Don an itchy Second World War uniform, hoist a heavy machine gun and imagine sitting in the soggy trenches day after day, with an unseen enemy taking potshots at you – now that's a lesson in the horror of war.
The Ottawa Catholic School Board, however, has cancelled a19-year-old Remembrance Day symposium in which high-school students spent classroom time with veterans and toured hands-on exhibits detailing Canada's war history, including Afghanistan. (An offer to hold the symposium at a high school in the public school board was also declined.)
A Catholic school board spokeswoman told The Globe and Mail that the day-long session was cancelled because of the board's policy that no guns be allowed on school property, even though any weapons included in the symposium were disabled.
As well, Mardi de Kemp said, "students from war-torn countries were upset at weaponry on the school grounds because it gave them bad memories of strife in their homeland."
Wayne Mac Culloch, a veteran of five United Nations' missions, who previously participated in the symposium, said he was not aware of any formal complaints being made.
On the other hand, he pointed out in a telephone interview, most Canadian-born students "have no contact with military life. What will they remember? Someone in an auditorium reciting [ In] Flanders Fields?"
A history teacher at the school, Gene Michaud, who is also a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, reportedly resigned from a staff committee over the cancellation, after a compromise could not be reached. (Despite media reports suggesting otherwise, Mr. Mac Culloch also insists that a tank was not included in the symposium. While she could not confirm it, Ms. de Kemp says a jeep or similar vehicle may have been part of the exhibit.)
The school involved, Notre Dame High School, will go ahead with its Nov. 11 ceremony.
But Mr. Mac Culloch says the students will be missing out on a seminar that would help them actively learn about Canadian history – particularly the young soldier's burden. Holding a 10-pound rifle "forced them to really imagine carrying this thing around every waking moment," he said, adding wryly, "these are kids who have trouble carrying their trays in the cafeteria."
Should the "no-guns" policy in schools prevail in this case? Or should the educational value of a hands-on Remembrance Day experience call for a bending of the rules?