Thursday, February 12, 2009
Send a note to Zoë Watson
As of this writing, Erik Millett, the principal of Belleisle Elementary School, is still away from his job, having been pitilessly hounded, vilified and threatened by what amounts to a national lynch-mob of true-blue patrioteers.
Bene Diction had a good post on this sordid affair yesterday. To my mind, the whole case simply reeks of Conservative politicking at its very worst. Millett was a Green Party candidate in the last election, and his victorious CPC opponent just happens to be the Minister of Veterans Affairs, Greg Thompson. Tory after Tory rose in the House of Commons to lie about what had actually transpired at the school. Shrieky far-right bloggers lost no opportunity to pile on. And I suspect that the mother who lit the fuse is not exactly a Green or NDP voter.
One of the saddest things about this has been the lack of institutional support for the beleaguered small-town principal. As a public employee, Millett had every right to expect that he would be given support and shielded from the howling bullies at his doorstep. After all, he had done nothing wrong.
Most schools in Canada do not feature a daily singing of O Canada. Once upon a time, I believe, they did. How did we get from there to here? As each school changed its policy, were there angry protests and physical threats? Obviously not. Over time we changed, not because we hold our country in less regard, but because rote patriotism fell out of fashion, as did rote religion--I'm thinking of the daily Lord's Prayer.
Moreover, and this is part of the ugly sub-text here, we became a more diverse community. Dropping the Lord's Prayer seemed reasonable, although some other accommodations have been self-conscious and clumsy, like calling Hallowe'en "Black and Orange Day." Some officials have run the risk, in fact, of promoting the very homogeneity they claim to oppose, by removing substance and replacing it with tapioca language that means everything and nothing at once. But some see the very end of life as we know it in every one of these changes, reasonable or not.
The Belleisle incident, many of these folks suspected, was just more immigrants pushing us around. In fact, it was nothing of the kind: while the principal has stayed professionally mum on the matter, it's not too hard to read between the lines. The people involved are Jehovah's Witnesses, who have traditionally asked schools to excuse their children from singing the anthem. Millett didn't like them being singled out in an elementary school, and decided that a good solution would be to sing O Canada at school assemblies instead, where their non-participation would be less noticeable. His decision was made in 2007. For more than a year, nobody even noticed the change.
When it finally did become a public issue, Millett must have felt that what followed simply dropped from the sky. Overnight, he was the target of nearly every screeching, flag-waving yahoo in the country. (As I've noted before, patriotism is not necessarily the last refuge of a scoundrel. Too often it's the first.) Instead of being defended by his school superintendent Zoë Watson, however, and the local school board, he was simply allowed to twist in the wind while his decision was hastily countermanded under considerable political pressure. They cut and ran, leaving him to his fate. I find this disgraceful.
I hope that my progressive friends might be prepared to send a note to Superintendant Watson, suggesting that she defend the integrity of this public employee against the on-going hate campaign against him, rather than turning tail and abandoning him to the mob.
Commenter "dizzy" has tracked down her coordinates:
Zoë Watson, Superintendent of Schools
New Brunswick School District 6
70B Hampton Road
Canada E2E 5Y2
Phone: (506) 847-6262
Fax: (506) 847-6211
NB: We are progressives, so please send politely-worded messages expressing your concern about her handling of this matter. No abuse, no namecalling, no threats of death or violence: we're better than that. Just make a calm appeal to principle, duty and common humanity. And let me know if you receive any response.
UPDATE: Commenter janfromthebruce suggests writing to the School Council (Ms. Watson's boss):
One can send an email to the New Brunswick School District 6, District Education Council c/o of the Superintendent Watson. Send as a separate file "letter attachment" addressed to the chair of the council and councilors - list all their names. All correspondence must be acknowledged at their official board meetings.
Below are the names and info about their District Education Council. I could not find phone numbers or email addresses for them, although they are publicly duly elected. New Brunswick School District 6, District Education Council:
Sussex Corner / Poley Mountain: Gary Long
Sussex/Millstream: Pamela Goold
Apohaqui / Norton: Russell Hall
Belleisle / Norton: John Ness
Lower Norton / Bloomfield: Trudy Kelly-Forthsythe
Hampton / Darlings Island: Vacant
Quispamsis North: Roger Nesbitt (Chair)
Rothesay West: Charlotte Pierce
Quispamsis South: Tracy Friars
Rothesay East: Mark Henderson
Kingston West: Wanda Cosman
The DEC website may be found here.
Posted by Dr.Dawg at 7:25 AM