Half a century later, the memories of that tragic event and the dreary days that followed, still cast a long dark shadow across the soul of America and our global village.
It was the age of McLuhan and the dawn of television. Where bold and lofty dreams of moonshots, civil rights for all and global peace dominated the zeitgeist.
The principal at St. Joseph elementary school in Kitchener broke through the routine on that fateful November day. The PA announcement breeched the blissful shelter of Sister Ignatius’ classroom. “President Kennedy has been shot and we need to say a prayer for him.” Within the hour the principal reluctantly announced that the president had died.
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” ~ JFK
During the next four days all the channels on our black and white TV screen were filled with strange sights and sounds foreign to the eyes of a seven year-old boy who preferred the security and comforting diversion of cartoons to calamity.
Decades before the ubiquity of the Internet and social media – whenever news of disaster struck - families huddled around TV screens or clutched and gaped in disbelief at stunning newspaper headlines and photos.
Immediately following news of the Kennedy assassination, the collective grief and tears of a nation mired deeply in shock and confusion exploded in a relentless torrent of media images: tearful and traumatized bystanders of the shooting, the arrest and stunning murder of the president’s suspected assassin, a grieving, stoic widow, her two innocent children, a riderless horse and the world bidding a long final farewell to a fallen hero.
Too young to fully understand but old enough to know that the day Kennedy died was the first time I saw my father cry; that in an instant the world could be a dark and dangerous place.
And that even King Arthur and all his brave knights, no matter how hard they tried, could ever put the president, America or the carefree, fragile world of a seven-year old back together again.
Just when you think that interest in anything political was all but deep-sixed in this country, two juicy scandals have single-handedly revived the public’s interest in politics.
It’s true. Canadians were actually queuing up on Parliament Hill this past week to catch a glimpse of senior citizens debating in the Senate. But this was not just any boring, civil debate. It involved three senators (who just happened to have been caught) demonized for allegedly claiming inelligible expenses on the public’s dime.
Senator Mike Duffy stole the spotlight when his testimony linked PM Harper closer to former chief of staff Nigel Wright’s decision to write a $90,000.00 to Duffy.
Now Mr. Harper is probably writing a thank you note to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford for, once again, graciously deflecting the Canadian public’s attention away from the latest beating the PM’s reputation has been taking, thanks largely to Mr. Duffy. Note to the PMO – do not cross former journalists.
Mr. Ford is also making international news again – for a video purportedly showing him smoking crack cocaine and uttering racist and homophobic slurs. But you already know this, don’t you? Because we all love to see someone else fall and implode from time to time. Especially when the person free-falling or imploding is the leader of a peace-loving, polite country like Canada or world class city like Toronto. Oh ya, happy Halloween. Trick or treat?
“The moment you know, you know you know.” - David Bowie
Where Are We Now? The Next Day Album
I cannot remember where I was or the exact moment I ‘knew’ it was time for me to ‘toss in the chalk’ and call it a career. All I know is, at some point within the past year the whispering voice of doubt within, eventually gave way to a roar of certainty that 28 years service in education (21 in the classroom & 7 as a technology coordinator) = time to move on .
What a glorious 28 year journey though! At its best – life in and outside of the high school classroom really was one daring adventure after another, a truly wonderful odyssey. I had the amazing and humbling honor to lead, be inspired by and, at times, inspire the students entrusted in my care.
It still beggars my imagination to realize that I actually got paid to share with my students my passion and love for: my faith, family, social justice issues, literature, media studies, drama, athletics, computer studies, and the natural environment. I will forever treasure the moments spent in the presence of every one of the thousands of students (with all their complexity, incredible ‘beauty’ and ‘baggage’) who walked through my classroom door every day.
The last 7 years as a system technology consultant and E-Learning contact has been an astounding whirlwind of networking and professional learning with a myriad of wonderful teaching collegues, I.T. support staff and technology consultants. Time away from the frenetic pace and pressures of the classroom, (lesson prep, marking, always being ‘on’ and chained to the bell) also allowed me the opportunity and time to pursue my dream of completing the Master of Catholic Thought Program at St. Jerome’s University.
Still, it would be dishonest of me not to admit feeling a little like the poet, “my heart aches and a drowsy numbness dulls my sense as though of hemlock I had drunk,” as I bid a bitter-sweet farwell to a marvelous 28 year run in education.
This sweet sorrow is softened by the following memorable highlights of a long, satisfying, rewarding and blessed career:
- Supervising a Philip Pocock student dance at which the Canadian new wave band The Spoons performed in the mid-80′s
- Physically breaking up a fight between two male students outside my portable and walking both of them to the principal’s office
- Coordinating and viewing countless dramatic performances by my students of scenes from a variety of plays (Macbeth, R & J, Man of La Mancha etc.)
- Facilitating at 2 Race Relations Camps for students from both local school boards
- Participating in teacher-led skits/performances at numerous school assemblies (e.g. Hans & Franz, teacher bands etc.)
- Advisor of the social justice committee at St. David C.S.S.
- Advisor for the St. David Perspective school Newspaper & Video Yearbook
- Joining in a ‘Pro-Life’ walk with teachers and students outside an abortion clinic in Toronto
- Accompanying World Religion students to Holocaust conferences and talks by Holocaust survivors and visiting the Holocaust Memorial Center in Toronto
- Facilitating workshops at the St. David Week For A Better World Symposia
- Teacher liason accompanying/supervising WCDSB students participating in dual credit courses at WCDSB & Conestoga College’s Communication Program
- Coordinating the Ping Pong Panic fundraiser in memory of Michael Longo
- Hosting and speaking with former Canadian Heavyweight boxing champion George Chuvalo during a Drug Awareness Assembly at St. David
- Supervising students during numerous Shakespearian and other performances (Phantom of the Opera, We Will Rock You etc.)
- Playing ‘Let’s Play Carpe Diem’ with my English classes
- Giving out ‘Fearnback’ bonus bucks to my students for particpating in class activities
- Inner-city social justice awareness walk with my grade 10 Religion students
- Leading my grade 10 & 12 Religion students during class retreats
- Meditating with my grade 11 World Religions classess in the school chapel
- Coaching boys wrestling, hockey & soccer teams and girls soccer and baseball teams
(including my daughters Melissa & Michelle on the girls soccer team)
- Coaching boys hockey players / teams during tournaments in Cape Breton NS and Lake Placid NY
- Accompanying my media students to a taping of the Camilla Scott day-time talk show in Toronto
- Hosting guest speakers / Chilly Beach creators/actors and former students Todd Peterson and Steve Ashton in my media studies classes
- Watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy film marathaon at the Princess Cinema Theatre with my media and English students
- Leading my media studies students in a silent protest to voice their concern over the ministry of education terminating the Gr. 11 media studies credit
- Witnessing the priceless look on the faces of students who finally understood something they struggled mighty hard to grasp
- Participating in the St. David Fast-in-Action in solidarity with the hungry poor
- Having my son Jonathan as one of my students in my grade 10 Information Technology course at St. David
- Canoeing, portaging and camping with grade 12 students during 5 trips to the Algonquin Park interior
- Participating in intramural ball hockey at St. David and being on the inaugural championship team – the Red Kellys
- Legendary ping pong games during lunch with the Mighty R (Runstedler) and other Celtic legends
- Stage managing during St. David’s performance of The Wiz – my daughter Melissa as one of the actors.
- Supervising at numerous St. David Coffee Houses
- Attending 3 Graduation ceremonies at Philip Pocock C.S.S. and 18 Graduation ceremonies at St. David – 5 of which involved my own children
- Managing the Interactive White (SMART) Board Pilot at Waterloo CDSB
- Co-chairing the annual Waterloo Region Technological Skills Elementary Competition
- Creating the provincial Catholic resource – Ethical & Responsible Use of Information & Communication Technology: A guideline for all stakeholders in Catholic education - (This resource was shared with the former Pope Benedict and the Pontifical Council for Social Communication in Rome.)
- Coordinating the first-ever online course offering at Waterloo CDSB
- Managing 10 online courses and teacher training at Waterloo CDSB
- Leading professional learning sessions on Ethical Use of ICT, E-Learning and digital resources for teachers and administrators at numerous conferences/PD days.
Now as I prepare to fill my hours with other passions and dreams close to my heart, I sit and wonder . . . was all this a “vision or a waking dream? . . . Do I wake or sleep?”
Onward Sancho! The quest! The quest!
My poem Waterloo won the Mayor’s City Poetry Challenge and I was honored to read it to Waterloo City Council on May 27th.
where buskers bedazzle
and delight multitudes.
Who, on Canada Day,
also drink in deeply,
a pyrotechnic feast
of colour, sight
at Columbia Lake.
And in autumn,
bratwurst and beer halls,
Bavarian costumes, barrel races
marching bands and music reign,
roll like thunder.
Echoing across playing fields
where childhood dreams
rise, dance and fall
over clay, grass, ice and sand.
UW and Laurier,
Academic gems, dream-castles
where fertile young minds
teem with possibility and bold ideas,
and shiny glass towers shout out
in the spirit of “Why not?”
a quantum leap.
Trails carved by time,
where blackberries grow
and grey silos gaze
down upon streams and rivers,
twisting gently, among towering, ancient trees
and lush fairways.
Where families in both horse-drawn buggies and BMWs,
market vendors, patrons young and old, can gather freely,
mingle and mix among crafts, smells of cider,
livestock and fresh apple fritters,
to savor the sweet promise of a new day.
By Michael G. Redfearn – 2013
Photo Credit: Rebecca Coker
In the midst of the quiet majesty and serenity of the natural surroundings, you can sense the transformation taking place in the students.
This article was originally published in October of 1996 in the Waterloo Region Record.
By Michael Redfearn
If you don’t think teachers can make learning boring, you underestimate the power of education.
“O.K. class, turn to page 59 and together we’ll read about how the Algonquin Indians lived hundreds of years ago.”
A holistic and relevant education must incorporate some real-life adventures. Invariably, this sometimes involves risk-taking outside the boundaries of traditional school buildings and school hours.
When asked their favorite memories of elementary or high school, many adults point to experiences outside of the four walls of the classroom. They fondly remember field trips run by caring teachers who all had one belief in common – that education was much more than a basic understanding of the three R’s.
With all of the cutbacks occurring in education these days, one has to wonder if the learning which takes place outside of the confines of the classroom will also fall victim to the axes of the political czars in the Ministry of Education.
In my teaching career, I have been privileged to have accompanied students during some of the most valuable learning experiences of their lives. One such event was our school’s four-day, Grade 12 canoeing camping trip to Algonquin Park.
The knowledge gained by generations of high school students, who’ve experienced wilderness trips over the years, cannot be gleaned from a textbook. Booklearning alone cannot adequately prepare our children for life or truly convey the daunting physical hardships endured by our forebearers.
Only after they actually feel the oppressive weight of a 16-foot canoe or heavy pack on their backs, after hours of strenuous hiking, do students come to appreciate the comforts they often take for granted. Four days and nights of vigorous canoeing, portaging and camping in the autumn wilderness quickly spawns a keen yearning for a hot shower and cosy bed.
The haunting call of a loon at daybreak or rhythmic sound of autumn leaves rustling in the wind must be witnessed first-hand to be truly appreciated. Not even the most sophisticated computer or CD ROM technology can begin to capture the profound natural beauty of a mist-shrouded morning lake or star-studded night sky.
In the midst of the quiet majesty and serenity of the natural surroundings, you can sense the transformation taking place in the students. Having spend most of their lives in suburban comfort, they are awakened, in part, to the stark reality and natural beauty of the life of their ancestors.
The students quickly learn to work together out of necessity to overcome the many challenges posed by the natural world. Rocky, uneven, mud-soaked terrain, narrow, twisting waterways and beaver dams must all be navigated with care if the obstacles are to be overcome.
When pushed to their limits, shy, insecure students often surprise themselves with new-found talents and innate resources they never knew existed. To paraphrase the German philosopher, Nietzsche, these students begin to see that, that which doesn’t destroy them, makes them stronger.
They also learn that in order to live in harmony with the environment, they must respect its sheer power and nurture its awe-inspiring beauty. They begin to see what their ancestors understood – that they are part of a greater, divine force which emphasizes they sacredness and interconnectedness of all living things.
Though the winds of change are dramatically revamping the face of the education system in Ontario, one can only hope that those who truly value education will never abandon the struggle to expand the minds, hearts and spirits of students beyond the limits of the traditional classroom.
If we want our children to be prepared for the many obstacles they will encounter in life, then we must also continue to demand that the education system be both relevant and meaningful. Failure to do so would rob our children of the opportunities many of us have benefited from and of fond memories of their school years.
Photo Credit: Paul Bica