Uproar over school name is ridiculous

April 10, 2014

MunschWhat’s in a name? For some people in Mount Albert, Ont., quite a lot, apparently.

School officials in the Uxbridge-area community are dealing with a surprising pushback over plans for a new school, set to open next fall. The problem? The school’s name — Robert Munsch Public School.

Munsch, the Guelph-based author of bestselling children’s books that include Love You Forever and Paper Bag Princess, has done far more for children’s literary understanding than most of us will ever do. His wildly entertaining stories and his exuberant public performances make reading fun for kids.

But some people, according to a story in a York Region newspaper this week, have taken issue with Munsch being honoured in Mount Albert. Coun. Cathy Morton said she’s heard “many complaints” from residents about the name of the school, including some who are upset over the author’s background.

That’s right. The character of Munsch, who has talked publicly about his struggles with mental illness and alcohol and drug addiction, is being called into question.

Munsch, who was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1999, doesn’t hide his skeletons in his closet. He’s been diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive and manic-depressive, and in the past turned to booze and even cocaine to deal with it.

“Those challenges have led me to make some big mistakes,” he says on his own website.

And for some small-minded folks, that’s simply unforgivable.

Never mind how silly it is to focus on the name of a school instead of the quality of the education inside. Never mind how unfair it is to focus on Munsch’s personal flaws, instead of the vast contribution he’s made to children’s literature.

It’s also just plainly ridiculous.

If we have an issue with naming schools after people who struggle with alcoholism, we may want to revisit all those Sir John A. Macdonald schools planted across the country. The drinking problem of Canada’s first prime minister was the stuff of legend, and yet we’ve forgiven him.

It sure can be troublesome when people’s public image is overshadowed by their personal struggles. But a name is just a name, and this fuss over Munsch’s struggles is overblown.

Ironically, Munsch’s name has already been leant to another Ontario school — the Robert Munsch Public School in Whitby, built in 2009. There, no one seems to care about his personal problems.

“Robert Munsch embodies literacy,” the school’s vice-principal Jack Barclay told the Toronto Sun last year. “He embodies reading and represents a fun approach to learning for our kids.”

So he’s struggled with addiction. So what?

What are we really teaching kids when we adults get all worked up over something as stupid as this? We’re teaching them to pass judgment on people with mental health problems, and the poor choices they can sometimes make.

There’s a valuable lesson in there, somewhere, I’m sure of it.

-Guelph Mercury, April 5, 2014 

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