I must admit to being, somewhat, reluctant to post anything today because it is April Fools Day. My thinking was that if I posted something today….and, I do like to post on Mondays…..that you would all be reading along in breathless anticipation, waiting for the moment when this post turned into one, big joke. The problem that I have with that is that I am not an epic prankster. I am not good at pulling the legs of those closest to me. When I have tried to do so in the past, my efforts have ended up being more cruel than humour-filled. So, over time, I adapted by not playing April Fools jokes but, instead, by willingly playing the fool.
In classrooms all across Canada, children are entering their school armed with plastic vomit or poop props, rubber spiders or sticky notes that they will try to place on their teacher’s back by giving an exaggerated hug. None of their jokes are ever any good but, to them, they are hilarious. In most cases, plans have been hatched in the schoolyard so these jokes are never played out in private but, instead, in front of an eager audience, ready put one over on the person who carries authority in their world. There was a time, early in my career, when I would challenge the kids to try and fool me but because they never could, they never seemed to get the pleasure out of the experience that they should have. So, as I matured as a teacher, I relaxed when it came to April 1st. In later years, I would actually peer over my shoulder when someone cried out, “Look! There’s a spider about to land on you, Mr. MacInnes!” As I turned to look, the kids would smile and laugh and think that they were incredibly clever and funny.
As my career progressed, I came to view April Fools Day with affection. I knew that the months that I had spent building up a trusting relationship with these children would bear fruit on days such as this. Their simple jokes were only played because the kids felt safe enough to do so. They trusted me not to over-react in a negative or violent way. They cared enough to stray from the regular academic routine in the hopes of creating a personal memory for themselves, with me as the star of their show. In the end, I took these pranks for the compliment that they were. In turn, I never did anything sillier than switching desks around on them or hiding their chairs and saying they’d been taken for repairs by the custodian so everyone was going to have to work standing up that day and so on. Nothing cruel or hurtful in the name of comedy; especially when it comes to the trusting nature of a child.
I truly believe in the therapeutic nature of a good belly laugh. I, especially, enjoy the sound of children laughing freely and honestly from the bottom of their bellies. Life is good when you can see the humour in it. So, my wish for everyone today is that you find your jokes funny and that, if your jokes come from the mind of someone you love, that you shed tears of joy borne from shared laughter. As that noted comedic mind from days of yore, Thomas Aquinas, is quoted as saying, “It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.”
Have a happy April Fools Day, my friends.
PS: just for your information, our kitchen is almost finished. I am just waiting for our window treatments to come in and be installed and then we are done. I have been promised that they will be ready today or tomorrow. So, hopefully, by the end of the week, I will be ready to share with you all, our kitchen transformation, from beginning to end.
After that, I will be creating a post about the family who sent me those beautiful sleigh bells at Christmas time. I promised the man who runs MagicalBells.com that I would “repay” him for the bell by sharing his family’s story with my friends via this blog.
Beyond that, my writing slate is wide open. If there is anything you wish for me to write about, don’t hesitate to make a suggestion in the comment section of this post or, any other post, for that matter. Until then, have a super day and thanks for being readers of this blog. I appreciate your support.
We are all human. We all appreciate being told, once and awhile, that we are doing a good job, that we are a nice person or that we are important. In today’s frantic, multi-tasking society, it is easy to lose sight of the right path as we struggle to maintain our sanity, let alone, live a life of character and integrity. So, hearing words of encouragement is important. They not only nourish our souls but, they act as an affirmation that maybe, just maybe, we are actually on that correct path in Life.
In Ontario, Canada, where I taught, we are no more immune from Life’s pressures and stresses than anyone else in any other walk of life. Most teachers care deeply about their profession and try their best to do right by the students entrusted into their care each day. Most parents seem to understand this. My experience working in partnership with parents has, almost completely and totally, been positive and respectful. Being a parent has helped me appreciate the hard work that goes on in the homes of my students. Watching their children grow more knowledgable and skilled, while enjoying their school experience, has caused parents to respect who I am and how I conducted my classroom affairs.
Ordinarily, a heartfelt hand shake at the end of the school year between parent and teacher should be sufficient to recognize the contribution both have made to the life of the child in question. However, in Ontario, a tradition has taken root that sees the parent bestow a gift upon the teacher during the final day of school. In my career, I started many a final day of school surrounded by smiling students, arms outstretched, all holding a gift bag or an envelop and begging me to please, “open mine first, Mr. MacInnes! Open mine first!” Those gifts of mugs, boxes of chocolates, gift cards for coffee shops and crafts made with care and love from home, all were appreciated and all were displayed and/or well used once taken home.
However, there is one gift that I have gotten many times over the years and, in my eyes, it is the most important gift any parent could give to their child’s teacher……..it is the gift of encouragement that comes in the form of a simple card or letter. Having a parent take a few moments to write that they appreciated the time I had spent with their child and that they believed it had made a positive difference, is like gold to me.
In my bedroom, on a shelf in my closet, I have a photo box. In that photo box, I have EVERY card, letter and note of encouragement I have ever received throughout the entire course of my 30 year career. Each letter is precious to me and each serves to remind me that, yes, I did, indeed, have a purpose in life that was worthy and that, indeed, I was making a positive difference in the lives of children. I can’t ask for more than that. Whenever I find myself feeling down, for whatever reason, I haul out that photo box and bask in the warm glow of the affirmations it contains.
In most cases, regardless of the state of education in the public school your child attends, you can count on them being cared for by a teacher who is working harder than you may realize to help their students be the best people they can be. However, there are times, in the course of their busy days, when teachers can become just as frustrated and discouraged as the students that they teach. If you ever want to make your child’s teacher’s day, I humbly suggest that you write a simple note. Your words of encouragement and appreciation will turn out to be the best part of that teacher’s day….guaranteed!
And, maybe, just maybe, your words will help fill that teacher’s photo box of memories, too. 🙂
We all appreciate hearing a kind word from someone else. Have you ever written a card of thanks to your child’s teacher? Have you ever received such a note or card from someone else, telling you that who you are or, what you do, matters? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below. Thanks for reading. 🙂
I was recently asked to pen a speech to be read at a rally to commemorate/protest the one-year anniversary of the election of the Progressive Conservative Government in Ontario. I was asked to make the speech into a eulogy for all that has been lost during this past year. Believe me, the list of what has been lost is quite extensive. Anyway, the rally was held this past Friday, outside the local constituency office of our PC MPP, David Piccinni. Needless to say, Mr. Piccinni did not appear at the rally to listen to the concerns being expressed.
I was not, initially, going to post this eulogy but, the response to it from those in attendance was very positive and it was suggested it would be beneficial for a wider audience to read it for themselves. So, here comes the eulogy. At the rally, the eulogy was read by Sarah Whalen, who is a teacher and a member of the Kawartha Pine Ridge District Local of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. **All photos that appear in this post are from my good friend, Wendy Goodes, who helped organize the rally.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here, together, to mark a solemn anniversary in our Province’s history. For it was on this date, one year ago today, that a minority of our fellow citizens voted in a Majority Government for Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. Since that election day in 2018, much has changed in Ontario but still, much has stayed the same. Let’s, first, take a look at the latter.
Please take a moment and look at your fellow mourners who have gathered along side you today. Look at the banners they wave, the signs that they hold, the buttons and t-shirts they wear; their hearts on their sleeves, quite literally and figuratively. You are here today because you care. No matter what has been lost this past year in Ontario, you have not lapsed into defeat or self-interest. You still care. That is your superpower. You are an army of compassionate warriors and your unwavering belief in goodness, kindness and social justice for all makes you the truly worthy defenders of the slogan, “For The People”. For if there is anyone in this province capable of restoring hope to those parents of autistic children, it is you. If there is anyone capable of speaking up for the trees, as Dr. Seuss might say and, protecting our environment in a time of crisis, it is you! If there is anyone capable of maintaining our systems of Health care and Public Education for the common good of everyone, as opposed to the bottom lines of anyone, it is you. You are here today because you still believe in a better province for us all. There is power in believing in something greater than yourselves. In your belief, there is Hope. And when there is Hope, we fight on and we never give up.But, as proud and strong-minded as we all are, we have not gathered here today to celebrate but, instead, to mourn our losses, of which there are many. The minority of citizens who have elected a majority of PC MPPs have unleashed a terracotta army upon the province. They are an intimidating-looking force, filling over half of the seats in the Legislature, drowning out all inquiries with jeers, catcalls and mocking laughter. Like Siri and Alexa, these MPPs know how to retrieve their talking points well. But, don’t you dare try to strike up a conversation. They are a confederacy, not of dunces but, instead, of submissives; all standing up and sitting down on command, all speaking words that have been put into their mouths for them, all promoting ideas that are not necessarily their own. It is easy to be judgemental of people who so willingly subjugate themselves at the altar of another but, to do so would be to under-estimate the damage they are capable of creating.
It seems as if @Fordnation is attacking everything, everywhere, all of the time. Like a cruel game of real-life whack-a-mole, we are forced to battle back on multiple fronts at the same time. Our outrage, perpetual. But, while we fight to preserve our libraries, our Legal Aid system, our Greenbelt areas, our schools and hospitals, to broaden and strengthen our bonds with the Indigenous Peoples of Ontario and to protect the sanctity of a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body and so much more, an insidious and troubling battle is going on that could, when all is said and done, be the biggest loss of all and that is the War on Truthfulness.
For most of us, we have been raised to believe that “Honesty is the best policy”. We have held this belief as one of the foundations of living in a democratic society. We have grown accustomed to holding our politicians to certain standards of accountability, all built upon the premise that we expect them to tell us the truth. But, with this new Government, truthfulness is rarely a consideration in anything they do. In fact, it could be argued that lying is what Doug Ford and his minions do best. They lie about anything and everything. They lie even when they don’t even have to. They lie about the price of gas on holiday weekends. They lie about job security in a time of massive cuts. They lie about not opening debates on abortion, even as their MPPs give speeches at Pro-Life rallies. They lie with the ease that most of us breathe. The ability of PC MPPs to lie is breathless in its audacity. I am sure that they laugh about it all behind the closed doors that they tend to stay. @FordNation is not at all acting “for the people”, of that I am sure we can all agree. The lie that this government cares about the common citizen is among the most fundamental of all the lies they tell. They do not care in the least about any of us standing here today. We are not profiteers or privatizers of the public good. We do not have their ear for an airing of our concerns. They have no time for us, as seen in how hard it is to get an appointment with your local MPP, have a question answered to a phone call or email. They are their own social network and they have stopped answering to us. It is almost as if democracy doesn’t matter anymore.
But, as long as we have hearts that beat in our chests and minds that see through the rhetoric being served then, the fight must go on because democracy does matter. It isn’t a perfect system of living but, it is worth fighting to protect. Truthfulness and honesty do matter. Words matter. The integrity of those who serve our society matters, still. And so, we stand here today, one year in on the most profound and fundamentally important challenge our province has ever faced.
I stand here today, with you, filled with the conviction that our Ontario is not lost yet. That there is still Hope for a return to those days, just 365 days ago, when beer cost more than a buck and nobody really cared about that, anyway. I long for time when our leaders recognized that Love is Love and parades are fun for everyone. I believe in an Ontario where reading and books are valued and Grandparents are venerated, not incarcerated. I believe in an Ontario where compassion and empathy are not just words but mindsets and that our everyday heroes have the resources and time to help those most in need. I believe in protecting our children not profiting from them. More than anything, I believe there is still time and that there is still Hope. Much has been lost but all is not lost yet. So, wave your banners high, hoist your signs into the air and join me in the greatest battle of our lives; the fight for democracy in Ontario……for the people of Ontario……our Ontario……..ours to re-discover.
I got to go back to my school yesterday. It was the third time I had seen my colleagues this school year. The first time was around Christmas time, when a dear soul sent up a Facebook SOS looking for resources for a special needs child she was working with. I knew where to get these resources so, I bundled them up and delivered them to her at school. It was nice to have a brief chat before bells rang and she had to leave to start her work day. The second time I saw my staff was at a retirement party for our secretary who was leaving mid-year. This time, I had the luxury of having longer chats with more people and was able to catch up with everyone in greater detail. It was a lovely time. Yesterday, I was invited back to the school by a dear friend named Deb. This time, I got to be with the kids again, too. It was a special time and served to remind me of the good that comes when we care about things greater than ourselves.
This story begins in September of 2017. That was the beginning of my final year of teaching. Among the students on my class list was a special needs child. I knew him from his days in Kindergarten, in a classroom across the hall from mine. He was a lovely boy but he required help to successfully navigate his way through his school day so, he was assigned an Educational Assistant to help him. That E.A. turned out to be a lady named Deb. A few years earlier, Deb had worked, side-by-side, with my wife in her classroom in the neighbouring town of Port Hope. So, even though this was my first taste of working professionally with Deb, it was not my first experience of knowing the wonderful person Deb is.
The best way I can describe Deb is to say that she is like a sunbeam; all light and energy and warmth. Deb has a heart as big as the universe and makes those in her orbit feel wonderful about themselves. And, for my final year as a teacher, I got to share my classroom with her. What a gift from the Gods to me. Some teachers feel threatened by having another adult in the room with them. After all, being control freaks is part and parcel of doing the job. But, that was never the case with Deb. We were partners in the education of our students that year. It wasn’t my classroom; it became our classroom and that was something that made our space that much better for everyone.
As mentioned earlier, Deb’s official reason for being in our classroom was to work with a boy who had special needs. We worked closely together to tailor an academic and social programme that he warmed to over time. He was a fairly smart boy so it was a pleasure to see how quickly he adapted to his new schedule and work tasks. Gaining social independence was one of his goals so, at times, I would teach a lesson, Deb would help him get started and then, in order to foster independence, she would move away from him for awhile. Deb, being Deb, never took these “breaks” from her assigned student for herself; instead, in those moments not dedicated to her young man, she always made herself available to help other students in the classroom. I never had to speak to her about doing this. She willingly became a second resource that any student could access, as long as she was free to help. What a huge help that was to me.
Now, one of the things that helped create such a strong bond between us was that we shared a fundamental belief that being a kind and compassionate person was important in life. Being grateful to those who work on your behalf and expressing that gratitude was important in life, too. So, as we worked our way through all of the lessons that the curriculum documents required us to teach, we always did so in combination with lessons in how to be a good person. We treated each other with great respect in front of the students so that they could see how two adults act in a healthy relationship. We always treated our students with kindness, patience and respect because we wanted them to see how adults and children act in a healthy relationship. Finally, we established our clear expectation that we wanted the children to treat each other with kindness and respect, too. We were a classroom family…..and that comes with responsibilities; one of the biggest and most basic being, treat each other nicely.
Every class has its own personality. After all, a class list is more than just names on a page. Every class is populated by individual human beings; each with their own life story. As the adults in the room, one of the most important aspects of our role is to understand how the different personalities and learning styles of our students colour the tone of our learning space. Because children come to school with unique life experiences and academic development points, there are times when the standard lesson format doesn’t always work. Not every child is a paper/pencil learner. That doesn’t make them bad kids or poor students. They are simply children/learners who require a different approach. Well, as the second half of our school year came to pass, we began to find ourselves increasingly dealing with social disputes among students, much to our chagrin. As Deb and I talked, we came to be convinced that several of our boys were becoming frustrated with their classroom experience based on having to meet the expectations that come with a rising level of academic difficulty that occurs as a school year unfolds. This frustration was taking the form of socially-inappropriate interactions with their peers. These boys were increasingly off-task, they were becoming argumentative and the tone of our classroom was quickly becoming toxic. Something had to be done. So, this is what we did.
One of the things we noticed about all of the boys was a high degree of ego-centricity. There were all about themselves. “I don’t like this work!”, “I don’t want to sit by so-and-so!”, “I hate school!” Me! Me! Me! All of the time. These boys hadn’t been like this at the start of the school year but, they were now. Deb and I agreed that academic success was going to continue to be elusive for these gentlemen as long as they remained emotionally invested only in their own self-interest. So, as Winter warmed into Spring, Deb and I decided to try something bold; we wanted these boys to learn to care about something greater than themselves so, we formed a Garden Club and informed these boys that they were its first members.
So, each day during our Reading time (which was always a difficult time for the boys), Deb would gather up the Club members and they would head outside. We were able to do this because our reading time included a fifteen-twenty minute independent reading component to it. Deb’s special needs student loved to read and did not require Deb’s help for that segment of the day; thus, freeing Deb up. For the Garden Club members, it was a chance to take a break from the rigours of our classroom, get some fresh air into their lungs and to be able to channel some of their energy into something constructive such as digging in the soil of the gardens. There were three or four raised beds at a far end of the school yard. The beds were in a neglected state when the Garden Club first arrived so, there was lots of weeding and digging and planting of seeds and the hauling of water from a great distance away. And Deb, being Deb, always managed to include some Art or Poetry or Science into whatever physical labour was on-going so that, without the boys even realizing it, they were getting fully-integrated lessons, while the rest of their peers read in peace in the classroom.
As many of you know, a growing garden does not need the help of five boys for twenty minutes a day, every day of the week. So, Deb decided to expand the reach of the Garden Club and soon, Club members could be seen running the recycling programme in our school, building/fixing things in our MakerSpace or cleaning up litter from our school yard. It was during one of the school yard clean-ups that Deb and the guys noticed that two trees had been damaged in our yard due to vandalism or rough school play. This made Deb sad because she is a firm believer in the inter-connectivity of all living things in our world. She expressed her sorrow to the boys and, because it came straight from her heart, some of her emotions went into their hearts. The group decided that something must be done. So, it was agreed that new trees should be purchased to replace the broken ones and that, in order to raise the funds to do this, the Club would move into the school kitchen and start selling hot dogs!
Trees are important for the health of our planet, as you know. They act as the lungs of the Earth so, ensuring that these trees were replaced would be important, simply from an environmental point of view. But, these trees weren’t just ordinary trees. These trees were special trees. These trees were Highway of Heroes trees. Let me explain.
Canada is known throughout the world as a peaceful nation. For most of our recent history, our soldiers have served mainly as peacekeepers in foreign lands. While not as dangerous as being a combatant in a real war, our soldiers still face danger in their attempt to keep the peace and, unfortunately, some pay the ultimate price with their lives. When such a tragedy happens, that soldier’s body is re-patriated back home to Canada. When a soldier is re-patriated, their body is flown to Trenton Air Force base. Trenton is located about 30 minutes east of our school. Once the body is removed from the plane and placed in a waiting hearse, a journey begins that sees the soldier’s body, as well as, their family members, travel down a highway called The 401. This highway runs directly by our school. On the overpasses on this highway, people gather to salute the soldier and to let the family members know that their loved one’s sacrifice was not in vain. The journey from Trenton to Toronto (where an autopsy is performed on the body before it is released to the family) takes about 90 minutes. The entire route is filled with people, all caring about something greater than themselves. Over time, this stretch of highway has been officially renamed as The Highway of Heroes.
The original trees in our school yard had been placed there as part of a much larger initiative to honour all fallen soldiers and those who survived, too. Thousands and thousands of trees have been planted along The Highway of Heroes and in neighbouring communities; each one a reminder of those who cared for something greater than themselves. Once completed, this project will have resulted in the creation of a forest of gratitude and remembrance, the likes of which has never been seen before in this country.
So, needless to say, the hot dog sales at our school took on an added urgency and importance. Again, Deb being Deb, she took the opportunity of having a captive audience of wienie workers, to tell the boys stories about the fight for peace and the nobility of channeling physical energy for a cause that helps others. She did this as the water boiled and the wieners plumped. The boys then got to deliver the finished hot dogs to each classroom. Deb always made sure to have the kids in the classrooms thank “her boys” for having worked so hard on their behalf. Gratitude expressed. Gratitude received. This is how the seeds of change are planted in the increasingly fertile minds of these young boys.
And then, just like that, the school year ended. The handful of hot dog sales had managed to raise only a fraction of the cost of replacing two trees. I retired and left the school at this point. But, Deb stayed. Her energy and commitment and determination stayed and continued on during this past school year. So, as I sat home in comfy clothes, Deb and her remaining Garden Club members boiled hot dogs. While I worked on my own gardens, Deb and her boys worked on the school gardens again. Work went on in my absence because, that is what happens in life, things continue. But, I was not forgotten.
Two weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Deb. In it, she spoke of having finally raised enough funds to replace the trees. She was so excited! But then, she told me the really grand and glorious news. She had contacted the folks running the tree programme for the Highway of Heroes Organization and had told them of the need for the two new trees. They were so impressed with what she had to say about the involvement of the boys and of the lessons they were learning about caring for things greater than themselves that, the Organization generously offered to dramatically reduce the price for Ten trees, not just two! The School Council was equally impressed and helped pay for all ten trees. So, in her email to me, she asked if I was free to attend the ceremonial tree planting. Of course I was free, I am retired!!!! LOL! But, even if I had something going on, I would have cleared my schedule for this.
The date of the tree-planting was June 6….the date of the 75th Anniversary of D-Day. There was a full-school assembly. Our anthem was sung by a choir. Primary students sang a song about the soldiers who, on D-Day, gave everything they had in the fight for freedom. “In Flanders Fields” was read aloud by members of our school’s Shakespeare Club (which Deb runs). Mr. David Turnbull (the gentleman in sunglasses in the above photo) spoke to the students about the Highway of Heroes tree planting project and how each tree stood for a life given by a soldier in a foreign land. The Deputy-Mayor of Cobourg, Suzanne Seguin (in the red blazer in this photo) brought greetings from the Town and offered congratulations on raising the money to acquire the trees. Pam Lancaster from the Ganaraska Regional Conservation Authority (the area group responsible for the health of the Highway of Heroes trees) spoke about the importance of protecting these trees; especially in their early stages of growth. Finally, *two boys from the Garden Club (one has since moved away and two others were on a class trip during the assembly) got to present a school cheque for an amount equal to the price of two trees to Mr. Hurley. The whole school applauded. Gratitude expressed. Gratitude received.
Outside, in the schoolyard, the two trees were already in holes in the ground. The boys got to fill in the holes with fresh soil. Kindergarten students got the chance to protect the new soil with fresh mulch. They saw worms and bugs in the soil and were fascinated in a way that only the very young can be at such moments. Deb managed to extract a promise from all who came outside that these trees would be protected by all because of their role in helping our climate and because of what they represent as Highway of Heroes trees. News reporters took photos, like the one above, which appeared in Northumberland Snap’d newspaper. If you look carefully at that photo, you will see a sunbeam holding a shovel…..that is Deb.
The ceremony concluded with cake inside the school. I got the chance to sit with my guys and catch up. I enjoyed hearing their voices again. Those boys are growing up, literally and figuratively. It brought me a great deal of satisfaction to watch them have such a positive moment in the spotlight. After the boys returned to class, I got the chance to thank Deb for the invitation and to catch up a bit with her. She was, somewhat, emotionally-spent, as most educators are at the end of a school year. But, she still had the humility to speak of the good that can come from simple acts of kindness. A year ago, we responded to inappropriate behaviour in our classroom, not with punishments, detentions, loud voices of condemnation or exile to the Principal’s Office but, instead, with an opportunity for five young lads to experience a different way of learning…..in a garden……where seeds are planted and the best things get to grow by those who care about something greater than themselves.
June has been deemed as Pride month in Ontario. Many communities are celebrating by hosting festivals or holding conferences that include topics such as inclusion, equity and anti-bullying and, as well, many communities are installing symbols of support and acceptance in the form of such things as Pride crosswalks. My town of Cobourg, Ontario, is unveiling their Pride crosswalk on June 3rd. I will be in attendance at the ceremony, as will our Mayor, the Chief of Police and many other prominent citizens of our town. I am attending this ceremony in my role as an ally to those in the LGBTQ Community. However, I must confess, I was not always such an ally. While I never actively campaigned against those who followed their hearts in a different manner than my parents did, I, also, never sought to educate myself about different lifestyle choices, either. This post is the story of my growth as a person when it comes to matters of the heart.
I grew up in a coal mining/fishing town on the east coast of Cape Breton Island called Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. I could see the Atlantic Ocean from the window of our living room. The squawks of the seagulls seeking dinner, mingled with the foghorn’s lullaby as we played outside on our streets or in our yards. Many of the men in town smelled of fish or were blackened by coal dust that found its way into every wrinkle and crevice. I grew up at a time before the existence of the Internet. My worldview was formed by the people I knew, the places I visited and the things I did in my home town. And, in the 1970s, all of my friends had a mom and a dad. Every one. That was what I knew family structures to be.
Because I had no access to the waves of information that wash over our children today, I only knew a derogatory term such as “fag” in the context of how and when I heard it used. For me, a “fag” was what you called someone you didn’t like. It was a putdown and meant that you thought the other fellow was weak or a sissy. “Fag” was always directed at other boys, never at girls. Girls were called “sluts” or “skanks” if they ever found themselves in line for an insult.
It took awhile before the sexual connotation behind terms such as “Fag” or “Slut” became clear to me and, even then, my own innocence and/or lack of worldly experience precluded me from fully appreciating the conversations that were going on around me. The first time I ever truly thought about alternative lifestyles to my own came in high school. It all started off innocently enough, with me and some friends of mine all talking about Rock n’ Roll and our favourite songs and bands. Eventually, the group Queen was mentioned and I distinctly remember someone making a comment about the sound of Freddy Mercury’s voice being the way it was because his “stomach is filled with cum”. The guys laughed at a reference that I didn’t understand. Peer pressure being what it is, I didn’t ask for clarification or to seek enlightenment. Instead, I did what many guys would do, I suppose, I smiled and chuckled, too.
My high school education ended in 1982 and my real world education began in the Fall of that same year, as I left Glace Bay and moved to Toronto, the biggest city in Canada, to attend university. As I left my train at Union Station and walked out into the Toronto sunshine, across from the grand Royal York Hotel, I did so as someone who never equated people with sexuality. People were people to me. But, as I settled into my new city, I saw right away that many of the people there were different from me; they had different coloured skin, they spoke different languages, they wore different types of clothing, they ate different types of food and so on. But, what I soon came to learn and to appreciate was that, even though they were different from me on the surface, they were still awesome people. I enjoyed their friendships and I was able to broaden my cultural base because of their patience and guidance. I was growing and maturing but, I was only turning 20 years old and I remained very “young” when it came to understanding the role sexuality plays in our society.
However, as luck would have it, one of the best things to ever happen to me in my life occurred just as my university years were winding down. I met my first girlfriend. We ended up being together for slightly over three years. We broke up for reasons that are neither, here nor there but, for the most part, we were just too young and immature to start out on LIfe’s journey at that time, But, because of that relationship, I learned one of the most important lessons of my life and that was, that Love is the best thing a person can experience. That I had a loving relationship right out of the gate influenced how I interacted with every subsequent female I met socially. I never viewed potential dates as sexual conquests, as many men do. Instead, I always went on a first date hoping that this particular girl was going to be “the one” whose heartbeat would match mine and that we would hold hands and walk through Life together, side-by-side, until we were old and that golden sunset beckoned.
A funny thing happened as I became an adult and entered my professional teaching years. I continued to meet people different than I was. For the first time that I became aware of, I started meeting people who identified as being Gay or Lesbian. Whether through work or through social contacts, I became friends with some of the most wonderful people I have had the privilege to know. People who were funny and kind and creative and passionate about life. My relationships were never sexual with these pals of mine and that was just fine with us, both. If I have learned anything in Life, it is that good people are good people regardless of how they dress, speak or who they may care to love. I believe in the power of Love and I have learned that Love conquers fear; especially, fear of those who have taken a different path in life than I have.
It may be a naive assumption but, I wish that everyone would allow themselves to be more open to the word, “different” and all that it entails. I am glad that we, humans, are not all the same. How boring and bland our world would be. I have changed a lot since I was a child who clung to the notion of familiarity of ideals being of paramount importance. I now embrace the potential for growth and for fun and for adventure that exists when you travel to countries different that yours, for instance. Or, when you study the history of another culture or eat foods that your Momma didn’t cook when you were growing up such as pirogies or curry. Change and personal growth should be a good and welcome part of everyone’s life. I know it has become so in my life. For that, I believe I am a better person.
I will close with a short story from my teaching career. For most of my thirty year career, I taught in the Primary grades (children 6-8 years old). In those grades, one of the most important responsibilities I had as a teacher was helping children learn to become good readers. There are many, many strategies that Primary teachers use to expose their students to language and to the conventions of reading. One of the ways I attempted to help children learn to read was by writing a daily message for them on chart paper. The content of the message could be about our schedule that day or about what we were learning about or it could be about the kids themselves; praising them for a job well done the previous day or taking them to task if I had a concern in need of being addressed. Anyway, regardless of what I wrote about each day, I always..always…always signed my message of the day, “Love, Mr. MacInnes”. ***If you expand the photo above, pay attention to the chart stand behind the four students (who were building a structure that could hold a heavy weight for sixty seconds). If you look carefully at the daily message, you will see where I signed it, “Love, Mr. MacInnes”.
Anyway, with every single Primary class I ever taught, the same thing would happen…some time after the first week or so went by, with the kids tee-heeing when they got to the word, “Love”, someone would muster up the courage to ask, “Why do you say, “Love, Mr. MacInnes” at the end of our letters? You’re not our Dad or anything!” The rest of the kids would hold their breath in anticipation of my reply which always was, as follows. I would tell the kids that, no, I was not their father. But, I was someone who cared about them all. And, because I cared about them all, I wanted to share something with them that was important to me….my favourite word. I would ask the kids what they thought my favourite word was. They would correctly guess that it was Love. I would go on to tell them that Love was my favourite word because it stood for things that made me happy such as kindness and friendship. I told them that Love was the best thing I had ever found in my life and that I felt I was the luckiest man in the world to have Mrs. MacInnes to love and to have her love me back. I finished by saying that I thought Love was better than money or power or being famous and that I hoped each one of them would find Love in their lifetime. Then I would end by saying that because Love is my favourite word and because I care about all of you, I want you to start every school day reading and hearing and seeing the word Love. Love is the best word there is and I want to share it with you. That’s why I sign all of my daily messages, “Love, Mr. MacInnes”.
To me, in the classroom, as well as, in life, Love is always the answer. So, when I see my friends in happy, loving relationships, it makes me happy in my heart. I never stop to create a hierarchy of what a loving relationship is. Love is Love. If you are fortunate enough to have found someone whose heart beats in time with yours, you have won the lottery of life. Two men. Two women. A man and a woman. Love is Love. It is all good in my eyes.
And so, on Monday, June 3rd, I will head downtown to watch the powers that be in my town unveil our Pride crosswalk. I will cheer and clap as an ally of those in the LGBTQ community and I will always view that rainbow of vibrant colours as a symbol of the acceptance of Love, regardless of the form that it comes in. I hope that, by being there on Monday, my presence brings comfort or reassurance to those for whom Pride is not just a time of good tunes and flashy colours but, instead, is a declaration of the validity of their life choices in a world that still, to this day, often retreats into the comfort of things familiar and safe. The world is not yet a safe place for everyone who follows their heart down a different path but, hopefully, on Monday, Cobourg’ s own Pride crosswalk will, literally, be a step in the right direction.
When Leah and I were still reading together each night, one of the last book series that were read through was Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan. Leah loved the books. Me, not so much. However, there was one scene in the first book, The Lightning Thief, that resonated with me as we read it together. It still resonates with me today. It was a chapter called The Lotus Hotel and Casino. In this story (which borrowers freely from the structure of Harry Potter), a young boy named Percy discovers that he is a demi-god and goes to a camp on Long Island Sound in New York to hone his Olympian skills. There, he becomes friends with a smart girl and a goofy male centaur and they end up on a cross-country adventure to retrieve Zeus’ lightning bolt, which has been stolen. Eventually, their trek brings them to Las Vegas. If you are familiar with U.S. geography then, you will appreciate that it is a long way from Long Island in NY to Las Vegas. In the story, the three kids are tired and hungry and willingly enter a place called the Lotus Hotel and Casino. Once inside, they are amazed by what they see. The casino is filled with beautiful people, music is pumping, lights are flashing, everyone is having a blast! They are offered as much cool drinks and tasty food as they can manage. The staff of the casino welcome the three friends with open arms and cater to their every need and desire. It is almost as if the three friends have stumbled upon paradise. It is only after talking to some of the other casino guests that Percy realizes those folks have been there for fifty years or more! He shakes off the drug-induced effects of the tasty treats they are being fed and realizes that, in fact, the Lotus Hotel and Casino is a trap; a pleasurable trap but, a trap, none-the-less. Percy manages to shake his friends out of their stupor and escapes back out into the real world, where life is tougher but, where he and his pals are meant to be.
The reason this scene resonated with me is because I often feel that my social media world is a lot like the Lotus Hotel and Casino. This is, especially, true of Facebook.
One of the appeals of being involved in social media is the ability to have contact with people we like without ever having to leave our homes. The Internet connects us all effortlessly. It is easy to reach out to many like-minded people at the click of a button. If we don’t want to be connected with someone, we don’t have to be. We can pick and choose who we interact with and, because we usually pick people we like and who like what we like, we often find ourselves in a positive-feedback loop. In this loop, we post things like photos of our families, songs that we like, places we are travelling to, recipes and so on. In reply, our like-minded friends send us “thumbs up” or “hearts” and reinforce our opinions of what we had posted as being worthwhile. We exist happily in this positive-feedback loop which is why it is so easy to spend way too much time on sites such as Facebook.
That is why it is often shocking when one of our “friends” posts something controversial. I don’t mean controversial, in the sense of a topic such as child abuse or animal testing but rather, controversial in the sense that is goes against the belief system of your social media family; the ones who think like you and who always reinforce each others opinions and posts. What happens when a “friend” strays out of their lane, as it were? Here are three examples of this happening recently, what this tells us about the person who made the post and why our responses to such a post are important.
First of all, I have a relative who almost exclusively posts funny memes. Keri and I get a chuckle most days from what this relative posts. She is a good person. But, every now and again, she will post something that has a nostalgic-bent to it. Something like how life was back in the “good old days” when kids were taught respect with a strap at school and a spanking at home and how they ended up turning out “ok” in life. Sometimes, folks, especially if they are older, find the multi-cultural, multi-task oriented way of our world overwhelming. I get that. I may not agree with it but, I get where they are coming from. So, when this relative recently shared a meme that said, “There is only one Messiah and His name is not Allah. Share if you agree”, I took note. I did not share her post as I did not agree with the anti-immigration undertone it was trying to promote. The meme was created by a group called Canada Proud which is a group whose aim is manipulate public opinion through social media, particularly, promoting a white nationalist agenda. Many of their posts are anti-immigration. So, what to do about my relative who shared the meme? Well, first of all, I know this person and she has a good heart. In my heart, I truly believe that she did not completely understand the subliminal messaging going on. My guess is that because she lives in a small town served by Post Media newspapers (who promote a Conservative point of view) and because of her longing for the “good old days” when life appeared simpler that, she was drawn to this message of a white Christian God being venerated. My response was to note how susceptible she was to right-wing Conservative messaging and to start sending her posts about the positive contributions immigrants are making in Canada so as to counter-balance the information she is getting. While I acknowledge that not every immigrant is a wonderful person, I do, generally speaking, believe that most are good and I welcome the opportunity they present for me to broaden my own horizons, as well as, to indulge in my penchant for wanting to be helpful to others who may need help. I believe in multiculturalism, as do many of my Facebook friends but, as my relative’s post indicated to me, not everyone shares the same opinion as I do and that is an important reminder to receive.
My second example of a post that caught me off-guard came from a respected friend of mind who had grown tired of, what she termed, “political correctness run amok”. She shared a video of a statue of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald, being removed from its pedestal in a public square. The person in the video decried the rush to erase “our History” based on people judging the past actions of others through the lens of modern day values. I was surprised that my friend had shared this video because, normally, she is on the Left, politically, and usually supports a Progressive agenda. So, unlike how I reacted to my relative in Example #1, in this case, I reached out directly to my friend. I asked her if she was aware that the statue was being removed because of what we have learned, as a country, about Sir John A. MacDonald’s role in the establishment of Residential schools and the attempt at cultural genocide inherent in that policy against our First Nations peoples. I had read the recently published report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was established to look into policies and practises surrounding the establishment of Residential schools. In that report, it was noted that one of the intentions of the government’s policies was to “take the Indian out of the child” and accelerate the assimilation process of First Nations peoples into white society. My friend and I had a robust discussion, with each of us presenting our opposing views in a respectful manner. Neither of us wanted our friendship to crash on the rocks of an argument so, in the end, we agreed to disagree. But, the whole incident brought home another point for me and that was, how easily we can become seduced by, what we deem to be, the “obvious” moral superiority of our belief systems. To me, if we are going to criticize Trump for separating migrant children from their parents at the southern border, how do we not equally hold a historical figure like Sir John A. MacDonald to account as well? Well, as my friend showed me, sometimes the lens I view life through is not the same one that others apply to their decisions. It is easy to criticize a decision someone makes that varies from one’s own beliefs but, to ignore the idea that others think differently about matters that seem crystal clear to you, is pure folly.
My final example is about something I recently posted and about YOUR reaction to it. It was on the subject of Abortion and of a woman’s right to control what happens to her own body. I shared a letter from a female friend of mine who wrote a well-stated, passionate letter about women’s rights and how frightening it is that those rights seem to be under attack from Conservative elements across Canada and the U.S. Knowing that this post was important to her….and, because I wanted to show my support of her views….I shared her post on my feed. I did so with a fair degree of confidence that her views would be well-received by my Facebook “friends” because, as stated above, the vast majority of my friends share my views on a lot of things. My Facebook “friends” did not disappoint! Her post received many Likes and Shares and earned her lots of supportive comments. Most of what I post turns out like this. People, generally-speaking, agree with the positive nature of what I write or of what I share on behalf of others. But, it was the reaction to what I posted a day later that tells an important tale here.
After posting the “My Body, My Choice” post from my friend, I heard from my high school pal, Eric. As I said in my second post, Eric was one of my best friends all through high school. He has gone on to become a Church Minister back in Nova Scotia. He said that he had seen my friend’s post but felt obligated to reach out to me because he said I wasn’t getting the whole story on this issue. He went on to tell me about how many of the women he counsels in his capacity of a Minister have taken Jesus into their hearts and are morally conflicted about ever taking the life of, what they consider to be, an unborn child. He added that, for many of these women, they feel that following the teachings and philosophies of the Lord trumps their own quest for rights as a woman. Eric offered up a video that I ended up sharing because, as he stated, it is important to be able to have a conversation about contentious topics in as respectful manner and, in his mind, the woman in the video was speaking as gently and respectfully as he could want her to be. In my post of his video, I stated that I was posting it with his permission because, if there was to be blowback from my facebook “friends” I wanted him to be prepared. Well, there was blowback but, instead of Eric, it all came to me. As it turned out, I had strayed outside of my lane and violated one of the unwritten rules of the positive-feedback loop by promoting a viewpoint at odds with a majority of the group. I know that some people were disappointed with my decision to post Eric’s video. I am sorry if I disappointed you in my attempt to balance the viewpoints I was presenting. I do support a woman’s right to decide for herself what happens to her body. But, I feel it is important for those of you publicly expressing your disappointment to temper that with the knowledge that one aspect of what Eric pointed out is very true. That is, like it or not, there are women out there who do not share the same viewpoint on abortion as most of you do. You can disagree with the viewpoint of that lady in the video…as I did….all you want but, that doesn’t change the fact that Pro-Life women exist and to ignore them is something you do at your peril. Pro-Life women vote in elections, just like you do. They just tend to vote for candidates that support their world view and, in this case, those are candidates that don’t usually support a woman’s right to choose.
Facebook, like the Lotus Hotel and Casino, is a wonderful place to hang out in because everything is dreamy and cheerful and everyone loves what you say and do and think. But, as Percy Jackson discovered to his chagrin in the Lotus Hotel, Facebook is a trap. It isn’t a forum to change public opinion much at all. It is more a forum to gather support and firm up beliefs. But, with a Federal Election in the offing, it has never been more important to try to influence the opinions of those who think differently than you do. Those conversations are never easy to have because there is no guarantee that differing points of view can be reconciled respectfully. But, venting to a choir of likeminded peers is not the type of activism that will stem the tide of Conservatism that is sweeping North America. Someone out there voted for Trump in the U.S. and voted for Doug Ford, here in Ontario and for Jason Kenny, in Alberta…….no one in my positive-feedback loop, apparently…..but, someone, somewhere certainly did.
So, moving forward, if you have a bone to pick with life and want to vent about it, feel free to blast away on Facebook because you will be smothered in virtual hugs for your efforts and you will probably feel better for having so vented. But, if you have a bone to pick with the world and want to affect some sort of actual change in the situation, then, my “friend”, it is time to check out of The Lotus Hotel and Casino and venture out into the real world, where life is tougher but, where you need to be.
This post is all about standing up for yourself, knowing your rights and doing what it takes to protect and preserve them. I will start with a disclaimer and that is, I am a Union guy. I have belonged to Unions throughout my teaching career. I have borne witness to the power of collective bargaining when it comes to establishing humane working conditions, levels of professional autonomy, as well as, reasonable income levels. Thanks to Unionism, the middle class of our society has had the opportunity to grow and thrive for many generations. Although I am now retired, I still consider myself an interested observer in Union matters; especially, when it pertains to Education. In today’s post, I want to focus on one aspect of Unionism that I have experienced several times over the course of my career and that is, the right to protest. So, if you think that Unions are awful things and you are against their mere existence then, you might as well sign off now because you won’t care for what this post has to say. But, if you are like me and find the current state of world affairs have your knickers in a knot (whether it be Trump, Brexit, Wiki-Leaks, Russian hacking, abortion clampdowns, alt-right extremism, the cutting of social safety nets, etc.) then, this post is for you. Please read on and enjoy.
The impetus for this post happened last week in my town of Cobourg, Ontario. It, also, happened on the same day throughout my province of Ontario, Canada. The short strokes of this incident revolve around a series of fiscal cuts to things like Education, Healthcare, the Environment and so on by the provincial Conservative Government of Premier Doug Ford. I am not here today to debate the nature of the government’s decisions but, suffice to say, the relentless onslaught of cuts to services that many ordinary people depend on has gotten citizens riled up. In addition to the fact that the government is cutting back on funding important services, what many people find most difficult to swallow is how the members of the Conservative Party are conducting themselves. The old saying used be that “all politics are local”. But now, all politics appear to be highly centralized. Members of the Conservative party speak in unison, using centralized talking points given to them by Party officials. They applaud every utterance of the Premier, as if he were God-like. Their social media accounts are all often synchronized to promote political spin. It is, almost, as if they don’t even control the words posted under their images on social media. It is very difficult to even book an appointment in the local constituency office to see any of these members of the legislature. So, not unexpectedly, citizens are growing frustrated and protests near MPP Constituency offices are becoming more frequent.
Of all the groups around the world who have become politically active in the past few years, one of the most vocal have been young people of High School or University age. These young people realize that the world is burning while our politicians most often fiddle about. So, around the world, with examples such as those striking for Climate Change, those fighting against gun violence in the US, in particular and those fighting against sexism and racism, the kids of today are motivated, educated and highly organized. Which brings us to the incident in question from above. A small group of local high school students….members of their school’s Amnesty International Club (a club that deals with issues of social justice) decided to protest recent cuts to High School education by holding a peaceful sit-in in the constituency office of our local member of the legislature. The date of the sit-in was well-advertised in the hope that our Member of the Legislature would make himself available to hear an airing of their concerns. When the students arrived at the constituency office, they were met with locked doors and a note that included the line, “Sit-ins are not permitted within any constituency office.”
That line, “Sit-ins are not permitted within any constituency office” killed me. It raised my hackles. It ruffled my feathers. It certainly got my dander up. To me, it said that the government won’t be inconvenienced by those who are being inconvenienced by them. They are trying to thwart public protests by simply refusing to acknowledge the protesters or their grievances. Last time I checked, we were still living in a democratic society and, one of the hallmarks of living in a democratic society is the Right to Lawful Assembly and to peaceful protest. It is something that is enshrined in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is something worth fighting to protect. It is, certainly, something to get angry over.
To their credit, the students met the appearance of locked doors with civility and politeness. They did not attempt to break down the doors or trash the office in outraged indignation. Instead, they spoke with the Member of the Legislature via the phone and arranged to meet at a time convenient to his schedule. How mannerly of them to do so. I hope when that meeting does take place that he actually converses with them instead of reciting lines from the provincial script.
I’m a calm fellow 95% of the time but, I recognize the value and power of anger. When used selectively, great change can come about because of righteous anger. When I read the sentence about sit-ins not being permitted, my first thought was how ridiculous a proposition that was to make. Essentially, anyone with a beef against the actions of this government is being told to schedule their protest at a time and place convenient to the government. Well folks, that is not what protest is all about. There is an anger and an energy and an urgency to a protest that gives the protest its strength. So, as I read that line, I thought about how the government and their backers are trying to discredit the notion that protesting is a credible response to feeling aggrieved. And why wouldn’t they? History has shown the power of mass movements such as those during the Vietnam War, the US Civil Rights marches, the Solidarity demonstrations in Poland at the Gdansk Shipyards, the Black Lives Matter folks and the hundreds of thousands who marched for Women’s Rights a year or so ago around the world.
Mass protest is one of the few tools ordinary workers and/or citizens have to stand up to authority. Collective action is often more powerful than individual action. Anger is ok, when channelled properly. So, this lead me to thoughts that I often have when times seem dire in our society and that is, that music and poetry and literature are often the way that the masses are informed and aroused and called to action. Artists play such an important role in helping to motivate citizens. Immediately, I began thinking of protest songs and the circumstances that led to their creation. As I began thinking about this, the first person that sprang to mind was a man named Henry Rollins.
Henry Rollins came to prominence in America as lead singer of seminal hardcore punk band, Black Flag. His schtick was anger. He railed against injustice everywhere he saw it. As a result, Black Flag shows were known for the intensity of the energy Rollins and his bandmates exuded. At his shows, you sweated, learned lessons and were challenged to stand up and fight back out in the real world in which we all lived. Henry Rollins has morphed into middle age and now, tours the world giving spoken word lectures. Still angry. Still intelligent. Rollins is able to readily articulate what is on his mind and, as result, I have a lot of respect for him. Recently, he was on the Stephen Colbert show and was asked about whether being angry was “part of the problem” in our society. Rollin’s response was perfect and can be found here.
So, I thought, who better to talk about the importance of “protest songs” as a means of unifying and focussing the energy of anger in a protest, than Rollins. Here is another video of him. This time, he is in a record store…..remember those…….talking about influential protest songs. The teacher in me wishes I could share this with every person, young and old, who is fed up with what is going on in our world. It is ok to get up and stand up for your rights. Please watch Rollin’s video before going on. Once done, come back and I will play every song he mentions and give you a bit of information to put each group/song in context. His video can be accessed here.
The first group Rollins mentions is his own, Black Flag. That is a much younger Rollins in the photograph, just given’r. He mentioned a song called Revenge. The lyrics are raw and begin, “It’s not my imagination, I’ve got a gun at my back” and goes on from there. To listen to it, click here.
Rollins next mentions a group called Bikini Kill. They were a powerful feminist band and one of the best of all the grunge and punk bands that came out of the “Seattle” scene in the late 80s/early 90s. They were led by a singer named Kathleen Hanna who, in addition to doing her own thing with Bikini Kill, served as muse for Kurt Cobain of Nirvana in their formative years. Anyway, Bikini Kill sang about things still on the minds of women today; objectification, rape culture, female empowerment and so on. Their music continues to inspire and empower many women, a full generation later. You can get a taste of their music from this video for Rebel Girl, from the soundtrack of the cult classic movie, Ghost World. The video is here.
The Clash are fairly well known. They exploded on to the music scene in England during the rise of Punk Rock. As Rollins noted, they often spoke of the hardships and frustrations of working class folks and/or about the political scene at the time. They are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for a reason. This song, “Guns of Brixton” is about a series of race riots in Brixton, England. The video is a live recording and can be found here.
Jimi Hendrix, like The Clash, is well-known. He was a guitar virtuoso, the likes of which we have rarely seen since. Like Bob Marley, with his song “Buffalo Soldiers”, Hendrix was angry about how the government was using US soldiers against its own people and, more specifically, how soldiers of colour were being given the dirtiest of jobs in War. Rollins mentioned his song, “Machine Gun”. The video is here.
In the early days of Hip-Hop, many of the artists and the songs they sang reflected the politics of their lives on the mean streets of America. Race was, and continues to be, such an issue. So, it was no surprise that racially-charged tunes began gaining in popularity during the mid-80s. One of the most forceful of Hip-Hop’s early groups was Public Enemy. Led by Chuck D. and Flavor Flav, Public Enemy blew the roof off of the simmering unrest that characterized life for so many people of colour during that time with battle cries such as “Don’t Believe the Hype”, “911 is a Joke” and their biggest hit, “Fight the Power”. The video for “Fight the Power” can be found here.
All throughout recent history, protests have been held to oppose injustice. There is power to collective action and, as it turns out, there is good music, too. The best thing about a good protest is that you don’t need an appointment, all you need is a just cause.