The case of the contested use in a British Columbian school district of children’s books depicting same-sex relationships wended its way through the courts, culminating finally in the B.C. Supreme Court’s muted nod to parental rights. First was the decision of the Surrey School Board of Trustees to prohibit the use of the books as a learning resource. A host of special interests then decried this as a book ban, taking the matter up as a Constitutional challenge. The lower court responded by accusing the trustees of using a religious framework in their deliberations. While not quite conceding that the lower court’s decision was tantamount to thought-control, the Appeal Court affirmed the primacy of parents in the education of the child and, small mercies, the right of people to consult their conscience, even when marred by religion.
The issue has only ever been about the frittering away by advocacy groups of the freedoms of a local authority and its constituency. The trustees had faithfully represented the Surrey parents, most of whom wanted to be left to impart their own beliefs to their tots on the issue of same-sex families. Media ineptitude in articulating this only compounds the outrage.
In her column, the Vancouver Sun‘s Paula Brook liberally bandies about the book ban accusation, the kind of imprecise thinking that fudges issues and does nothing to prevent the trampling of liberties. She claims that the trustees aimed at some sort of purge of the books from the District. How they intended to carry out this dastardly deed isn’t clear. Was it to be by book burning? Perhaps interception at the borders? A Search from door to door, maybe?
Ridiculous indeed: The books have always been available in the libraries. What fell within the legitimate purview of the trustees was to guard parental jurisdiction by deciding to keep the classroom free of perceived advocacy. The books were also deemed incompatible with the cognitive and emotional readiness of small children.
Capriciously, to the trustees Ms. Brook imputes the sinister intention of expunging the books from the District. The complainant, teacher and gay-activist James Chamberlain, however, is said to have only the purest of motives. Had he not been swept up in the fight against the forces of darkness, Chamberlain, who instigated the litigation, would have consulted parents, promises Ms. Brook.
Had he indeed listened, Mr. Chamberlain would have heard loud and clear what the trustees told him, also succinctly expressed by writer Heather Roscoe with reference to the sticky pawed woman she calls “Rotten Rodham”. “Our children are our responsibility,” wrote Roscoe on the American Partisan web-magazine. “Ours,” she belts. “The reason why we call them our children is quite simply because they are not hers.” Ditto for Mr. Chamberlain.
Absent from Ms. Brook’s account is a news item about a mother whose son was taught by the cherubic Mr. Chamberlain. The mum, an avid volunteer in the class, knew of Chamberlain’s sexual orientation, which was immaterial until she glimpsed him on the public broadcaster, where he claimed to have discussed homosexuality with his small charges. Mum then requested a transfer for her child. Did Mr. Chamberlain respect her right as a parent? Not on your life. He ran to an arbitrator. Spared denazification, the mother was still forced into all kinds of humiliation.
Come hell or high water the litigious activist was intent on forcing others to comply with his views. This real danger evades Ms. Brook, who quotes with approval a threat to fire the elected board, made by the education minister of one of the most corrupt and autocratic governments in Canada. The case typifies the potential for roiling conflict in a public school monopoly that admits of a narrow range of opinion, and cannot satisfy the myriad pedagogic needs in the community. It also showcases how special interests attempt to manipulate the Charter-besieged courts to override decision-making in local authorities. The Surrey school trustees are more likely to be mirroring the wishes of local parents than the Gay and Lesbian Educators of B.C., the inbred B.C. Teacher’s Federation, or the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which seemingly can’t discern a book ban from a legitimate exercise of curricular discretion.
Finally, the various interests in such cases advance an obtuse argument designed to diminish dissenting speech: accepting such books as a resource in schools they equate with a constitutional imperative against discrimination. A fight against a “Charter stomping trend,” as Ms. Brook inveighs. Utter nonsense. Schools should try teaching history instead of pushing the day’s dominant doxy. Real knowledge and facts are always more enlightening than propaganda. Knowledge, not politically correct pap, contains the acid with which to dissolve both propaganda and prejudice.
©2000 By Ilana Mercer
The Calgary Herald