Although I'm a kitchen table politician, I've never been much involved in my own community organization via committees. So far, I haven't really had any need to. Last night I attended my first community meeting. I suppose it was everything I expected it to be, and I'm thoroughly disappointed. I also understand a little better now what our parliament is like.
A committee of parents has been working hard over the last year to bring French Immersion (FI) to our school board. Currently students are bussed over an hour away if parents want to enroll their children in this program. James and I are both students of FI, and we want to enroll the boys also. But something about sending my 3-year-old on a bus two hours a day just doesn't jive with me. School already takes him away for 6 hours - I have no desire to lengthen even more. Orangeville is a town whose makeup would definitely support our own program. The problem is that people are so resistant to change.
I hoped last night's public information meeting would be a forum for parents to express their praise and concern, a time for all sides to make their opinions known. What it turned into was a firing squad against the School board and a bullying fight against parents who support FI in Orangeville. As I left the meeting I was aware of my heart pounding in my chest, the trembling of my hands and the quickness in my breath. I enjoy a good debate and I think it's important to consider all sides of a topic before making a decision. The problem is that a small but overly vocal group last night used anger to make their opinions known, and the atmosphere was hurtful and spiteful. That kind of vindictive behaviour always affects me, making me uncomfortable to the point of a physical reaction.
Mostly I was disappointed that parents weren't willing to make a decision for the "greater good". I know how precious a child is - I've got two of my own! The opposition parents were making their decision solely based on their child's interest. Everyone was in agreement that having a program closer to home would be preferable, but parents were not willing to relocate their children out of the current school, claiming it would be so detrimental socially the kids would never recover from moving schools. What the parents did not seem to see is that overcrowding at their current school means that within 3 years the kids will have to be moved anyway. But as their children will have moved on by then, the future does not affect them directly. The summation of their argument was "do it to someone else's kid, not mine."
We have not completely lost. They may try to start the FI program with Kindergarten only, and grow the program each year with new enrollment. The problem here is that research shows you really need a larger core group of children (at least 3 grades) in order to have a thriving program. If anyone is really serious about investing in FI for our town, a serious effort needs to include at least Kindergarten to grade 3. Anything less is not a strong enough program. Kindergarten parents understand this, and will not likely enroll their kids in a program that is only Kindergarten. Which leaves the issue exactly where it's been for the past 10 years - enrollment so low that the program is canceled. The end result then is that the whole town loses out on a valuable learning opportunity.
I know it seems here that I'm only arguing my side of the issue and of course every side firmly believe they are right. Mostly I'm surprised that parents don't want to move the program here to have it closer. If Colin were to start at the current school an hour away, and then a program were to be started here down the road, I would move him in a heartbeat. Yes, it can be hard to move schools, but the benefits of having him close outweigh the difficulty he might temporarily experience. A close school means I can volunteer in the classroom regularly, be involved in the school actively, pick him up if gets ill, drop off something he forgets, have him nearby in case of an emergency, have a neighbour pick him up if necessary. But the crowning argument for me is less time away from home. James and I are his primary teachers, and his home is his primary place of learning.
I know I can't withdraw from public meetings altogether - there are issues that are too important to leave to "others". But it will be a while before the bitter taste in my mouth dissipates. Ultimately I know that I am the captain of my family's fate, that I can assure I and not the school or the town or the government have control over the quality of upbringing my children have. It would just be nice if we could all get along in our town - when the meetings are over we all have to live next door to each other.