John McAllister, chairman of the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB), reflected on the current social upheaval over racism in the United States during his opening remarks at the start of the June 3 teleconference session for the UCDSB board. He talked about how education can help prepare today’s youth to deal with racism and other social justice issues.
“All of us who care about healthy communities and strong, positive, and respectful relationships,” McAllister stated, “are feeling compelled to find productive ways to register our concerns about racism and injustice that has erupted over the past weeks in the United States.”
McAllister noted that the values children learn while in school become part of the core values of a society. “These values of fairness, justice, respect, and empathy for others, are the essential characteristics of the preferred and desired state that we choose to nurture and support,” McAllister stated. “I am proud to say that these elements are also the fundamental basis of citizenship education in our local schools throughout the Upper Canada District School Board. It begins with a focus on ‘belonging and contributing’ in our Kindergarten programs and continues well into the high school years when our students study and practise including various ways to voice their points of view within the many communities to which they belong.”
McAllister noted that the classroom “is a perfect place to share our voices and to take the necessary time to listen” to understand and deal with social justice issues like racism, through programs that help with the character development of students, and additions to the curriculum like the Truth and Reconciliation program which deals with Canada’s First Nations history.
Good teaching, McAllister noted, allows students a chance to both speak out and to listen, and also become peer mentors to help younger students learn to speak out and to listen.
“A focus on bringing a wide array of perspectives and truths as part of classroom learning prepares our students to thoughtfully and respectfully respond to the offensive presence of racism in our world,” stated McAllister. “Let’s roll up our sleeves and continue forward in this important work.”