Let boys be boys

Let boys be boys

By Alex Sanchez

Sex. The word elicits immediate attention. I know: I’m a novelist, a spinner of words. My books have been challenged by parents, yanked by schools from summer reading lists, and banned by libraries because—although my novels aren’t graphic—the teen characters I write about explore sexuality, sexual orientation, and, yes, sex.

I don’t write about this stuff to sell more books. Contrary to popular belief, sex doesn’t always sell. In the teen fiction world, controversial issues and adverse publicity can, and do, limit book sales. So why continue to write stories revolving around teen sexuality?

I write the books I wish I’d had available when I was growing up, books that would’ve told me, “It’s okay to be who you are.” And one part of who I was then was a very normal teenage kid trying to sort out his sexuality.

Sexuality. It’s how we experience and express ourselves as beings characterized and distinguished by sex. In the 1970s when I was a teen, sex education programs were limited to the biology of reproduction and the ravages of VD.

Judy Blume’s groundbreaking novels that speak openly and honestly about teen sexuality were just starting to come out. There were no books that portrayed teenage boys like me: struggling with same-sex attraction, questioning my sexuality, wanting to love and be loved. I thought I was the only one in the world. After school, alone in my room, I would tell myself, “Stop feeling this way! I refuse to let this happen.”

Such were the dark ages before Will & Grace.

In some ways, the world has changed a lot since then. Young people today grow up watching gay and lesbian characters on TV, hear news reports of US Supreme Court sodomy rulings, and engage in debates about same-sex marriage. And yet, even in today’s world, I receive daily e-mails from young readers struggling to accept themselves, harassed and bullied at school, hearing ministers condemn gay people, and fearing that their parents would kick them out if they found out their secret.

Decades after I was a teen, most school sex-ed programs continue to focus on biology and reproduction. Abstinence-only programs in some schools approach sexuality in the spirit of a “just say no” antidrug campaign, treating sex as if it were equivalent to some illicit substance that society must control. Little, if any, discussion is given to gender identity or sexual orientation.

Only an exceptional few comprehensive school programs address sexuality as a fundamental part of being alive—a human experience that entails risks but can also yield tremendous benefits, that may have painful consequences but can also be enormously rewarding. Instead, we far too often abandon young people to figure it all out on their own.

In my novels, I especially focus on high-school boys because (a) I’m a guy, (b) high school was a wicked, tough time for me, and (c) I feel a particular empathy for the struggles of teen boys.

We know that society often imparts a message of “boys don’t cry.” But from what I’ve observed, the message is actually far broader than that: boys shouldn’t feel, period. Whereas girls are allowed a wide range of emotional expression, boys are given the message that they shouldn’t show or feel any weakness, whether it be hurt, loneliness, sadness, grief, or even too much joy.

What’s left? Anger—directed either toward others or turned inward toward the self. Such is the “box” that we confine guys to. Is it any wonder that males: commit suicide about four times more often than females; constitute over 90% of juvenile and adult prison populations; comprise a majority of alcoholics, drug addicts, and homeless of all ages; have lower levels of university attendance and life expectancy? The list goes on, including the striking fact that nearly every school shooter has been a male.

One of the tasks of growing up male is figuring out, “What does it mean to be a man?” In our era of single moms, absent dads, latchkey kids, and an average of six hours per day spent by teen boys in front of a screen, we’re largely abandoning a generation to figure out how to be a man from violent, misogynistic computer games and gangsta’ rap videos, Internet porn sites, and endlessly gun-filled TV shows—media that fuel the anger boys feel.

Accompanying the violence and misogyny is an equally strong dose of homophobia. In a majority of schools, religious and ethnic slurs are no longer tolerated, but homophobic remarks remain commonplace.

And antigay comments aren’t limited to hurting gay and lesbian students. At some point almost every boy gets called queer, fag, or worse. To imply somebody is gay serves as one of the most effective and pervasive forms of bullying and harassment among boys. It’s a way of keeping males inside their box.

When adults allow homophobia to persist, we’re hurting the straight students alongside the gay ones—and there are 10 times as many straight students. Homophobia hurts everybody—gay and straight.

Some individuals believe that to address homophobia would imply condoning or promoting homosexuality. Nonsense.

The reality is that young people today already know gay people. They have gay or lesbian friends, relatives, parents; they regularly see gay people in the media; they hear US President-elect Barack Obama include gay people in his victory speech. What addressing homophobia and issues of gender and sexual identity actually promotes is a climate of inclusiveness in which all young people can feel safe to be themselves regardless of their differences.

Every one of us is different in some way, but we are all essentially the same. I’ve learned this from my readers, most of whom, it turns out, are straight. Each, in his or her own way, can identify with characters feeling different, wanting to love and be accepted, coming to terms with sexuality, and trying to sort it all out.

Alex Sanchez was the keynote speaker at the BCTF’s Regional Social Justice Conference held in Abbotsford in February 2009. He spoke about the intersectionality of faith and sexuality. He is the author of Rainbow Boys, The God Box, and other award-winning teen novels. AlexSanchez.com

Antibullying programs: Do we have it right yet?

Antibullying programs: Do we

have it right yet?

By  Dr. Carol Battaglio

Bullying has been around since

schools were first invented, and for

just as long teachers have exerted

valiant attempts to curb it. Yet,

despite these, sometimes gargan –

tuan efforts at prevention, incidents

of school bullying just won’t seem

to go away. Yes, we have had some

success: on the average, our anti –

bullying efforts have decreased

rates of bullying by about 50%. But,

it is troubling to note that some

schools that have applied compre –

hensive antibullying programs have

experienced increases in bullying of

up to 15%. Is something missing

from our antibullying strategies?

A retired drama teacher

recounted to me how he and his

friends in Grade 5 harassed an

unfortunate classmate whose only

fault was being 5’ 10,” big, soft, and

awkward. They used to tease, trip,

and shove this unfortunate “giant”

until he broke down in tears. The

teacher advised him he was big

enough to stand up for himself—say

stop, I don’t like that—a tactic that

only intensified the teasing. The

drama teacher still regrets his parti –

cipation in this hurtful behaviour,

and would like to be able to apolo –

gize, even these many years later.

Fortunately, this harassed,

embarrassed, and humiliated victim

did not find a weapon and return to

school to retaliate—perhaps to stab

a student, to shoot his classmates,

or maybe to burn the school down.

If he had, he would have been

labeled as a terrible bully and would

have been punished accordingly,

perhaps suspended permanently

from the school—unless he killed

himself, too. More likely, this

unfortunate boy became a chronic

absentee from school, his academ –

ics deteriorating due to his anxiety

and stress, until he quit school.

(Almost 30% of students who start

Grade 1 do not graduate.) Subse –

quently, throughout his adult life he

may have suffered underemploy –

ment, chronic depression, and have

anger management problems.

In an ideal world, the teacher

could have intervened on at least

three dimensions: First, individual

(self-identity and self acceptance);

second, belonging and connection

(group dynamics and cliques); and

third, respect for differences

(conformity vs. respect for unique –

ness as a part of school culture).

Currently, most antibullying pro –

grams are limited to positive

encouragement (such as lessons on

the virtues), and negative conse –

quences (such as zero tolerance

and suspensions), with some PR

attention to slogans of social

responsibility. Furthermore, the

schools antibullying attempts tend

to be focused on individual respon –

sibilities and social interaction. We

teach the virtues, courtesy in the

hallway, and fair play on the

playground—worthy enough topics.

But bullying is a process involving

needs for power and self-defense,

not a personality characteristic or a

learned behaviour.

If only there were evil people out

there insidiously committing evil

deeds and it was only necessary to

separate them from the rest of us and

destroy them.

But the line dividing good and evil

cuts through the heart of every

human being….

– Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1982

Ask any group of adults if they

have ever been bullied at home,

school, or work, and about 66% will

admit it has happened to them. Ask

how many will admit to being the

bully, and the number will likely be

about 50%. Since a majority of

adults have experienced both being

bullied and being the bully, can we

simply consider bullying as part of

the human condition? Hopefully,

not! Bullying seems to be a role

people play in a given context—

bullied at school, a bully at home, or

vice versa. My research indicates

that bullying is not so much a

“learned behaviour” as it is a

response to a stressful, overwhelm –

ing situation. Yes, anger manage –

ment strategies and enforcing

appropriate consequences help, but

perhaps we also need to shift our

emphasis from fixing individuals

who misbehave toward looking at

what needs to change in the social

culture of the classroom and the

school. The school may be guilty of

committing the “fundamental

attribution error,” a classic axiom in

social psychology:

A failure to recognize the

importance of situational factors in

affecting behaviour, supported by the

inflated belief in the importance of

personality traits and dispositions in

affecting behaviour.

– Ross & Nisbett, 1991

Another error in our current

antibullying strategies may be the

emphasis on behaviour and conse –

quences—the external evidence of

conforming to rules—and a lack of

attention to issues of respect—the

internal engine that produces bully –

ing and aggression. I am referring

not simply to respectful behaviours,

but to a foundation of respect that

includes self-respect and respect for

others within a classroom and

school context that demonstrates

respect for uniqueness.

In the words of a tomboy, a

victim of bullying:

I want to encourage [teachers] to

just recognize that people have their

own experience, and…foster the

individuality, yet include similarities of

all of us, the basic fundamental

needs…such as to belong.

Individuals involved in victimiza –

tion are almost universally lacking

in self-respect. Students, aged

10–15, are struggling with

existential issues of self-identity.

When they are unsure of

themselves, others who are

different can represent a potential

threat they may feel a need to

defend against. Without selfacceptance

and self-respect, it is

difficult to respect others! Those

who bully may also lack selfrespect,

but many actually have

exaggerated self-esteem, especially

those involved in defending the

boundaries of tight (elite) cliques.

Bullying is often a game of status, a

process of settling the hierarchy in

the classroom. Self-acceptance and

self-respect are winning strategies

in this game.

Sometimes the academic context

of the classroom, dominated by the

need to enforce standards, can

become a force implying a demand

for conformity. If the teacher

exhibits a lack of respect for differ –

ences, it can become a model for

students to follow, and any student

who exhibits differences—whether

different learning styles (LD or

giftedness), early or late physical

maturation, gender differences

(tomboy or gentle male), disabilities

(speech, blindness), differences in

ethnicity or socio-economic status—

loses the respect of the cool group

(respected by the teacher), and in

the status game of bullying

becomes vulnerable to abuses.

Likewise, in a school context

where authoritarian structures are

dominant, the status quo can

become the “right” way, and any

deviation is likely to be interpreted

as pathological and problematical. If

conflict resolution and mediation

are not applied seriously and in a

timely manner so that conflict is

mitigated in the early stages, then

often the victim will be the one who

retaliates with passion—and the

one who bears the blame and the

punishment. As a result, the stu –

dents (who know the inside story)

may lose respect for school author –

ity processes, and proceed to take

the law into their own hands.

Despite all our efforts, bullying wins


The antibullying programs that

emphasize authority-based strate –

gies (to teach good behaviour and

to search and destroy the offenders)

are worthwhile efforts, to be sure,

but are only providing a partial cure.

We need more than an official code

of conduct to make bullying

behaviours unacceptable in our

schools. We need a culture of

respect and acceptance for our –

selves, and for our relationships

with others, and one that is demon –

strated in the day-to-day operation

of the classroom and the school

culture—a challenge to consider as

we plan the coming school year.

Dr. Carol Battaglio is an elementary

school counsellor, Surrey School

District, B.C.

FAILURE: a means to success

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan.

Recently on CBC Radio, I heard a discussion between the renowned Michael Enright, host of CBC’s Sunday Edition, and three prominent and concerned educators. The subject for discussion was whether or not the current policy of ‘not failing students’ is ruining their possibilities in later life.

Where would we be today without failure and the subsequent success that failure can lead to? Would we have the telephone, space travel, or modern medicine? Most great scientific and technical advancements have been made because of years and years of trial and error.

Few of us think in this way, but perhaps we should: babies learn to crawl and toddlers learn to walk by turning ‘failure’ into success. We do not see their falling down as ‘failure’ or in any negative light at all. As parents, we see each step forward or backward as growth. So why are we so obsessed with our own failure, and more particularly that of our children?

Why must we always treat failure as negative? Why must we always threat those who have failed, especially young people in school, as if failure is the worst thing that could ever happen? Why not teach our children that failure is nothing but a signal, a sign along the road of life, reminding us to “check the map, there’s a better way.”

Admittedly, when faced with failure, particularly that of our children, it isn’t as simple as checking a map or a GPS for new directions. Hard work and a great deal of soul searching have to be part of the journey. A total remapping of our current path may be necessary. A few or many mistakes may have to be made before a person works out their directions.

And once on track, there will be more hard work ahead to keep focused and on the road to success. There may also come a time, later in life, when this new road no longer suits the changing times. Take these current times as an example. A whole new path may need to be mapped out. Why not give our children the tools not only to survive now, but also as adults?

On this road to success, forgiveness plays an important role. Here, I am not talking simply about forgiving our children, but forgiving ourselves as parents, teachers, and school boards as well. Too often, we, as caregivers, take on the responsibility of our children’s failure and make it our own.

We feel the guilt of their failure and as a result take it as our duty to make things right, when in truth, apart from offering positive support, we can do nothing to right someone else’s failure. The only person we can really change is ourselves.

Perhaps, it is our sense of guilt that misconstrues such a maxim as “failure is not an option”. Traditionally the phrase has meant “never give up”. However, more recently, many educators and parents have come to the belief that young people in school should not be failed for fear that such failure will lower their self esteem and hamper their growth. It is as if, by wiping ‘failure’ off our children’s map, we will feel better about ourselves; if failure no longer exists, we have done a good job.

But in truth, can we rid others or ourselves of failure? Absolutely not. Failure is as much a part of human existence as life itself.

Besides, children know when they have failed. We can’t hide it from them. We might believe that our intentions are positive, but what we are really doing is replacing a ‘truth’ with a ‘wannabe truth’. Is this one of the survival skills we want to teach them? The only thing we really are doing is deceiving ourselves and hurting our children.

I am not suggesting that we drop them off in the middle of a figurative desert to fend for themselves. We do have responsibility. But perhaps, our responsibility is not to shield our children from failure, but to give them the tools to overcome failure, to put it into perspective, to see failure as part of the process of moving toward success.

Just as failure does not have to be looked at as a finality, success, in general, should not be defined as a gold medal at the end of a race, but rather the process that makes the race worthwhile and helps a person to reach their own goal. Let us help young people to realize that failure only exists when he or she gives up.

The road to helping our children become responsible and successful adults starts with understanding them, as individuals, truly understanding exactly what is getting in their way, and maybe, what in us is also hampering them.

By changing ourselves, by accepting our own failures, frailties, and vulnerabilities, and learning from them—seeing failure not as a burden, but as a means to change—we can be the model for our children’s growth and their learning to live better, healthier, and more productive lives.

Let’s face it, failure is here to stay. Failure will never die. For the sake of our children, let’s embrace it. Let’s see failure for what it really is: nature’s tool to remind us that change is necessary, change is possible, and change is within their grasp. Then, let’s watch as our children truly sore.

Robert Stelmark (aka Max Tell)

troubadour, author,and musician


Teaching in China

It was my first time visiting the orient. I was excited with the prospects of living in a new culture, but, at the same time, I was afraid of the unknown: what would teaching in China really be like; would I make the grade?

I had accepted a four-week stint at a Shanghai university, teaching English conversation to High School English teachers. I had no idea what their level of English would be, and I was so afraid of being a teacher’s teacher. I imagined the scrutiny would be intense.

Not knowing what materials I would need, I prepared for every contingency. One one my two suitcases was crammed with a wide range of reference materials and teaching resources. I had cut numerous articles from Canadian newspapers, thinking I would combine some Canadiana with the English lessons.

The company that had recruited me did everything to make my transition as smooth and painless as possible. I was met at Shanghai Airport by a lovely female company representative, who drove me to my hotel (which was part of my compensation package). I was given $50 RMB a day for meals and every Saturday we (the other 2 teachers and myself) were taken via private university bus to a scenic spot (meals again included). Evenings and weekends were free time to do as I wished. My salary was $1500CDN…approximately twice that of a university professor in China. It was…to say the least…choice.

I had two classes every day Monday to Friday. The first class was from 9:00am-11:30am. We had one hour for lunch (catered buffet with absolutely fabulous food!). The second class was from 12:30-2:30pm. By 3:00pm I was back in my hotel room, changed and ready to explore the amazing city of Shanghai.

I know this all sounds too good to be true and you are probably thinking, “Ok! What was the catch?’ Well, for me, there were few ‘catches’.

The university building was new and well-equipped. It was also air-conditioned (thank God!) because the average daily temperature was over 35 degrees Centigrade and the humidity was usually over 90%.

‘Alright! Alright!’ you are most likely saying. “So what were the students like???”

Well…they were a dream. Each class had twenty-nine high school English teachers. Of the 58 total teachers, only 10 were males. Their level of English grammar was amazing; some had a better knowledge than I. But…this was an English conversation class…and I was soon to discover that their speaking skills were very limited.

The first few minutes of the first class were quiet and tense…I very quickly discovered that all the materials I had so carefully selected and packed were of no use. My students did not know how to speak English very well at all and I was forced to draw on my sense of humour and my vast knowledge of party games to break the ice.

Thankfully, I had them all laughing and at ease withing a few minutes and for the next four weeks we embarked on a voyage of discovery. I learned so much from them about their struggles with teaching in China. I was taught about the Chinese ‘system’ of education…and most rewarding of all, I was treated to an amazing insight into the world of educated Chinese adults. While I did my best to cram as many of the subtleties of the English language into the 50 hours of classes as I could.

I developed a close bond with many of my students and still, to this day, I keep in touch with several of them.

I was fortunate. We have all heard the many horror stories recounted by frustrated and disillusioned Canadian teachers who have taught overseas. I tried to avoid such problems by working with a recruiter who had many years of experience…and the strategy worked. My experience was rewarding and very successful. So successful in fact, that I had three more trips to China.

If I were a young, unattached, aspiring teacher, I would seriously consider earning my wings by teaching overseas. You are in demand. You are respected. And…as an added bonus… you get to see as much of the world as you can handle.

Just Google ‘ESL JOBS’ and begin your journey.

Teachers On Call: Frustrated and Discouraged

A survey of Teachers Teaching on Call (TTOC) was conducted earlier this year by the British Columbia Teachers Federation.

Here are the results in a nutshell:

  • 45% had to supplement their income with non-teaching work.
  • the largest proportion of TTOC’s are between 25 and 34 years old with 80.5% of them being female
  • 44.6% work less than 70 days a year; only8.4% were able to work 111-130 days
  • only 28.15% were working for 4 consecutive full-day assignments (TTOC’s accure seniority on the 4th day)
  • 78.5% earned under $30,000/year
  • The survey also allowed respondents to add a personal comment. Here is a summary of some of the comments received:
  • the job is highly stressful as I do not know until early in the morning if I am going to work that particular day…and I do not know when there will be work…
  • there is a lack of Pro-D funds which makes my ability to pursue professional development very difficult…
  • the callout system makes the job competitive so newer TTOC’s feel like they must ‘promote’ themselves rather than acting as a professional
  • the callout list seems preferential rather than rotational…
  • my hours worked do not  contribute toward internal seniority, which could eventually lead to being hired in the district
  • retired teachers who return as TTOC’s are put on the same list as the regular TTOC’s  and these retired teachers appear to be requested by their still employed teacher friends over the regular TTOC’s
  • I am disheartened by the lack of days I am called…I am forced to work 2 other jobs to make ends meet…TTOC’s often live below the poverty line and struggle to survive…I feel I am not protected within my profession
  • It is common for me to wake up early not knowing if I will work that day…I become nervous and anxious not knowing when I will work again…it is very hard to set a budget when I do not know how much I will make in a month
  • most TTOC’s do not receive medical or dental benefits…how can I continue to be a healthy teacher and role model for my students if I am not supported by my employer?
  • life as a TTOC can be very isolated…I find it difficult to build camaraderie with the staffs. Many staff members ignore me and I have no one to socialize or collaborate with.

It is imperative that districts and provincial associations work to secure contract language that ensures seniority-based TTOC callout and eliminates preferential callout practices.

Contract teachers should support their TTOC’s. colleagues and not put themselves in the position of ‘evaluating’ TTOC’s by subscribing to preferential callout.

In addition contract teachers should ensure that TTOC’s are welcomed  by including them in recess and lunch conversations, making sure they receive the regularly scheduled prep of the contract teacher and ensure in general that their rights under the Collective Agreement are protected.

Are you a TTOC? Do your feelings about TTOCing correspond to the BC survey? Please let our members know.

Are you a contract teacher? The survey indicates that some contract teachers do not make the necessary effort to welcome TTOC’s. How do you respond to this? How do you, your school, your district support TTOC’s? Please provide our members with any comments you may have.

Canadian PC Company Contributes to Ongoing Canadian Literacy

MDG Computers Canada Inc. (MDG) announced today that it has donated over $22,000 in computer equipment to Crystal Beach Public School (part of the District School Board of Niagara) as part of its ongoing partnership with the Steve Nash Foundation. A mobile wireless lab of 12 MDG notebooks was installed at the school a few weeks ago, which will serve over
150 children from Junior Kindergarten through Grade 8.

“The students are so excited about their new lab,” said Tom Reynolds, Principal, Crystal Beach Public School. “Thanks to MDG Computers and the Steve Nash Foundation, this resource will further assist us in the development of our new integration practices for special education, and support our integrated students toward greater success.”
Last July, MDG partnered with the Steve Nash Foundation to endow select Canadian schools with fully equipped MDG computer labs, and to help further the health, personal development, education and enjoyment of life of children in underserved areas.
“Elementary schools give children so much more than a safe place to learn and play – they create an environment that supports growth, fosters imagination, and builds a foundation for kids to open doors to the arts, education, and exploration,” said Jenny Miller, Executive Director of the Steve Nash Foundation. “MDG shares Steve’s appreciation of that role, and

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we’re proud to partner with them to deliver tools to a vital part of our communities.”
“We’re delighted to contribute to the enhanced education and IT literacy of young students within the Niagara district,” said Mauro Sinagoga, Director of Corporate & Government Sales, MDG Computers Canada. “Through our partnership with the Steve Nash Foundation, we will continue to reach out to local communities in need, to provide them with the tools needed to enhance their learning, and to help them thrive in the global, knowledge-based economy.”

in bruges free download Formed in 2001 and given charitable status in 2004, the Steve Nash Foundation is an organization dedicated to assisting underserved children in their health, personal development, education and enjoyment of life. Like its NBA MVP founder, the Foundation is fast becoming a leader in assists . . . to a slightly shorter population. For more information, visit http://www.stevenash.org.

Minister's Excellence in Teaching Award nomination Deadline Approaching

The deadline is quickly approaching to submit nominations for the first Minister’s Excellence in Teaching Award to be presented to one teacher in each of the nine anglophone school districts.

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Nominations will be accepted by the anglophone school districts until March 31, 2006. Recommendations for the award may be submitted by individuals or groups (parent/school support committees, home and school associations, student councils, branches of the teachers’ association).

The Minister’s Excellence in Teaching Award is designed to:

recognize and honour teachers who help promote excellence in their schools;
demonstrate the high calibre of the teachers working in New Brunswick schools;
enhance the image of education in general, and teaching in particular;
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encourage creative, innovative, renewed, and effective teaching;
educate the general public about excellence in schools, and encourage members of the public to participate in school life.
Award recipients will be recognized during a ceremony on May 27, 2006 in Fredericton.

Nomination forms for the Minister’s Excellence in Teaching Award are available online at www.gnb.ca/0000/awards.asp, or from any of the nine anglophone school district offices.

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