June 22, 2013

MTS President and Bill 18

Apologia, etc.
By Hendrik van der Breggen

MTS President and Bill 18

In "The President's Column" (The Manitoba Teacher, April/May 2013, p. 4), Manitoba Teachers' Society president Paul Olson provides both a helpful and not-so-helpful look at the controversy surrounding Bill 18, the Selinger government's proposed anti-bullying legislation.

Olson is helpful in listing the concerns raised by critics of Bill 18: "The definition of bullying is too vague. The bill encroaches upon religious freedoms. It focuses on one type of bullying more than others. It puts people at risk of frivolous, vindictive accusations."

Olson is helpful in reminding us that, sadly, "Many of our kids are afraid to go to school." Olson reports that fear is rampant among students, undermining their education and well being.

Olson is helpful in reminding us that our responsibilities and obligations "exist in a hierarchy"—some are more important than others, so we must prioritize. Student safety and well being should be at the top of our hierarchy.

But Olson is also not helpful.

Olson lists the critics' concerns with Bill 18 but doesn't assess them. Are the concerns legitimate, or not? Why, or why not?

Apparently, Olson just lists the concerns to dismiss them. Olson ends his column with the following: "If someone has something in their personal values hierarchy that's more worthy of our focus than 'Our Kids are Scared,' then I'll look forward to hearing that explained at the Leg. But they'd better speak slowly and use small words, because I'm pretty sure I'll have a lot of trouble keeping up."

Olson seems to be suggesting that "Our Kids are Scared" (i.e., students are living in fear of bullies) trumps critics' concerns about Bill 18, thereby suggesting a dichotomy: Either we accept Bill 18 or students will live in fear.

But this is a false dichotomy.

Because Olson doesn't present an assessment of the critics' concerns in his column, a third option remains: Revise Bill 18 to reflect some or all of the critics' legitimate concerns so the bill does a better job of ensuring that no student lives in fear.

Surely, no critic of Bill 18 wants any student to be afraid to go to school. To suggest otherwise is uncharitable—and doesn't help.

P.S. For a look at some of the critics' concerns, see (for starters):

Bill 18 Needs Revision (Hendrik van der Breggen)
Bill 18 and ABCs (Hendrik van der Breggen)
Bill 18 Perspective (Robb Nash)
● Citizens Concerned about Manitoba Bill 18 (Facebook group with 2000+ members)
EFC Releases Analysis Critical of Manitoba's Bullying Bill (Evangelical Fellowship of Canada)
Falling Short: Manitoba's Bill 18 (Evangelical Fellowship of Canada)
NDP Bullying Law Is Bad Legislation (Rodney Clifton & John Long)

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