Last week, 8 Havergal students and some 4 faculty took part in the 6 Degrees Toronto Conference. This conference was put together by the Institute for Canadian Citizenship to answer the challenge put forth by Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson:
This was a three-day experience to explore the greatest social and political issues of our time: climate change, inclusion, immigration and prosperity. Our students who attended are going to be the curators of this conversation for Havergal.
On Monday, we heard Naomi Klein give the LaFontaine-Baldwin lecture and were stunned by her force of language and message. She spoke about our national narrative and how this narrative is a challenge for environmental progress, and an obstacle for improving the relationship with indigenous people. In her follow up commentary for the Globe and Mail entitled “Canada’s Founding Myths Hold Us Back from Addressing Climate Change“, she writes:
“And the push for new pipelines – often sold as “nation building” – continues to tear us apart.”
This is significant for our Havergal students to hear. Last week I wrote about my message to Havergal students, and my big message was to be curious about others, to build understanding of different narratives so that we might know our own, and craft our own. This is what Naomi Klein is asking of our country: to recognise that the stories that we tell are more than just stories – they are messages, values…they are political.
The students big take away was the honoring of our indigenous heritage in song and in the address. With the TDSB now acknowledging our mutual history, perhaps we are beginning a generation with a new narrative that will support “environmental justice”. Naomi Klein writes:
Today, we have federal and provincial governments that talk a lot about reconciliation. But this will remain a cruel joke if non-Indigenous Canadians do not confront the why behind those human-rights abuses. And the why, as the Truth and Reconciliation report states, is simple enough: “The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to Aboriginal people and gain control over their land and resources.”
The goal, in other words, was to remove all barriers to unrestrained resource extraction. This is not ancient history. Across the country, Indigenous land rights remain the single greatest barrier to planet-destabilizing resource extraction, from pipelines to clear-cut logging.
And there can be no reconciliation while the crime is still in progress.
Powerful words of a new narrative that we must continue here at Havergal in our Grade 9 Georgraphy, Grade 10 Can. History, Environmental Science and throughout English curricula.
On Monday and Tuesday, students took part in the 360 conversations.
These disrupted the usual set up of a panel of experts by experimenting with “Exchanges” described as “…closer to lively conversations over dinner than panel discussions…” and that is accurate. The only differentiator is that you’re chatting with the likes of:
- Adrienne Clarkson
- Denise Dresser
- Pico Iyer
- Naheed Nenshi
- Jennifer Welsh
- Doug Saunders
- and more…
There were three 360s and each one was followed by break-out sessions to deepen the conversation. It was incredibly intimate and students couldn’t help but be engaged:
* Tuesday AM: Inclusion: the guiding question was “Under what circumstances does inclusion best succeed, and how can we foster those circumstances?”
* Tuesday PM: Exodus: The guiding question was “How do we reframe these refugee crises so that we can more effectively deal with them?”
* Wednesday AM: Prosperity: “Can new language and new concepts of immigration help explain the good business of cultural diversity?”
Each a rich conversation, framed with break-out groups after each session to dig
deeper after hearing from the “dinner guests”. The impact of these conversations can’t be underestimated: the students were in the position to engage, to have their voice and contribute to the larger conversation. It was, in a word ‘inspiring’ for them.
The big take-away from the students from these sessions were about reframing our language. We need to reconsider what we mean by ‘inclusion’, by ‘refugee’ and by ‘prosperity’, and I think this speaks volumes to the experience of learning that our students received:
We need a shared language with which to craft a new narrative. We need to exfoliate these words from their historical, legacy meaning, and reinvigorate them with the new understandings, the new reality of diversity and hope.
We are looking forward to expanding this conversation around the school hallways, in our classrooms and in our special clubs. The environment club is streaming Naomi Klein’s lecture coming up on Thursday, Sept. 29th. Our Grade 10 Science teachers have already done a shared reading of Klein’s book “This Changes Everything“, and the Grade 10s last year viewed the film based on the book.
We are already beginning to change our conversations, our narratives, and it will be our students that will champion this new narrative.