Monday, January 14, 2013

Keep Your Comments to Yourself - The Case for Both Sides

What a crazy week! I had a vigorous internal debate about what topic to discuss and what angle to approach my post ... then I wondered if anyone would even care what I had to say on these matters, since they have been written about so frequently and effectively in the Toronto newspapers and in the Twittersphere / blogosphere. (I've listened to enough homilies at church to realize that it's better to make one key point that provides food for thought rather than several long lessons.) That's why I decided that the idea about keeping your comments to yourself was a nice way to discuss both newsworthy events in a way that made sense. I'm going to argue both sides of this philosophy.

Keep Your Comments To Yourself - Yes, Do (Dr. Spence's Resignation)

The news has been covered by The Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other newspapers: the director of the Toronto District School Board, Dr. Chris Spence, wrote an op-ed piece for the Toronto Star in early January about extra-curricular activities in schools and readers discovered that several sections were plagiarized. On Wednesday, January 9, the director apologized via email and our TDSB website. More cases of unattributed work began to surface, and the next day, (January 10) Chris Spence resigned.

I read a lot about this story from a variety of sources but one particular article irritated me: this one in which Rob Ford, the beleaguered mayor of Toronto, stated that he [Ford] was never a "big fan" of Chris Spence. I found these comments to be particularly tactless. People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. When my husband and I were discussing the revelation, he said that when opponents sense "blood in the water", that's when people will do more digging and make more public comments. I'm also of the opinion that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. I wouldn't wish this public relations disaster on anyone. Am I disappointed in his conduct? Yes, but now is not the time for me to pile on with personal opinions.

Keep Your Comments To Yourself - No, Don't (Bill 115 and ETFO's cancelled protest day)

Friday, January 11 was supposed to be a "day of political protest" for Toronto District School Board elementary teachers (and elementary teachers in other boards) but it was cancelled at the last minute because the Ontario Labor Relations Board deemed it an illegal strike. It was a day of mass confusion, as students were told the day before that there was no school and then schools were opened. Some classes only had a couple of students - no classes at my school had full attendance.

Our union directed us, the members, to "make no statements to media or parents until you have received direction from ETFO / ETT". This is consistent with past messages that recommend that we avoid discussing the unfolding drama with our students. I understand why the union wants us to use extreme caution when communicating - this example of a middle school art teacher using his students to make propaganda is a prime example why the union advocates a "don't say anything" approach. However, I think that making this a completely taboo subject with parents and students will do more harm than good.

Teachers shouldn't be spouting off their opinions completely unfiltered but there must be some limited dialogue. Simply acknowledging that Friday was an awkward day should be permitted, to show that teachers do understand that all this unrest is not easy for anyone, including parents and students. My junior division students are learning about the truth as part of their term-long inquiry. We want students to be critical thinkers, and that includes evaluating what their parents and teachers tell them. You can read about Bill 115 on the union's website or on the government's website - both have their own built-in bias. Newspapers have their own agendas and opinions about this turmoil - can you tell what side this particular article takes? - even when newspapers are supposed to be "just the facts". Attempts to be impartial, such as on the People For Education website or on Twitter, can be overwhelmed by people passionate about their opinion or position on the issue. I can't ignore my students when they say "I wish we had clubs and teams"; I won't be publicly critical but I can commiserate - "I wish we could do clubs and teams right now too but we feel we need to do this because of Bill 115".

So, what are your comments about all this - or will you keep your comments to yourself?

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