LONDON, ONTARIO – Yes, it’s early days yet but I think we may already have London’s feel good story of the year. Oh, what admirable sense and quiet resistance to witless tendentious mischief was shown by the parents of more than a third of the children enrolled at Eagle Heights elementary school on February 10th. Apparently without voicing a single word of protest to the principal or staff, those parents kept four hundred young students home rather than hand their tots over for a special day-long celebration of “diversity and inclusion” which the organizers were stupid enough to call ... hey, no red flags here, right? ... “Rainbow Day”.
Does anyone wonder why a sentient parent would flinch at the word “Rainbow” and cast about for something less meddlesome than this tainted codswallop to occupy their kiddies’ attention on that dreaded day of days? Those parents do not want their children burdened with concepts they are not equipped to process yet.
Lest we forget, elementary school students are aged four to thirteen. When a recently hatched human being is developing their first capacities for navigating life on planet Earth, their growth is spurred by emulating the models of behavior and adaptation that are set before them. It is a time of simple lessons and lots of encouragement as they acquire fundamental knowledge and skills. The last thing they need in life’s earliest chapter is to be confronted with a chaotic smorgasbord of labyrinthine choices pitched way beyond their comprehensive grasp. There will be lots of time in their teenaged years and twenties for sorting out the nuances and complexities of sexual expression and trying to figure out their precise location on all manner of behavioral spectra. What would be strictly theoretical and even foreboding gobbledegook for a twelve year-old to ponder, can usually be handled with a sense of adventure and fun about six years later. Life can be quite magical that way if you let things unfold in due time.
I expect that even more Eagle Heights parents would have taken part in the boycott if they’d had the financial leeway to give up a day’s wages to be with their kids or otherwise arrange for their care with adults who wouldn’t be messing with their minds. How galling it would be to feel you had no choice but to wave your kids off to school on a day when you knew that anything resembling actual learning would be taking a distant back seat to mushy propaganda.
London Free Press reporter, Heather Rivers, had almost a week to work up the paper’s first report about rampant absenteeism at Eagle Heights. Though it would appear she had a couple of ideas about what inspired this not-so-academic boycott, she didn’t dare to come right out and say so, and her first story was gormlessly headlined, “Why did one-third of kids at one London school stay home?” Yeh, it was a real noggin-scratcher, all right.
I was in no doubt about why so many Eagle Heights parents had the heebie-jeebies about Rainbow Day when I read Rivers’ description of the note which the school had sent home with students the week before: “Rainbow Day at the school was part of a designated Everyone Belongs month and the school children had been reading the book Where Oliver Fits in their classroom as part of learning about their differences, the board said earlier this week. The book follows Oliver, a puzzle piece, who looks to find a place to fit in, and is used by teachers in the classrooms for social and emotional learning. The book celebrates inclusion, including LGBTQ communities, regardless of background, the board said.”
The parents, God bless them, kept mum when Rivers canvassed a handful of them at the end of a school day to see if they could explain this shocking outbreak of parentally approved hooky. Not even one conjecture was forthcoming. Equally unhelpful were the two education trustees for the Eagle Heights neighbourhood. Slightly more verbose – but not a jot more illuminating – were the guarded non-responses of spokespeople for the Thames Valley Board who passed along such blathering gems of deflection as, “I don’t have anything I can comment on at this time,” and “We remain committed to supporting the well-being of all students and staff.”
Such journalistic pussyfooting wouldn’t have been required if this boycott had gone down at almost any other elementary school; like my old alma mater, Mountsfield, or that North London school we’re no longer allowed to call Ryerson. If either of those venerable white toast public schools had hosted this exodus then the headline could have read, “LGBTQ-phobic knuckle-draggers yank one third of students out of class.” But Eagle Heights happens to have an unusually high proportion of Muslim students and you can’t be slagging a minority like that. Rivers did get in touch with the outreach coordinator at the London Muslim Mosque one block east of the school but he didn’t have any insights as to why so many students had stayed away.
In two subsequent stories about that under-attended day of inclusivity, Rivers interviewed a different raft of commentators and a few of these were much more forthcoming about what might have prompted the boycott. This was not the case with Craig Smith, president of the Thames Valley district of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. He perhaps turned up the heat a little but provided no additional light, saying: “Clearly the board is going to have to figure out how to repair whatever break or damage that has been done and they are probably working on that right now. At the end of the day there is clearly a big issue there that needs to be addressed. The board is going to have to be transparent in identifying what the problem was and what the resolution is.”
It’s interesting to note that the commentators who spoke most freely were those who would not be professionally answerable to displeased London parents. Stephen D’Amelio, an adviser to Pride London Festival and an LGBTQ activist, said it was “jarring to hear” so many schoolkids stayed home, calling the school’s diversity work “a great concept. That’s a lot of students staying home. It’s a pretty serious conversation they need to have as to why this took place. It’s a serious situation and that conversation is needed to clarify the feelings, thoughts and reason as to why they did this.”
Brent Hawkes, the former pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto and founder of Rainbow Faith and Freedom (and a ubiquitous talking head back in the early days of Vision TV) said: “Discussions will require ‘some complex and difficult conversations. How can we accommodate religious freedom and equality rights? Sometimes it means taking slower steps. It is messy. It is complicated. I don’t view that messiness as a bad thing – it’s a growing pain.”
Momin Rahman, a professor of sociology at Trent University who will soon be publishing a study of “queer Muslim experiences in Canada,” said, “It’s a difficult topic to navigate. There is a headline perception if you look at evidence that Muslim governments and religious leaders have attitudes that are less accepting and sometimes overtly against LGBTQ rights . . . The real important point for our contemporary world is that there are queer Muslims who exist . . . who are trying to live their lives, navigating the reality of both homophobia from within the wider society – which still exists in Canada – and homophobia from within their own cultural communities. We can’t dispute that.”
For now, Islam is the only faith group that can still get away with refusing to parrot the talking points of an incessantly promoted ideological agenda with which they strongly disagree. There was a time not so long ago when one might have hoped that a Catholic school would show similar resistance but now that the so-called separate school system is totally subsidized by the state, their right to stand by their own convictions has been bought off.
Slightly less than two thirds of Eagle Heights’ parents went along with the agenda of Rainbow Day. Whether it was a matter of indifference to them . . . or whether they’ve been cowed into obeisance by the parades and the pop culture ballyhoo and the rainbow crosswalks and flags a-fluttering atop every corporate and government building . . . or whether they actually believe it’s a positive good for their kids to be indoctrinated in this way . . . nobody is second guessing those parents’ motives or writing up panicky page three reports in the Freeps about how they need to take part in “an expanded” or “a difficult conversation.”
Do these social meddlers and fixers really think that anybody hasn’t heard all of their fatuous claims a thousand times before? And, of course, those marvelously needful “conversations” are never anything like an actual dialogue. It’s never about listening to the concerns of those who do not believe it helps the natural development of young children to be burdened with notions of sexual ambivalence and dysfunction when they haven’t even passed through puberty yet.
The Eagle Heights’ parents who refused to play along with Rainbow Day owe an explanation to nobody and are wise to not submit themselves to the intolerant harangue of those who might claim that a conversation is necessary but, when push comes to shove – and more often than not these days, it does - will not tolerate a contending opinion. Check out this story from Vancouver this weekend (the Freeps certainly won’t) to see how badly it can go when a conservative tries to explain why he believes it’s wrong to allow children to be surgically mutilated for the sake of affirming a sexual identity presumed to be at odds with the genitalia they were born with:
Canadian cops watch as radical trans activists assault lone man defending kids
And finally, may I express a supplementary hope that at least a few of those Eagle Heights parents who stood up for the well-being of their children were also motivated by concerns about putting their kids off books for life by stuffing their brains with such artless, pedantic drivel as a story about a puzzle piece that’s puzzled. I’ve read Where Oliver Fits in its drearily lame entirety. (I actually had it read to me by a smarmy librarian on the interwebs.) It only takes a couple minutes to . . . er . . . digest.
It’s all about self-esteem and learning to regard the feeling that one is not exactly like others as validation of one’s utterly wonderful uniqueness. Oliver ultimately finds his place, his community, amidst other hyper-sensitive anomalies with whom nothing is truly shared and everyone is an exception to a disregarded rule. It is an egotistic and infantile depiction of a world where nobody is required to fit any sort of template or develop the capacity to take on any function that benefits the larger community at all.
In all those years of teacher training, is there not a single study unit about distinguishing actual literature from pandering fluff? Provided they kept the tale out of the hands of so-called ‘sensitivity readers’ (who recently made headlines by prissily ripping all the good bits out of newly purged editions of Roald Dahl’s stories for children) it occurs to me that Eagle Heights teachers could have imparted the same lesson with a lot more elegance and imagination by having their students read Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling.
You probably know the tale already in broad outline, though it’s worth revisiting for the beauty of Andersen’s descriptions of the natural world and his insights into the deepest mysteries of identity and belonging. The product of a swan’s egg who is accidentally hatched in a duck-yard, the Ugly Duckling tries to insinuate himself in different communities – ducks, geese, turkeys, even a human family where he is kept for a while to amuse the children – where he soon wears out his welcome and moves along again. Then, one evening in the fall, he sees a flock of swans heading south for the winter.
“They flew so high, so very high! And the little Ugly Duckling’s feelings were so strange; he turned round and round in the water like a millwheel, strained his neck to look after them, and sent forth such a loud and strange cry, that it almost frightened himself . . . the Duckling knew not what the birds were called, knew not whither they were flying, yet he loved them as he had never loved anything; he envied them not, it would never have occurred to him to wish such beauty for himself.”
The Duckling then endures a wretchedly hard winter all on his own, paddling around in a shrinking aperture of open water on the river’s frozen surface until the return of spring, when his wings, stronger now than before, easily bear him aloft into a large garden where he spies three of the returned swans gently skimming along the surface of a canal. Drawn to them once again by their beauty and the wrenching melancholy they evoke in his heart, he touches down on the canal himself and when the swans turn and swim towards him, he anticipates rebuke, and possibly death, for his presumption in approaching them. Feeling his own unworthiness, the Duckling bows down his head: “But what did he see in the water? He saw beneath him his own form, no longer that of a plump, ugly, grey bird – it was that of a Swan . . . The larger Swans swam round him, and stroked him with their beaks.”
Then, in a final grace note that would ruffle the feathers of the kind of people who regard physical attributes and orientations as rallying points for pride and self-assertion, Andersen writes: “The young Swan hid his head under his wings; he scarcely knew what to do, he was all too happy, but still not proud, for a good heart is never proud.”
Image credit: Rex Whistler’s illustration of The Ugly Duckling from Fairy Tales and Legends by Hans Andersen (The Bodley Head, 1935)
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