January 18 Press Release

Final Report on Safety in Toronto Schools Ignores Impact of Violence in Popular Culture

The Falconer Report released last week is fraught with contradictions. It begins with the premise that school safety is essential to a healthy learning environment yet the panel chose the same narrow approach that has too often characterized this area of inquiry. Everyone knows that schools mirror the communities they serve but why did the panel ignore their media saturated nature? Children are now bombarded by advertising messages that seduce them with promises of glamour in popular culture commodities laced with sexual innuendo and violence. By carefully evading the obvious, the panel undermines its credibility.

A community wide lack of confidence in the ability of the Toronto District School Board to ensure violence free and weapons free environments in all its schools was predictable. It is due to the stubborn reluctance on the part of school officials, community agencies and politicians to connect the dots between the powerful educating forces of communications technology and profit driven content with rising levels of sex and violence, despite thousands of studies warning us of harmful effects. This has resulted in a code of silence that goes well beyond the TDSB, itself.

For the panel to conclude that reasons for the rise in sexual assaults are understudied is ludicrous and indicates that it neglected to do a proper literature review on the subject. Any university library in the city has loads of material on issues involving violence against women and children. So do established organizations such as the Metro Residents Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children, The Canadian Voice of Women and C-CAVE, itself. Indeed, our offers of help to the Mayor’s Task Force when it was first set up were declined. Remarkably, while noting that marginalized communities feel studied to death, the panel was not above recommending that future studies review reports already conducted on the subject of school safety.

The panel comments on “significant achievements” of the TDSB on curriculum. Does this include media literacy? How does it envisage counseling for misbehaving students interfacing with the socializing influences of gangstra rap where “street cred”, requires a criminal record? For years, popular culture commodities have consistently undermined authority figures such as parents, teachers and police officers. How will the conflict resolution strategies discouraging violence the panel recommends address this reality? The observation that anti-bullying programs have not yielded much protection, especially for female students, should not surprise anyone. They have never been any more than band aid measures anyway.

Rather than hiring a management consultant to help the Board implement the panel’s recommendations, we recommend more cost effective approaches such as leaning on the Harper Government to amend the Criminal Code hate propaganda law to include protection for women. Changing this law to protect women has been recommended for decades by many diverse and highly reputable groups. And while the Panel’s recommendation to elevate the voice of children and youth in schools in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is laudable, the panel should have noted that last November 17th there was a worldwide call to address the influences of media violence in the prevention of child abuse..

To ensure that the panel’s 126 recommendations do not degenerate into a fresh round of community consultations, an independent Implementation Task Force, should include a consultant in media education. Strategies for meaningful change must address media violence effects that go well beyond the growing problem of cyber violence singled out by the panel.

Canadians Concerned About Violence In Entertainment, founded in 1983, is a member of the Harvard University Medical School based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The Campaign is an international coalition of health care professionals, educators, advocacy groups and concerned parents who counter the harmful effects of marketing to children through action, advocacy, education, research, and collaboration among organizations and individuals. CCFC supports the rights of children to grow up - and the rights of parents to raise them - without being undermined by harmful and rampant commercialism. For more information, please visit: http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org.

********************************************************************** Rose Anne Dyson, Ed.D.
Chair: C-CAVE and the Media Working Group - Science for Peace (University of Toronto)
Editor- The Learning Edge
Author of MIND ABUSE: Media Violence In An Information Age
Co-author of MEDIA, SEX, VIOLENCE and DRUGS in the GLOBAL VILLAGE and Terrorism, Globalization & Mass Communication