Supporters and opponents of the 2010 Winter Olympics are trying to ensure that their messages reach local students
Poring over a ream of papers inside a café at the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library, Nat Marshik can easily pass for a student doing weekend research. A closer look shows that the documents are lesson plans tailored for classroom discussion. But she is neither a student nor a teacher.
A recent university grad, the young woman belongs to a group that created a stir last month when word went around that it was holding a workshop for teachers at an East Vancouver school. No less than Premier Gordon Campbell and Solicitor General Kash Heed put in their two cents’ worth, saying essentially that the group is spoiling children’s enthusiasm for next year’s Olympics.
Marshik is an organizer with the Teaching 2010 Resistance, a group that is encouraging critical discussion of the Games inside the school system. Upon the invitation of some teachers, it has already conducted five teach-ins, with an audience of about 100 secondary students, in different schools in Metro Vancouver.
“I find it really interesting that people like Gordon Campbell, for example, would talk about a critical educational workshop taking away children’s enthusiasm, instead of talking about how $118 million in funding cuts to education might take away children’s enthusiasm,” Marshik told the Georgia Straight.
Members of the group are preparing to hold more classroom teach-ins this month and in December. Marshik wouldn’t say where, pointing out that her group doesn’t want to see unnecessary pressure placed on teachers who are interested in working with them. The group’s Web site presents several lesson plans, which she said teachers can easily incorporate in classes on history or economics.
The Vancouver school board doesn’t have a position on the activities of the Teaching 2010 Resistance. According to board chair Patti Bacchus, teachers enjoy autonomy in running their classrooms, and they are neither encouraged to use nor discouraged from using materials offered by the group.
What is certain is that the board wants teachers in the city to make sure that their students will be having substantive discussions around the Olympics.
“There should be an educational component,” Bacchus told the Straight in a phone interview. “We didn’t want students to just kind of burst into cheers at promotional events. There’ll be a component of that celebration, but”¦the Olympics provide an opportunity for real education and an academic approach to discussing issues in a balanced way. There’s room for that getting-excited part, but there is also that more scholarly discussion of the pros and the cons.”
Teachers have other sources from which to draw instructional materials.
The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games has a site that offers a wide array of choices. There is one called the Canadian Olympic School Program, which was put together by the Royal Bank of Canada, an Olympics sponsor, for students in grades 2 to 12.
“At the elementary-school level, students will learn about the values of fairness, excellence, leadership, respect, goal setting, dealing with pressure, and personal growth through the stories of Olympians such as Beckie Scott, Silken Laumann, Daniel Igali, Lawrence Lemieux, Jennifer Botterill, Gary Reed and Alexandre Despatie,” the introduction to this program reads.
The B.C. Ministry of Education has put up an on-line resource that includes teaching guides, such as one on building “awareness of global citizenship” through the adopt-a-country program. Every school in the province is also being provided DVDs on “teachable moments”.
This is part of the 2010 Spirit School project, which the ministry launched on September 8. Through this, students can learn about what legacies the Olympics will bring, and also try out activities such as reporting about the Games as amateur journalists.
Education Ministry spokesperson Scott Sutherland told the Straight by phone that 122 schools across the province have signed on with the 2010 Spirit School program, and more are interested. He also said that educational materials being offered by the province were developed in cooperation with teachers.
Participating schools can also win prizes, which include visits by the Olympic mascots, a particular reward that Sutherland said his two grandsons are very excited about.
Students listening in class to organizers with the Teaching 2010 Resistance will have a different experience.
Based on a manual prepared by Marshik’s group, they’ll learn that although the provincial government has earmarked $500,000 for the Spirit School program, it eliminated the $130,000 funding for B.C. School Sports, a nonprofit group that organizes sporting events, a move that will affect 100,000 students.
They’ll also hear that the government slashed $100 million in funds to maintain and upgrade public schools. They’ll also find out that grants to parent advisory councils took an $8-million hit, reducing the capability of these groups to cover some of the needs of underfunded classrooms, like the purchase of books, supplies, and computers.
There’s a true-or-false section in the manual. One question asks whether or not the International Olympic Committee pays taxes. Answer: false. The IOC, according to the manual, earns at least $60 million in profits from the sale of TV broadcasting rights but it doesn’t pay tax in the host country.
The central feature of the Teaching 2010 Resistance workshop is the budget-pie exercise.
Here, students are told that about $6 billion are being spent for the Games. (The $6-billion figure includes capital projects like the convention-centre expansion, the Canada Line, and the Sea-to-Sky Highway upgrade.) They’re asked to fill out a blank pie shape with coloured strips of paper representing their choices of where some of the money should go. One, for example, has $225 million on it for the construction of 10 new community centres, each with a hockey rink, a fitness centre, and indoor courts. Another has $1.6 billion for the purchase and maintenance of 1,500 new clean-energy buses. Another allocates $360 million to reduce university and college tuition fees by half during the next three years. People on welfare get a 50-percent increase in subsidy, for a total of $500 million provincewide.
“Kids dream about things that are a lot more mundane and a lot more basic than just a glamorous sporting event,” Marshik said. “And so we have a responsibility to respond to those dreams as well—those dreams of having food on the table, of having education opportunities.”
The president of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers Association indicated that there’s no prescribed way for teachers to conduct Olympics-related discussions with their students.
“Obviously, there’s great debate about whether the Olympics are a good thing or a bad thing.” VESTA’s Chris Harris told the Straight in a phone interview. “Students will come to school with their own opinions and the opinions of their families. There could be opportunities for that discussion to take place.”
Over in West Vancouver, the school board is promoting the participation of students in grades 8 to 12 as volunteers at the Games. Schools are also having a lot of Olympics-related classes, board spokesperson Andrea Wilson told the Straight. She cited as an example a project at Ridgeview elementary school wherein a Grade 7 class developed a Web site that features student-generated content.
Richmond school board chair Linda McPhail proudly related that students taking part in a 3,000-member student choir are practising for their performance at the city’s O Zone, the largest free festival site for the 2010 Olympics.
McPhail also has an opinion about the Teaching 2010 Resistance. “If you’re not in favour of the Olympics, you certainly don’t have to teach it in your classrooms,” McPhail told the Straight by phone. “There are other things that you can do in your classroom or just go along with the normal curriculum. I think it kind of spoils it, especially if you’re a venue community.”
Julianne Doctor is the chair of the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council. What she’s hearing is that many parents want a balance in classroom discussions about the Olympics.
“They don’t want it to be extreme from one side or the other,” Doctor told the Straight by phone. “They want students to understand the positive things about the Olympics and the negative things about the Olympics. We don’t want kids to be little cheerleaders.”
According to her, teachers may want to explore how the Olympics are being used to create marketing opportunities for corporations. Doctor asked: “I mean, is the Olympics about sports or is it about Coca-Cola?”