Before the classrooms are humming again

Posted 08.07.16

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Excuse me for bringing this up in the heat of mid-summer, but about a month from now the kids across West Quebec will be heading back to their classrooms. Once the school year begins, it seems, there'll be too much going on and too much to get through to allow time for any reflection on our schools' activities. Allow me to raise one consideration: school trips.

By school trips I mean organized groups heading to the poorest countries, usually in our western hemisphere, for a week or two of community work: building classrooms, in particular, although these trips can include sinking wells, building communal ovens, and even setting up communal enterprises to bring in income.

Usually the pupils themselves have to raise their travel funds, and the school board approves these projects because they bring rare experiences to the lives of our kids - - living among the poorest of Latin America, learning about boot-strap economics, picking up bits of a foreign language, and learning a little of international trade, migration, health, nutrition, and education. All to the good!

Some projects seem more educational than others, and the occasional one sounds even suspect for its environmental and social side-effects. For example, climbing Mt Kilimanjaro - - often targeted by organizations other than schools - - seems to offer minimal advantages to participants (not to mention locals) but adds a great deal of environmental stress to a region already under stress.

Generally, building a classroom in Honduras or a well in El Salvador can only be good - - or can largely be good. These adventures do have some negatives for both participants and locals, but in general such work experiences must have good effects.

However - - here's the issue - - why are we having or kids bypass and ignore virtually the same conditions right here at home in order to travel far away to help the less fortunate? Why don't the schools send our kids for work experiences in First Nations reserves - - those that have not had drinking water for thirty years, for example?

Or why aren't rural kids going into urban ghettos here in Canada to help other Canadians?

Could it be that these destinations are not exotic enough? They are downright depressing. They are also - - or should be - - very, very embarrassing to all Canadians, we who think of our country as the best in the world. It may be the best, although I doubt residents of the reserves or ghettos would agree. By sending student work teams here, would we have to admit that such conditions exist right across this grand country?

Such experiences might be more profitable for any kid's upbringing than a glimpse of poverty in Guatemala. We know there's poverty there. Not everyone appreciates the problem within Canada. Making this better known would be a benefit, as would the new classrooms, wells, or houses.

Any chance school authorities might have a few moments to consider this suggestion before the classroom mania begins in September?


Copyright © 2016 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/08.16