If Dogs Run Free, Why Not We…

by Yule Heibel on April 16, 2004

If I had to tell what I’m writing, I couldn’t do it because I’m sick in bed with one of those awful sore throats (think 1000s of little razor blades, a million paper cuts, that sort of thing) which crops up as a symptom in some kinds of viral or bacterial illnesses. For those around me it manifests as a funny case of laryngitis, too, which leads them to make all sorts of jokes about how nice it is that I can’t talk…

So, before I go completely ’round the bend and make time stop its flow by enacting a hissy fit worthy of my inner child (ahem) — something along the lines of (whispered!) ranting about “why me? why me?” — just a couple of pointers. Joel has another installment of The Friday Corral wherein he “corrals” links to some of the interesting stuff he has come across this week. I was amazed by the first couple of Corrals, and this one is no exception: I’m impressed that Joel reads so many blogs, and that he honours this deluge of words to make the lists and categories and links and annotations that fill the Corral, remembering to include this or that, and pulling it all together weekly. Jeee-suss, it makes me feel real slow. There’s really good stuff there, check it out .

Second, Dave Pollard pointed to my piece about access to public parkland in Victoria vs Greater Boston with an entry entitled We Share This Land, and I commented there — possibly as a way of avoiding dealing with my own blog. I guess the not-so-secret corollary to my amazement at Joel’s corralling prowess is Guilty Conscience on my part over sporadic blogging here and even more sporadic responses to the conversations that do at times ensue, as well as sporadic reading of other blogs. To those of you who comment here, I do eventually try to respond, and I always appreciate it when anyone takes the time to comment.

Dave is extending the public access conversation in a thoughtful way, and he’s asking you to tell about your experiences in your community. As I wrote my comment on his blog, I was reminded of kids I knew of or had met in Beverly who didn’t know where Lynch Park was. They did, however, know where to find the Burger King and the Dairy Queen, the Malls on Rt. 128, their school, and the tvs in their homes. But they didn’t know the location of the public library or the public park, both within walking distance of their neighbourhood. Remembering this little tidbit made me speculate that we’re failing kids who know where the palaces of consumption and the palaces of indoctrination are, but the free spaces — the library or the park (and I don’t mean the park with its official “recreation program,” another group indoctrination activity, but simply the park as free thinking space) — those free spaces are increasingly elusive and unknown. That failure happens at both ends of the social spectrum: the overscheduled child, with no time for ruminating randomly in a library or enjoying unstructured time in a park, and the underprivileged child (I’m thinking specifically about the kids I knew of in Beverly) whose parents are functionally illiterate and who have never had bedtime stories read to them, who haven’t a stick of decent furniture in their homes, but who own tvs, and whose lives oscillate between the two prison palaces of regimented consumption and regimented learning. Yes, I knew of kids in Beverly whose parents couldn’t read (not immigrants, but American-born parents) and who therefore didn’t know what bedtime reading was. Just think about that for a second, you Readers: how reading, beginning with others who could read to you, has shaped your life, and imagine that factor wasn’t there.

Ok, now I’m off on a potentially dangerous tangent. You might now wonder why I’m dissing “palaces of indoctrination” where you might at least learn to read. Shouldn’t I champion schools? I won’t, not least because I think that we’re asking schools to do way too much. We keep demanding that they fix things they didn’t break, and when they fail, we demand more of the same. Schools have a key role in society (for too many parents under economic pressures, they unfortunately have too much of a custodial function), but they aren’t a panacea, nor are they completely free of culpability. They didn’t single-handedly tear certain social fabrics, schools didn’t create parental illiteracy, schools don’t bear lone responsibility for the peer-to-peer culture that convinces girls as young as twelve to service older boys sexually, if only to earn “respect” within their own girl-peer group (i.e., it’s not about imagination or pleasure, it’s about work and earning in the relentless capitalist mode). They’re not responsible (entirely) for turning some public parks and streetscapes into peer-structured institutional replicas. But then we think schools should be able to fix everything, and we get mad at teachers or administrators who aren’t miracle workers. When they fail, we demand longer school hours, standardised testing, and more and more homework, until the kids have no free unscheduled time left whatsoever. How about we get mad much earlier, at parents who plunk their young children in front of a tv early in the morning and use the tv as a babysitter throughout the day? Or parents whose lives are so thoroughly mediated and consumption-driven that they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they and their kids found themselves in a public park or in a forest — without a radio, without a tv, with nothing except everything that nature and your mind provides? Would that help? Probably not.

Should we expect schools to be able to fix the Death of Imagination? Why should any child get excited about learning to learn if he or she can’t exercise his imagination freely? Free imagination isn’t “earned” and broken imaginations can’t be fixed institutionally. Perhaps the parks and beaches and nature itself, not the institutions, need to become more proactive: Ents, ent away, kill your tv….

Ok, I really amn’t feeling too well and I need to stop right now, I’m ranting again. I guess Children’s Liberation is my not-so-secret revolutionary subtext, it pushes all my buttons. Kill your tv, go find the park instead. Find the streets, the cafes. Amble, and figure out if your flanerie has any imaginative revolutionary potential left. Meander, avoid the straight roads leading to the Palace.

PS: And yes, the irony of lying in bed with a sore throat and linking to those lurid examples of peer pressure didn’t escape me. See, I gots imagination!
PPS: Of the parents I heard about who couldn’t read, and therefore couldn’t read to their children, I heard that they also didn’t tell their children stories. That is, it’s not the case that they had an oral repertoire to replace the missing book-based one. So, perhaps one of the ways the Death of Imagination takes hold is when people in intimate relation to you don’t make stories a part of the relationship?


brian moffatt April 18, 2004 at 12:14 pm

That’s it for this edition of Yule on Ed and the Death of Imagination. Join us next time when Yule tackles Character Education, where Teach preps the the little perps on how to be good Rotarians.

Well….we read that globe article here and asked the boys how often they were being serviced by the grils at school. Then we asked some of the girls we know if they were aware that a significant number of their peers were out there servicing some of the older gentleboys of the neighbourhood.

I mean….it all seemed rather hysterical that globe piece. And I’m not sure that things are all that much different from my days in junior high. I grew up in the poorest roughest section of Toronto. Girls were leaving school pregnant at a rate of one a month. This was pre pill, pre abortion and on the cusp of sex ed.

My point: I’m not sure much has changed. I still see a shocking number of pregnant teens. Or teen moms. Usually the grandmother is no more than 32. There’s definitely a cycle. I’m just shocked by why we continue to be shocked. Or think things are that much worse. Or different.

brian moffatt April 18, 2004 at 12:44 pm


I am a flaneur! Or a former flaneur, perhaps, due to time constraints and the increasing speed of foot and length of stride of my two boys, my surrogate turtles.

I’ve often wanted to join the local chapter of the Volksmarchers – excuse my German – but always felt these people had too much purpose, were too strident, too goal oriented. (Bring a lunch, and something to drink. We will assemble in the hardware store parking lot at 11 and return at 1:45)

Odd, that I’m sitting here waiting for a thunder shower to clear before me and the young lad go off for a dander. It’s one of those things I’m passing on from my dad. The long Sunday afternoon amble. Can’t remember much in the way of story telling though.

Thanks for that little tidbit, sister-flaneuse. A presumption? Hardly. After all, intimation is the highest form of flanerie.

(Isn’t that horrible? Damn near Stuworhty)

Yule Heibel April 18, 2004 at 1:00 pm

I know what you mean, Brian, about then and now: both junior high schools I went to (one in Winnipeg, Norberry Jr. High in St. Vital, the other here in Victoria, S.J. Willis Jr. Secondary, gr. 7 & 8, respectively) were riddled with sex — lots of frigid sex, I believe, because it was happening in the main to please the peers. S.J. Willis was known locally as “Pregnant Hill” — it sits on a hillock and used to be a prison. Hey-ho, go figure out the symbolism.

Anyway, you’re right that things haven’t changed *that* much. And the Globe&Mail article was criticised for being sensationalist, except that months after this article, CBC Radio had another long piece on this topic just last week, so maybe it wasn’t all in someone’s imagination. What I remember of sex (or sexual behaviour) in junior high was that it was one-on-one, and had very little of the “public reporting back” quality that it seems to have for some today. The boys were perhaps the idiots who bragged about what girls they had managed to poke or prod, but the girls really didn’t. Now the girls are working just as hard as the boys, however, to be braggarts. (In my daughter’s choir, which is ages 10-14, it’s endless bragging about boyfriends all the time.) It’s that business of mindlessly working at something that bugs me. You’d think sex would be the last place that should happen…. 😉

Oh, and if what I blogged here sounded too preachy, just wait till you read my ruminations for today, Sunday April 18, on sex & the internet, heehee!

Lar Taylor January 12, 2007 at 4:11 am

I do not know what years you attended but I do know that during my time there several peer groups were about the only ones having any type of sexual relations with members of the opposite sex. Most of the guys who had sex were having it with their hands.

There were way more sexually active girls than guys and as I was friends (and part of the group) with most of the girls & guys who were into it I know that many who say they were are telling tales. What years were you there? SJ was the end of the line for troublesome students but there were many who just lived in the area & had to go there. If you want the truth about SJ from 1962-65- let me know. I have travelled the world since then and attended about seven colleges & universities I have frineds from SJ who are very rich today even though they went no further than Vic High.

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