeing equal access to a quality public education for all students in Alberta’s English, French, and Catholic schools is best achieved by reducing school fees for families, decreasing class sizes, and increasing overall per-student funding in the province. These priorities were well-received by Minister Eggen, and we had a very positive discussion with him about our areas of concern for public education in Alberta.
The Social Summit
Most recently, SOS Alberta members attended The Social Summit in Calgary, with the goal of increasing our social media reach and our engagement with the public. The three day conference provided those in attendance with ideas and tools for communicating and engaging with their networks and supporters. A huge thank you to The Social Summit community for donating tickets to SOS Alberta, and helping us expand our network!
We want your input
SOS Alberta is planning a follow-up meeting with Minister David Eggen in the New Year. The SOS network wants to take your concerns directly to the minister. Share your feedback and concerns with us on Facebook or Twitter and have your voice heard!
|Thank you to everyone who supported our campaign last spring; we put education issues at the forefront of the election conversation. Over 1,500 Albertans signed the SOS letter to stop proposed budget cuts to public education and joined our website campaign sending letters to their MLAs and the four provincial party leaders. Thank you! Your voice was heard, and last May, the incoming provincial government halted the budget cuts and restored funding for the 2015-2016 school year. At SOS Alberta our goal is to keep our voice strong by staying connected with each other. Let’s support our students; like us on facebook, and send us a tweet so we can let the provincial government hear what Albertans are saying about education.|
|If you are just joining the SOS cause, here are some FAQs:
Who are we? We are you. We are a grassroots organization of parents working to support public education in Alberta’s English, French, and Catholic Schools. We are independent and nonpartisan, and we do not receive any funding.
What do we stand for? We stand for equal access to quality public education for all students in Alberta.
What are our top three concerns? Reducing school fees for families, decreasing class sizes, and increasing overall per-student funding in Alberta.
|The 2015-2016 school year is underway, and there is a new provincial budget on the horizon. We want to hear from you. What does your community school looks like this year?
• What are class sizes at your child’s school?
• Are your child’s school fees higher, or lower this year?
• Does your school have specialist or resource teachers this year?
Share the SOS newsletter and website with friends, family, and your school council. Let us know about your experiences, or if you have any other concerns about public education in Alberta. We want to hear what your community school looks like. Tell us what’s good, tell us what’s bad; let’s learn from each other, so we can help each other. Thanks for supporting our students!