WE’VE MADE PRISONS OF OUR SCHOOLS
We run our schools like well-kept prisons, with bells, imperious rules and regimentation. It’s “efficient,” it’s orderly, it works — if all we want is the grey conformity of assembly-line minds
And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. - WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE
Time your arrival so that you get here in good time, but not earlier than required ... If you enter before the First Warning Bell, it must be for “good reason.”
—Regulation Cl (d), Guide Rules For Students Kelvin High School, Winnipeg
When Canadian students crept off whining to school this fall, they weren't to be late, of course, but they weren't to be early, either. What stands out from the hundreds of sheets of mimeographed rules and regulations, written in junior-academic officialese by the school authorities and distributed to students on the first day of school, is a certain bug-us-not attitude. Hanging around — “loitering without demonstration of purposeful activity” — that is what the school authorities can't abide. They make
their point very well in the rule sheets, even if their grammar is sometimes a little shaky.
Any senior pupil having special permission to enter the school at any time other than 8.50 shall go directly to the special activity, and proceed to their lockers (sic) only at 8.50.
—Rule 9, Deer Park Public School, Toronto
Hardly any students care whether a pronoun agrees with its antecedent, but a lot of them are tired of all these finky rules. A Montreal high schooler, told to submit an essay on The Trouble With Canadian Schools, wrote:
The trouble with Canadian schools is the students. If there weren't any students the system would run much smoother. Nobody would bug the
teachers and the principal. Nobody would interrupt classes with stupid questions or make a disturbance during The Queen.
He got a zero for that essay, and the teacher’s remark was, “Totally untenable thesis — absurd.” But the student had made his point; namely, that the prevailing school system doesn’t seem to be geared to the student at all, but to the administration. Is all this regimentation — all this back-in-yourcage stuff — really necessary?
No, says William Ross, liberal vicechairman of the Toronto Board of Education — but nothing much can be done about it. “Under the Secondary Schools Act and the Schools Administration Act of Ontario, and similar acts in the other provinces, the principals of schools have vast, almost unlimited powers. This is the greatest autonomous body in education, and the greatest / continued overleaf
ARE HIGH SCHOOLS OVER-ORGANIZED? Maclean’s took a straw-vote poll at Jarvis Collegiate, Toronto
establishment in Canada. It is almost futile to fight it. These people can make themselves the arbiters of taste or anything else. It's really a terrible situation, and the result of it is that the high schools are the greatest force for inducing conformity that society has.”
All classes should begin lining up one minute before the bell; wherever possible girls will line up first in double file, and then the boys should line up in double file behind the girls. Since the class has begun lining up one minute before the bell, all classes should be ready for dismissal at the bell. Classes in rooms 1, 2, 101, 102, 201, 202 and Portables will be dismissed one minute early. Classes should move into the halls in double file, keeping as close as possible to the lockers on their right... Ranks (front to back) must remain close together so that individual classes do
not become separated. Students should remember that noise, visiting en route, going to washrooms, drinking fountains and lockers shall not be permitted.
—Instructions issued last year on hall conduct, Bayview Junior High School, Toronto
“Shall not be permitted" — it might be more efficient for the schools to distribute lists of activities that shall be permitted. There are schools in Canada where students can't use the front doors — they are reserved for teachers and guests. There are schools that make it very tough for students to use their own school libraries. At Deer Park Public School in Toronto, “pupils are to refrain from cluttering up desks with paper.” At Tec-Voc High School in Winnipeg the lunch room has been sexually segregated. Kelvin High School in Winnipeg has streamlined procedures by declaring itself out-of-bounds:
(a) As a general principle, all areas of the school are out-of-bounds to students who do not have good reason to be in them.
(b) In particular, you are reminded that the following areas are RESTRICTED in the more technical sense:
Gymnasiums and Locker Rooms
Medical Room Mechanical Rooms
Staff Rooms (including the Custodians’ Rooms)
Storerooms (including Bookrooms)
The Industrial Arts Wing Corridors marked DO NOT ENTER
At Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute in Scarborough, Ontario, cafeteria doors are locked while students are eating lunch. The principal, James Hamilton, says the idea is not to keep students in the cafeteria, but to “hurry along those students who would dawdle in the halls.” He says students could get out of the cafeteria if they had to: “There are crash bars on the doors.”
In our cafeteria only the teachers can drink coffee or tea. We must drink milk. If they catch us smoking within sight of the school they kick us out. This morning the loudspeaker in our room didn't work and when it was time for The Queen we all had to stand at attention for 10 minutes while they got it fixed. The principal told us over the PA system that when we're walking through the halls we are supposed to make turn signals before going into classrooms. He said
that it was just like driving a car. —Dawn Wallace, grade 13 student. North Albion Collegiate Institute. Rexdale, Ont.
In September, the 10 provinces resolved to ask the federal government to issue social-insurance numbers to students in grade seven or at age 14, whichever came first. The student numbers were requested by the Ministers’ Information Systems Committee, which is designing a nationwide education information network, using computers. Says William Ross of the Toronto Board of Education, “It’s part of the trend to program students by IBM. It's reprehensible.”
I pass the Art Gallery and see the children, in their teens, being lined up in front of the entrance. The teacher, a young man in his late 20s, moves nervously around trying to shape the children into even row's.
Somehow it is not too easy. Somebody always falls out of line. Somebody always talks a little too loud, laughs in a subversive manner. The teacher raises his voice, his neck stiffens, his face gets redder. In their natural disorder, the children appear almost dignified next to him. It takes the teacher close to 10 minutes to “organize” the class. Then they march in near-perfect lines, in nearsilence. to see Kurt Schwitters’ happy and chaotic collages.
—Marjaleena Repo-Davis, former research sociologist for the Toronto Board of Education
I’ve been in a dozen or so of Ontario's high schools during these last few weeks. They're ghastly places, a cross between a factory and a jail, bearing little relationship that I can see to real learning. All sorts of horrible bells keep ringing and disem-
bodied voices (“Big Brother is watching you”) keep booming out instructions to wardens and inmates over the loudspeaker system. There’s no sense of leisure or of liberty; it’s rush, rush, rush; do this, do that, do the other thing. And. especially, pass the examination, pass the examination. pass the examination. What's that got to do with education?
—Richard J. Needham, Globe and Mail columnist
Barbara Stewart — that’s not her real name — is a pretty young English and history teacher at a Toronto high school who is going to quit teaching at the end of the school year. “What I am doing has got nothing much to do with education,” she says. She feels that she has been defeated by the regimentation imposed on her and on her students.
“I was an idealist when I went into teaching. Now I see that the system
doesn't respect the kids at all. and that the only ones who can get through it unscathed are the bright kids and the kids who have had all the advantages at home. The rest don’t have a chance.”
Barbara doesn’t think much of teachers — she has stopped dating them. “Most of them are petty, conformist, timid creatures who love to catch kids at the water fountain. They have no opinions and are terrified of getting the sack. All they want is the $300 raise that they get every bloody year — whether they are any good or not.
"The stuff I have to put up with is ridiculous. Official Hall Duty — you have to stand there and make sure no kid goes up the down staircase. Cafeteria Duty — that’s to make sure nobody does anything but cat. They have to stay there. If a kid wanted to go to the library and read a book during the /
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“The kids are jelly—that’s what our system’s done to them”
lunch period, he couldn’t. The system defeats everything I’m trying to do in the classroom.
“One time 1 thought I’d have a class discussion and I moved the seats around to break the ice. The principal — he is really weird — walked in and stayed for 15 minutes. At the end of the class all he said was, ‘I don’t think
the students should be seated that way. Also, I noticed that the students weren’t raising their hands before answering questions.’ He didn’t say a word about the discussion. He didn't care about that.
“This afternoon I was in the middle of a good class and the principal suddenly came over the PA system and
spoke for five minutes on a fire-drill procedure. The kids were scowling at the PA box and 1 could hardly stop myself from doing it, too. He will come on and sermonize about some little thing — like a kid caught smoking in the washroom — or he will make veiled threats about teachers who don’t show up at assemblies.
“I thought this was a profession but it’s just a civil-service job. It takes three weeks to get a box of paper clips. The principal tells us to be creative, and then sneaks around to see if we’re sitting on our desks. He grabs kids who are trying to go to the library. And so the kids march down the halls on the right of these yellow lines they’ve got on the floor, and they accept the fact that they can’t get a drink or go to the bathroom, and later they’ll go along with whatever their husbands or their wives or their bosses or their unions say.
“Today we had a council election and I couldn’t get my students to choose anybody to be class representative. They wanted me to choose. They are just jelly. That’s what our school system has done to them. The hell with it.”
Students are pushed and prodded like dough, driven like animals, humiliated like cretins, deprived of all the freedoms including freedom to develop and to think. Every opportunity to express ourselves is systematically denied; school newspapers and yearbooks are nearly always mere organs of the administration; if they express any real opinions, the student body recoils in fear. In selfdefense, the students adopt a kind of cynical servility and cowardly cynicism.
—Gillian Hughes, grade-12 student, Thorold-Fonthill High School, Ont.
Last year, Lee Rainey was a grade12 student at Alderwood Collegiate, Etobicoke, Ont., and editor of the school newspaper. The A ¡derecho. She and half her staff resigned because
the paper was politically censored.
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE STUDENTS OF ALDERWOOD COLLEGIATE We, the undersigned, have resigned from The Alderecho and we wish to tell the whole school why. At The Alderecho meeting ... we said that we could get an interview with a civil-rights worker from Alabama and we were told that articles on controversial issues would not be allowed . . . Since then the administration has gone on and told The Aiderecho to limit itself to articles not political or religious, not controversial or topical, not serious or significant. not dangerous to the common, happy lives that students are taught to lead. The Alderecho must be a trivial sheet ot . . . dead issues. We can talk about colored stockings but not about colored people . . .
Still, it is in the field of colored stockings, miniskirts and. especially, oddball hairstyles that the students' w'ar against regimentation is being waged — and lost. In Toronto, 18year-old Mike Higgins was forbidden to attend Lawrence Park Collegiate until he stopped emulating a Beatle. In Vancouver, at Killarney High School, principal J. A. Edmunds described 16-year-old Peter Speer's hair as "a distraction to himself and other students — the poor lad looks like a Zulu warrior.” (Speers was compelled to write his examinations in a private room. Later, he was persuaded by his mother to have his hair trimmed, and returned to regular classes.) In Halifax. at Queen Elizabeth High School, history teacher Mrs. Rebecca Kerr took it upon herself to order two boys to get “decent haircuts.” They did.
Long hair and other unconventional dress habits denote a certain spirit that is not compatible with studies. These eccentric habits are meant to distract the attention of other students and that’s exactly what we don’t want.
—M. R. Fox, principal, Baron Byng High School, Montreal
We have plenty of Beatle haircuts in the school. These are confused kids coming from confused homes, whose parents have abrogated their responsibility. Employers don’t want them. People in industry are not prepared to accept them. For some reason society feels it is okay for them to come that way to school. We don’t get the backing of society. In the past I have endeavored to do something about it. I’ve had their parents in and talked to them about it. But these youngsters are the pawns of the mass media. The press has been baiting school people in this matter. This year I have decided not to take any stringent measures. I appeal to their sense of decency and their pride in the school.
—James Hamilton, principal,
Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute,
If we allow long hair in the schools, we’ll have a lot of long-haired stu-
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“Authorities see a revolution every time a guy answers back”
dents. Most of them will be honest and law-abiding, but we have to anticipate that among them will be some beatnik or Yorkville types. There may be a marijuana incident or an arrest. Then the press and the other mass media will take a roundhouse swing at the school and upset the learning process for weeks. All this talk about individual rights is fine as long as there is no possible interference with the students who don’t want the learning situation interfered with . . . —Archie L. Milloy,
Superintendent of Secondary Schools, Toronto
Richard Fenemorc. 19. of Toronto, dropped out of grade 12 last winter to take a $75-a-week job with an aircraft firm. He has an IQ of 140. He dropped out because he was bored, because he talked out of turn in class and as a result spent most of his time in the vice-principal's office, and because he was kicked out of school four times for failing to get a haircut. Now he is thinking of going back to school. He thinks he would like to become a teacher.
Bob Davis is a burly, bearded young high-school teacher who recently left the Ontario school system to start a radical private school community of his own. The Everdale Place, on a farm northwest of Toronto. Davis is also editor of This Magazine Is A hout Schools, a bright new quarterly that slashes away at what Davis describes as "the slick, heartless, bureaucratic approach to education.”
Davis disagrees with prevailing school administrations on practically every issue. On Beatle haircuts: "Students should have complete independence. Hair styles are absolutely outside the scope of school authorities.” On discipline: "A lenient atmosphere is best. A teacher with confidence in himself and real interest in his students doesn't need to be strict. The authorities are terrified of students. They think they are going to tear up the classrooms. They see a revolution every time a guy answers back in class. I never had a discipline problem in my classes fat Victoria Park Secondary School. Toronto]. My classes were chaotic, but I liked it that way.” On procedures: "Stu-
dents are getting a bad deal. They are wrapped in paper: procedural manuals, conduct files, report cards, admit slips — paper suitable for filing and not much else.”
Davis is putting his theories to the test at The Everdale Place, where students. aged 12 to 16. can outvote the staff at weekly meetings to govern the internal operation of the school. "We’re running the school without
grades,” says Davis. "But we'll keep kids informed about the regular system’s requirements, and we'll have a good file of standard exams that they can go over. We'll coach them on how to write departmental grade-13 exams. It'll probably take the kids quite a while to get used to the freedom. Some of them will probably go for
months without doing much academically. painting in the art shop, sitting around listening to records. We think they'll get bored with that after a while. Once they come on their own to classes, some of them will be able to breeze through a whole year's work in a couple of months. They'll be able to go at their own speed. The
regular public - school system holds nrst students back. I ni completely fed up with it.”
Do not loiter in corridors, washrooms, or entrances on arrival or dismissal, or between periods. Loitering of all kinds impedes normal traffic, and tends to promote irresponsible behavior.
—Regulation Dl (c),
Guide Rules For Students,
Kelvin High School, Winnipeg ir