Thursday, February 3, 2011

Time for a Snow Culture

Yesterday, amid a frenzy of media reports of an impending snow storm, Chris Spence, the Director of Education for the Toronto District School Board, closed the schools.  It was Toronto's first Snow Day since 1999.

The uproar was immediate.  Parents, confused and furious, flooded his office with phone calls.  He was there, fielding phone calls and reporters, his two children (aged 9 and 11) beside him.

Responding to critics he said:

It's like anything else.  You are damned if you do, and damned if you don't, so you might as well hang on to what you believe in.

Student and staff safety trump everything!  To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing and be nothing.
Source:  The Toronto Star
That parents were angry about having to keep their children home or find alternative care for them proves two things.

1.  It's Time for a Snow Culture
Weather happens.  Parents know it, school boards know it and employers know it.  If children stay home because of school closures many parents face hard decisions.  Take the day off and lose a day's pay?  Use up a sick day or a vacation day?  Leave the children with someone who you maybe don't completely trust?  Take the kids to work with you?  Work from home?

Everyone's options are different.  So maybe the government needs to step in here.  Maybe the government needs to set a standard about what will constitute a Snow Day (factoring in wind speed, temperature and snow accumulation) and declare that all employers must provide for two paid snow days per winter if necessary.  Yes, there are some essential services, but maybe hospitals and transportation providers and other services could create a reasonable contingency plan.  It could work, with a little planning and compromise.

The critics would say What about the effect on the economy?  Well, what about the effect on the economy of people trying to carry on as usual in spite of the weather?  A couple of years ago a woman was travelling the 401 with her children during a heavy snowfall, trying to get to work and school.  She stopped under an overpass to clear the snow off her vehicle and was struck and killed by a snowplow as her children watched in horror.  I would venture to say that her family doesn't give a damn about the effect on the economy.

If we as a society believe that safety matters more than money then it is time for us to act like it.  Loss of potential revenue is unimportant compared to loss of life.  It's time to recognize our limitations.  Business leaders and government need to say that it's OK for staff to stay home when the weather is dangerous.

2.  Schools Really are all about Babysitting
All the parents who were angry about the school closures yesterday had a single complaint:  What are we supposed to do with our children?  D' about spend the day with them?  Were all the whining parents scheduled to perform open heart surgery yesterday?  How important to their jobs do they really think they are?

I get it that some parents would lose income by not working yesterday.  And some parents work in situations were it would be inappropriate to bring their children along, but the majority of parents can probably use a sick day or a vacation day and stay home.  If that is the case, then it really just comes down to a question of selfishness, doesn't it?  You'd rather save those days for when you want them rather than spontaneously take a day to spend with your children.

Primarily, parents need school for babysitting so that they can go to work.  The fact that parents are unable to figure out alternatives to school on a Wednesday sort of proves this.  In fact, this inability to solve the 'child-care problem' is exactly what school is all about.  School teaches people not to think for themselves, to follow along with what everyone else is doing, to keep a strict routine and never deviate from it.  Going to school makes both children and adults into helpless marionettes controlled by the economics of modern culture. 

It is the people who didn't conform to the status quo who weren't scrambling for child-care yesterday:  families with a stay-at-home parent, self-employed parents, multi-generational families under one roof, unjobbers and entrepreneurs.    And yes, some parents dropped the kids off to Grandma or had the nanny show up as usual yesterday.  But parents don't have to be rich (or lucky) to have alternatives to sending kids to school and daycares.  They just have to be creative and pro-child, two things a school can never be.

If Chris Spence were to read this post I would want him to know that I totally respect his decision to close the schoosl yesterday.  But I would also want to him to know that there is nothing he could do to get me to enroll my kids in one of his schools.  For us, everyday is a snow day.

No comments:

Post a Comment