Fredericton — It’s 8 p.m. on a Tuesday, but there isn’t an empty seat in Marcy LeBlanc’s classroom at the Fredericton campus of the New Brunswick Community College. LeBlanc is among 50 trainers hired by the province to provide free lessons in basic human decency ahead of the arrival of as many as 1,500 Syrian refugees in New Brunswick over the coming months. The courses are being offered province-wide at all campuses of both UNB and NBCC/CCNB.
“This,” says LeBlanc, pointing to an image on the whiteboard, “is your arse.” “And this is your elbow,” she added, tapping her elbow. Some students frown with concentration and others scribble notes as LeBlanc warms to the topic of the evening’s lesson, “Apples and Oranges: Terrorists and Refugees Are Not the Same.”
In an uncharacteristically agile move, the Gallant administration assessed the readiness of the province’s population to deal with the moral, ethical and cultural demands of welcoming a large group of refugees and immediately earmarked $1.5 million for remedial decency education. “We took stock of how people were responding to the refugee situation on social media and other outlets, and decided that an immediate intervention is needed,” said Education Minister Serge Rousselle. “Most people are ready, but there are still a bunch of xenophobic jerks out there without the compassion or critical thinking skills to handle this.”
Human Decency 101 is a 6-week course designed to prepare people lacking rudimentary values for the arrival of the refugees. Each hour-long nightly lesson aims to train students to accept 3 basic concepts: refugees are not out to take your job; refugees are not terrorists; and refugees are not going to take away your Duck Dynasty DVDs. Those who complete the course are given a pat on the head and a smack on the behind because these are things every adult should already know.
The classes are fully booked throughout the province with a low dropout rate to date. At UNB Saint John, trainer Jamal Al-Harthi said the main problem he has encountered is accommodating the bloated sense of complacency and entitlement many of the students bring to class. “They take up 2, sometimes 3 desks,” Al-Harthi said. “Government workers practically need their own classroom.”
LeBlanc says the work is rewarding, but the piggish small-mindedness she sees in her classes can be frustrating. “I bought a bunch of old sofa cushions from Frenchy’s and I tear one to pieces with my bare hands after work if people were especially ignorant that day,” she said, sighing as a student asked whether the refugees will try to take away his Sons of Anarchy sweatshirt. “Tonight looks like it’s going to be a 2-cushion night.”