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Educational Activism
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Rachael Chong

Grade 11 student (2007-2008)
Toronto District School Board

I love the city I live in. Seeing the diversity of people, imagining their different stories and backgrounds, as well as acknowledging our common threads, creates a glow that I wish I could express better. Some may call me idealistic, but this glow hits me because when I see all these people, and think of people of every culture, age, race and socio-economic background, and feel a deep connection to them all. We are humans together, going through this experience of life differently, but together. And so, if we are all in this together, we also have a responsibility – a duty?...a reason, to help our fellow humans.

Because of their acknowledgement that they hold the power to education and of their passion to use it positively, teacher activists set themselves apart from others. Teacher activists are the teachers I remember. I’ve tried to think of three things that make up what teacher activism means to me – education, change, and the reason for education and change.

Now being in grade 11, I can say this of teacher activism: I’d like for my teachers to see me as human, and I want to see them as human. Because, as humans, we have a connection: we both have a purpose and responsibility as citizens of the same globe. I’m thinking of one of my past teachers, in particular, who really embodied this idea of global citizenship. When I told him that he was one of my role models, he responded that I was also one of his role models. I really appreciated this– not that I am someone’s role model, but that this teacher really took the actions and thoughts of his students seriously. This is something that is gained from teacher activism – the knowledge that students’ thoughts – my thoughts – on pressing issues, are worth something.

When teachers bring the issues they are passionate about into their teaching, when they show they truly care about their students, and about what their students think, these actions make a huge impact. They strike me as REAL, not simply something teachers are required to do or say just because of the curriculum, but actions they believe in. This difference in motivation behind education sets teachers who are activists, apart. These teachers have real reason to teach, resulting in a real reason for me to learn.

One of the first times I experienced education so obviously motivated by activism was in grade 6. I went to a mind-warping student conference put on by Kids Can Free the Children. It was shocking to me, and I learned so much about atrocities that were happening – to kids my age, to humans. One concept I learned about was the cycle of poverty, where generations of families are unable to break out of their impoverished situations. In order to survive, they have to send their children to work, instead of school. Subsequently, these children grow up with no where to go but these same solutions that do them no justice, that may lead to hunger, disease, horrible working conditions - the same solutions. But enter the opportunity of education. The new generation can learn valuable job skills, as well as gaining knowledge about their rights. This really showed me the power of education, which transcends even, and especially, to our city. Any of the problems that exist around us, racism, the intricacies of gang violence – they can’t be solved until they’re made aware to us. Education is what inspires the change. Education is what fuels the change.

This change, can be considered, the goal of teacher activism. Desire for social justice, learned from my teachers, played a huge role in the nature of the clubs I decided to join at the start of high school. The social justice clubs available were (and still are) so important because they got me thinking on a more global level, and gave me an opportunity to act on those thoughts. Teacher activism is so much more than classes, academics and marks. It pulls teachers and students out of passivity and into involvement, not only in the school community, but on issues of the world.

To finish, I’d like to share a story that demonstrates how huge an impact you can have on your students’ lives, even in small words or gestures. At the end of grade 8, finally and reluctantly graduating from the past 10 years of my life that was elementary school, my principal of 3 years wrote in my yearbook, “Make change.” Two words. My first thought was that she probably wanted me to be SO impacted by those two scrawled words in a yearbook, that I someday use it in a speech or proclamation of some sort, and thus advertise her school. Whether this is true, or only partially true, I’m still glad she wrote that in my yearbook.  As much as I hate to admit it, I have thought back to those two words many times since. It is because, now, with the knowledge I’ve been equipped with, I really do want to “make change.” I want to learn, get angry, stand for justice, and make an impact. And though I know they’ve been completely overused to the point of meaninglessness, and that my principal probably wrote the same thing in everyone’s yearbook, somehow managing to be lazy and epic at the same time, I will leave you with the same two words – make change.

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