Last year, right around this time of year, there were a few parents at my kids’ school — two of whom were particularly determined about it — who were actively engaged in a campaign to turn people against me. They spoke to teachers and other parents in the school yard, trying to convince them of the atrocities that I had committed. According to them, I was trying to cancel an outdoor education program and ruin everything. To make their case, they had some completely fabricated story about how I had forced my kids’ previous school to stop selling chocolate milk (?? seriously, I have no idea) and how I had imposed my will on everyone and everything that stood in my path. This story was somehow “proof” — a pattern of behaviour, I guess. It was evidence that I was imposing my will on the school community. I was using my power to snatch expensive outdoor education away from the community! I was using my influence to ruin everything! I was trying to “further my own agenda”!
(As I side note, I got a genuine, good laugh out of the “furthering my own agenda” accusation. That one came at the end of a two year stint as school council chair. Yes, spending countless hours volunteering my time, being bullied by other parents, doing what can only be called a completely and utterly thankless and soul-crushing job was “furthering my own agenda”. Sure, if furthering my own agenda is letting dishes and laundry pile up around me while I slowly but surely drive myself crazy trying to do the very best that I can while being criticized constantly. Let me tell you, if I had ACTUALLY been furthering my own agenda I would be living in Vegas right now gambling all of council’s money away on the penny slots.)
Of course, none of those accusations were true. What had I done to deserve such treatment? Ask questions about how we were going to pay for an expensive outdoor education program at our school. This program costs upwards of twenty thousand dollars. Yes, you read that right, TWENTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. This is for our small (200 students), public, TDSB school to hire an outside organization to come in and deliver an outdoor education program. It provides programming and staff for 6-8 field trips per year at a cost of $120 – $160 per student.
Full disclosure: It’s actually a fantastic program. The program is wildly popular. My kids like it. It’s a good fit for our school. They have surveyed the community about the program and the survey results are overwhelmingly in favor of the program (although, the questions read like: Do you support our fabulous outdoor education program, which is an absolutely essential part of our school, and is the be all and end all of everything? Yes? Wonderful!).
To be clear, I have no problem whatsoever with the program itself. I just feel strongly that there needs to be a plan in place so that it’s not such a heavy financial burden on the community.
The truth is, the program is so popular that it has a cult-like following. If you dare question it or have concerns about such an expensive program in a public school, then its bad news for you. Yep. That’s all it takes to be blacklisted in our school community.
Laughable, isn’t it? Like something out of a bad high school flick, eh? It sounds so dramatic but the sad reality is that it’s true. It would seem that having an opinion is quite the liability around here. Dare to ask a question and you are burned at the stake. Not just this expensive outdoor education program, but ANYTHING. Suggest something that school council might want to spend money on (even when there is LOTS of money to be spent and ALL of the requests can be granted) and instantly be accused of not supporting the teachers. No, I didn’t suggest something crazy. I suggested we spend money on musical instruments (*gasp* the horrors!).
Loudmouth. Disrespectful. Power hungry. Inconsiderate. All of these things and more have been said about me. People start whispering “Why is she even at this school?” “Doesn’t she have anything better to do?”
Secret discussions have happened about how to “manage” me. Secret meetings that don’t include “those people” (like me) because apparently I am trying to “harm” others. There are “strategies” in play here. You know, how they just “let” me speak my mind so that I will be appeased then maybe, just maybe, if everyone just closes their eyes and wishes hard enough, I’ll shut up.
Then there are the implications: I don’t care about my kids; I don’t like the teachers; I don’t respect the teachers; I’m never happy with anything; no matter what happens, I’ll complain about something.
“Well WE just want what’s best for our children,” someone muttered under their breath as they walked by me when they were leaving a meeting last week. “Well we WERE moving forward, but now [since I arrived] we’re going backwards again,” one staff member said.
All of these nasty things said about me, by parents and even some staff, are because I dare to have an opinion and ask questions. It’s no wonder people don’t speak out more. This community is NOT a safe space for those who speak what is on their minds.
In any other situation, this would be considered bullying but for some reason, it is tolerated at our school among the adults. I think it is deeply concerning this type of behavior exists and that we do nothing to stop it.
What’s worse, is that this small group of people who are so against me, who feel so strongly that something MUST be done about me, do not ever come and talk to me. There are no attempts whatsoever to resolve any conflict in a productive, mature way. (And no, talking about me behind my back and plotting against me don’t count.)
This is classic, high school, mean girls stuff. It’s just plain awful and as long as it is going on, school council is going to be unproductive and unpleasant. Because guess what, folks? I’m going to continue to speak my mind. We live in a free country with free speech. We live in Ontario where parents have the right to have a say at their child’s school. Parents have the right to ask questions and make suggestions about curriculum, policies, trips, homework, spending, discipline, and anything and everything related to our child’s education.
There are better ways to go about making change. Gossiping and planning for behind the scenes “strategies” are pretty horrible ways to go about trying making “positive” change. Don’t fool yourself. You’re not fixing any problem by doing this. You ARE the problem.
Photo by dreamwhile via Flickr.