The Harvard Conspiracy

In which the Elegant Bastard argues that myths, gods and conspiracies, by and large, are not at their best when seen in their underwear.

The great conspiracies are those that operate openly, accompanied by neither shame nor apology.  They are born in the minds of master manipulators, accomplished story tellers who turn away from secret handshakes, sniff at the very idea of initiation rites and loudly ridicule funny hats that come adorned with strange insignia. No modern Machiavellian worthy of the name would waste time discussing grassy knolls, Elvis sightings and alien landings in Roswell. These are petty intrigues, mere games for children. Genius seeks greater challenges and truer tests. It sets itself nearly impossible goals, such as that achieved by whatever assembly of fine minds fashioned the greatest intrigue of them all: the Harvard Conspiracy.

For generations, a mysterious international network has worked to establish this institution’s unparalleled reputation for excellence. So successful have its previous agents been that subtlety was abandoned generations ago and even the name of the university has been made to serve the myth. Rumour has it that this strategy was devised in some dim and murky past when it first became clear that there remained a few mortals who had not accepted the equivalency of Harvard and Heaven. Despite the fact that each destination had a two-syllable name (nudge, nudge) and the syllables even began with the same letters (wink, wink), quibblers insisted on making much of a minor difference. They pointed out that Hea – Ven named itself in two perfectly equal halves, each composed only of elegantly mellifluous letters; Har – vard’s unequal split had to limp its way around a pair of mundane and unmelodious “r”s. Clearly this would not do!

It is possible that formally changing the spelling of Harvard was considered and rejected as too expensive. Great sums of money had already been spent engraving the name in inconveniently obvious places, and brass and stone do not accept erasures well. And so it was that a few great minds – this was Harvard after all – discovered the far simpler strategy of changing the way the world pronounced the word.  Har – Vard became Hah – Va(h)d, equivalent (given that the second “h” is silent) to “Heaven” in every way but one

It’s harder to get into Harvard

That fact is made clear every year about this time. Forget Christmas Day. A short week later comes the Common Application’s Regular Decision deadline. This is the last opportunity for tens of thousands of adolescents all around the world to let the cool schools know they’re out there, and they throw every last ounce of their beings (and substantial amounts of their parents’ money) into a grand final assault on the gates of the Ivy League.  And no one’s gates are hammered at harder than Harvard’s!

My experiences working with young Canadians applying to this pantheon of great schools has taught me that here in Toronto at least, one of these vine crusted places is not like the others. I have consoled those who whimpered because they “only” got into Princeton. I have assured others that Cornell really is a university and look, it even has a Starbucks. I suggested Dartmouth to one young woman, only to be told that she didn’t want to live in Nova Scotia. And I’ve watched Wharton and Yale rise and fall as trendiness waved its fickle wand first at one and then at the other. But in all my years of working with its potential acolytes, I have never seen Harvard’s status waver. It simply is. It stands unmoving and unmoved.

What legions of silent and invisible hands are needed to maintain this miracle? No other modern deity seems able to maintain so permanent a hold on students’ souls – not boy bands, not athletes, not billionaires, not twerkers. Not even the great religions can count on no-questions-asked devotion any more. In fact, most modern young people seem to approach God as they might some shady street vendor peddling bling. They bargain before they buy. Imagine the bartering session:

“So, God, if you could, you know, like lose the omniscience bit. Guy, it’s getting kinda lame and no one likes a know-it-all, ya know? So lighten up a bit and maybe we’ll go along with the fire and brimstone stuff, ok? But only if we really piss you off! Incest at least. Oh, and while we’re talking sex, can we, like, revisit that whole Gay thing? Whadd’ya say? Coffee? Hey,  Dude! , Ya got skype?

They would never talk to Harvard that way.

This persistent reverence intrigued me and I decided to see if I could finally identify its source.. I had various “ins” available to me. Many of my former students had studied there – without apparent ill-effect. They could be canvassed. Cambridge has some acceptable restaurants. I could check out the menus for hidden symbols. “The Crimson” newspaper has its very good days so I would enjoy reading between its lines for clues. (There is reportedly a football team but I quickly dismissed this as a deliberate distraction.)

I knew the job of dragging the conspiracy out into the light of Truth would not be easy. After all, this was a university that had the balls to hire a president named Faust. I would need to employ stealth. Still, it quickly became evident that Harvard itself seemed to have very little to do with its own “mythification”.  The admissions department did not demand that candidates send photos of themselves genuflecting. No one was required to recite incomprehensible chants in ancient languages. And if an applicant really did need to sign over its future first born, the required paperwork was not available to prying eyes. In fact, the more I searched, the more it became clear that while Harvard was aware of the greatness it had achieved, it seemed to take itself pretty casually. Whoever or whatever lay behind the Harvard Conspiracy, it didn’t appear to be Harvard. Who then were its masterminds? Its architects?

This prompted me to take a closer look at those who wished to go there. My chance came one afternoon when I sat down with a group preparing Harvard applications. As we talked about supplementary questions and reference letters, I noticed that the banter and humour of the previous week’s prep session for other Ivy League schools had disappeared. Once witty and probing essays had been replaced by dry little pieces in which puns had been replaced by pleas. And a little reverential glow now seemed to emanate from each hunched body and every weary face. All that was needed was someone singing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

It was then that I dismissed the idea of some vast cabalistic network serving the telepathic commands of a  Crimson King concealed in the basement of Widener Library. That a conspiracy did exist was absolutely true. That it worked to ignore any failure, flaw or fart that dared deface the Harvard aura was also true. And yes, its members were legion. The only thing false was the idea that this was all organized by Harvard – or even that it was organized at all.

For every single student in that room was a self-contained conspiracy of one.

I think even Harvard itself would argue that a little therapeutic blasphemy was both necessary and long overdue, but how to provide it without being extraordinarily cruel? So I asked them if they would like to hear some lesser known facts about Harvard. They hugged themselves and shivered and then whispered that they would. That’s when I told them that the Unabomber had gone to Harvard.

They knew that and were ready. All this fact did was prompt a long and reverent discussion about the glories of Harvard Engineering, followed by speculation that Harvard Law graduates likely helped track him down. I tried again.

I asked them if they were ready for “Primal Scream”. Asked what this was, I explained that prior to final exams, hundreds of Harvard students would strip naked and run around Harvard Yard. This occasioned a moment’s silence. They all glanced surreptitiously at each other – and then immediately pretended that they had not been imagining precisely what they had all been imagining. The outcome was unanimous (if hesitant) support for the notion that a liberal education demanded the casting off of old ideas. Underwear was an old idea. Next?

I tossed out other feeble bits and pieces but all were similarly ineffective. Did they know the unwritten rule about Harvard’s entry gates? Yes. Did they know about “The Statue of the Three Lies”. Yes, yes, yes and yawn. Had they been told to be careful when rubbing the statue’s foot for luck since Harvard undergraduates were notorious for peeing on it after late-night drinking parties? That prompted a whisper session with much snickering and giggling. Apparently one of the boys had visited his cousin at Harvard the year before and they had all gone drinking and … well … you know.

I tried one last time. Did they know that George Bush had also gone to Harvard? Yes, but they blamed him on Yale since he’d gone there first. I gave up.

What came next happened entirely by chance – or perhaps a disgruntled Heaven finally decided to hit back at Harvard over the whole syllable scandal. One of the students mentioned that the latest Bieber song was the “dumbest song ever.”  Another responded that that honour had to go to “Call Me Maybe”. A third nominated “Gangnam Style”. They all then looked at me, apparently assuming that if a “world’s worst song” existed, I knew it, could sing it and probably had written it.

As it happened, one popped immediately into mind. From childhood I have hated the American folk song, “Polly Wolly Doodle”. It’s a repetitive bit of nonsense involving a chicken that sneezes his head off and a narrator who spends far too much time “behind the barn upon [his] knees”. Add to the mix a grasshopper with both teeth and a poor approach to dental hygiene, and you begin to understand why some religious groups want to ban music.

I sang a line of the chorus. The Harvard posse decided I was making it all up. I assured them I was not and the matter was immediately referred to Google. And lo, the answer became immediately clear. Silence reigned. Jaws dropped. Not only was “Polly Wolly Doodle” very real and very, very bad, it was first published at Harvard! More, it was part of the official Harvard Student Songbook in 1880!

It no longer mattered that Harvard was the alma mater of eight presidents, sixty living billionaires, and dozens of Nobel laureates. It had also given the world “Polly Wolly Doodle” and the mental image of hundreds of streaking Harvard students bellowing “Oh I went down South for to see my Sal, Singin’ Polly Wolly Doodle all the day” was enough to demythify Harvard instantly and irrevocably.

This knowledge did not in any way dampen student ardour. They all went right back to the Harvard admission essays with the same determination as before. But in some subtle way, the discovery that there was just a little silliness in Harvard’s closet lightened the tone. Jokes were now acceptable. Someone spoke highly of Yale. McGill was mentioned! And the essays came back to life and breathed a little (polite) fire.

My father once told me as I nervously prepared for a public speaking contest to imagine the judging panel sitting in its underwear. I did. I grinned, I relaxed and I won. I think that’s what happened that afternoon. Prior to that moment, every student in the room had created an image of  Harvard as some larger-than-life “Being” with flowing grey locks, a stern expression, and shoulders stooped beneath the weight of its accumulated wisdom. Its crimson robes were likely lined with ermine and stitched with gold. And then – in a split second – Polly Wolly Doodle leapt out of Harvard’s closet.  Suddenly and briefly, they all saw Harvard in its underwear.

And that is more honesty than any conspiracy – even those we fondly create ourselves – can withstand.

This post is dedicated to those young people who will devote much of their Christmas Break to the task of completing their Common Applications. In all sincerity, I have enormous respect for each and every one of you. Good luck!

Of Teachers and Old Sisyphus

In which the Elegant Bastard makes the necessary argument that one cannot buy or bully a rolling stone.

Like the wars of religion, debates regarding the duties of teachers return to plague us time after time. Nowhere is this now more hysterically true than in normally calm Toronto.  Here the usual armies are fighting over whether teachers do or do not have a duty to provide extra-curricular activities. On the extreme Yea side we have those who cite the skills gained by students, the relief offered to working parents and the extraordinarily generous salaries and benefits given those”lazy-overpaid-pension-thieves-who-don’t-even-work-during-summers-like-poor-me-has-to!” The more rabid Nay Sayers are those few teachers and those many teacher union voices who talk incessantly of noble sacrifices, ungrateful parents, self-serving politicians and all the other “take-us-for-granted-and-pay-us-crap ingrates who refuse to genuflect to us even when asked nicely to do so”.

Strangely, issues of this nature are often best understood from a great distance. When forced to see things from a different place and a different time, combatants might achieve a new clarity and a greater wisdom, and if not, they are at least blessedly far away from us and so we may once again sip our lattes in peace and quiet companionship. It is in that spirit that I suggest we use the ancient story of Sisyphus to help us understand the wars now being waged on the shores of Lake Ontario.

The original story involves three main players: Sisyphus the King, the largest rock in the world, and a variety of old Greek Gods who were as usual behaving badly. For whatever reason (and there are several different accounts) poor King Sisypus ticked off either the wrong God or too many Gods and ended up condemned to forever roll the afore-mentioned rock up some mountain somewhere. Sadly, just as he neared the mountain’s summit, his rock would escape his grasp and roll all the way back down to the bottom. Sisyphus would have to start again, and again, and again, and keep doing so for all eternity.

What has all this to do with teachers and extra-curricular activities? Let us assume that the rock represents all those activities – the clubs and sports and trips that teachers labour to provide. The teachers are, of course, a modern day version of King Sisyphus, one who has acquired labour contracts, social networking skills and nice shoes. We will not identify the Gods just yet.

Now consider. Our modern Sisyphus rolls the rock for one of three reasons. The first would be because the old Gods command it. But if this is so, then all our freedoms are mere illusions, debate becomes a charade, and we will have put up with election speeches, hockey wars and telemarketing calls for no valid reason.  Let us all agree not to raise this possibility again.

The other two reasons are more useful. Sisyphus either enjoys the suffering he endures while pushing the rock or he simply enjoys pushing the rock. The first of these is problematic for those arguing the noble selflessness of teachers, a concept that necessarily involves suffering. If teachers did not enjoy suffering, they would stop. And if they do enjoy suffering for its own sake, the rock becomes irrelevant. Other far more creative and less strenuous ways to enjoy the suffering sensation are available. There is no need to hang about in smelly classrooms or on poorly manicured playing fields for days and weeks and months on end while supervising other people’s loud children. They could pierce new body parts daily (or the same one repeatedly). They could shop endlessly at Walmart. The truly masochistic could listen to the collected speeches of Rick Santorum (or in Toronto, Rob Ford) over and over again. What glee club or football team or museum trip could possibly provide so intense a pain as these?

However, the third alternative seems to offer even less support for the teachers’ side. If Sisyphus enjoys pushing his rock, then teachers enjoy the extra-curricular activities they provide. Running all those clubs and teams is therefore a selfish endeavor.  English teachers actually like debate and journalism clubs. Gym teachers truly value the respect and admiration young athletes often bestow on coaches. Arts teachers really relish the opportunity to guide a new Picasso or Yo-Yo Ma to maturity? Whatever the teacher-activity combination may be, if teacher egos get great big wet and sloppy kisses from all the extra-curricular activities they lead, isn’t it time they just shut up and got on with it?

Ah, but it is at this point that the Yea side loses control of its own rock and has to watch it roll down the hill. It is precisely because teachers enjoy pushing their rocks that we need to take the withdrawal of extra-curricular activities seriously. Teachers do not suffer when they perform these tasks; they suffer when they are forced to stop them. This suffering is not enjoyed and is therefore significant.

Examine every club or team that stopped during the recent labour strife in Ontario. Yes, you will see the disappointed young people and hear the angry adult voices, but you will also note the dejection of teachers who created these opportunities out of passion, conviction or personal need. And while you think on this, consider the fact that while parents and teachers experience one academic year of disappointment, the cancellation of an activity can destroy years of prior work by its teacher mentors. No gardener happily destroys the living garden.

What forced the cancellations? The answer to that goes far beyond mere money. The freezing of salaries during a period of restraint is not exactly anyone’s Happy Pill but most teachers would have swallowed that with the Grin-and-Bear-It stoicism we can all occasionally muster. However, when employers start clawing back, when government campaigns question dedication and professionalism and when hate-filled public voices make it all very personal, the insult is not to dollars but to dignity and self-worth.

This is the essential point and fully understanding it requires us to finally identify the Gods who gave our modern Sisyphus that extra-curricular rock. The answer is not the usual set of suspects: governments, taxpayers, children. The Gods at work here are private dieties.

Think of the homemaker who sings operetta, the chartered accountant who runs marathons, the chef who volunteers at the local animal shelter or the CEO who has spent twenty years developing a rose. Each serves two masters. The first we will call Work. The other – the After Work master, the private God – lives in the private Soul. The physics teacher who organizes after-school hockey tournaments is not just a public servant obeying some school board, nor is the English teacher who organizes after-school theatre trips or the mathematics teacher who provides after-school bridge lessons. Do not let the setting fool you. When the 3:30 bell rings, the Public Servants leave the building and in come the Sisyphi and the rocks their Gods have given them! (Oh they may look like hockey sticks and ticket stubs and playing cards, but trust me, it’s the rocks.)

This is why cannot legislate extra-curriculars as a duty. “Extra” is precisely that. We can no more force a teacher to run an after-school Gay Straight Alliance than we can force CEO’s to invent new roses. And when we try to make these after school gifts compulsory, we demean the giver and the gift. We trample down dignity. We insult the Self. We sneer at the Rock.

We can, I suppose, continue to coerce and batter and bruise our teachers if we choose, although to do so seems self-defeating in the long term. And when all the shouting stops, one consequence will immediately be clear. Public servants will remain.

But Sisyphus will have left the building.

Of Dolphins and Dancers and Teachers and Tricks

The Elegant Bastard believes that Ken Kesey’s protagonist, Randall Patrick McMurphy, was correct when he told his friends that those who lose their laugh lose their footing. But there are times when laughter must be tempered. This is one of them.

(Dedicated to the public school teachers of Ontario, Canada)

 In which the Elegant Bastard explains to the governments everywhere the essential importance of flowers and fish chunks to all our futures.

Imagine a dolphin, elegant and graceful master of sea and air, leaping forever into a succession of suns, scattering diamonds across the sea’s surface as it rises and returns, rises and returns. Nearby, the crowd is enthralled. Later it will speak of symmetry and strength, power and poise and beauty.

There will never be any mention made of the chunk s of dead fish the dolphins’ choreographer will subtly distribute to each performer after each trick. The chunks seem distasteful. They deny the magic. But for how long would the dolphins climb the air for the benefit of others without those less than elegant chunks? We all know the answer. We understand what we would rather not see. No chunks; no tricks.

Now consider, Dear Reader, the following question. How different are teachers – or any of us – from dolphins? No different at all; this we know. What? You do not like the dolphin metaphor?  Then consider a dancer. A partner approaches, perhaps with flowers. At the sound of the music, the two enact a graceful pattern across the shimmering floor. The crowd marvels at the intricacy, the shared confidence, the natural flow and the subtle shifts. No one notices the sweat or realizes that one of the dancing pair experiences the pain of a blister on one toe.

The teaching arts, done well, are always subtle, always natural. However, they are also transactional and because they are so, fair exchange must be involved. In fact, exchange is part of every transaction in life, so much so that we overlook its fundamental nature. As much as we may wish to believe that others are driven solely by Truth or Beauty or Duty, we know that at a fundamental level it all comes down to fish chunks or flowers. We ignore that at our peril.

Canadians have always seemed more aware of the fish and flower dynamic than most. Thus I was surprised when the Government of Ontario, a province generally as far away from Wisconsin as Neverland is from the Middle East, decided to run a Scott Walker steamroller over its teachers. The vehicle was nicknamed the “Putting Students First Act”. Essentially, this piece of legislation eviscerated the idea of sick leave and retirement gratuities, froze teacher remuneration for two years, and reduced the concept of collective bargaining to a charade for the same period of time. The Premier of Ontario, then one Dalton McGuinty, a liberal, said that this was necessary to preserve the progress made in education over his tenure.

(Here I notice a few readers yawn, mutter “about time!” and turn on their cell phones to see if they can access NetFlix. Please – a moment or so longer!)

I do not doubt that Ontario faces difficult financial times. In my own situation I am also made to exercise financial “restraint” by greater powers.   I do not like it, but if this genuinely and demonstrably serves the Greater Good, I might find it in myself, if asked very nicely, to agree. If a convincing case can be made that some long cherished entitlement must go the way of the dinosaurs or at the very least evolve dramatically, I may summon forth a stiff upper lip and try not to cry too loudly. But please, Mr. McGuinty, Mr. Walker, Ms Merkel and the many other Mr’s and Ms’s, hear this.

I will not do so alone.

Neither I nor Ontario’s teachers nor New York’s bus drivers nor D.C. Walmart workers nor Greek pensioners will walk down this path without protest so that those who govern and those who seek to govern can spin competing narratives. If, in the Ontario example, Premier McGuinty was cruel in introducing the Act, his opponents, social democrat Andrea Horwath and (Tea Party style) conservative Tim Hudak, responded with predictably sycophantic and self-serving drivel.)

Why ?

Let us pause for a moment and consider the nature of the average voter in the average western democracy. Ontario, like any other similar state, is comprised of people who, while they can rise under duress to benevolence and even sacrifice, are essentially self-focused. In fact, Dear Reader, we all on occasion chant some part of the following mantra.

No one works harder than I do. No one is as abused as I am. No one is as underpaid and overlooked as I. Those who have more than me stole it. Those who have less don’t deserve what they have. Everyone else is in it for what they can get. No one has ever been so screwed as I have been. Canonize me now you bastards. (By the way, that’s why I cheat on my taxes, steal grapes at the supermarket, speed and watch porn on my office computer.)

An occasional recitation of the above – accompanied by several Coors (not light), a good sized bottle of Seagram or a box of  the best Lindt – can actually restore our battered egos and drive away those nasty niggledoubts that attack us all.  (Repeat after me: Catharsis is King!) But eventually, the vast majority of us recover our equanimity and return to our less selfish states of mind where we are ruled by sweet reason.

The problems emerge because many, many others are permanently caught up in this “Haters” mentality. Their  jaundiced eyes see the external world as filled with those who have so much more than they: a pompous Lord Black “jailed” in a mansion, an arrogant Justin Beiber scampering away from traffic tickets , a randy Prince Harry with a better butt than theirs, a long-haired patched-jean university “student” with his grant in one hand and his dope in the other, the welfare bums with booze bottles and all the others who seem to laugh as “We” (Haters are always “We”) work our fingers to the bone.

Inevitably, the Haters notice the teachers. Now their anger creeps up another notch.

What a sweet deal, eh? A six hour work day. Spares.  A big salary.  A massive pension (that “We”are paying for.) A union that keeps the lazy incompetent bastards from getting fired. Sick days. Summers off. SUMMERS OFF! And now they want more? Screw ‘em!

Enter Mr. McGuinty, Mr. Hudak, and Ms Horwath, bellows in hand. Let’s stoke these fires, boys and girl. There’s votes in them there embers.

I was once a teacher, by all reports a reasonably good one. I remain proud of my former profession. But to the Haters out there – and you, Dear Reader – I admit the following. Villains do walk among the teaching ranks. There are incompetent teachers and they are more dangerous than bad doctors. Doctors kill one at a time; teachers can massacre whole classrooms. Yes, there are lazy teachers in the world, so many that other teachers have nicknames for them, like the “3:00 P.M. Track Team”. Oh yes, teacher unions are often appallingly amateurish, riddled as they are by “I Hate The Man” refugees from badly re-formatted 1960’s socialism. And if you want more to hate in public education, try cowardly Supervisory Officers, petty ego-driven Trustees and self advertising Directors who can’t even copy well.

However, we need to remember this. Every Hater and everyone else can remember the dedicated Teacher. Imagine this heroic figure, preferably clad in a flowing toga and carrying a golden sword. Let us add a blizzard raging all around. We’ll have a few ravenous wolves circling for added effect. Does our heroic teacher falter? Never! The lessons are always compelling, the voice caring, the hand on the shoulder comforting, the marking effective, the grades fair, the smile genuine and the hours of work endless. The impact, finally, is enormous.

Nor are these heroes few in number. In my experience, they actually outnumber the villains, albeit not by the desired margin. Why then did the mass of Ontario citizenry not respond to Mr. McGuinty’s “Putting Students First” and Ms Horwath’s sneers and Mr. Hudak’s histrionics with loud outrage? Why did so many in Wisconsin, apparently a quite mild-mannered place in the best of times, leap on board their governor’s bash-the-unions juggernaut? Simply put, hate and fear are more powerful than fond memory and gratitude. Every politician knows this.

The Ontario government knew if it offered up teachers (“lazy and overpaid”) and their perks and salaries, followed by the doctors (“greedy and REALLY overpaid”) as scapegoats for all that ails Ontario’s economy, the Haters would coalesce. They would enjoy what they see as vengeance obtained on those who dared to be better than they.  Ms Horwath knew that if she claimed that the government was “absolutely” doing this to serve its own selfish and hidden agenda, Haters and conspiracy theorists would believe her and revel in their own now validated cynicism. Mr. Hudak knew that by declaring he would act even more decisively against teachers, he would remind the “Give everyone except me Hell!” Haters that he was of their tribe.

The fact that “Putting Students First” didn’t in any measureable long-term way put students first is irrelevant. Politics is optics and even teacher strategists conceded the optics here were brilliant.

What political leaders in Ontario did to teachers is precisely what class has done to class and race has done to race and ethnicity has done to ethnicity and sect has done to sect and damn near everyone has done to the Jews: make one group the target for all resentment, fear and self loathing. If you want to see the same drama enact itself with far more bells, whistles and music, watch the Pro and Anti gun people rip each other apart in the US for the foreseeable future.

And when all is said and done, what’s the harm?

The harm is profound. McGuinty and the others did not start this rot, nor will it end in Ontario, but they have caused it to spread. They have done so by splitting society into good and evil groups. Even the name of the act, “Putting Students First Act”, is divisive, implying that all who opposed them were nothing more than so many greedy guts lined up at the public trough! After the teachers and doctors have been scapegoated, who will be next? The civil servants have been butchered, roasted and well picked over already so will it be other union contracts? Corporate pay scales? Expense accounts? Pension indexing? Why not? I can hear the Haters now:

Lazy union labourers! Cheating business people. Seniors who got us in this mess with their cushy pensions. And while we are at it, let’s make all those drug taking students pay “their fair share”.

(To Haters, everyone else’s unfair share is exponentially larger than their own.)

In these times when restraint seems a necessary option, politicians from all sides could sit down with representatives of all interests groups and together produce something like a Restraint Act. Had this happened in Ontario, perhaps everyone there would have made some meaningful but not grossly expensive contribution to balancing the books. The pain and the potential gain would have been shared.

Perhaps we would have seen the rise and spread of Restraint parties, Restraint parades, Restraint awards and Restraint buttons, scarves and beads. We are an enterprising people, are we not, and as I said earlier, we can rise to compassion and sacrifice if the need is there. Teachers and everyone else would have shouldered the burden.

But no. That scenario would provide no useful optics, would offer nothing to entrenched political machines. Instead there was finger pointing and organized teacher bashing.

Again, what’s the harm? Think back to the dolphin and the dancers. Ontario wiped the blood from its corporate hands and turned back to its teachers, expecting the same tricks, the same shared music. Instead they found seething resentment, the elimination of extra-curriculars, an unwillingness by many to do anything that sounded remotely voluntary, and a whole new cynicism. Teachers will continue to teach just as dolphins will continue to swim. But there will be no tricks or worse, much worse, the tricks will be done badly.

Nor will the dancers leave the floor. But their message has been made clear. When you step on our feet or dance on our heads, then you will dance alone.

And you, Dear Reader, now sitting in the audience and more than a little disappointed in the performances you’ve seen lately, look about you. Look at the legion of Haters grumbling in their seats. Do they make you nervous? Do you wonder, “Am I next?”

Ah, Dear Reader. Yes. You are.