Sunday, October 07, 2007
In the Village Charity Begins... at Upper Canada
I apologize, its Thanksgiving weekend and I’m feeling just about the opposite of light-hearted. Giving thanks for all of my Lululemon pants and Gucci purses sure is tiring! Next week I’ll regale with tales from a high society party, but this weekend all you’ve got is caustic social commentary. Sorry kids...
It was in the late Victorian Age that the modern concept of charity first arose in England. After the reformation of the Poor Law in the mid 1840’s hundreds of Victorian charity assications were established with the intent of providing temporary relief to those who were down on their luck. Charity was according to Beatrice Webb, an early British philanthropist, "distinctly advantageous to us to go amongst poor... contact with them develops on the whole our finer qualities, disgusting us with our false and worldly application of men and things and educating in us a thoughtful benevolence." [Pay attention to that quote, k?]
The concept of charity was further refied In America’s Gilded Age as middle class progressive reformers lead the charge for social justice and general equality. Upton Sinclair's The Jungle took Webb's mantra [of going amongst the poor] a step further, by exposing the disgusting conditions of Chicago's meat packing distric with muckraking gusto. Along with other progressive reformers Sinclair and Roosevelt were instrumental in the passage of America's Pure Food and Drug Act.
In post-Millenial Toronto whom do we have leading the charge of charity? Who is promoting populism? Who is seeking out social justice? & who is demanding democratic education – why the city’s one true bastion of elitism – Upper Canada College.
Happy happy joy joy.
A neophyte is I’m sure asking, what is Upper Canada College?
In a nutshell, Upper Canada is the epi-centre of Canada's Old Boy white protestant network. Neoptism they name is… UCC. According to my lazy Wikipedia research the school has produced five Lieutenant Governors, three Premiers and one chief justice, while twenty-four graduates have been named Rhodes Scholars. No less than thirty nine have received the Order of Canada.
Let’s just say that Upper Canada doesn’t fuck around. UCC which sits on the easternly edge of the Village has a long history of providing a proper education to the Village’s youthful men. The school has been synonymous with the Faux ever since it decamped from the inner city to a verdant plot at the top of Avenue Road in the 1890's. Funnily enough if you stood at the front entrance of the school and looked directly south - you'd draw a straight line to Queen's Park, the provincial seat of government and power. Coincidance? Don't think so...
So what does Upper Canada have to do with the concept of charity? Well… it appears as if the school, a long-time bastion of old Toronto money, has decided to open its gates to "tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." The powers that be have decided that instead of educating over-priveledged white kids from Toronto's better neighbourhoods (RosedAle, Faux Hill, Loser Park, & the Brittle Path) 25% of its student body will be made up of scholarship kids from the city's poorer neighbourhoods. This is a quote from the Post article on UCC's recent decision, paraphrasing UCC Dean Dr. James Power, "the more exotic members of the UCC student body will in future come from such faraway places as Scarborough, Markham or the Jane-Finch corridor."
Apparently Dr. Power hasn't seen the first season of the OC, when the kid from the wrong side of the tracks gets pummelled by the Water Polo team. I can just see the UCC Lacrosse Team: "Welcome to Upper Canada, bitch; this is how it's done in the UC." [sidenote: if anyone from the Lacrosse team wants to pummel me - I'm waiting].
While the plan is certainly a benevolent one to this local resident it is a recipe for disaster. Underpriviledged kids exposed, on a daily basis, to the vast display of wealth in the Village and wondering why they live in a two bedroom apartment at Jane-Finch when 75% of their friends live in houses valued in the $2million range, is not the best way to promote equality, at least in my opinion. Last year for example, one Upper Canada family that I know of, took their kid and a bunch of his friends on a road-trip to Disneyworld, via the private jet, for their sons birthday. When you're a single parent in Regent Park, what exactly do you get that kid for a birthday present? Home-made lemon squares?
This isn't even examining the pocket racism that exists in Toronto. I can just imagine the odd morning conversations every time the Star runs a headline "Gun Violence Out of Control in Jane Finch." "Holden, your friend Jamal lives in Jane and Finch right? You don't think he's involved in this whole Blood versus Crypt business is he?"
On the flip side integration provides a lovely bit of banter for mummies at the Starbucks morning latte run:
Mummy 1: "Why Max has the cutest new friend. He lives in Regent Park."
Mummy 2: "Regent Park, London?"
Mummy 1: "No... like downtown."
Mummy 2: "Ohh... edgy, is he black?"
Mummy 1: "No. Latino."
Mummy 2: "maybe he can score us some reefer for our Muskoka weekend with the McAlister's?"
I have no idea if Powers plan and if his grand scheme to integrate kids from the wrong side of the tracks with Canada's elitist power structure will work. American models seem to suggest that it will. However, I'd still argue that instead of helping one member of the family attend private school for 20k a year, we could help the entire family with a mortage for the same amount of money. According to Habitat for Humanity statistics, for example, if a below-income family is provided with a new house, all children go onto post-secondary education; however, in the Upper Canada scheme only one child (and a boy at that) receives help. It doesn't seem particularly practical, in this Faux Hillary's opinion. However, perhaps Powers' scheme isn't solely about charity, rather acknowledging exactly what Webb argued: charity is "thoughtful benevolence". Those who practice it have as much to glean as those who benefit from it. I'm so glad Power is looking out for your typical Upper Canada Old Boy.
I wish Upper Canaada the best... I'm just not holding my breath.