Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Schools Raise Global Issues with Future Leaders

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, September 12 / 16

Zack Gross

School is back in session across Manitoba!  It’s time once again to tackle what we call the basics of education:  the three Rs – reading, (w)riting and (a)rithmetic.  But what is also true of schooling today – and is particularly prevalent in our province – is that it’s time again to mentor our children, from Early Years to Post-Secondary, to become “citizen leaders” who will tackle the big local and global issues that will arise in their lifetimes.

No matter what your politics are, one must agree that big questions face those who will come “after us
,” whether it is around people’s impact on our environment, questions of conflict and migration, or of poverty and disease.  While it would be irresponsibly for the older generation to leave these problems to be solved by our children and grandchildren, it is fair to say that we need the passion of youth to help us take the next step.

Educators in our province and our Department of Education have been leaders in this regard with curriculum in place in Middle Years and High School related to “sustainability” and citizenship.

Sustainability is a big word for gauging the extent to which the way we live contributes to the betterment of lives and the life of our planet.  The pillars of sustainability are economic, social and environmental.  An example of figuring out the sustainability quotient of a business, for instance, might be to look at the impact of that enterprise on our economy (does it create jobs), on society (do these jobs pay a living wage), and on our environment (is harm done to nature).

Citizenship can be measured by the extent to which people contribute to the society around them.  First of all, at a basic level, do they “do no harm”?  Do they obey the laws and live peaceably in their neighbourhoods?  Secondly, do they take some ownership for the world around them?  For instance, do they donate when their support is needed and recycle to lessen landfill usage?

And thirdly, are they active in the decision-making processes of their society?  Do they participate in community organizations or political parties?  Do they attend meetings or write letters to the editor?  One can see that each of these successive categories ramp up the commitment on the part of citizens to be active contributors, going beyond the more mundane things a person might do.

When learning about sustainability and citizenship in school, there is more to the subject than theories and nice words.  The Grade 12 curriculum, for instance includes a “Take Action Project” where students participate in an initiative that they have researched that brings a benefit to their community or to the world. 

Real project examples that I have seen include students gathering sanitary and toiletry supplies for homeless people, and other students promoting cleaning and laundry products that don’t add to the environmental challenges facing Lake Winnipeg.  Some students get involved in organizations dealing with poverty in Manitoba communities, such as food banks, homeless shelters and training centres.  Others participate in Habitat for Humanity home building projects either here in the province or, indeed, some as far away as Central America.

In case one wonders, you can get a good, basic education and be active in your community as well, without your studies suffering!  Two University of Manitoba pre-med students have been instrumental in developing programs to encourage their young aboriginal community members to consider careers in the sciences and engineering.  Good marks plus good citizenship equals community success!

In my own experience, a presentation made on fair trade and sustainability by Middle Years students from Manitoba’s Interlake to their School Division Board was one of the best researched and presented interventions by any grade level I have ever witnessed.  An argument made by school officials in that region of our province is that this type of demonstrated concern for the issues of the day enhances overall learning and a feeling of belonging and mattering in all students.

Students not only learn from their teachers but they model the best traits of those individuals.  In today’s world, where top-of-mind issues include the news items that confront us every day, education for sustainability and citizenship are paramount.  It could be thought of as the “Four Rs” – reading, writing, arithmetic and responsibility.

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of Brandon’s
The Marquis Project, which offers a global issues support program to teachers and students in southwestern Manitoba.   .

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