Thursday, June 12, 2008

Too Little Too Late?

I doubt anything gets me more upset than people who abuse or neglect children, and when the people who fail children are the very people hired (or expected... ie parents) to care for them it sends me into a rage.

My own experience in school is no secret, and I'm not going to dredge that up, but it helps explain why I felt my blood pressure spike when I saw this story this morning:

A Grade 1 student was cornered in the washroom of his school and whipped with belts by two boys seven years his senior, an attack the school's principal chose not to report to police...

On a day when Canadian headlines include mention of a teen arrested for bear-spraying a cop while resisting arrest, a 14-year-old girl questioned about a series of arsons and a 13-year-old boy who's plead guilty for a high speed chase isn't it time people woke up to the reality that "kids" aren't all innocent?

I have absolutely no idea what possessed this principal to think that the confinement and assault of a six-year-old child in her school, by two 13-year-olds wasn't worth mentioning. Insanity? Idiocy? Indifference? They didn't even tell the parents. Let me tell you something: There is no teacher or principal on the planet who wants to find themselves on the other side of that kind of decision about my kids. If I found out that one of them had been assaulted on school property and we weren't even informed - and no disciplinary action was taken against the people who assaulted them - you better believe I wouldn't stop short of seeking their dismissal.

This principal should be fired.

There should never, ever be a time that a child is afraid to go to school, or that parents become aware that those who are entrusted with the care of their child have ignored something as serious as the child's assault.

I'm willing to concede that I'm a bit of a safety nut on the legal stuff. Years of ingrained awareness of liability issues when you're working with kids will do that to you. I don't tolerate any kind of shit, and when I was a supervisor I was a nightmare to anyone who slacked on incident reports. Parents who don't apply sunscreen. How many times have I seen that over the years? Hell, that is part of my morning routine every single morning before school. Parents who let young kids ride without booster seats or in the front seat. I worked with one of those, and when a parent just finds it easier to pop their four-year-old in the front seat so he won't whine on a five-minute drive, I wonder what else they let go when it's convenient.

I'm all for daycares that have live video streaming for parents, because it protects kids and it protects care staff.

In fact, I've been asked numerous times over the years if I have any advice for someone looking for a care center or school for their child, and my #1 thing is this: go and visit the center for a few hours. Don't settle for a quick tour. If a center isn't okay with you dropping in for a visit, or staying and watching the group as they go through transitions and do different parts of their program, you have to wonder why. I'm dead serious about this. It's easy for even bad room staff to put on a smile and a good show for a few minutes as the tour groups go through, but where you're going to get the real measurement of a room is when they slip into routine, when kids start changing activities - the busiest and most chaotic time in any room. You'll get the real room temperature then.

For me, there's simply no way that someone who is a school principal should be left in their position if they don't consider an act of assault against a young child - any child - on the property to be worth taking disciplinary action over or notifying the parents of. It's no wonder kids don't think there are any consequences for their actions anymore. Apparently, at least one principal thinks there shouldn't be.

I'm personally finding it harder to take right now, because yesterday marked an historic event in Canada. Long overdue, the Canadian government offered an apology for a course of action taken by previous governments beginning in the 1870s.

The government's "assimilation" policy ripped roughly 150,000 children from their homes and communities and placed them in far-away boarding schools.

"The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language," Harper said in the Commons.

Assembly of First Nations Chief Phil Fontaine brought many to tears when he called the apology "the achievement of the impossible."

"Finally we have heard Canada say it is sorry," he said.

Fontaine said the apology officially strips away a policy of "white supremacy." The assimilation process impoverished not just the aboriginal population, but the character of our country as a whole.

It took almost 140 years for someone to stand up and officially say that the policy of removing Natives from their homes and sending them to church-run residential schools, where many were abused, was wrong.

...for Michael Cachagee, president of the National Residential School Survivors' Society, there is very little that can be said to ever make up for the loss of his childhood.

"It is going to be a very emotional event -- traumatic and dramatic," predicts Cachagee, 68. "If it lacks sincerity, if it's simply an apology and it has no meaning, it's just business as usual and nothing has changed."

Cachagee was just 4 when they took him away from his mother, loading him and his two brothers on a horse-drawn sled that carried him away from his home in Chapleau.

Over the next 12 years, he was shunted between three different residential schools within a 965 km radius, as part of the Canadian goverment's plan to forcibly assimilate our native population.

It seems madness now, looking back. They must have seen themselves as well-meaning enough, politicians who believed that immersing the young in European customs, education and church would rid them of their "savage" culture and bring the First Nations into step with Canadian ways.

So it was that they justified to themselves the virtual kidnapping of children from their parents, their communities and their very identities. By 1931, there were 80 schools across the country with the last closing in 1996.

Cachagee never had a choice -- he had to leave home just as his mother and grandmother had before him.

At his first school, he was fondled by a female supervisor. "If you complained, she put you in a tub of boiling hot water," he recalls.

Those were horrors he had to learn to take in stride. "As a child, it's amazing how you shut down and adjust. That's what got me through. You become dead emotionally."

The memories are stark and haunt him still -- the shock of bright electricity when he first arrived, the institutional smell, the lack of sorrow when a student would die -- and so many did. "No one cried, no one mourned for them," he recalls. "They'd just put them in a box."

Canada, so proud of itself for being such a nice nation while we've turned our blind eyes away from the abuse we inflicted on thousands of people for over a century. Is there anyone out there who doesn't get how shameful this is? Why yes, apparently one principal of a Catholic school in the York region doesn't think the abuse of any child is too serious.

With the outright indifference of even those entrusted to care for our children, well, is it any wonder the cycle of abuse goes on and on and on?

Excuse me while I go track down a picture of this principal and attach it to a punching bag for my morning workout. Maybe tomorrow I'll spout off about why insurance companies are okay covering ritilin but not okay covering treatments for autism.


Picks By Pat said...

Child abuse is a terrible blight on humanity. I've tried to write about this using a plot that revolves around the internet as a tool that can harm children. Difficult to write about, though, as many people avoid these types of stories, even when they don't contain gratiutous violence or graphic scenes.

Keith Rawson said...

ritilin is great and profitable treatment for non-parenting, and you can't exactly make money off of something like actually discovering the roots of autism and offering an actual solution. This story shocked the hell out of me, but I'm not surprised by it either. When I was a kid growing up in California, incidents like this happened all the time and nothing was ever done. Most of the time the kids who were participating in this kind of bullying intimidated the teachers and administrators just as much as the kids who were being picked on. But being a parent myself, I think I'd have to take apart the principal and beat the shit out of him with my belt if something like this happened to my little girl.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Pat, it is difficult to write. And difficult to get people to read.

Keith, you've hit the nail on the head about ritilin and autism.

And isn't it sad we aren't surprised? That's what gets me.

And in the update category, no charges are being laid against school staff.