Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sarah McLachlan Public School accepting students!

On Thursday night we wandered over to the open house for this alternative school that's opened up recently in the school that we're in district for. The Dotytron was nosing around a few weeks back and was doing some research on schools in our area and found out about the open house, so we figured we'd walk over and check it out just to see what it's all about. A bunch of our neighbours who have kids entering JK next year were going too.

WELL WELL WELL. We were greeted at the door by the Chair of the Parent Council who was giving out name tags. There was also Starbucks coffee on hand and some home baked goods and samosas provided by some of the local businesses in little India. The woman who provided our prenatal training was there. One of the baked goods was labeled, "organic sugar, organic flour, organic butter" which I found immensely annoying, and the ginger cookie I sampled was terrible. Strike one. Technically, the bad cookie was strike two. Strike one happened when we walked in and saw all the other parents and their kids who were overwhelmingly: white, privileged, and vaguely hippity dippity in the way that I loathe. The Dotytron gave me a sidelong glance - we were definitely on the same page.

We went down into the gym and heard the presentation, from the principal of the school (who actually wears two hats, as principal of the alternative school and principal of the larger school in which the alternative school is housed), and one of the teacher founders of the school, another teacher, and the chair of the parent council.

Guys, it was AWFUL. So smugly self-righteous! So full of empty, arbitrary, 60s mother-earth counter-culture appropriation of eastern cultures signifiers! They apparently base their practice on John Miller's book, The Holistic Curriculm, with some Waldorf mixed in and Reggio. The woman founder name-checked all the above buzzy terms and talked about how they base their school on being in touch with nature, building community, narrative/arts-based learning, experiential learning, project-based learning, blah blah blah. All of which I'm generally in favour of. And yet! The presentation from the founder woman was TERRIBLE. Full of lip-service, entirely too proud of how they have equinox and solstice harvest festivals, of how teachers try NOT TO READ FROM BOOKS but make up stories (which was accompanied by a power point slide of a TEACHER READING FROM A STORY BOOK!) and all this mumbo jumbo that I couldn't get behind, and a list of potential skills my child would learn on one of the weekly visits to a nature reserve that culminated in the line, "for example, your child might learn to identify edible plants, or track a coyote to its den" (with COMPLETE sincerity!)

Can I just say that I REALLY don't need my kid to learn how to track a coyote to its den? This woman was completely incoherent, but she was loads better than the teacher that followed who was one of those super-soft-talking teachers who wears long, ankle length full skirts and earth tones and infantalizes her charges, pedagogy, and herself in the process. Her presentation (she is a grade 1/2 teacher) went off the rails rapidly, with a particular low point being when she was so hopped up on her own juice that she spiraled into a personal reverie recounting in excruciating detail the song-device they use to get kids to learn the alphabet, which of course meant that she had to SING THE SONG TO US (prefacing it with a giddy, "forgive me if I just sing the song for you") and which went on for far too long. I was like, lady! We are adults! The she talked about how the kids do Shakespeare every year and that's "her " baby. Ugh.

We left after the Parent Council lady spoke and skipped the classroom tours. At that point, I was pretty sure that it wasn't our style. I'd rather send Master T to school in Scarborough (and I'm not saying that in a way that's supposed to be pejorative to Scarborough. I mean that I believe the quality of the experience he would get exposed to the income and ethnic diversity of school in Scarborough would be far more beneficial to his overall well being than going to an alternative school surrounded by 99% Caucasian kids with parents who are overly invested in the idea that their child is a special star. )

I was pretty angry when we left and was bubbling over with righteous indignation. It was all so very self-congratulatory. What was most galling for the Dotytron, as a teacher in the Board, is that they thought they were so different from other schools. As he said, any school you go to in the board is going to say the same things about community, Reggio, etc. This school was no different - paying lip service to these principles. I thought the application of the theory was so half-arsed and so arbitrary - creating false dichotomies between nature and the city, this false idea of an idealised, reified, pastiche of Eastern cultures (one rapt parent next to me breathed, "that's so awesome" when the teacher showed a slide of kids doing yoga with the accompanying line, "of course we believe in nuturing the inner self and all our students conduct daily yoga and meditation practice." WHY? WHY IS IT AWESOME? Why is it more awesome than doing team sports?

As the Dotytron said, if you're conducting an open house, you're going to put your strongest people forward as presenters - if those were the heavy hitters in the school, that speaks VOLUMES. We both thought that having these lofty, ideals so indifferently and poorly applied does a disservice to the whole methodology. You know what I want in an alternative school? I want them to teach my child the ability to question and critically engage with these kinds of ideologies, not substitute one ill for another. It was fantastically disappointing. Although I'm rueful that I won't be able to join that Parents' Council and start a ruckus. It's worth it to enroll Master T just for that purpose, although the Dotytron said it wasn't fair to him to subject him to having those kids be his peers. Also, if John Miller is an advisor at the school - why not have him speak, instead of having dummy disciples who are probably garbling the heck out of his scholarship run the show? If you came up with a pedagogical theory, wouldn't you want to see it applied and presented in a way that does it justice?

Blargh. The neighbourhood scuttlebutt is that if you're a minority, you have a better chance of being "picked" in the lottery because they're trying to introduce some diversity. For eff's sake. Also, they have no budget for special education, so my question is: how are you producing children who are capable of fully integrating and feeling a part of a "community" when the community being represented doesn't reflect minorities, those in different income brackets (obviously, it's a self-selecting pool of educated, income secure individuals who send their kids to these kinds of schools), or those with special needs? How does THAT do anything for a child?

It was galling.

We've had a pretty low-key weekend around here. Friday night was our first dodgeball game - super fun to get back into things. It was a bit of a shellacking, but I like our team and it's just fun to get out. A woman on our team who is herself a mother of two said that I was the most laid back first time mom she's ever seen, which I took to be an enormous compliment (this as I was nonchalantly tucking the little Boobla up on stage in his car seat so he wouldn't get an errant dodgeball to his soft spot.)

This is the last weekend until about late February where we didn't have any social engagements planned so we cleaned house and worked on our respective school and went for a nice long walk and had family naptime - it was lovely.

What we've been eating lately:

Wednesday night was beef barley soup with a warm baby spinach salad with a bacon-mustard vinaigrette and a poached egg.

Thursday night dinner was spaghetti in T's meat sauce with grated grano and a caesar salad.

Saturday morning breakfast was boss. Sweet potato & yukon latkes with sour cream and apple sauce, peameal bacon, and fried over easy eggs.

Saturday dinner was also boss. A "white" lasagne of mushrooms, spinach, nutmeg-scented ricotta with fresh pasta sheets (bought) and a romano-spiked bechamel sauce. More caesar salad because I love croutons.

Our Saturday walk consisted of a mission to check out the Canadian Pie Company on Queen East. I make pretty fan-freaking-tastic pies (both custard, fruit, and savory) if I do say so myself, but sometimes, it's nice to have a backup for baked goods when you're feeling lazy. We got a sour cherry pie to go. The texture of the pastry is nice, touted on their web page as a cross between "puff pastry and a croissant" - which is true. It's very flaky with a bit of the yeasty elasticity and brawn of a croissant. That being said, it was seriously lacking in flavour. I was really disappointed. The whole thing tasted kind of flat. The cherries were sour, but that's about it, the filling had too much starch in it to bind it and was very bland. The whole thing was unmemorable, which is disappointing.

Sunday morning breakfast was a bit inspired. A bacon, roasted garlic, and cheddar omelet with roasted garlic oil-croutons on top (I really do love croutons.) Delicious!
We caught up on our Top Chef: All Stars. I won't bore non-Top Chef fans with my slavering, overly-enthusiastic paean to its greatness, suffice to say it's definitely the highlight of our week.

We watched The Fighter over 2 nights. It's a bit of a predictable story anchored by a strong Melissa Leo and a strong Christian Bale performance (Marky Mark is good, but not great.) The movie overall was kind of ho-hum and tired with a well-worn arc that's made fresh by the window into lower-class Massachusetts and the hard-scrabble, rough Irish clannishness that prevails there. I thought it lacked the oomph of other under-dog sports stories, but maybe watching it over two nights diluted the urgency of the story. My vote for best pic is still Toy Story 3 or True Grit.

We tried watching 127 Hours but couldn't get into it. The Dotytron had no sympathy for Aron Ralston's plight and my fervent love for Franco couldn't push me past knowing what's going to happen and then just sitting there, waiting for it. Danny Boyle keeps the tension high, but I don't know if that's just because the whole world knows the real story, so it feels artificial.

We're having dinner with my mum and her crew tonight at AYCE hot pot. Wahoo!


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