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Radical rethinking

The Feb. 20 article NDP bullying law is bad legislation by Rodney Clifton and John Long seems to fall into the dysfunctional liberal versus conservative framework of debate, blocking out the larger view of such a troubling issue that is really called for.

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They are right to suggest that the vague language of the legislation leaves the door open to pious, politically correct interpretations. A kid might get his feelings hurt and open a whole can of worms by calling it bullying. In the current cultural climate, you can't be confident that the adults won't take the bait.

On the other hand, the legislation is right to leave the definition of bullying vague, insofar as this is an attempt to recognize its connection to larger issues and leave room for judgment. A sharp definition implies rigid, unthinking application.

Each side, while attacking the narrow moralism of the other, still proposes a narrowly moralistic response to bullying. It is time to step back from all the recent enthusiasm for legislating school bullying out of existence and ask what it is and where it comes from in the first place.

The answer will not be convenient. It will involve some radical rethinking of much that we take for granted: for example, schooling itself. The sociologist Murray Milner argues convincingly that modern schooling, in segregating young people so thoroughly from the rest of society, leads them to fill the void by creating distorted social structures of their own. This helps explain not only bullying but other problems associated with youth culture.

The psychologist and University of Winnipeg graduate Gordon Neufeld speaks similarly of the very real effects of leaving kids to attach more to one another than to adults.

As I say, it will not be convenient. There are huge mental blocks to thinking through to the real sources of bullying. But education should be all about facing such blocks.




Rodney Clifton and John Long say that ambiguous definitions and religious freedom are at the heart of this "bad legislation."

Bullying need only occur once. Take, for example, the events that occurred at St. John's-Ravenscourt school in 2009. Did one person have to be subjected to the hazing two or more times, or just the once for it to be called a violation?

Would Facebook posts need to be seen on multiple accounts before the target understands that he or she is being subjected to bullying? Would a student in the hallway need to be called "faggot" more than once to be humiliated or shamed? Do racial slurs need to be used multiple times before a student feels demeaned?

Administrators will address bullying issues brought to their attention, as they do, with a balanced approach, with all the information and with common sense.

What Clifton and Long don't want to say is "gay-straight alliance (GSA)." Instead ,they use the coded language of "student groups that may undermine the school's religious values." Bullying doesn't mean something different because it is found in a parochial school, and just because you attend, work at, or fund one doesn't allow you to have discriminatory, intolerant, or bigoted views.

If you are receiving public funds, you obey the public rules. Being a decent, believing, church-going individual does not allow you to hate. Neither does it undermine your values. Is it such a surprise that in your schools there are gay students?

The one failing in this legislation is the onus on the gay student to request a GSA. That takes guts, strength, confidence and support, which is most times missing from the student questioning or struggling with identity. GSAs should be mandatory, just as using a seatbelt is, because one day, having a GSA might save someone's life.



Vive la différence

Driving from just east of Kenora to Winnipeg on Feb. 18, I was amazed at the difference of road-clearing in that part of Ontario and Manitoba.

Ontario has given their highway-clearing to a private contractor, and I can say without a doubt that it was abysmal. Driving was exceptionally dangerous. In one 100-kilometre stretch, we saw one plow, and it barely had its blade on the road.

Upon crossing the Manitoba border, we immediately saw a Manitoba Highways plow and the road was exceptionally well-cleared. In fact, from the border to Winnipeg we saw three plows, and the highway, while not perfect (obviously), was cleared and sanded. Kudos to our highways crews for a job well done.

Anyone who would like to privatize our road-clearing need only go to Ontario, where even the Ontario Provincial Police acknowledge a severe increase in the number of highway accidents due to improper winter road maintenance



Opposite interpretation

In reporting his enjoyment of the Vincent Ho percussion concerto (Suffering well told, Feb. 19), Brian Sheridan seems to have missed the point of my objection (In the beholder's ear, Feb. 6) to Gwenda Nemerofsky's review of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra New Music Festival concert it was part of.

I was not saying that my negative response to the concerto was the correct one. I was reporting it to cast doubt on Nemerofsky's egocentric assumption that everyone in the audience heard exactly what she did.

Sheridan suggests that he and Nemerofsky understood the piece better than I because they or their relatives are cancer victims. He should know that I, too, am a cancer survivor -- one whose experience the concerto did not speak to at all.



Missing the purpose

The writer of the Feb. 14 letter Crowding us out questions why diamond lanes are implemented. To him they seem impractical, slowing down traffic flow of regular motorists when the lanes are in service and especially during the winter when they often aren't.

The writer, however, is not seeing the real reason these lanes are put in place. They're not meant for the convenience of the regular motorists, but rather the convenience of transit buses and cyclists. We should consider that those who ride buses may not have an automobile and so need the buses to take them places and be on time.

We should also consider that cyclists are killed every month as they commute upon our roads. Diamond lanes keep them safe and give them a faster way to travel.



Looking after its own

Bob Deitz (Unnecessary costs, Letters, Feb. 16), has it right. The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, like every other taxpayer-supported union, is simply looking after its own without giving any consideration as to how the rest of us are going to pay for their largesse. The problem Manitobans face is not a tax-revenue problem, it is out-of-control government waste.

Now if there were only some way to replace socialist Selinger with Dietz, those of us who actually pay taxes in this province might start getting value for our money spent.



Enraging drivers

Re: Cheaper solutions (Letters, Feb. 19). I couldn't agree more that poor, frustrating traffic flow on Winnipeg streets is a major factor contributing to accidents.

Instead of calming traffic, as intended, red light after red light after red light only enrages drivers and encourages many to take risks speeding through amber lights at controlled intersections.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2013 A9

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