By Danielle McLaughlin
Director of Education and Administration, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Teaching takes courage. As an occupation, it is right up there with lion taming, test piloting and being a parent. All of these roles require people to respond quickly to events and circumstances they could never have anticipated. And, while it can be a lot of fun to do any of these things, there also can be great challenges and serious consequences.
As teachers who promote global awareness, we take on special challenges. When we invite ourselves and our students to look around and see the complexities of the world, we invite questions. Many of the questions that arise can and, indeed should lead to some rather difficult conversations.
There are many beautiful things and experiences to be encountered by our students, and some very troubling ones as well. Some experiences are both at the same time. For example, in January a Windsor man named Brandt Huber came upon a person lying unconscious on the side walk. It was clear that numbers of people had driven past or even walked past her without taking notice. Mr. Huber, however, did not walk past. He stopped and asked questions. This decision was courageous because he did not know what he would find. He chose to find out who was under the coat he had noticed and why the person was there. He found a child suffering from hypothermia. And then he called for help. Mr. Huber’s decision to stop likely saved the life of a young girl.
This experience can be seen as a lesson in critical thinking. If a teacher were to tell this story to a class, what questions could be asked by the students?
Here are a few possibilities:
Why was a person lying on the sidewalk on a cold day?
Why did Mr. Huber stop and talk to the person lying on the sidewalk?
If Mr. Huber did not know her, why did he talk to her? Aren’t we supposed to avoid talking to strangers?
Why didn’t other people stop or call 911 when they noticed someone on the street?
Any one of these questions has the capacity to open a much larger and more difficult conversation. Should we talk to young people about homelessness? About illness? About the rights and responsibilities of those who flee and also of those who stop?
If we fail to engage the students who have critical questions to ask, we will be encouraging them to grow up to be among the passers-by. If we do engage them, they may point out problems in the world that are complex and intractable. And then ask us what we are doing to repair the world. What ARE we doing?
It is a risk. But if teachers don’t take the risk, who will? We all remember a teacher who made us see the world in a new way. And a few of us learned that asking hard questions is the beginning of being a person who makes a positive difference. First we become aware, then we decide what to do about what we have seen. Teachers for Global Awareness are at the forefront. They are teaching their students to become alert to the world around them; to ask questions about what they see; to form their own views and to engage with their world in new and challenging ways.