Worlds of Education

“Education – Changing the World”, by David Edwards

published 18 October 2019 updated 30 October 2019
written by:

The Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF/FCE) devoted the most recent edition of its magazine, “Perspectives” to education and democracy. It covers the challenges to democracy in Canada, North America and the world. It also reports on education initiatives that have been developed in Canada to support and re-enforce democratic values and processes.

This issue of “Perspectives” contains nine articles. They are short and to-the-point. They impart useful information, experience and ideas. Although written for Canadians, especially CTF/FCE members, the contents are of interest to education trade unionists and others elsewhere. The magazine connects national experience with the global struggle to defend and enhance democracy that was a central discussion of the 8th Education International World Congress in Bangkok.

The magazine, available in English and French, contains the following articles:

To solve the misinformation crisis, we have to make fact-checking a habit by Matthew Johnson, Director of Education at MediaSmarts, explores the dark world of “fake news” and other systematic disinformation on the internet. MediaSmarts research found that “fake news” was a higher-ranking concern for parents than bullying and internet predators. MediaSmarts makes available help on media literacy with these steps; fact-checking tools, consultation of other sources, finding the original sources, and verify sources.

Opening access with the Citizenship Project by Rachel Lissner, the Education Program Coordinator for Accessibility and Inclusion of the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto, describes a project to provide civic education and access to the electoral system to young adults with disabilities, few of whom had sufficient civics education in their Ontario high schools. Such courses were often eliminated in favour of literacy or numeracy classes.

Cassie’s Corner, by Cassie Hallett, Secretary General of the CTF/FCE, explains that education was not intended simply to lead to graduation, but “to help develop citizens who would continue contributing to communities, this country, and the world”. She argues that, despite assurances from public authorities, public education is not receiving necessary funds and that there are moves that could open the door to privatisation. Alternatively, Hallett proposes a new commitment to public education and its values to ensure that, “our democracy is safer and the lives of future generations much better”.

On Education and Democracy, by Education International General Secretary Emeritus Fred van Leeuwen explains the rationale for and thrust of the book written with EI President Susan Hopgood, “ On Education & Democracy; 25 Lessons from the Teaching Profession”.  He concludes, “Carrying out the full mission of education to develop well-rounded human beings, not just cogs in the economic machine or objects of market attention, is vital if we are to build more decent, fairer societies with more hope and less desperation, and stronger, stable democracies. Education takes time to bear fruit, but it will take even more time if we, as trade unionists and professionals, do not make democracy an urgent and fundamental priority”.

Fight Back to Move Forward: A report from the frontlines of the Broadbent Institute’s Fight Back Campaign by Katrina Miller, Program Director of the Broadbent Institute, argues that Canada is not immune from the threat of“falling for would-be autocrats posing as populist warriors of the working person” that has hit so many other countries. She describes the networks of right-wing think tanks and groups in Canada, how they operate and obtain their funds, and outlines efforts to “fight back” against the propaganda that they spread on social networks and elsewhere.

Beyond Elections by Andrew King, Communications Director of the CTF/FCE, argues that democracy is much more than periodic elections. It is also all the hard work that takes place between elections that often determines if elected leaders remember their promises and deliver for citizens. He cites the mass actions by young people against climate change as a profound contribution to the functioning of democracy. The CTF/FCE priority issues for the upcoming federal elections are climate change, poverty, mental health, gender equity, and strong unions and labour rights.

Morse Code by Shelley L. Morse, President of the CTF/FCE, argues that change is possible and describes the importance of what is happening globally. She underlines both points by writing, the fact “that a 16-year-old became the face for addressing climate change, the challenge of our times, while most of our political leaders sat on their hands, should send a clear message to all of us. She maintains that, although the fight for gender equality in Canada is far from complete and progress needs to be sustainable, the CFT/FCE have been active on gender equality and a host of other issues with EI and bi-laterally. Morse stressed the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals and underlined the education of the huge number of girls who are still being deprived of their right to education.

Public Education: The Foundation of Democracy, by Lily Eskelsen García, the President of the National Education Association (NEA) from the United States, writes that her long-time sense of the inevitable progress of democracy and social justice has been shaken recently. She concludes, “We will use our collective power to protect our democracy. For generations, educators have built this world’s future. Now, we stand ready to reclaim and reset the moral and educational compass globally”.

The Future of Canadian Democracy by Dan Allan, the Director of Content of CIVIX describes “Student Vote”, a program created in Alberta in 2002 to stimulate student interest in and understanding of electoral politics. It has spread to other provinces. Student Vote Canada 2019 will involve as many as 35,000 teachers and an estimated 1.2 million students in more than 9000 schools throughout the country.

Although this issue of “Perspectives” was timed to appear before the Federal elections on 21 October, its content is relevant year-round and is of interest beyond Canadian borders.

The publication and the education and democracy initiatives described in the publication turn current doubts about the viability and abuses of democracy into a vibrant and optimistic call to invest in democracy as teachers and citizens.

The education and democracy work of the CTF/FCE is one of the many initiatives taken by EI member organisations, but it also serves as an example and a source of ideas for others. That is why I felt that it was important to call special attention to this important work.

The article by CTF/CFE President Shelley L. Morse begins with a citation of the anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who wrote,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.