Right across the country, kids went back to school yesterday, except in British Columbia. Here, a half million students are getting an extra long summer holiday while their teachers are on strike. As in all disputes, there are myriad issues: class size, class composition, pay rates, benefits and a Supreme court ruling to name a few. I’m not an educator or a negotiator or a member of government so I take no sides. Except perhaps to say that we should probably be listening to the people who are actually teaching our children about whether or not we need another bandage on our post-war system, or whether it’s time to rip the bandage off and start again. No, I’m a writer, and I’ve noticed something unusual in our community these last two days.
There are kids on bikes all over the place. Well, obviously, the kids have to be somewhere. But why didn’t I see them all summer? There was no school then either. There are middle school kids at the bus stop, alone. I don’t usually see that either. The park was packed. (It was barely used all summer.) Mobs of moms chatted with one another, smiling, while a ten-year-old hopped on his pogo stick and a line of kids waited patiently for the slide. A dad played tennis with two tweens on the free court. I can’t help myself when I people-watch; I just have to make up stories about all the people I see. I’ll bet that dad was a lawyer or a businessman, because his shorts didn’t sit easily, as if they hadn’t been used much. He had a lousy serve but was grinning like crazy. Everyone I saw today was happy.
In no way do I want to minimize the terrible hardship and stress this strike is placing on families. It’s a disaster. But, we must remember that disasters have the potential to bring out the best in people. They are a time-out-of-time, with different rules, changed schedules and forced flexibility. They give us the opportunity to try new things. In a disaster, we can only concentrate on the things that are most important, letting all else fall away. I’m almost always surprised that what I thought was most important never is.
The kids will go back to school eventually. Our job is to remember the good, if any, that comes out of the changes we have been forced to make. It could be increased independence, more unscheduled time to play, less time at work or learning how to accept help from friends and neighbours without feeling guilty.
We rarely take a time-out-of-time, as they seem a luxury beyond imagining. Most often they are forced upon us, and it’s hard to see them as a gift. But we need to try, or the potential to learn something different – something precious – will be forever lost.