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You have to check them all out

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I get these calls and emails fairly regularly, alleging really bizarre things going on in schools, things that boggle the mind, but which all have to be checked out — if you read the wires, some truly weird things in schools every once in a while actually turn out to be true, especially in the States.

My informant, who wished to remain anonymous, told me by email about a specific school in Winnipeg, at which the kids’ birthdays are announced over the PA in the morning announcements. Nothing unusual about that, lots of schools do it.

But at this school, says the source, the announcement goes on to urge students to give the birthday boy or girl "birthday beats", in which several students pin the student down on the floor or ground while other students pummel him or her in the arms. School staff encourage the hazing, said the source.

The source has seen a birthday boy with gruesome bruises all over his upper arms, and that child and his parents have allegedly told my source that a lot of kids are staying home from school on their birthdays, rather than suffer the beatings.

Alas, the source did not have first-hand knowledge of this, and responded to me that, no, the family of the alleged victim will not speak to me to substantiate this.

It’s pretty hard to believe that a school would condone violence against children, let alone formally encourage it and target the day’s victim(s) over the PA, but you never know, the principal might have gone off his/her meds under a full moon, so......

So I put in the calls, and late in the day, the superintendent gets back to me, having spoken to the principal. Big surprise — the school absolutely does nothing of the sort, and the school and the division have received absolutely no complaints from any parent or child.

But, I’m still thinking, and worrying.....maybe the source should be asking more questions, such as, if this alleged situation in school didn’t happen as presented, how did that child get bruised?

Meanwhile.......

The Ontario Teachers Federation has been using student teachers as a hostage in the union’s battle over an honour for former premier and long-time teachers’ embittered foe Mike Harris.

I’ve been following the feud in Academica’s Top Ten, the daily on-line roundup of Canadian postsecondary news.

Nipissing University in North Bay went ahead with its plans to give Harris an honourary degree at its convocation ceremonies this month.

When I was covering Queen’s Park in the early 80s, Harris was a Tory backbencher and golf pro from North Bay. A decade later, he became probably Ontario’s most right wing premier — in a province in which Tories and Liberals had always vied for the centre, Harris and his exceptionally partisan and ideological government clearly represented only those people who voted for them, and made no pretense of representing everyone. And for all of the groups with which it didn’t get along, the Harris government’s most ferocious feud was with teachers.

So when Nipissing announced that Harris would get an honourary degree, the OTF countered by announcing it would boycott Nipissing’s student teachers when faculty of education students went out on their practicums.

Nipissing didn’t back down, and now education students are anxiously waiting to see if the union carries out its threat to make them the helpless victims of its historical beef with Harris.

And a seamless segue.......

Shows how hopelessly naive I am, but I learned this week that when I interview a cabinet minister over the phone, that that minister’s aides are taping the conversation.

Meanwhile......

I had one of those weeks last week in which I didn’t seem to be getting along with anyone.

Reader Mr. S, you can insult me all you like, but why on earth would you think I’d answer questions from a complete stranger who demands that I take a personal position on issues involving Israel and Palestine?

Then I got a call from the centre of the universe, following up on one of the dozens of emails I receive each day. The Toronto person calling me expected that the FP would devote its front page to a story on some software the company was flogging for kids, some kind of virtual playground, with some means of generating funding to plant trees in Haiti and other places.

And she didn’t care for my response, and went on the offensive bigtime. I’d told her that if she could find schools in Winnipeg using the software, we’d consider doing something, maybe, possibly.

The bottom line, if I’m quoting her correctly, is that I don’t care about Haiti, I don’t care about the environment, I don’t care about kids having fun and learning while saving the world, I don’t care about small Canadian-owned companies doing good things — did I leave anything out? Oh, right, and I’m also inherently evil,..... but I’m also not going to be the marketing arm for your product.

Sigh.

And I even managed to get a telemarketer to slam the phone down on me in anger, at home.

Me: Hello.....hello....hello.....is anyone there?

Telemarketer (after the system prompted him that I’d answered): Um, hello, is that Mr. X?

Me: No, my wife is X, I have a different name.

Telemarketer: Um, may I speak to Mrs. X?

Me: She’s not here, and she’s not a Mrs. I told you I have a different name, so why in the world would you call her Mrs? Why wouldn’t you call her Ms? Who’s calling?

Telemarketer: Slam!!!!!

And on to other topics.......

It’s really depressing how many back-to-school story pitches I’m getting from outfits in the 13 Colonies. Buy this product. Deck your kids out in these clothes. Get them this book, or that gadget.

It’s June, summer just began, school’s not even over until next Wednesday, and these people think I’m going to do stories about school starting in the fall to help them boost sales.

But wait, there’s more!

No, I’m not going to do a major weekend feature on the compartmentalized lunchbox being flogged by Moms Made Easy, but I will give them a selfrighteous lecture about continuing gender stereotypes well into the 21st Century.

Harumph.

Again switching topics after the briefest of interludes......If I couldn’t be with my people at Stonehenge on the solstice, it was neat to ref my first game under the lights at the Waverley complex Monday night, closing in on 9:45 p.m. before we needed the lights. Running for 90 minutes the day after a half marathon may not be the most sensible thing in the world, but it beat sitting in front of the tube.

One of the women spotted me and says, "That’s my old soccer coach", and I chastised her for putting so much emphasis on the word ‘old’.

Sigh.

I think that’s three former players I’ve reffed as adults so far. One of the men last year — no, Andrew, not you, the other guy — didn’t recognize me, but I recognized him, and it’s still looking as though his next pass will be his first.

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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