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Some Lessons MPs Could Learn From Kindergarten

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2012-09-23-sELIZABETHMAYNDPHECKLINGlarge.jpg


I had seen the look and recognized the gestures numerous times before; the indignation, the gesticulations as if to say "What's happening to me?" As an ESL teacher I have a front row seat to the very best and the very worst of childish behaviour: fighting, arguing, shouting, name calling, interrupting and yes, even hissy fits.

The children I teach, between the ages of three and nine, have yet to be fully prepared to deal with stress and personal conflicts. As a result, they lash out in various ways because they are scared or feel mistreated. These reactions are expected though and we offer a certain amount of clemency to children when it comes to the kind of conduct we deem appropriate.

This time though, I wasn't viewing a response to unappreciated actions from an equally immature and inexperienced peer; at least not really. It was Elizabeth May and her reaction to being "shouted down" by her New Democratic Party colleagues in the House of Commons during a debate on an opposition day motion submitted by the NDP.

She looked positively perplexed at what she was experiencing. Why her, she seemed to convey? She leapt to Twitter to declare her amazement at the NDP's actions, even disparaging former NDP leader Jack Layton in the process (very parliamentary Ms. May). I'm not trying to be mean to May, who I have a great deal of respect for, but where did she think she was? As someone who has been active in Canadian politics for many years it's surprising to see her react as if what took place was something she wasn't expecting.

That being said, May was trying to make a point and the shouting from the opposition bench was uncalled for and unnecessary. The NDP could hardly be blamed for it, nor would the Liberals if they had done it or the Conservatives (who are no strangers to heckling). This is the culture of the House of Commons and the extent to which it has gotten worse is unquestionable. Why then are we so accepting of poor behaviour in the people we elect to represent us in Ottawa?

For my students who misbehave, I have a virtual goodie bag of corrective behavioural strategies. These depend largely on age but the most commonly used is sitting a misbehaving child into a time out. How long to they sit there? You simply take the age of the child and that is their minute allotment. My guess is this is not something that will catch on in Ottawa.

Another method is having a student who has been rude or offensive towards a peer or teacher deliver a formal apology to the offended person in front of the class. This does not happen at their desk, but rather they come to the front of the classroom, in full view of their peers and issue a loud and sincere apology. They don't sit down until I'm satisfied that they are contrite. Can you imagine an MP doing this?

When children come to class at the primary level I expect them to have their homework done. They must present it to me for my approval. The work must be completed with as few mistakes as possible and where a mistake is made, I help to correct it. They don't come with answers written by someone else and their parents, while permitted to aid, cannot do the work for their kids. Why MPs and Cabinet Ministers are permitted to read prepared statements and talking points is beyond me.

All this is to say we, as the electorate, have a certain level of expectations for children at school: don't be rude, respect each other and your teachers and complete your work to the best of your ability and with maximum effort. I certainly don't think that it's too much then to ask the same of our MPs and our government.

I don't think I'm alone in this either. If we continue to remain silent as our elected "adults" act like children while they represent us, then perhaps we deserve to have things like prorogations, shuttered committees, democracy defying omnibus bills and cancelled provincial legislatures. I don't believe all is lost but we must first make our voices heard before our elected administrators will change. Complacency is no longer an option.