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Educational Activism
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Does the secondary curriculum support activism?

Moira Wong, Initial Teacher Education Instructor, York University

Without doubt classrooms, schools, school environments, and school systems each play major roles in developing, supporting, and fostering learners’ senses of advocacy, agency, and therefore activism. Moreover, the policy framework within which a school system contextualizes learners’ individual and group - based inquiry into power relationships can provide a very strong foundation the promotion of ‘informed, purposeful, and active citizenship’ in both curricular and co/extra-curricular activities. We currently enjoy a teaching/learning environment in this province that officially upholds this goal as seen in the course outlines offered by the Ontario Ministry of Education. The Toronto District School Board’s A Teaching Resource for Dealing with Controversial and Sensitive Issues in TDSB Classrooms offers a good example of a school board’s desire to acknowledge, value, and thereby provide a curricular process by which differing points of view stemming from conflicting value systems can be expressed for productive learning outcomes. Importantly, this teaching resource places the school system within a broader community of value systems in which our learners are situated.

All the people who create the school environment (inside the classroom, school, and beyond) influence learners’ endeavours to become self-directed ‘informed, purposeful, and active citizens’ through both the direct and indirect messages they send. These messages can be welcoming and supportive of student activism or cautioning and wary. Certainly school environments and climates that promote increasing knowledge exchange with community partners (including parents/guardians/caregivers, and community support organizations), increase learning opportunities for its students, and thereby send strong messages that activism is a desired and inevitable outcome of its learners’ education process. In such schools and their respective webs of community linkages, the more active students become in creating and working for change for its communities, the more successful the school becomes.

It is relatively easy to set the above goals as system, school, and community objectives; it is much more difficult indeed to implement them in a sustained way. Too often, educators do not plan sufficiently to overcome the predictable challenges that some learners experience on the way to becoming the desired ‘self-directed, informed, purposeful, and active citizen’. Here again, modeling to all students that they are each expected to become involved participants in affecting social change is essential. The typical grounds for low expectations of individual students and student groups in classrooms/schools/school systems, i.e. sexual orientation, socio-economic status, proficiency (or lack of) in the language of instruction, and indeed all the Prohibited Grounds of the Ontario Human Rights Code, provide a clear course for the efforts of aware school teachers and administrators. Middling efforts to engage students in developing their own ideas of social change and their possible contributions to change yield middling results; for example, ELL or socioeconomically challenged learners are not encouraged to the same degree to participate and hone their social decision - making process skills as students who may be perceived by educators as possessing higher degrees of ‘readiness’.

The challenge to the creation of socially active students does not lie only within the formal curriculum or its content; but rather, whether we as teachers are able to spend our time wisely to see what each learner has to offer social activism now and over time with encouragement within a developmental approach.

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