By Bev Schellenberg
As a mom of two children in elementary school in British Columbia during the Winter Olympics 2010, I braced myself for an onslaught of Olympic-twisted curricula and information — dare I say, propaganda — coming home prior to the grand spectacle. After all, the Olympics website includes a section for teachers complete with free downloadable lesson plans sponsored by the Royal Bank of Canada. And there was no shortage of Olympic propaganda in the media.
I needn’t have worried. There were no floor hockey medal matches, add-up-the-medals math questions, or even “How I’ll spend the Winter Olympic” writing prompts. Across B.C., winter concerts (as opposed to “Christmas” concerts) came and went and hours of Foundational Skills Assessment tests were written as usual by grade four and seven students. The only nod to the upcoming world spectacle thus far has been a “catch the spirit” visit from some kind of athlete — according to my youngest a definite Olympic athlete, and according to my eldest some athlete not connected to the Olympics at all. The jury’s still out on that one, despite a long debate; on the website there’s no mention of any athlete at all visiting the school.
Schools in our area did have “Red Day”, in which wearing red signified Canadian patriotism and, presumably, support of the Olympics. The usual day for Canadians to openly admit patriotism is limited to July 1st, Canada Day, so it was odd to see such a large gathering of red comrades. The only other times we admit our Canadian pride is when we stand at hockey games when the National Anthem is sung, and every Monday in public schools when “O Canada” is blasted over the intercom. My children also participated in a Reading Olympics, with gold, silver, and bronze medals awarded in the female and male category. That heightened student-reading time and initiated a conversation among us about whether there is a difference between reading ability in genders. What it didn’t do was raise Olympic spirit.
As a high school teacher, I also supposed I’d have several opportunities to take advantage of the Winter Olympics. But how? I skimmed through the educational opportunity site, and wasn’t interested in subjecting my students to “an eclectic series of talks by prominent and up-and-coming Canadian Intellectuals” on Winter Olympic and Paralympic 2010 topics. “Students Live” had promise as a site where 24 students will be chosen to comment on Olympic-related events, but I wondered how wide-read such a site would be. Finally, my Psychology 11 class and I came up with an idea of our own: during the first week of the games, we’ll ask people in the local mall for their opinions on the Olympics coming to Vancouver. Half the students will wear formal, red, Canadiana attire, and half will wear jeans and typical high school student clothing. They’ll ask the same questions, and see how many respondents they can record. The week of the Olympic closing ceremony, we’ll return to the mall and ask the questions once again, again dressed in two styles. Then we’ll compare number of responses and types of responses pre- and post-Olympics. Admittedly, this is more a fashion experiment than investigation into Olympic pride, but the results could prove interesting. Stay tuned.
As it turned out, my kids and I had our first real taste of 2010 excitement independent of the educational system. A few days ago, we heard a single drum beating as we traveled down the escalator into the International Arrivals area at the airport (there to meet my sister), and saw what at first looked to be a different experiment in red. Several athletes, with banner held high, trouped through the concourse bedecked in red jackets, red backpacks, red shoes, and red boots: the Russian Olympic team (or at least part of it) was in the house. Spectators clapped, cell phones came out and pictures were taken, an announcer whipped out a microphone, a camera and tripod appeared, and at one point the athletes broke into what we presumed was their national anthem. One of the Russians, a woman with platinum blond hair who was gazing around the airport as if trying to record its every detail, turned and glanced at me. She looked down at my two children, and looked up at me again. We stared at each other for an instant, and shared a smile. Then the woman turned and spoke to her companion and the moment passed. As we continued to wait for the plane to arrive, a girl of about four, born in England (as she told us matter-of-factly), shared a conversation with an elderly man proudly wearing a turban. He answered her questions regarding his attire, explaining he wore a turban to show his strong beliefs in his religion. Later the child and the older man bounced a balloon back and forth.
It was lovely. And I do have one planned, albeit non-game-watching Olympic opportunity upcoming — watching the torch pass by on our street. But what I look forward to most are those spontaneous moments of connection between cultures, such as we witnessed at the airport. In an area as ethnically diverse as Greater Vancouver, we already share many such moments, but having the world descend upon us makes them even more likely. I welcome that byproduct of the 2010 Games.