Thursday 28 June 2012

Love in a Dangerous Time

Today, June 28, 2012, marks the last day Peterborough Collegiate and Vocational School will operate as such – at least for the time being.

The coincidence of the natural conclusion of the school year with the judicial ruling in favour of the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board has elevated the emotional intensity of both phenomena for students, parents, teachers, and the whole spectrum of PCVS supporters.

Two Fridays ago, Rick Mercer commented to one PCVS supporter during a chance meeting on a Toronto street his impression that the following Monday evening would bring the court’s decision. Sure enough, the ruling dismissing the suit brought by Peterborough Needs PCVS against KPR was made public late that Monday.

Though the coordinators of the legal action against the board had from the outset made clear their awareness that the odds of a court ruling against a public body nominally governed by elected officials were slim, many factors encouraged PCVS supporters to have hope that the case against the board was substantial enough to make it an exception.

Only when the ray of hope is extinguished does one realize just how bright that ray had begun to seem.

At least the court had the decency to wait until after the annual outdoor grad party to make their decision known. Unfortunately, exams began two days later.

Lawyers for both sides had requested of the court that its decision be made public as soon as possible, as everyone involved in the disputed proposal to close PCVS could see that only negative impacts on students, families, and teaching staff would ensue were September’s school configurations not settled by the end of June.

One price of the promptly-revealed decision is the absence of the complete ruling, and PCVS supporters won’t know the rationale behind the court’s thinking for a little while yet. Without the judges’ full written response, it’s difficult to speculate on the precedents that might be set by such a decision – or the precedents on which it might be based.

Students, teachers and parents responded to the news by gathering at the school that night to share in the powerful sense of community engendered by the collective reaction to the assault on Peterborough’s leading educational light by a myopic bureaucracy.

The “I Love PCVS” dance recital the week prior was an even bigger celebration of power of the magical institution to bring diverse backgrounds and interests together in collaborative artistic achievement, and to raise students far beyond what they may have perceived their abilities to be.

The great irony of the evening lay in the use of what is most valuable about PCVS – the spirit of collaborative creativity – to tell the story of the school’s battle with administrators who are emblematic of everything that is wrong with the way public education is managed in this province.

Dance teacher Suzie Clarke, herself a PCVS alumna, has been a dynamic force in the school during her brief tenure at her alma mater, and her energy and commitment inspired many students who had never studied dance before to open up new avenues of movement and expression for themselves – and to have the confidence to share that with the entire community.

The dances performed for the show were nothing short of stunning, from the beginning of the program to the end. Students tapped into their strong feelings for PCVS and their passion in defending it as they prepared the performances. Students themselves choreographed many of the dances, and their perspective on the battle with school board administrators and deaf trustees shone crystal clear throughout the night. Many of them have been posted on YouTube – you might start by watching this one. 

Some of the most inspiring moments of the night came from the English-as-a-Second-Language dance class, who instead of pre-printed “I Love PCVS” t-shirts wore ones with “I Love PCVS” hand-written in the students’ first languages. The ability of PCVS to turn diversity into unity was symbolized neatly when the dancers used cards marked with the name of their country of origin as props, then flipped them over to reveal letters spelling out “Raiders.” The love-in at the end of the second night saw many tears spilled for the joy of personal growth in the context of collective action.

A documentary made by grade 12 student Zan Bilz built from interviews with PCVS students demonstrates in no uncertain terms the way the culture of the school brings out the natural potential of young people by encouraging them to explore their unique qualities rather than forcing them to conform to a standard.

 Such is the process of education, in which abilities innate in the organism are “educed,” or drawn out, by sympathetic mentors and encouraging peers. Education really is a kind of magic, isn’t it? Perhaps this is one reason why PCVS is so readily compared with J.K.Rowling’s Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

One of the legacies of the Harris-era amalgamations that created KPR was the end of the use of the term “board of education.” The monstrosities birthed by Harris are known rather as “school boards.” This is a more accurate term for the new beasts, which are in both name and deed not interested in “educing” anything from young people, but only in managing their progress through the curriculum from one standardized test to the next.

PCVS parent and civic activist Bill Templeman spoke for thousands of PCVS supporters when he told the Examiner that the battle isn’t over. All along, the Peterborough Needs PCVS organizing committee stated that a political solution was preferential to a legal one in every way.

The PCVS case has demonstrated conclusively that the current Ontario government has no interest in holding school boards accountable to their tax-paying constituents, but only to the corporate, political, and bureaucratic interests that dominate Queen’s Park.

Recent stories (here and here) by investigative journalist Kevin Donovan (who earlier this year helped expose the ORNGE scandal) show the tip of the iceberg of Liberal backroom interference at the Toronto District School Board, revealing that employees have been pressured to campaign on behalf of both trustees and provincial Liberal candidates, while supportive unions have had their coffers filled with Liberal “slush fund” money. The web seems to extend to Peterborough, as suggested not only by the PCVS case, but by the explicit promotion of the Liberal party in recent campaigns by local teachers’ unions, in spite of the fact that one of their own members, Dave Nickle, has been the NDP candidate.

The closure of PCVS is the most egregious indication of a system gone wrong from top to bottom. Yet over the past year the PCVS community has responded in most admirable fashion, turning the assault on our city’s cornerstone into an opportunity for further community development and promotion of “the PCVS way.”

Awareness of the way schools should be run has never been higher.

And the love for PCVS has never been greater.   

This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong, 
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.