Prendre un Valium, une Autre Fois

This all started as a series of ‘tweets’ between myself and a young acquaintance of mine – he’s an intellectual, a play write and an actor. He had tweeted globally out something like, ‘No Anglos were openly supporting the PQ.’ I tweeted  him, ‘Not privately either.’ We then got into whom we might be supporting and why. It made me review/remember my Quebec history. And the next day was the election and time for reflection.

The results of the most recent Quebec election – PQ [Parti Québécois] 54 seat, PLQ [Liberals] 50 seats, CAQ 19 – are clear in their numbers, but in little else. While the results do give the PQ a minority government, there is much debate as to what that government has a mandate to do. Naturally, PQ supporters, and the first expressions of party leader Pauline Marois have made it clear that it is a fully valid mandate to make the changes promised- the tightening of Bill 101, the extension of limited schooling in English to CEGEPS, the cancelling of the fee hikes to university students, and ways to engineer the need for yet another referendum on Quebec sovereignty [whatever that actually means] – among others. Many members of the English community have already signaled gloom and doom for themselves. News commentators added to this frustration and fear by actually asking Anglos if they thought their house values would drop, and/or if they were now planning to move out of Quebec.

Others have taken solace in the fact that the PQ, which was farther ahead in the polls leading up to election day, barely squeaked out the most votes, and can easily be outvoted by a PLQ/CAQ coalition. Some feel that this offers some protection to the English community. Some have spoken of a quick next election as if the results would be different.

One can go way back to 1976, the year of the first PQ victory, a majority government, to see what might really be in store for Quebec as a whole and for Anglo Quebecers in particular. It was that PQ government, led by René Lévesque, which wrote and passed Bill 101, creating the Charter of the French Language, effectively changing, or some would say, restoring the face, or tongue, of Quebec to this day. It is this document, though ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada, which is the benchmark of the PQ, its supporters, and even other Francophones who might not embrace sovereignty [what that actually means]. No doubt then, that tightening this law is the least Anglos can/should expect over the next little while. Also from 1976-1980, Anglos marked time waiting for the next election to, “Get a Liberal government back in there.” History shows that the PQ won that next election, Bill 101 came into full force and Quebec experienced its first referendum on sovereignty [whatever that actually means].

Of course, Anglos still have a viable PLQ presence, for all the good that party has done them since, well, 1966. It was a PLQ government under Robert Bourassa which brought in Bill 22 in 1974, the first restrictions on access to English schooling. It was the more recent, and now gone, Charest government which closed the wrongly termed ‘loophole’ in Bill 101, that allowed a way for immigrants and other none qualifiers to gain entry to English schools and piggy back their siblings in after them. Bill 101 was drawn up by that Lévesque government. This right was written in by him, the godfather of the PQ. One can only infer that he meant for it to be there, that he thought English education should be somewhat available. The current PQ and even the PLQ no longer agrees. Hmmmm, . . . .

During the campaign Marois claimed that she has always been open to the English community. The PLQ relied on that same community to support it, as they have always done, in spite of that fact that the PLQ has done little of nothing for them in decades, if ever. The CAQ courted the  Anglo communities of the West Island. It was a UN –who? [Union Nationale] –  Government which last guaranteed parents the right to choose the language of schooling for their children as late as 1968. That seems to very long ago.

Still there is the wild card CAQ which promised no referendum for 10 years, and whose leader, Francois Legault, made it clear he was neutral on the idea of sovereignty [whatever that actually means]. Now there is a clear stand to grasp on to! On the most crucial issue the man who hoped to lead the province was neutral. And, in effect his party holds the balance of power in this newly elected National Assembly.

For the Anglo community in Quebec, there seem a few possible scenarios. One, that Marois and the PQ accept their limited mandate, make limited changes to Bill 101, put sovereignty [whatever that actually means] on the back burner and try to govern in a fiscally responsible manner in these trying economic times. And, that she/they reach out to the Anglophone community as 70% of those surveyed –English and French- have suggested be done. This would bring some stability to a province that has been all too disabled by the recent student protests and the soon to be uncovered corruption that runs through this place way better than any of the roads.

Then there is two, that Marois takes the more likely approach, the one she has said she would, using her ‘mandate’ to not just tighten Bill 101, but to extend it, to make demands of Ottawa for more provincial powers, and to force both issues to the point of either to an election and then a referendum on sovereignty [whatever that actually means].

While this second one might seem to more reasoned minds unattainable, with the support for sovereignty [whatever that actually means] hovering around 28%, one need only go back in Quebec history see the future a bit more clear. In the spring of 1995, MacLean’s Magazine sported the front page, “Is Separatism Dead?” In the referendum held that very fall, the ‘dead issue’ lost by a mere 1.6% of the vote. Others might add that the presence of the CAQ has in effect made this impossible for the 10 years of their promise of ‘no referendum.’ Would they not block the attempt? Again one has but to go back in Quebec history to 1976, when there was a viable third party- the once all powerful UN, at the time being led by one Rodrigue Biron, returning to the National Assembly after a four year absence.  Some Anglos, dissatisfied as they were with the PLQ at that time, a party which held the largest majority in history of the National Assembly, voted UN in this election as a safety measure.  Other Anglos actually voted PQ as a form of protest. One Anglo teaching colleague crowed in the staffroom the next day how the party he voted for had one. [Of course, a couple of years later he moved to New Hampshire, but I digress.] The PQ victory was a surprise as much as it was a shock. Equally surprising, but lost to history, was that this Biron fellow eventually crossed the aisle in the National Assembly and became a member of the PQ, showing his true colors and thereby ending the UN forever.

It would not be that surprising, then, if Francois Legault or any of his CAQ counterparts, many of whom are former PQ, would take a similar stroll, and that could be cause for serious concern for the Anglophones in Quebec. Tightening of Bill 101, which all parties erroneously agreed was necessary, would be but the tip of the iceberg. English CEGEPS would be next, and then referendum after referendum until the issue is, ahem, ‘settled.’ And then what might become of the Anglos of Quebec?

Some might say by even suggesting this as a possibility the writer is being ‘hollow’ and ‘caustic,’ but then he has lived through and studied history.

For Peace and Pizza

Recently my one loyal reader, er, I mean, one of my many, many loyal read_DERS, wrote to ask why I had not posted anything recently, going so far as to wonder if, “all that craziness in Montreal with the students wearing you down?” Now we all know that after 35 years in the classroom students could never wear me down.

But, the truth is I was on vacation. I figured that if the student protesters and all the wannabees could take time off, then so could/should I. But, now that I think about it I wonder just what are they on ‘vacation’ from? They are not on vacation from school seeing as how they haven’t been going to school since the mess began. In effect they are on vacation from doing nothing. I am reminded of the old George Carlin query, “What does a dog do on his day off?” After a pause the late, great George would answer, “Can’t sit around the house licking his balls. That’s what he does when he’s on the job.”

All the students and their entourage had been doing was marching aimlessly; remember how they could not even tell their police escorts where they might be going on a given night? That was probably due to skipping their geography or urban planning classes had left them without the ability to navigate anymore. Presumably they are on vacation from marching, wandering, and lost in the streets of Montreal.

Naturally they would say they are taking a break from their ‘strike.’ But that just brings up another question. What are they on strike from? See, to strike, one is usually withholding work of some kind to get the employer, factory owner, boss man to give them something. Since school is not a job, the word strike does not really apply. It never did. Yes, maybe it is a job for the teachers and when they stood boldly and bravely in the ‘Do Not Enter’ lines, still getting paid all those months, er, well, nope that’s not a strike either. Hmmmm . . . . .

Yes, I know, this was all about the soon to be raised tuition fees for Quebec universities. But then that got clouded by so many other issues, the one most often mentioned was ‘democracy.’ Hmmm, once again, interesting choice of word since democracy means government of/by the people and it was the ‘people’ who elected the current government, so those fee increases, which were first mentioned in the Spring of ’11, accompanied by increases in health care contributions among others, apparently are part of democracy. Hmmm . . .. .

I always find it funny, in that odd sort of way, when people in Canada complain about a supposed lack of democracy. Canada is the most democratic country in the world. What other country would allow two, not one but two and counting, political parties whose avowed purpose is to break up the country, to even exist, not to mention sit in the houses of government, and even to form the government when democratically elected? And, what other country in the world has done more to help save, defend and preserve democracy worldwide? Go back to the dark days of 1939-41 when the good old US of A was still trying to dig itself out of the Great Depression and see how Canada shored up Great Britain and therefore Europe, preserving that island foothold from which would eventually be launched the D-Day invasion. Canada is still the Major Peacekeeper with no agenda other than, well, peace, in the 21st century.

Well, that was one hell of a mouthful, now wasn’t it?

Speaking of mouthfuls, I got a flyer through the front door last week from some pizza joint and there it was in numbers and letters, the price of a small all dressed – - – - – something like $12! WHAT the F&^%????? While tuition fees, even after the proposed increases over 5-7 years, would be going up by about 6 fold from the days when I was an under grad, the price of a pizza, a freaking pizza, has gone up by 1200%. Did the government do this? Nope, just some guy in some pizza joint and then all his competitors jumped on the band wagon, sort of like the hangers on to the student marches. Did we get to vote on this? Nope, unilateral decision, then monopolistic closing of ranks. Well, folk(s), that is NOT democratic. This is where I draw the line.

I am letting it be known that when, not if but when cause we know it’s going to happen, the students resume their, ahem, ‘strike,’ I may well become one of their entourage. For democracy, for peace and for pizza.

And if they have another one of their naked/nude marches, look for me. I will be displaying my pepperoni with pride!

–Just My Two Sense

Simple Pleasures- Hold the Guilt

With the recent war on the Big Gulp and other sodas of their size by Mayor Bloomberg of NYC, perhaps it is time to reflect on the importance of simple pleasures in life. After all, smoking has been severely restricted, trans fats have been outlawed, when, where and how dogs can be exercised have been regulated, etc., etc., etc. Most of these restrictions are government done, but usually at the insistence of those who know what’s good for us all. But, do they really?

Back in my undergrad days, when I was ‘learning’ about teaching, [not learning how to teach or be a teacher cause that is learned in the classroom after years of experience], we watched a film titled, The Things I Cannot Change [NFB, 1967]. It is a heartbreaking documentary about the life of a lower income family living in a lesser district of Montreal. After viewing the film – in which the already oversize family has yet another baby, the oldest boy makes weekly runs to the local church for stale bread handouts, and the father ‘makes a living’ watching a guy’s car, gets into a scuffle, and gets arrested – we ‘future teachers’ were asked for our observations and possible solutions. I was in my usual seat at the back of the room doing my usual keeping my mouth shut and observing my classmates so as not to put my foot in my mouth. First, most expressed sympathy about the family’s plight. Whoopie! ‘Three cheers for the poor!’  Then they got down to ‘fixing the situation.’ “Why do they have so many kids?” “Did you notice how both parents smoked. If they quit they could save a lot of money.” [At that time a pack of smokes cost about 40-50 cents.] In the extremely honest smoking scene the mother and father are discussing their financial situation at what served as their kitchen, well only, table. “They give their children a sugared cereal every morning. If they bought the cheaper, no sugared type they could save money.” Maybe.

As I sat in the back listening to these West Island raised white breads, one of whom was the son of a McGill Professor and went on to be a doctor not a teacher, I reflected on similar moments in my own childhood, my own working class neighborhood. There were families with upwards of 8 kids because they were good Catholics forbidden to practice any reliable method of birth control. Many people smoked because that is what people did then, and the ‘smoke break’ was a means of escape from the hard life. In my own home I did have the luxury of those multi-pack cereal boxes, where you can just open the individual box and pour in the milk. In mixed packs of ten, each came with two boxes of Raisin Bran. I learned to save those two for last, for two really ‘good mornings in a row. When I crowed about this to some of my friends they made it clear that I was lucky that I even got breakfast cause some of them did not. No wonder they liked to hang around my house, a single child family, especially at lunch time when my mother might break out the cream cheese, peanut butter [to which no one was allergic], and saltines. That lunch for us was a real simple pleasure. To the family in the film these ‘solutions’ would take away the few joys they had.

Sometimes on the morning news shows we are scolded about how bad certain foods are for us. The announcers then confess or admit to their own guilty pleasures as if eating a Hostess Twinkie –now on the endangered species list- a fresh Twinkie dunked in whole milk then pressed between the tongue and top of the mouth –[oops, I need a moment]- should make us feel guilty? To be healthy in our 24-7 society more than ever, people need their simple pleasures, their little escapes, their health breaks, even if that means a date with Lady Nicotene. The other morning as I was walking along the lake front I saw a man of maybe fifty with his Golden Retriever in the park. The man had his dog there after 10AM and the dog was running free – both against local regs- and the man was smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee. As least the caffeinated beverage was still allowed. They did seem to be having fun, however.

This scene reminded me of another one of the simple pleasures of my childhood, my every third week visit to the barber shop, where my friend Eddy the Barber would delight me with stories of his camping trips –to this day I swear by Coleman products just as he did,- and enlighten me- he taught me how to spell Mississippi, for example. In the summer I would often be his first customer. I’d be waiting outside the door, the shop was in the lower rear of his house, as he’d open for the day. With coffee hand he’d usher me in and get me set up in the chair with that little bit of tissue paper around the back of my neck and that green sheet protecting the body from the dangers of cut hair. He’d light up and L&M, sip from his coffee and start in on my head. About halfway through these early morning cuts, he’d excuse himself and head for the ‘head.’  The sound of a hearty flush would signal his return, toweling off his washed hands and resuming his artistic masterpiece that was my fresh haircut. In his words of wisdom he explained his absence, “Nothing better to get you ‘going’ in the morning than a cup of coffee and a smoke.”

Those who’ve come up with all these restrictions on our simple pleasures are full of ‘going.’ They
need to relax with a Big Gulp . . . .  Liberally dosed with Ex Lax.

–Just My Two Sense

[For the record, the author enjoyed his last cigarette on November 9, 1975, does not have a dog, hasn’t seen a Hostess Twinkie in decades, cuts what is left of his own hair, eats plain bran flakes with raisins sometimes added, and has never had a Big Gulp in his life]

No More Leave it to Beaver

Girl: “Hey Johnny. What are you rebelling against?”

 Marlon Brando, as Johnny: “What d’ya got?”

 –The Wild One, 1953

 With Bill 78 the Charest government continued along the theme of Father Knows Best, which apparently he does not any more. This is not to be for or against Bill 78; this is to suggest it was unnecessary and as the past two weeks have shown, unenforceable and crowd provoking to boot. Quebec already had sufficient laws on the books, like the good old Essential Services Board which could have been used to keep the damn schools open [and to keep the CEGEP ‘teachers’ in their classrooms instead of collecting their paychecks while helping to keep students from getting into those classrooms] way back when to ensure the finish of this school year for those who wished to attend. If homework is an essential service as it was declared c. 2004, then school is more so.

As well, to date, even in the face of Bill 78, the Montreal police in particular have shown remarkable restraint, or an admission that they are overwhelmed by the whole mess. Sure, they can handle [kill] one guy with a knife when there are three of them, they can handle [kill] a homeless guy and an innocent bystander, and they can handle [shoot two innocent LaurenHill High School students while stopping, c. 1996] a bank robbery. Bill 78 served to make the police official escorts of the ‘declared illegal mob.’ Wonderful,  just wonderful.

But what to make of these youths who have, are and apparently intend to continue to defy, ignore, scoff, and/or laugh at just about any and all laws? Why are the usual authorities helpless and why are the students so unafraid? The authorities, like most of the adults who are upset by the students’ actions are from a very different generation, one is which ‘father did know best.’ As part of the famous Baby Boom generation, they learned something very quickly, as Landon Y. Jones pointed out in his book, Great Expectations, 1980,  – patience. The world was singularly unprepared for their arrival, and they kept on coming for 18 years.  Most of that generation had to wait for just about anything. Overcrowded schools went to two a day sessions with one group of students in the morning and a second in the afternoon. Dedicated teachers toiled through both sessions. Churches, back when people went to church, held masses on the hour from 7AM through 12 Noon every Sunday. Even television, in the dark days of Black and White a lot like the world back then, had but a few networks and maybe a few local channels. True, eventually these institutions expanded to meet the growing need, but it was those who followed who reaped the benefits of these spoils as the Boomers moved into the adult world where, once again, they waited- for colleges, jobs, raising families and now to retire. But, they did have their ‘causes.’ As their institutions evolved, so did their world view and things like racism and the Vietnam War came under attack. Perhaps no generation before or since has ever had such idealism and had helped to enact such significant change.

This current generation, the one that so delights in marching through the streets nightly, now with their new ‘musical touches,’ is at least two generations removed from the Boomers. They were raised by those who benefited most from the expansions made to accommodate the Boomers, and the world welcomed this current generation with open and ready arms. They grew up in the age of technology. From the time of their birth they have been surrounded by things that the Boomers could only partially imagine. Cable and satellite TV, the internet, cell phones, smart phones, instant messaging, MP3, er, MP4, Facebook, Twitter were all part of their upbringing. While this must have been extremely entertaining, it could also be troubling, because of the simple question, “What next?” Hard Harry lamented in Pump Up the Volume, [1990], as to how all the great novels had been written, the important ideas already thought, the best inventions made. Imagine how this current crop of young people in Quebec must feel, in light of all that has developed since 1990? The question then becomes, ‘What is there left for us to do?’

What seems left to do is to take a simple dispute over a tuition hike freeze, justified or not, and to define it as the crusade for this generation. Throughout the ‘negotiations,’ the student leaders refused to budge one cent on the possibility of any increase. That is why the talks broke down this week. To them who have been raised surrounded by wonder, there appears one thing missing – a potential legacy. What is left in their world to change? So this has become ‘about democracy,’ the ‘Quebec spring,’ ‘about free education,’ ‘the government’s fault for not negotiating,’ [well, actually for not understanding what the student leaders meant by ‘negotiating’ as in giving them what they want with no bending on their part.] These new world Beavers have dammed themselves up in newly defined lingo which the older generation does not understand. In his criticism of Bill 78, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of CLASSE actually wondered what would happen if someone died opposing this law. Quite a stretch from and an insult to those who have died, and still are dying, in the ‘Arab Spring,’ to suggest someone bite the bullet over $1700.

Every youth generation of the 20th century had its ‘cause celebre,’ by which it defined itself and left its mark on the modern world. In the 1920s it was a hedonistic rebellion/celebration after WWI that led to changes in styles, music and the arts. Those of the 1950’s had the Beat Generation, the Cold War and Jack Kerouac - a rejection of traditional values. The Boomers had Civil Rights, the Peace Movement, the Space Race, and in Quebec the Quiet Revolution – all rejections of traditional practices and limits. Even the oddly named Gen Xers had the beginnings of the technological revolt which expanded communication and knowledge.

What cause, then, is left to this first generation of the 21st century, these well endowed ‘rebels’ but to walk the streets each night, without even a predetermined course, safely escorted by police, and accompanied by their own ‘marching band.’ Quite a legacy, indeed.

“And that’s all I have to say about Vietnam,” Forrest Gump, 1994

–Just My Two Sense

[Previously on this Topic]

Father No Longer Knows Best

by Jersey Joe

On Monday, May 14, Line Beauchamp stepped down as Education Minister of Quebec. Not only did she leave the cabinet, she announced that she is leaving the National Assembly. As the student led protests continue with no end in sight, Ms. Beauchamp had come to symbolize the frustration on the part of the government in dealing with the so-called crisis. In her resignation announcement she appeared tired, drawn, frustrated and isolated. In effect she appeared like a mother, a mother whose children have misbehaved and she is at her wits end trying to come up with an effective action.  Meanwhile, dear old Dad, M. Charest stood behind her, right behind her, silently, but seemingly in sympathy. Had the TV screen been in black and white, they would have appeared to be a typical couple of the 1950’s. Maybe that’s why this has dragged on for so long.

The quintessential moment for this 50’s couple came when Dad left Mom to deal with the kids while he ‘wasted away in Victoriaville.’ While he and his cronies were ‘doing God knows what with Gods knows whom,’ the town did get trashed after all, poor Mom was left to listen to the kids complains for the weekend. To her credit, Ms. Beauchamp patiently listened, explained and seemed to come up with a ‘deal’ which would bring the dysfunctional family of Quebec back to its senses. No sooner had this happened then Dad, in typical male macho fashion took credit and crowed just a little bit, and a little bit too soon. Before they know what happened the kids spoke ‘with their friends’ who clued them in and, poof, the deal went ‘up in smoke.’

At this point, poor Mom saw no other choice but to throw up her hands and turn things over to Dad, as in, “I’m going to my mother’s. You deal with them.” Who can blame her? So far Dad has, in effect, asked his mother for help, in the form of former Education Minister Michelle Courchesne. Reports now suggested that M. Charest is going to resort to another 50’s tactic, ‘laying down the law’ [un loi spéciale.] The now tabled legislation would temporarily halt the spring semester for the minority of faculties paralyzed by the strikes, push up the summer holidays, and reconvene students in August so they can complete their spring session before starting the fall one in October. Again, a tactic straight out of the Fifties, punish everyone because someone, OK more than someone, is misbehaving. Only the ‘good kids’ will suffer.

It is not surprising that M. Charest is helping Quebec to relive the Fabulous Fifties, as he and his beleaguered government has been struggling against ‘modern organization’ which help to keep the province Quebec mired in a ‘not to be forgotten,’ or forgiven,  age. The Parti Québécois  and its separatist supporters have been trying to right the wrongs of the Fifties, too bad it’s the 1750’, with their ‘Je me souviens’ on the license plates a constant reminder of who lost on the Plains of Abraham a mere 250 years ago. Meanwhile the Société Saint- Jean- Baptiste is obsessed with keeping the face of Quebec French, as if there are any English signs left. And on the off chance should anyone scrawl any English words, there is the Office québécois de la langue française to erase them. Both of these are remnants of what might have been just causes in the 1950’s but are truly of no relevance now.

Quebec and its organizations, then, are using tactics that might have been effective half a century ago on the children of that bygone era. Is it any wonder that these ‘new kids in the streets,’ the kids of the 21st century are in no way responsive to, or impressed by these outdated and antiquated tactics?

[Why that is will be dealt with in a future post, Leave it to Beaver to Wreck the City]

–Just My Two Sense

[Previously on this Topic]

[Next on this Topic]
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One Cheap Trick deserves another

Put the End In Sight

– by Jersey Joe

What with the rumored or alleged deal between the Quebec Government and the protesting students falling apart as I write, CTV News Noon, the question becomes where to from here?

Back in the early days of my teaching career I quickly came to learn one thing. If there was something going on in my classroom that I did not like, ignoring it, hoping it would stop, letting it go till it somehow wore itself out, was NOT an option. After three months of student unrest here in Quebec, it is time the Liberal government of Premier Jean Charest took time to take a lesson from the old teacher. That is, of course, if they do NOT like what has been going on. And it is time that they took some action to preserve the democratic rights of the most overlooked group in all of this- those students who want to go to school, finish their year and get on with their lives.

In 1972 when a Common Front Strike, which included the provinces teachers, went on for too long, the then Liberal Government of Robert Bourassa decreed the strike to an end and also imposed a contract on the groups involved. These same Liberals would lose the next election in historic fashion to the PQ in 1976. Lest anyone think this is a Liberal phenomenon, in 1983 the Parti Québécois government of René Lévesque forced the Common Front back to work, imposed the infamous 20-20 loss on the workers and wondered why it lost the next election. One can understand, then, why this Liberal government might hesitate to take similar action here. Nor does is seem feasible to legislate the students back to school, since the protesting ones have shown so little regard for law and/or order to date.

But what this government could, and should do, is to uphold the democratic rights of those students who want to go to school to do just that. Some judges have granted injunctions to students who want to return to class, only to have them ignored by protesters whose physical and sometimes menacing presence have kept them out of the buildings, by CEGEP administrators who fear reprisals if they use security forces or dare to ask police to enforce the law, and the Montreal police themselves who reportedly say that these entry blockers are doing no harm by just standing there. Implicit in this is that someone has to get hurt before any action can be taken. This defiance of the law and the court decisions have heretofore been ignored by the government whose job I have always thought it was to make and uphold both.

The Liberal government, the duly elected majority government of this province, has a duty to reopen the schools and make sure those who wish to finish this school year can do so. Decree a set date for the end to this school year and stick to it. Those who are boycotting insist it is their democratic right to protest, which they do. These actions would in no way restrict that right. But those who wish to go to school have an equal democratic right. These proposed actions would make it clear where all students stood on the issue. Remember, there really is only one issue –that of the legislated tuition hikes, which as of the last government attempt at negotiations has now been spread over seven years. Those who favor or accept the hikes, however reluctantly, could go back to class. Those who oppose can stay out and protest, one would hope in a more peaceful matter.

All the rest, from ‘free school’ to ‘student boards,’ to whatever else has been bandied about can be settled in an equally democratic manner in the next Quebec election. I dare either of the opposition parties to propose free education as a platform, especially if they dare delineate how they propose to pay for it, in that election. Better yet, maybe the boycotting students could spend their free time, which they apparently have enough of, to form their own party and get a real life lesson, one where hiding behind masks in not an option.

As the Green Marchers chanted last night, “Don’t listen to CLASSE–go back to class.”

It is time for the government to ‘grow a pair,’ or better yet as attributed to Betty White, ‘grow a vagina, cause it can take a pounding.’ You made the law, you support the law, now enforce the damn law.

– Just My Two Sense

[Previously on this Topic]

[Next on this Topic]

Red Riding Hoods

Red Riding Hoods

from Old Teachers Never Die

Being tall tales in the ‘life’ of Davis Stringer, former high school teacher, now retired, trying to come to grips with the world after teaching.

All Davis wanted to do was get to his meeting.

To this point the morning had been going pretty well. The predicted rain had held off so he was able to walk to the train without having to put up the umbrella and without getting wet. The train had been on time. Actually, according to his watch, it was a few minutes early – almost unheard of this with the AMT. Since it was the ‘Last Train to Clarksville,’ as he liked to call it, the train had fewer riders and more seats than the earlier ones. He had no trouble sitting alone with the wide window across from him giving him a clear view of the passing scenery and his Nano Touch entertaining him with an Eagles mix.

The train ride had been uneventful, no one out on Meadowbrook golf course yet, and the English Super Hospital was still an open shell. He’d navigated the platform of the ‘terminus’ without bumping into anyone or a safety pole, and had not fallen into the other set of tracks. From there he’d day dreamed his way, no set way, to Peel nearing Sherbrooke, letting red lights protect him and white crossing lights be his guide. He was going to be on time for the meeting. Of course, ‘on time’ to Davis Stringer meant different things at different times. If he were still teaching and this was a staff meeting, ‘on time’ meant about one minute before the set starting time so that he could take his usual perch in the rear, and only have to wait ten to fifteen minutes for the administrators to deign to show up. For this meeting with his fellow supervisors, it meant a good half an hour before so he could guarantee a seat in the back, and first shot at the coffee and whatever snacks might be provided.

‘Making good time,’ and then he saw whatever it was he was seeing. Whatever it was . … .  ‘Oh, shit,’  . . .  then he knew. He came to a halt on the corner along with some other equally helpless pedestrians as waves of young people- and here the terminology gets dicey: striking students, protesting students, class skipping students, along with those who just loved the fact that they could walk in these major thoroughfares with impunity and immunity wreaking havoc as they pleased, all these had been used to describe the mob that had pretty much dominated the Montreal scene for about two months now- moved along Sherbrooke completely blocking the road.

Davis weighed his options. He’d innocently encountered some of them in the Metro last month when the ‘En greve, de Maisoneuve,’ gang was getting off as he was trying to get on. A salmon against the current, he’d been bounced off the wall till they were gone. Pushing his way across was not an option.

As he stood feeling rather helpless he began to feel not right, an ‘old friend’ was coming for a visit. Mr. Anxiety was beginning to emanate from its hiding place in the left quadrant of his lower abdomen. It wafted up under his rib cage, his heart began to race and he was having trouble breathing.

 . . . . . All he wanted that day in 1982 was to do was teach his Second Period history class. But, it was a Monday morning and the kids were unsettled – nothing new there- and the ‘lessons’ of the previous week were like futuristic events to them, ‘You never taught us that,’ ‘Who’s he?’ and looks of abject disbelief stared at him as he played dentist, trying to pry things from their collective memories with the ease of pulling teeth from a runner.  And to top that off, there was some sort of disturbance in the hallway beyond his closed front classroom door. As would become the norm in any school he would teach in for more than one year, Davis’ room was one of those farthest from the office, administration, and help. [Later in his career he would muse about this. Was it that they did not want to think about him, or was he a hidden gem to be discovered by only a select few?] He knew if he did not deal with whatever was going on out there, no one else would. Steaming he flung open the door . . .  only to find himself face to side with a stream of humanity, kids, lots and lots of kids, high school types, but not from his school. Not one even remotely familiar face in the crowd, and all the voices were French.

In one of those moments where a person suddenly puts twenty and twenty together, he realized what he was seeing. Last week, the PQ government had announced changes to the educational system. One of the major ones was to be the raising of the passing grade from 50% to 60% for high school, CEGEPs and universities. Most teachers he knew had no problem with this. Who would want to be operated on by a doctor who got 50% on surgery in med school? But to the students, especially the fringe students for which east end Montreal was famous, this seemed a death sentence. He’d heard rumors that they were planning something, some attempt to shut down schools, get other students behind them, but did not know what, until now. Here they were, a mass of them, parading past the farthest reach of the school heading towards the main areas. He was facing them alone. In the same instant that the realization of what he was facing hit him, he moved in to ‘responsible adult mode,’ the one that all too often falls to the teacher.

As quickly and as violently as he had opened the door, he yanked it closed. And just as quickly he rushed to the rear door which stood open. He got to it, and tried to pull it shut only to have it be grabbed and held open by a rather large young man who looked questioningly at Davis. Whatever question was in this kid’s mind, Davis had no answer. He got the door half shut, or as the large kid holding it firmly now probably felt, half open. For the next ‘forever’ Davis stood in the opening between the mob and his class of students, trying to keep members of the mob out as much of it filed past. He felt as if he were on a high dive over an empty pool- to go forward was not an option but he could not back down either. Why couldn’t he just be standing naked on the Metropolitan in rush hour? As the mob passed and passed and passed, he stood, his right hand kept pulling pressure on the door knob, his left pushing any intruder away from the opening, his insides in total chaos. ‘Nope, can’t come in,’ ‘Uh, uh,’ ‘Sorry,’ ‘Not today,’ and other silly useless words come from his mouth as he continued this little game . . .  until another large kid came to the door and actually asked him what he was doing! “I’m just trying to close my door,” and in his best French, ‘fermer la porte,’ was the most eloquence he could come up with. This fellow, for reasons that Davis would always wonder about, nodded at the one who had been holding the door open, and then helped to close the door.

Davis, his class now ‘safely’ inside, leaned against the door proud of the fact that he had not wet himself.

“Mr. Stringer!” Danica was in his face. “Look! One of them tore up Toly’s notebook.”

‘Wonderful.’ Davis could see that the front door was now open, some heads were looking in, and Toly was waving two pieces of what used to be his history notebook. Again, in an instant Davis realized that Toly, pain in the ass that he was, and directed to never open that door as he had been, as all Mr. Stringer’s students had been told from Day One, one of his peccadilloes, had ‘naturally’ opened the front door for whatever insane reasons and was lucky it was only his notebook that had been damaged.

Davis moved to the front door, and witnessing the end of the mob march on, slammed it shut.

“But what about my notebook, Sir?” demanded Toly.

“Tell you what, Toly, you point out the one that did it and I’ll kick his ass.”

He turned to the class, “Now as we were trying to remember what we had done last week. . . “

Later that day, when calm had returned to RHS and Davis was sitting still shaken in the staffroom. He was approached by a female colleague. “Some of my students told me how brave you were placing yourself between those hooligans and your class.”

“Thanks,” was all he could say.  . . . . .

As he gradually got his heart rate to slow and the odd feeling in his gut to subside, he saw that he had somehow drifted a few blocks east as if once again trying to find the end of the mob as it headed west, but none was in sight this time.

He laughed to himself as he realized he was wearing his red checked A&E jacket. Most in the mob were wearing red, if some were only sporting little red squares of cloth pinned on the outer wear, the color symbol of the protest. And then he heard a familiar refrain, “En Greve, du Maisonnueve, En Greve, du Maisonnueve.” His old ‘friends’ from the Metro encounter were approaching.

‘When in Rome.’ He about faced himself and slipped into step with them. “En Greve, du Maisonueve, En Greve, du Maisonueve,” he began, fist in the air. Two young girls, er, ‘jeuns filles,’ looked in askance at his grey beard and craggy face. Without missing a beat he said, “Moi, je suis un professor d’histoire de U de M,” and he continued with “En Greve, du Maisonueve, En Greve, du Maisonueve.”

It took him two blocks to surreptitiously work his way to the north side of the crowd as he neared Peel once more.

“Au revoir, mes eleves,” and he was on his way up the hill.

After all, all he wanted to do was get to his meeting . . . on time.

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Why not take a ride on the ‘last train?’