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Urban schooling expert Kathleen Gallagher on keeping schools safe


December 9, 2011

By Jennifer O'Reilly

As part of OISE’s inaugural ‘Society & Security Speaker Series’ organized by Professor Shahrzad Mojab of the department of Adult Education & Counselling Psychology (AECP), Professor Kathleen Gallagher of the Department of Curriculum, Teaching & Learning (CTL) gave the 3rd of 7 public lectures, taking place at OISE, examining the economic, political and social state of young adults in the decade since 9/11.

Her lecture  ‘Safe & Secure: Youth, Schools and the New Normal’ (on Tuesday, November 29th) explores how society can best attempt the creation of safe and secure schooling at a time when classrooms are becoming increasingly violent. Drawing largely on her (2007) book ‘The Theatre of Urban – Youth and Schooling in Dangerous Times’, she finds that the intensification of the security environment in response to youth violence became an overarching force within schools themselves and goes on to explore how youth narrate their experience of schooling through drama.

Coinciding with the provincial Government’s introduction of the Accepting Schools Act, which would require all school boards to take more preventative action against bullying, Dr. Sara Carpenter, a recent OISE (AECP) doctoral graduate and co-organizer of the speaker series, sees the timing of these lectures as ideal. “Right now is the perfect time for the Society & Security lecture series. It’s the 10th anniversary of September 11th, the aftermath of the G20 locally, the Occupy movement and the global economic crisis, all of which beg the question of the relationships between security and insecurity in the lives of young people.”

One obvious way to make our schools more secure is to create safety that involves community consciousness according to Professor Gallagher. “There’s a big gap between policy and reform communities and what is actually going on at schools.  Using better those rich forums that happen often at the community based level that don’t have obvious channels and are not politically attuned with the politics of education and policy development is fundamental. We need to find creative alternatives to the ways that have previously failed us. If we were to look at what’s going on and invite a conversation across those sectors what might we do differently?”

On the topic of how issues of security relate to current teachers in training, Gallagher says “New teachers in training feel issues of security the moment they step into a school. Their experience of school is based on something that is frankly dated, and in many cases, they’re from other countries or from rural settings and they’re finding themselves here in a Toronto school. It’s a very big wakeup call because they have these idealized and romantic notions. This underbelly is neither what their experience was nor what they necessarily saw or want to see.”

Gallagher also believes that OISE is the perfect platform for this type of discussion due not only in part to intellectual rigor “We recruit the very best graduate students and every time I’m at a seminar like this I’m struck by the degree of engagement. Three of the four people who spoke to me after the talk were not from OISE but from York and Ryerson.  OISE is seen as a place where a good discussion could happen, where contemporary, critical conversations take place.”

Professor Gallagher is Canada research chair in ‘Theatre, Youth and Research in Urban Schools’ and is the Academic Director of The Center for Urban Schooling at The University of Toronto.


For more information on the Accepting Schools Act visit:

For more information on Professor Kathleen Gallagher visit:

For more information on the Security & Society Speaker Series 2012 visit: