I tried so hard to write a letter wishing Barry Neufeld a heartfelt Merry Christmas. I really did. After all, in the culture I grew up in, the two reigning narratives of the season emphasized, to quote Marley’s ghost, “charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence.” If Mr. Scrooge eventually managed to get beyond his pinched, intolerant, judgmental outlook on life, then surely I could find it in me to be a bit more generous toward Mr. Neufeld’s escalating series of comments about people who don’t fit into his own view of things. Behind Dickens, of course, lies the other Christmas story—the story of the death of an old, narrow-minded, angry, worn-out God and the birth of a new God who was open-hearted and broad-minded and welcoming. A God who not only preached that we should love our enemies and welcome strangers, but who actually sat down with whores and lepers and a host of other unsavoury outsiders and ate dinner with them. Not a God of petty vindictiveness, in other words, but a God of forgiveness and love and inclusion.
And so in the spirit of Christmas I tried to be conciliatory toward the school trustee who said open discussion of sexual orientation and gender fluidity constitutes child abuse. But I failed. There are limits. Even Jesus got testy when he saw the sanctity of the Temple being violated, and if anything is sacred in this profane world of ours, it’s education. It has been annoying enough that Mr. Neufeld still considers himself fit to serve on the school board (and pocket his share of my tax dollars) while simply walking away from important duties like serving on committees and doing school liaison work. But it’s one thing to be a shirker, and quite another thing to occupy a position of trust and authority in our educational system while revealing a quite amazing stupidity about what teachers actually do in the classroom. And then there is the matter of his having become unhinged.
I have no problem with Mr. Neufeld’s belief that he is a latter-day prophet; I myself feel called upon to prophesy at least once or twice even on a slow week, and so do most people who have strong opinions about things. I have a real problem, though, with his habit (extremely curious in an educator, and a habit that seems to be shared by the MLA for Chilliwack-Kent) of assuming that when you teach students that certain beliefs or lifestyles exist and should be taken seriously, you are simultaneously trying to indoctrinate them into those beliefs or lifestyles. Let’s say, for example, that I tell my students this complex world of ours contains phenomena like homosexuality and gender ambiguity. According to Mr. Neufeld’s thinking, I am at the same time informing them that if they want to pass the course they’d better get out there and try these things on for size. If Mr. Neufeld knew anything about actual classroom teaching he would know that this makes about as much sense as claiming that a biology teacher’s real agenda in lecturing about the birds of Antarctica is to turn her students into penguins.
When you think about the logic of Mr. Neufeld’s theory of pedagogy, there isn’t much logic to it at all, but his remarkable Facebook prophecy goes beyond logic altogether. Governments, we learn, are poised to “apprehend” our youth and place them in “homes” with mandatory deviancy-immersion programmes. Not only has logic gone out the window at this point, but so has ordinary common sense, and maybe reason itself. Can that be the wail of sirens I hear in the distance? Do I sense the approach of men in white coats …?
But not so fast. As Dickens and Jesus both taught us, it’s never too late to repent. Maybe this letter is a sort of backhanded Christmas card to Barry Neufeld after all. If it is, it is intended in the spirit of Tiny Tim, who saved Mr. Scrooge’s life just as surely as Mr. Scrooge saved his: God bless us, every (last, weird, oddball, nonconforming) one.