Curriculum, Opinion, School Community

The Education Reform Movement

The Social Responsibility of Citizenship

In the aftermath of the defeat of the Canucks in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup on June 15, 2011, there was a serious riot in downtown Vancouver. The orgy of destruction points to the stunted sense of social responsibility within the ranks of youth in that city. Without any attempt at analyzing the multitude of factors at work through that long night (impersonal atmosphere of the big city, adolescent boredom, alcohol, youth unemployment, fringe radicalism), let me add to the list: the negative effect of the school cocoon. 

My earlier blogs have argued the merits of community involvement as an integral part of  secondary school education. In blog seven, I went so far as to offer details of implementation, — risky business. Sam Slick, the fictional clockmaker of 19th century Nova Scotia, once said “If you think you’ve got a man convinced, stop !  Your reasonin’ and details will ruin you!”.  So true! Ignoring Slick’s advice, let me press on with the argument.

First, a couple of news stories.  A Vancouver journalist, Gary Mason, wrote for The Globe and Mail (June 18, 2011) about the riot under the title  “Hidden faces, painful truths”. Mason presented evidence that it was mainly the sons and daughters of middle class folks who trashed the streets of Vancouver. He wrote “… time and again in North America, violent behaviour at festivals and sporting events tended to be more accurately  identified as middle class blowouts than rational political protests.” Where was the social responsibility of those otherwise nice kids? A couple of days later the same newspaper began a series focused on youth unemployment in Canada .  (It’s twice as high as adult unemployment). The opening shot of the series was under a heading that might have been the title of this series of blogs : “Give youths access to the working world”.

The newspaper has taken up the notion of mentoring whereby all students registered in professional programs leading to a  degree or a diploma would, as a requirement for graduation, serve a certain number of hours or days being mentored by a person in their chosen field. That was within the broad scope of my recommendation in earlier blogs but there are two significant differences : the Globe recommendation would be implemented in post-secondary schools whereas mine would begin during the last two years of high school. Just as important, the Globe series is predicated on ways and means of reducing youth unemployment where mine is anchored to the idea of citizenship education.

It is not clear to me how mentoring all students in professional programs will do much to change their prospects for long-term employment in an economy needing fewer employees. But it is perfectly clear to me how a substantial community experience while attending school can make better citizens. By better citizens, I am not talking about Boy Scoutism, but more simply about a youth segment (16-25) displaying hallmarks of maturity : sympathetic understanding of the adult demographic, personal connections with the world of work and public service, appreciation of conventional modes of communication, respect for the traditions of past generations and not least, sensitivity to the need for social and political change. In summary, becoming a good citizen is not a quantifiable process so much as evidence of everyday progress towards a state of mind labelled adulthood.

Meet the Expert(s)

Peter H. Hennessy

Born in 1927, Peter Hennessy walked to a red brick schoolhouse where the teacher taught all the subjects to all the grades at the same time. After sailing through the eight elementary grades in four years and completing high school, he studied history/political economy at Queens University and graduated with honours in 1948.

Based on these early life experiences in the Great Depression, underlined by the horrors of WWII, set him on a mission to bring more fairness and equity into all aspects of society. From 1949 to 1968, he was a high school teacher and administrator, followed by 16 years as a professor of education at Queen’s. Officially retired since 1984, Peter has dabbled in sheep farming, writing, and prison reform. He has written six books, a slew of newspaper columns and journal articles.

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