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Opinion: Vancouver Sun schooled by teacher

On Nov. 12, three days before the municipal election, the Vancouver Sun ran an editorial attacking the Vision-dominated school board and chair Patti Bacchus for their refusal to accept money from the “Chevron Fuel Your School program.
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Francois Clark teaches French at Sir Winston Churchill secondary school.

On Nov. 12, three days before the municipal election, the Vancouver Sun ran an editorial attacking the Vision-dominated school board and chair Patti Bacchus for their refusal to accept money from the “Chevron Fuel Your School program.”

The funding had been turned down and was reported on months earlier. But it was resurrected as an issue by NPA mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe and picked up again by the Sun’s editors. The editorial sub heading read: “Ideologically-driven decision deprived students of learning resources.”

The object of the editorial, according to the Sun’s editor Harold Munro, was to point out how hypocritical the Vision school board was.

In making that point, the editorial began with what Munro refers to as a typical scene setter: “There’s a poster in French teacher Francois Clark’s classroom at Sir Winston Churchill secondary featuring a composite wilderness scene.” With a slogan across it that roughly translates as “what we stand to lose with pipelines and supertankers.”

The editorial points out that the poster is sponsored by the B.C. Teachers Federation and “supplemented with complementary lesson plans” it described as “propaganda.”

And it concludes: “No one should be deluded into thinking this has anything to do with education. There is no serious study of science, no discussion of economic benefits, no attempt to address the engineering challenges related to production and shipment of oil, no consideration of the people and communities that depend that depend on resource industries for survival.”

The hypocrisy, as the Sun sees it, is that Patti Bacchus, and by extension the Vancouver school system, professes to protect the minds of young minds from the corporate influence of Chevron but willingly exposes them to the anti-pipeline “propaganda” promoted by the BCTF.

“It is disturbing” the editorial declares “to see such hypocrisy and blatant anti-business blather coming from someone elected to govern our schools.”

You may want to decide that for yourselves. But first let me tell you what I find “disturbing.”

This is a small town when it comes to politics and media. Even though editorials are anonymous and considered the “paper’s view,” when this broadside was delivered on the eve of a tightly fought election, one of the first questions raised was: Who penned that particular editorial?

Munro confirmed it was Sun editorial pages editor Harvey Enchin. And, as most people in the media business know, Enchin’s partner is Ann Gibbon. Gibbon was working during the election as communications director for Kirk LaPointe and the NPA.

Give Enchin the benefit of the doubt and assume for a moment that this is all simply coincidental. Great minds think alike.

But there is more. Enchin’s assumptions about the content of the education at Churchill and, one would be inclined to conclude what was being delivered in Francois Clark’s classroom, is pure speculation, second-hand at best.

Enchin admits he never saw let alone read the BCTF material. He never spoke with the teacher. “I don’t know,” he told me, “if he teaches anything out of the ordinary.”

It turns out the poster wasn’t even in Clark’s room. It was in the hallway.

Enchin and Munro have both told me this editorial was not intended to reflect on the teacher. Francois Clark does not share that view. In a letter to the Sun published after the election, he said the editorial “strongly implies my teaching practices are biased.” He adds that claims by the Sun that “there is no serious attempt to discuss the economic benefits, engineering challenges and considerations of the various stakeholders regarding this issue” is “completely unfounded and frankly outrageous.”

Letters and postings from Clark’s students support this.

Clark adds, “no one should be deluded into thinking your editorial is good journalism.”

Clark’s request for an apology was cut out of his letter. But this Friday, apparently thanks to pressure on Munro from the BCTF, Clark and his principal Jack Bailey were to be in a conference call with Enchin to press that point again.

agarr@vancourier.com

twitter.com/allengarr

Note: This story has been modified since first posted.