Published in The Suburban on September 22, 2004.

Late last June, I had the good fortune to attend in Laval a two-day workshop cleverly and invitingly entitled Building Curriculum Links. These pedagogical seminars and feel-good happenings are, more often than not, ingeniously planned by others, ostensibly to keep teachers aware of the latest in educational deliberation.

The event in itself was not particularly noteworthy for as parents are well-aware (and often to their chagrin) pedagogues are frequently assisting at various functions of a professional nature on days specifically set aside for just that purpose. No, what was special for me about this gathering was its location, a school in which I had started my career in education some 35 years earlier.

My initiation into the challenging yet curious realm of the instruction of adolescents and that building’s official opening took place in the same year- 1969. At the age of 22, and barely out of my teen years myself, I was nevertheless more than eager to share my accumulated wit and knowledge with those placed under my tutelage. My colleagues were also quite young, and brimming with enthusiasm. Together we flattered ourselves into thinking that we might just indeed change the world for the better. In truth, those were for me very heady times.

Now some 35 years later, and not having set foot in the edifice since 1970, what I had remembered most about that brief ten month stint (I decided to continue my university education the following September) was the facility itself, and the sparkling condition in which it was to be found all those years ago. For better and for worse, it represented the latest in school architecture as known at that time. More importantly, however, it was brand new, with that “new car smell” which permeated its corridors and classrooms, its gymnasium and auditorium. It was so greatly appreciated, as I recollect, by students and teachers alike.

And so it was on June 28 last, and with a dreadful case of the collywobbles, I re-entered, after such a long absence, Laval Catholic High School. There I met educators from all corners of the province and a handful of my former colleagues who, like me, were delaying their retirement for yet another year or so. It all made for such pleasant banter and intriguing conversation.

Between workshops, I wandered throughout the building, instinctively remembering classrooms in which I had taught Canadian History (as it was called at that time by the Quebec Ministry of Education) along with the geography of this dear country. A few pubescent faces of scholars who would today be about a half-century in age returned to me with surprising ease. My recollection of them (and of myself) raced through my mind. A quick visit to the school library and its collection of priceless yearbooks opened a veritable flood gate of precious remembrances.

In deep reflection, I drifted about the structure for more than an hour, and did the same the following day. Eventually, of course, the feeling of apprehension and excitement left me and so I was free to notice more acutely the condition of my surroundings. Not all that I noted was positive.

The modern, scintillating educational edifice of my nostalgia was now showing both its age and, much more lamentably, its neglect and abuse. The lower half of classroom walls (which are frequently and wilfully vandalized by troubled students in any school) had been quickly repaired with inexpensive and convenient panel sheeting. The toilets, where male students can vent their rage and anti-social behaviours in virtual privacy, were in a general state of disregard to the point where doors were missing on some of the cubicles. Both hand soap and paper towels were not present, which is, again, a common phenomenon in many high schools today. In short, as I ambled about the building, I felt compelled to ask myself what moneys the government allocates for the maintenance of our public school network?

With that question unanswered, I continued my meandering.

Throughout the corridors and stairwells, my attention was caught by the tremendous quantity of paper, binders, rulers, glue sticks, highlighter pens, and whatnot strewn about, just some of the general debris which has recently become part and parcel of the revelry, bordering on vandalism, associated with the traditional end of the year locker clean-out. It’s all so pleasantly and conveniently excused by many as a so-called “rite of passage” of today’s young but, in essence, demonstrates quite vividly that we are indeed an amoral consumer society and a very wasteful and destructive people at that.

I returned a little later to my workshop considerably disheartened. Admittedly, my observances of decay and wanton havoc could apply to virtually any public school of that age category in the Montreal area. However (and I share this with you in confidence), as I subsequently left the facility for what would probably prove to be the last time, I could not help but feel that we had failed many of our youth in not imparting to them a sense of moderation and community, along with a respect for one another and the surroundings in which we all live.