Credit where credit is due on Syrian students at FHS story
A couple of weeks ago, Ezra Levant took direct aim at Syrian students attending Fredericton High School. For those who aren’t familiar with Levant, he’s a right wing pseudo-journalist, who until its demise, worked at Sun TV, and now pursues his right wing, anti-immigrant agenda through his social media channel The Rebel.
While what he produces has the appearance of real journalism, it isn’t. You see, Levant isn't one to feel burdened by any need for balance, accuracy or fairness. Mark Twain once said, “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Levant seems to have taken that literally.
The reports on his site paint a picture of Syrian students turning Fredericton High School into a terrible place by intimidating, harassing and bullying fellow students, refusing to attempt to learn English, and generally being a disruptive force.
The problem is that while most fair-minded people will see through his hate-fuelled rhetoric, those who are predisposed to be anti-Muslim will embrace his grossly exaggerated reports as justification for their prejudices. Not unlike what Donald Trump is doing.
Part of Levant’s narrative is that his site reports things that the mainstream media is afraid to touch. And when his series of reports were published, he played that to the hilt, his reporter feigning outrage that the mainstream media was scared to report this story.
The truth of course is that responsible journalism takes more time. Levant’s reports were based on cherry picking through 2700 documents, mostly teacher emails which he received through a Right to Information request, then sensationalizing the content out of all proportion. Real journalism on the other hand, demands that facts have to be checked, people have to be interviewed, context has to be given and balance needs to achieved.
And while mainstream media doesn’t always hit that standard, it is the guiding principle under which responsible journalists work. And credit where credit is due, Brunswick News deserves credit for its fair and measured story on this issue.
It gave the story of the Syrian students context, quoting education officials about the challenges they faced, what worked, what didn’t, and what they plan to do in the fall to make the transition go even better. No question some teachers felt overwhelmed, but by all indications, the school administration dealt with whatever came up quickly and effectively. Levant never mentioned that part.
To be clear, of course there were going to be challenges when 160 Syrian students enrolled in the district (29 at FHS). How could there not be? These folks have baggage some of which we can't even imagine. These are students who have been through considerable hardship escaping war that forced them to flee their homes, many spending years out of school in refugee camps, arriving in a country where they don’t understand the language and where the culture, local customs and social mores are all foreign to them. Their lives have been turned upside down.
So there are issues. For example theirs is a culture where females are not treated as equals, so taking direction from a female teacher for example where all your life you have been told you don't do that, takes some adjustment for the male students. Or they feel protective of their sisters and misinterpret any overtures from any males toward them, so they intervene. So this new world takes some adjustment, and it takes some time, but they will get there. They are already getting there.
I am one of the volunteers who help out with the Syrian refugees when I can, nothing much, driving mainly, and while our communications is often reduced to an awkward and sometimes humourous combination of charades and hit-and-miss gestures, there is no mistaking the gratitude these folks feel toward this country and their desire to fit in. Of course there will be bumps, but goodwill on both sides will see us through them.
Anyway, kudos to the School District for its efforts, and to the local media for forgoing the Levant style sensationalism on this story, and doing it right. Both have provided a true service to the community.
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