I read a little in the blogs today about the Astral Media radio show ("Two Bald Guys with Strong Opinions"), and opinions mouthed off by one of the hosts, Michael Coren. Discussing contract talks between the instructors' union at York University, Coren rips into a caller about her "accent", stating that she should not be teaching if English isn't her first language (something entirely unrelated to the conversation at hand). For many reasons, these comments struck a vein with me. Coren's comments are appalling AND racist. If we were to discriminate against everyone who had "an accent", we wouldn't have anyone teaching... I mean, let's see...
Let's remove teachers who have the following accents:
- UK (England/Scot/Ire/Wales)
- American South (ever try understanding what a Southerner is saying? Good luck)
- Western Canadians (we don't sound like Easterners, and we know it)
- Rural folks (hey, we know there are different inflections in accent from city to country)
- Atlantic Canadians (an obvious one)
See what I mean? Idiocy has no bounds... Racism has no place in our culture.
Do people like Coren have trouble UNDERSTANDING different accents (when most of the population can), or is it that they just DON'T LIKE the accent? Do they prefer to make fun of some sorts of accents, while preferring others? This all reminds me of the movie "Idiocracy", where the clowns running the country had trouble understanding "normal" middle-American accents because all speech was a combination of "Hillbilly", "Urban", and something else I don't recall.
The Coren story struck a personal note for me. My father - a first generation immigrant - was a student at IIT (Illinois Institute of Technology), then at Cal Berkeley (as a grad student in Medical Sciences). He and thousands of other students from abroad were openly courted by the Canadian Government and Provincial Education Departments. In the early 60s, he became one of a large number of immigrant teachers on the rural Prairies. He often describes to me how he first arrived at Broadview Sask. on an STC bus at 3am in a snowstorm. The hotel clerk greeted him with a shotgun (seriously). When he showed the clerk his papers, and the job offer from Corning School, he exclaimed, "Oh, you're the new teacher!" and quickly got a bed going. He roused his wife to make Dad dinner... They were eagerly awaiting a new teacher. Turns out Canada had a complete lack of Math and Science teachers. So much so, that they were recruiting students of the sciences in foreign schools.
My father went on to teach for 40 years (including time as a school principal), then added roughly 10 years at the college level, teaching dental hygienists, dental assistants, and dental therapists (he had a strong background in medical sciences). The school division (in rural Sask) that had made him principal had begged him not to go, but he had always wanted to teach college. His years at the college - right next to the Regina General Hospital - were a joy for him. His co-workers were great, and his students were respectful and appreciative of his vast knowledge. I can't walk into a dental office in Sask (even in Alberta, and as far as places in BC) where I don't find one of Dad's students (there are few colleges teaching hygienists in Western Canada, and very few instructors).
When it came time to retire, my father's college also asked him to "please stay". He had put together program manuals, and teaching guides for all the courses, and had put a pretty strong stamp on all the courses at the school. My father wanted to stay, but needed another year in the school system to get a better level of pension. His old director of education was a member of a school board near Regina, and hearing that Dad was looking, quickly hired him as a Sciences and Maths teacher. He even got to teach entry level Computer Science!
My father retired from almost 50 years of teaching at the High School and College levels, including years as an administrator. His students won provincial science fairs. His students won scholarships. His students won Leftenant Governer's awards. His students went on to doctorates, and Medical Schools, and Dental Schools. His students provide dental health throughout Canada. His students also teach: 3 members of one family in one small hamlet in rural Saskatchewan all became teachers, and all were taught by my father... He also tutored many others after school. He even spent time coaching volleyball and badminton.
In the mid-90s my father was put in a book about Saskatchewan immigrants. He and several others like him were celebrated for their pioneering work in small town prairie schools. My father managed all of this as a first generation immigrant. Did he have an accent? A little. Nothing worse than any of the Canadian regional twinges... Could his students understand and appreciate what he had to say? Did his students learn? His record (above) speaks for itself.
Reading my father's story, I think one can appreciate the tremendous positive influence immigrant teachers have had on education in Canada. People like Michael Coren have a long way to grow before they can appreciate the reality of Canada's multicultural heritage. Comments like Coren's highlight why we Canadians have a long way to go before we can claim we're seeing the decline of racism. Racism still exists in the most subtle - and not-so-subtle ways.
Immigrants bring much more to Canada than "slightly funny" accents that "Joe Idiots" can make fun of. They have helped build a nation. If it wasn't for immigrants, we may not have a country (as we know it). Asian laborers were required to build the railways, hew forests, and build ports. Without the rail connection to the West, BC, and perhaps Alberta and Sask. would be part of the US right now.
Immigrants like my father built education systems in rural Prairie and Northern hamlets... in villages where outhouses were still commonplace into the 1970s. My father and immigrant scientists like him helped assemble the first science labs and classrooms in Prairie schools that had not even considered science as a "necessary" discipline (they taught textbook science, but labs were rare in those days). Thousands and thousands of Canadian students today are "turned on" to science because of the influence of people like my father.
There's "free speech", then there's "idiot speech", and we can be confident that Mr. Coren of Astral Media preaches the latter. Yes he has a strong opinion, similar to how a skunk has a strong scent. Belittling people with racist ideas is as harmful as assaulting someone. Only someone who's been on the receiving end can even begin to fathom that. People like Coren give life to whole mob of "hate speechers", and provide fodder for the hate-mongers of Canada. Then they wonder why a tiny sub-community of particularly marginalized immigrant youth organize into groups to stick up for themselves - using force, if necessary. Marginalize people and live with the consequences. Accept people and reap the rewards.
Let them know you care... Contact Astral and give them a piece of your mind:
Astral Media Radio Contact information:
Mr. Ross Davies, Vice President Programming, firstname.lastname@example.org
Astral Media Radio Phone number: 416-323-5200
CRTCThe CRTC is Canada’s government agency responsible for regulating Canada’s broadcasting and telecommunications systems. Register a complaint about the conduct of Mr. Coren.