“We are stronger not despite our differences, but because of them.” ~Prime Minister Trudeau
The recent horrific and tragic attack at the mosque in Quebec and the subsequent categorical response from Canadians and concerned citizens around the world is a poignant reminder of one of our primary purposes as educators. As learning institutions, we must model and live by the highest standards associated with tolerance, empathy, and understanding while categorically rejecting all acts of hate, bigotry, and discrimination. The unique opportunity to serve as an educator includes an unwavering commitment to model and stand up for the values we hold dear in our schools.
While it is not the role of a teacher to promote and impose personal political views and beliefs, it is a teacher’s responsibility to denounce, without exception, all comments and actions that are not in full adherence with the school’s focus on valuing plurality, difference, understanding, respect, and tolerance. As intolerance is usually a result of fear and fear is often generated from a lack of understanding, the focus on learning in schools plays an ever-important role toward deeper understandings. The hope is that the suspicions and uncertainty that result from a lack of understanding or knowledge will be replaced with curiosity, support, and appreciation.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response to the shooting was a call to action and the coming together as a nation: “We will not stand for hatred and bigotry. Together we will ride from this darkness stronger and more unified than ever before. That is who we are… love, always love, instead of hate.” It is also heartening and inspiring to witness the commitment of our education colleagues and the focus of so many schools and organizations to take a stand against all that divides us. The message is clear in that if one of us suffers, we all suffer. By way of example, Asger Leth’s video, Three Beautiful Human Minutes, is a moving testimonial conveying the message that there is more that brings us together than we think. Teachers are also regularly seeking ways to embrace and learn from our differences. Alison Schofield recently posted a helpful article entitled, “How Teachers can Honor and Nurture all Students’ Languages and Cultures within an International School.” The University of Minnesota, where I am currently engaged in graduate studies, just launched a “We All Belong Here” campaign, with five key messages: 1. Our differences drive our greatness, 2. Respect everyone every day, 3. Rise above intolerance, 4. Stand up to injustice, 5. Strive to be inclusive.
This work is not easy, though it is of paramount importance. The studies of a colleague at the American School of Brasilia, Gavin Hornbuckle, highlights one of these challenges. Gavin conducted extensive doctoral research in the area of intercultural competencies. The results of his study and others indicate that “while teachers often believe that they possess the intercultural skill-set required to [help students to develop intercultural competence], in reality, this may not be the case” (Horbuckel, 2013). The research also stresses that the majority of educators have more of a monocultural mindset, while our students show evidence of being more sophisticated in their intercultural development” (Cushner, 2012). It is a fact that intercultural competence does not come naturally and is an area that we, as educators, need to continually work at, particularly as we seek to understand, embrace, and celebrate our differences.
Returning to Prime Minister Trudeau, one of his recent statements may serve as a guiding principle for our schools: “If we allow individuals and organizations to succeed by scaring people, then we do not actually end up any safer. Fear does not make us stronger, it makes us weaker. We are bound by one, unwavering, unshakable truth: we are stronger not despite our differences, but because of them”.
Cushner, K. (2012). Planting seeds for peace: Are they growing in the right direction? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 36(2), 161-168.
Hornbuckle, G. C. (2013). Teachers’ views regarding ways in which the intercultural competence of students is developed at an international school in Southeast Asia: a mixed methods study. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC 2.0) Flickr photo by Roel Wijnants (Painting): https://www.flickr.com/photos/cosmosfan/14628522324