The first photograph appeared in the February twelfth edition of the Edmonton Jouranl. Just another news shot. In it, seven young people, two of them sitting on the road, have stopped an automobile. Behind them appear several hundred other young people, generally milling around. The cutlines indicate that these young people are University of Calgary students out protesting government cuts in education funding.
It’s not a particularly attention-grabbing photograph, and if the reader wasn’t interested in the topic, the picture might receive a cursory glance and no more.
But looking into the picture, I saw a story unfold. After gathering for speeches at the university’s main gate, five thousand University of Calgary students marched out onto a major traffic artery and blocked traffic for about forty-five minutes (this information from the cutlines). The seven students in the foreground of the picture appear to be on the forefront of the march, and it seems they are the ones who stopped the first car.
I wondered how the motorist felt, being stopped by this gaggle of youth, a journey interrupted. Then I looked at the faces and gestures of the students. They are all laughing or smiling, and it seems they are encouraging the driver to stop for them, not forcing the car to a halt. One girl is sitting directly in front of the car with her hand held up, but her grin alone would stop a truck. There are no placards, bricks or bats to be seen. It seems, as they say, that a good time is being had by all.
I remembered other student marches, those of the sixties, that were frightening and often violent events, characterized by bent heads and bleeding bodies. Not a trace of that was here on a Calgary roadway. Certainly, I’m comparing different issues and different times, but the moment of protest caught by the photographer in this newspaper picture did my heart good. These kids seem to be saying, “Please try to understand that we thing we are facing a serious problem.” They seem to want to share their concerns directly with other citizens by looking them right in the eye and saying, “Come on, give us a hand.”
The second photograph appeared in the same day’s edition of the Calgary Sun. It covers the front page, with an insert photograph in the corner, and a heavy black headline declaring, “Students in Revolt . . .University of Calgary marchers condemn cuts: page four.” Here, the students are chanting; here, the placards proclaiming education as a rich man’s sport are waving; here the faces reflect frustration, not fun. Page four reveals more—downright anger and clenched fists punching the air. The accompanying story tells about angry drivers, shouts from the crowd of students and the “occupation” of a dean’s office. Not such a good time, after all.
Same story; different perceptions. I don’t fault the Edmonton Journal for its coverage. This was, after all, a Calgary story. But what about the perceptions of average Albertans regarding education cutbacks? Do they see kids out having a romp, or do they see the serious side of the issue? What kind of “local coverage” are they getting?
We teachers have a job to do. It’s up to us to keep our communities informed about how cutbacks affect education during eh 1987/88 school year. We are the ones at the forefront of the education march. By continually refining a myriad of local images, maybe we can get across to all Albertans what seems to be missing in the cutback debate—the big picture of an education starved of adequate funding.