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Curriculum, Diversity, Policy

Comfort Zones and Civic Values

I’ve been thinking a lot about comfort zones lately – how snug and, well, comfortable it is to stay within the confines of the familiar and acceptable, and how threatening to wander beyond those confines.

I have recently learned about something called news aggregators – computer programs or iPhone apps that track your online activity and then provide you with the “news” based on your interests. Wonderful! I can read about climate change and Canadian politics without having to sort through the latest Greek financial crisis or civil wars in places I can’t pronounce. And if there’s suddenly evidence to support building all those new prisons, I won’t have to change my mind. I’ll never see it.

And people who don’t care about climate change won’t have to read about it. They can concentrate on the Greeks, or the prisons.

Maybe it’s a stretch, but the article by Janet Keeping and David King on the privatization and fragmentation of schooling made me think about these aggregators. Keeping and King argue against the proliferation of choice in our school systems. They claim that educating young people in religious schools, so-called “designer” schools for the arts or sports, or schools segregated by gender – with taxpayer dollars ­– inevitably threatens the Canadian civic values of inclusiveness and fair-mindedness.

I would argue that part of the appeal of these exclusive schools is the comfort they provide by limiting children’s exposure to those who share their belief systems or their passion for music or athletics by allowing them to stay within the confines of the familiar.

But public education should not be in the comfort business. Public schools – and that means schools funded by the public purse – should, as Keeping and King put it, “look and function like the democratic, civil, pluralist society of which they are an integral part.” And as we all know, that’s not always a comfortable place.

The older we get, the harder it is to push against our comfort zones. We owe it to the kids to start them out with as wide a zone as possible, and that means educating them in a public system that refuses to segregate except – as Keeping and King acknowledge – when the educational needs of students demand it.

I’m not loading a news aggregator onto my laptop. Even if I don’t fully understand the Greek debt crisis, at least I have to glance at the headlines on my way to the latest environmental crisis. Sometimes you learn things just by having them in your field of vision.

Meet the Expert

Paula Dunning

Paula Dunning

Paula Dunning is Editor of Education Canada and a freelance writer/editor.

Paula Dunning est la rédactrice d’Education Canada et auteure/rédactrice pigiste.

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