It was a hard-news story where each side merited an equal say. One of the players I interviewed, Ashish Darji, has left a comment at ottawacitizen.com. His words lend themselves to questions about who is is more out of touch with Net Geners -- the news media, or the education system.
Here is Mr. Darji's comment:
"I thought administration was supposed to resolve problems and help us to succeed, however from the principals and the head of athletics at our school, we've got nothing but put-downs. Today we asked if we could play for the baseball team, and she said 'yes, for sure'. But then why are we allowed to play for the baseball team, if we are skipping, yet not for the basketball team? Today at the protest, teachers were threatening students that if they did not get back to class they would fail the students or not let them play on any sports teams. Students were standing up and fighting for something that they feel is unfair and the administration were even taking away that right from the students. I thought this was canada."In one shot, Darji hit on what many Baby Boomers in the media and education system get wrong about kids. It is in keeping with what Wikinomics author Don Tapscott digs into in his latest book, Grown Up Digital, but first, there is the issue of race and culture has to be explored.
The A.Y. Jackson story, like it or not you have to mention this, involved school admins from the Baby Boomer generation coming down on Net Geners. The latter, including those at two other schools in Ottawa which are not offering senior boys basketball this winter, include teens with surnames such as Afzal, Baino, Chopra, Darji, Deria, Hamed, Ibrahim, Indawala, Kabamba and Zurmati.
More than one A.Y. Jackson student said it was treated as an unexcused absence when Muslim students missed a morning practice because they had to go to mosque for prayers on Eid, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. In fairness, one of the players noted the coach was considerate and "didn't run us too hard at practice" when players were fasting during the holy month.
More than one person who was at a meeting about the team's status on Oct. 27 said that the school principal -- a Boomer, with 28 years in education, told the young men and some of their parents, "Why don't you join the ski club?"
Quick, name the last black or brown person on Canada's downhill team. In fairness, one can only assume it was the kind of comment we've all spit out in a tense situation. In fact, the principal's previous school has a very well-run nordic skiing team. (I wrote a feature about the program last June.)
Ultimately, it was a sports story that had to be told in 600 words, by a carpenter's son from cracker-ass crackerville. It would have been unethical to risk exacerbating a tense situation, but it could not be ignored. It would not have gone uncommented upon in the U.S., where as King Kaufman once wrote, there is no such thing as a conversation that isn't about race.
The other daily covering the story did ignore it, initially going along with the school's aim to teach a lesson. Their silence speaks volumes. (As an aside, check out the mugshots of its columnists and search for anyone who is a visible minority or appears to be under age 35.)
The young men were taken aback by the "ski club" comment. However, they saw more in terms of fairness and consistency: We can't play basketball due to poor behaviour, but can play baseball or ski for the school?
The Paper of Record in Ottawa had two reporters working on the story and a follow-up by its ace sports columnist the following day, Oct. 30. There was an editorial the following day. (For the sake of the dumb guy, explain why what happens "every day on hockey rinks where the out-of-date philosophy of beating them in the alley still rules" has anything to do with 17-year-old boys whose sports heroes are more likely NBA demigods Chris Bosh and Chris Paul, rather than Senators cheap-shot artist Chris Neil, even though he plies his dubious craft just a few miles away in Kanata.)
When 300 students from a number of high schools demonstrated Oct. 30 in support of the basketball players, it was given short shrift and called a "brief morning walkout." The turnout was reported as 70, with no mention of students from other schools joining in (behold the power of Facebook).
Four days after the fact, though, the Citizen's Kelly Egan, bless his heart, called shenanigans on the school for framing "this as a case of academics taking precedence over sport -- you know, Big Important Life Lessons at stake here, doing the right thing even if hugely unpopular, not backing down to yappy parents, blah, blah, blah.
" ... The way to properly frame the problem, it seems to me, is to ask whether there is a judicious way to discipline members of a group without imploding the entire structure, thus losing a grand opportunity."
The Paper of Record can apparently be counted on to do the right thing ... eventually. A real lesson -- if you accept the idea that working journalists ever bother to learn anything, a dodgy concept -- is that we are way past the traditonal model of we-talk, you-listen and santimonious speechifying about rights and responsiblities. It is out, gone. As Tapscott wrote in his book:
"As the first global generation ever, the Net Geners are smarter, quicker and more tolerant of diversity than their predecessors ... these empowered young people are beginning to transform every institution of modern life ... they are replacing a culture of control with a culture of enablement.It sounds easy enough to understand. The other lesson has brought the point home that educators and the media must be ahead of the curve in terms of tolerance and understanding of people with widely varying backgrounds and social conventions. It is an occupational requirement.
"... They prize freedom and freedom of choice. They want to customize things, to make them their own. They're natural collaborators, who enjoy a conversation, not a lecture. They'll scrutinize you and your organization. They want to have fun, even at work and school." (Emphasis mine.)
That did not happen here. Instead, one school clung to the old ways, the culture of control. They gloried in a team triumphant, but did not take all of them. And rather than comfort the afflicted, one news outlet repeated the self-serving talk about "building character," as if our education system in Canada had a 140-year track record of turning out people of impeccable character.
Small wonder, then, that it leaves a young man saying, "I thought this was Canada."