The head of schools in Vancouver says she’s concerned that children are getting a one-sided view of the forthcoming 2010 Winter Olympics.
“Our kids are not a rent-a-crowd to come out and create buzz and excitement during school hours,” said Patti Bacchus, Vision Vancouver trustee and chair of the Vancouver School Board.
“There is the competition and the fun of the games,” she told TheThunderbird.ca. “But there’s a wide range of issues, like the cost, the doping, the politics, and the gender issues that I think deserve our time.”
“We should be encouraging students to consider a range of perspectives and come to their own conclusions through that educated process.”
Vancouver schools are under pressure from the Olympic sponsors and supporters to create excitement amongst students for the games.
The Ministry of Education’s 2010 Spirit Schools program “allows schools to show BC and the world the amazing 2010-related activities that students are engaged in.” Critics argue that these initiatives provide little room for a deeper analysis of issues surrounding the Olympics in classrooms.
Athletes of the future
Last spring, the City of Vancouver gave $14,000 to four schools in the Vancouver School Board as part of the Host a City Happening program. The aim of the initiative was to create events in the community that showed the enthusiasm of Vancouver residents for the 2010 Winter Games.
Eric Hamber Secondary School in South Cambie received one of the grants. With $5,000 from the city, it set up a program called Athletes of the Future.
Hamber students have been busy planning for the event, creating their own t-shirts, logos, and cheers for the upcoming festivities. They have also participated in after-school programming and leadership activities with local elementary school.
The program culminates with a student-led celebration on Nov 5 and will involve over 2,000 local students from grades 5-12. The event coincides with Paralympic School Week.
“The goal of the event is not only to get students excited for the Olympics but to give our senior students an opportunity to engage in the community,” said West 1 Community Schools Team programmer Sarah Tracz.
Hamber teachers and community partners will be conducting thirty workshops throughout the day. Events will include:
- Team building and paddling skills workshops with a Paralympic dragon boat athlete.
- Wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby demos, hosted by BC Wheelchair Association.
- Whistle-making classes led by the Hamber shop teacher.
- Nutrition workshops on healthy eating choices.
‘Opening a space for dialogue’
According to the Vancouver Organizing Committee’s year-end report, total spending on construction for the games stands at $555.4 million.
This report comes at a time when Vancouver schools are coping with budget cuts. The B.C. government cancelled a $130,00 grant to B.C. School Sports in September due to spending constraints.
One group voicing its concerns over the coverage of Olympics-related issues in schools is Teaching 2010 Resistance. The community movement is composed of youth workers, educators and community members and it offers teachers with strategies for teaching about the Olympics from a critical standpoint.
“We are responding to what we see as a lack of critical teaching resources,” said Teaching 2010 Resistance community organizer Nat Marshik. “We’ve been working on putting together educational material that we are offering to present in schools if teachers are interested.”
The group has come under intense public scrutiny for its relationship with the Olympic Resistance Network, an organization that has attracted controversy for its support of violent resistance tactics. But Marshik said that Teaching 2010 Resistance is a movement seeking an open space for dialogue.
“We’re trying to present another option out there for teachers who feel like they are having trouble accessing another perspective on the Olympics,” she said.
No place for Olympic lessons
The Vancouver School Board, and Bacchus in particular, were criticized by local media in recent weeks after a flyer for Teaching 2010 Resistance appeared on the board’s website. The flyer has since been removed and the board denied any affiliation with the group.
“It’s a bit disturbing to me, some of the reactions from the public, that we shouldn’t be talking about this in the school,” said Bacchus. “I don’t know what people think we’re doing in school if we don’t encourage critical thinking.”
“At all times, we have to think of the integrity of the school system and our obligation to provide children with a pure learning environment,” said the school board chair.
“The Olympics are going to be here. Teachers must get students interested and debating in the event. Whatever the outcome, it’s the process that counts.”
For UBC Faculty of Education professor Dr. Rob Van Wynsberghe, the Olympics present issues that are too complex for classrooms to address.
“Schools are a place for raising awareness,” he said, “but they are not a location for rectifying social issues.”
“If there’s an Olympic curriculum there needs to be a critical curriculum. In my opinion, there should be neither.”
The City of Vancouver expects 5,500 athletes from around the world when it hosts the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games from February 12- 28, 2010.