Remembrance Day, a Day to Yearn for Peace

A commentary on war and peace.

It amazes me how fast annual events come. Once again, November 11th Remembrance Day is upon us. It is the day of the year that marks the anniversary of the official ending of World War I, and in Canada Remembrance Day is a public holiday and federal statutory holiday with a notable exception of Nova Scotia, North West Territories, Ontario and Quebec. All Commonwealth Nations—an organization of 53 member states that were mostly territories of the former British Empire—observe this day as a day to remember the members of their armed forces who have died in the line of duty.

Since visiting Vimy Ridge and the Normandy Beaches in France four years ago, my wife and I have a much stronger appreciation for all soldiers and the sacrifice they made to maintain peace and freedom in our world. Visiting both WWI and WWII military cemeteries was a humbling experience to say the least. What shocked us the most was the age of many of the soldiers, some as young as 17 years old. We now attend the Remembrance Day ceremonies with much more gratitude and appreciation for all soldiers.

We Canadians, as well as all world citizens, must consider Remembrance Day an important day to observe. It is essential that we remember the soldiers who have lost their lives or put their lives on the line to protect the rights of its citizens.

Having said that, I began to wonder why we don’t have days that honour those who work towards peace. Why not a national holiday devoted to the promotion of peace. To my surprise, such a day exists. Why have I never heard of it? The United Nations (UN) International Day of Peace, or Peace Day, is observed around the world each year on September 21st. The UN established this day in 1981 with a unanimous United Nations resolution, and “Peace Day provides a globally shared date for all humanity to commit to Peace above all differences and to contribute to building a Culture of Peace” according to the International day of Peace website.

A Culture of Peace News Network survey in 2019 found internet reports concerning more than 655 celebrations of the International Day of Peace from 103 countries around the world. These included 280 events occurring in all states of the United States and 6 provinces of Canada, 144 events in Europe, 54 in countries formerly part of the Soviet Union, 53 in Africa, and 53 in Latin America and the Caribbean. There were 50 events in Asia and the Pacific, and 21 from Arab and Middle Eastern countries.

Only 6 provinces in my country held events? When I checked, the province in which I live, Alberta, did nothing. Is peace not a goal for Albertans? Every country, every state, and every province should be holding events on Peace Day. Let’s be honest, our world is at one of it’s most divided times in history. The potential for another world conflict is once again high. The idea of a planet getting along peacefully, respecting the planet’s diverse cultures and peoples, and living in harmony is badly needed. Every country on this planet, and every citizen living on this planet, should be excited about a day for peace that would promote a more peaceful existence.

There are always those pessimists who say, “peace will never be possible.” With that attitude, they’re probably right, but perhaps a global day to celebrate peace could change the attitudes of pessimists.

New Internationalist is a leading independent media organization dedicated to socially conscious journalism. It has an article called, 10 steps to world peace, which outlines a plan; a plan that I believe has merit.

  1. Stamping out exclusion. When corrupt elites prevent a decent life for the majority of people, an injustice occurs.
  2. Bring true equality between women and men. The larger a country’s gender gap, the more likely it is to be involved in violent conflict, according to research.
  3. Share wealth fairly. According to a World Bank survey, 40 per cent of those who join rebel groups do so because of a lack of economic opportunities.
  4. Tackle climate change. Ecological stress from global warming is proven to worsen conflicts over natural resources.
  5. Control arms sales. Promotion of arms sales and heavy military spending heightens global tensions.
  6. Atonement for past aggression on the international stage. The conditions forced upon Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, WWI’s peace treaty, were severe and widespread and set the seeds for WWII. I would also suggest reconciliation for past aggression on indigenous peoples must also happen.
  7. Protect political space. Across the world public dissent must be defended from repressive tools such as unplanned administrative regulation, misuse of anti-terrorist measures, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, torture and murder.
  8. Fix intergenerational relations. Much conflict can be understood as a youth revolt against established corrupt systems run by, largely, older men. Recent climate change activism led by Greta Thunberg is a example of this.
  9. Build an integrated peace movement. International Day of Peace could be a way to achieve this.
  10. Look within. Peace starts with you and me.

There is no question that some countries are more peaceful than others. In fact, according to Global Finance’s article, The Most Peaceful Countries In The World 2019, the

most peaceful nations also enjoy lower interest rates, a stronger currency and higher foreign investment—not to mention better political stability and stronger correlation with the individual level of perceived happiness.

According to the 2019 Global Peace Index compiled by the international think-tank Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) covering 163 independent states and territories that are home to 99.7% of the world’s population, the most peaceful country in the world is Iceland, followed by New Zealand and Portugal. I’m happy to say that Canada was ranked 6 out of 163 countries. The USA was ranked 128th. To create a peaceful world, peace starts with individuals, then peaceful nations.

Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the nationalist movement against the British rule of India, once said, “Peace between countries must rest on the solid foundation of love between individuals.”  Unless humanity can reach a point where diversity is celebrated, respect is the norm, and love is the motivating factor, world peace cannot happen.

Really the answer to achieve world peace is very simple. Leaders of countries must live by the Golden Rule. This Rule is the principle of treating others as you want to be treated. The Golden Rule is found in most religions and cultures. In some religions, the Golden Rule is considered an ethic of reciprocity. This rule appears in the positive or negative:

  • Treat others as you would like others to treat you (positive)
  • Do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated (negative)
  • What you wish upon others, you wish upon yourself (empathetic)

This principle is found in the Christian scriptures in Luke 6:31 which says, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (New American Standard Bible). If all people followed this rule, peace would occur and there would no longer be a need for soldiers.

Bullying is Epidemic!

From CBC News

Earlier this month, I read a news article which I found quite disturbing, although this story not entirely surprising considering the current climate we live in. On October 7, a 14-year-old student, while his mother was with him, was fatally stabbed outside a Hamilton, Ontario, Canada High School. According to CBC News, four  teens were arrested; a 16-year-old male and a female, an 18-year-old male and a 14-year-old male, all charged with first-degree murder. Sadly, this is not the first teen killed by bullies, and then there is the problem of bullied teens committing suicide.

Global News says the family of the teen victim alleges that bullying was a persistent problem in the boy’s life and that the school never addressed the concerns. Canada News says, all five of those investigated are current or former students of the Hamilton high school. The victim’s mother claims the school and board knew about her son’s bullying, but little was done to stop it. “For a month, we’ve been trying to get this dealt with,” she said in tears. Both the school board and Hamilton police have confirmed they were notified of bullying incidents. Investigators were initially hesitant to comment on whether or not bullying and the attack were directly connected.

The Global News article, Experts say zero-tolerance policies aimed at stopping bullying aren’t working, quotes Carol Todd, an educator with a Vancouver-area school board, and whose 15-year-old daughter took her own life in response to violent bullying, said:

“We talk about bullying and we talk about how we can combat it, how can we end it. Are we doing enough to talk about the aspects of compassion, empathy, kindness and respect? Are we teaching our young people how to be respectful to other people and what to do?”

Ms. Todd is right. I’ve worked in the school system for 35 years, and I have never seen a curriculum that focuses on the aspects of compassion, empathy, kindness and respect. I taught Religious Studies in the Catholic School system, but even in the Religious Studies curriculum there was very little focus on those aspects, at least at the high school level. As Todd says,  curriculum focuses on preparing students for university and not on teaching young people about healthy human interaction.

Todd went on to say a common approach involves anti-bullying advocates making a one-time appearance in schools and delivering a lecture to students. She says, “In the school system, when you bring in an anti-bullying advocate now, kids are turning off their ears,” she said. “They’re tired of the conversation. We have to figure out different ways.” That has been my experience. Students listen to a speaker, then forget about it. I have observed little change in their attitudes or behaviour after a talk.

Debra Pepler, a psychology professor who’s done extensive research on aggression in children says,

“Schools are measured on how well they teach literacy and numeracy and science but … social emotional development should be included and it should start in…kindergarten.”

from http://www.dailymail.co.uk

She said the “zero tolerance” approach popular among many school boards involving punitive strategies do nothing to address the root causes of bullying and wind up reinforcing the kinds of behaviour they’re meant to eliminate.

I have to agree with Ms. Pepler. Every school I have taught in has had a “zero tolerance” policy regarding bullying, yet bullying was a big problem in every school I worked in. These policies are great, but virtually impossible to enforce. In my experience, bullying occurs subtly, occurring in locations teachers are rarely in—such as washrooms—or carried out discretely as to not be noticed by teachers. “Zero tolerance” policy is great, but it doesn’t work!

What is the answer then? In my opinion, there needs to be more focus on teaching students about healthy human interactions. Psych Central’s article, Bullying: A Problem That Starts and Ends at Home, says

Research shows that a harsh or negative parenting style is more likely to produce children who are bullies and victims of bullying than an emotionally warm environment with clear rules and supervision. Negative parenting includes obvious offenses like abuse and neglect, but also subtler forms of negative role modeling such as name-calling, threatening, manipulating and persistent teasing. Children learn from the way they’re treated, as well as the way their parents treat each other and the way their parents talk about other people.

Home is where empathy is learned or not learned, and school is where the lessons learned at home get played out. If relationships at home are based on fear and intimidation, children are more likely to use the same tactics with their peers. School bullies and victims are significantly more likely to report being physically hurt by a family member or witnessing violence at home than children who had not been bullied. Kids who are involved in bullying are also more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol and are at higher risk for depression and suicide.

Bullying is a learned behaviour, mostly learned at home, and therefore bullying can be unlearned. The ideal solution is to educate parents on bullying, but that is easier said than done. If empathy is not learned at home, then we as educators have a duty to teach it. The reality is, bullies are hurting people who need to be taught that taking their hurt out on other people is unacceptable.

STOP A BULLY  is a registered national charity in Canada, and has an anti-bullying program. Their website shows a study done by the University of British Columbia, based on 490 students (half female, half male) in Grades 8-10 in a British Columbia city in 1999, that reveals
64% of kids had been bullied at school, and that 64% of students considered bullying a normal part of school life. What I found particularly disturbing is that 61-80% said bullies are often popular and enjoy high status among their peers. I have personally seen this to be true. Regarding the ‘on-line’ world, 1 in 5 Canadian Teens have witnessed online Bullying, so it is clearly a huge problem in our world, and teen bullies typically become adult bullies. There is no shortage of bullies in governments and in our work environments. It is time to do something to address the bullying problem our world has.

Dan Pearce,  American author and blogger, says “People who love themselves, don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.” How true that is!

Young People Who Inspire Me (Part Two)

A commentary on social activism.

In my last post, Young People Who Inspire Me (Part One), I talked about Greta Thunberg, Áine Peterson, and Malala Yousafzai, three young people who inspire because they are making an impact in our world. I would like to continue with that same theme.

Greta Thunberg

First, an update on 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden. She is participating in the first ever Youth Climate Action Summit which brings youth climate campaigners together from more than 140 countries and territories to share their solutions to climate change on the global stage, and deliver a message to world leaders that we need to act now.

In her address to the UN Youth Climate Summit, she said, “Yesterday, millions of people across the globe marched and demanded real climate action, especially young people. We showed that we are united and that we, young people, are unstoppable.” (see Greta delivers message). Her phrase, “young people are unstoppable,” caught my attention and I hope she is right since it is the youth that have  the most to lose.

CBC’s article, Protest for Climate Action, reported that millions of youth were taking to the streets in roughly 150 countries around the world on September 20,  as part of a global strike demanding world leaders gathering at a UN climate summit to adopt urgent measures to avert an environmental catastrophe. This worldwide strike was inspired by Greta, and these were her words to the demonstrators in New York:

“Right now, we are the ones who are making a difference. If no one else will take action, then we will…We demand a safe future. Is that really too much to ask?”

I am excited about what is happening, as it gives me hope for change. I believe the world must change and UN Secretary-General António Guterres who spoke at the UN Youth Climate Summit said it best when he said,

“I have granddaughters. I want them to live in a livable planet. My generation has a huge responsibility. It is your generation that must hold us accountable to make sure we don’t betray the future of humankind.”

I don’t have grandchildren yet, but I want my children and future grandchildren “to live in a livable planet.” I’ve seen many science fiction movies that portrayed an uninhabitable world because we humans left the planet in ruins. The UN Secretary-General is right. The youth must hold my generation accountable. Let’s be honest; my, and previous generations, have exploited planet Earth for profits. American politician, Bernie Sanders, said, “What a disgrace that it takes a 16 year-old to tell world leaders what they won’t acknowledge.” He is right! So, I say, bravo, to Greta. I support your cause and wish you success.

Craig Kielburger, age 12

Craig Kielburger, a Canadian human rights activist and social entrepreneur, is another young person who inspires me. I used him as an example  of how one person can make a difference when I taught high school Social Studies. He is the co-founder, with his brother Marc Kielburger, of WE Charity, as well as WE Day.  In 2008, Kielburger was named a Member of the Order of Canada.

Craig Kielburger’s story starts in 1995, when at age 12 years old, he saw the headline, Battled child labour, boy, 12, murdered, in the Toronto Star newspaper. This was a story about a young Pakistani boy, a child labourer, turned child-rights activist who was killed for speaking out against the carpet industry. Kielburger did research on child labour and asked his grade seven teacher to speak to his classmates on the topic. Several students wanted to help, and the group of pre-teens started “Kids Can Free the Children” (later named WE Charity).

In December that same year, Kielburger travelled to Asia to see for himself the conditions of child labourers. While there, he learnt that then Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien, was travelling to India. He requested to meet with Mr. Chrétien, and was initially denied.  Kielburger was granted 15 minutes with Chretien, and he advocated for Canadian action on the issue of child labour, making headlines across Canada and internationally.  Kielburger attracted international media attention with features on 60 Minutes and the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Remember, this young man was 12 years old when he was inspired to act against injustice. I have taught many 12 year-olds, and don’t recall any of them being that aware of injustice in the world.

Time Magazine’s article, The School Shooting Generation Has Had Enough, tells the story of the Never again MSD movement. The days after the Parkland shooting—On February 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire with a AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others—Parkland kids publicly called out the NRA’s influence on national politics, and shamed the leaders they considered responsible for the nation’s slack gun laws.

Cameron Kasky in centre

The Never Again MSD group was co-formed by Cameron Kasky and his high school friends in the first four days after the shooting.  After a vigil, Kasky invited Wind and Whitney (the other cofounders) to his house, and they came up with the name “Never Again.” The next three days after the shooting, the group gained over 35,000 followers on Facebook. The group organized a nationwide protest on March 24, 2018, where nearly a million kids across the country left class for the National School Walkout to protest the school-shooting epidemic.

The Never Again group has lost the attention of the media and is no longer making headlines. Since the groups inception, many attempts to discredit the Never Again movement have been attempted in the form of verbal attacks and misinformation by right-wing Republican leaders. Wikipedia provides specifics.

Many have spoken out about school shootings. Here are some of the most noteworthy in my opinion. Richard Patrick, an American musician, singer and songwriter, said:

“We live in a crazy time. Every other week, there’s a school shooting. There’s always some nutty thing and I’ve always wanted to kind of understand the crazy.”

Florence Yared, a Parkland school shooting survivor, spoke in Tallahassee, Florida. This was where five people were shot and wounded at the University Village Shopping Center. She passionately said:

“The right to bear arms … does not and never will overpower the individual’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…We cannot protect our guns before we protect our children.”

Brandon Wolf, Pulse nightclub shooting survivor, also spoke in Tallahassee. He said:

“After first graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook, what did you do? Not a damn thing. After 49 people, including my two brothers, were murdered at Pulse, what did you do? Not a damn thing. You plugged your ears and turned your eyes and hoped that we would stop talking. Now we’re here again. 17 people are dead. 14 of them are children. And what did you do yesterday when given the chance to do something about it? Not a damn thing.”

According to Wikipedia, there have been 28 school shootings in 2019, and that doesn’t include the many that have been thwarted. The young people behind the Never Again MSD movement have just cause.

Young people—high school aged when they started—are leading the way for change and speaking out against injustice. Why? Because they have Didaskaleinophobia, the fear of school or fear of going to school. An American High School student, Jillian French, said, “We shouldn’t have to be scared (when we leave for school) that we are not going back home.” Like Greta Thunberg, high school aged youth have to tell leaders in the U.S. what they won’t acknowledge.

I applaud these young people, support their cause, and wish them success! Thank God for youth! They just might save the world.

The Lungs of the Earth are in Trouble

A commentary on the state of our planet

For the past week or so, I’ve seen several posts and news reports about the Amazon Forest burning. This is terrible, and  if you’re not alarmed, you should be. Why? According to National Geographic’s Amazon Facts, the Amazon Forest is often referred to as ‘the lungs of the Earth’ because of its rich vegetation that takes carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the air, and releases oxygen back in it. More than 20% of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon, and some articles say up to 30%.

Amazon Rain Forest

Here are some facts about the Amazon, according to National Geographic. The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest, covering over 5.5 million square kilometres. It is so big, that the UK and Ireland would fit into it 17 times! It has an incredibly rich ecosystem – there are around 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 430 mammals and 2.5 million different insects. The Amazon is home to a whole host of fascinating – and deadly – creatures, including electric eels, flesh eating piranhas, poison dart frogs, jaguars, and some seriously venomous snakes.

Since the beginning of 2019, Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) has reported 72,843 fires in the country, with more than half of these being seen in the Amazon region. This means more than one-and-a-half soccer fields of Amazon rainforest is being destroyed every minute of every day. An 80% increase in deforestation has occurred so far this year compared to last year, according to the institute. That is alarming to say the least.

So why is the rainforest burning? According to the CNN article, Here’s what we know about the fires in the Amazon rainforest, farmers and cattle ranchers have long used fire to clear land and make it ready for use, so they are likely behind the unusually large number fires burning in the Amazon today. This year’s fires fit with an established seasonal agricultural pattern, said CNN meteorologist Haley Brink. “It’s the best time to burn because the vegetation is dry. Farmers wait for the dry season and they start burning and clearing the areas so that their cattle can graze. And that’s what we’re suspecting is going on …”

Mongabay,  a nonprofit environmental science and conservation news platform, agrees saying 65-70% of the deforestation in the Amazon is caused by cattle ranching, 25-30 by agriculture, and 2-3% by logging.

Amazon on fire

UNILAD, a youth platform for breaking news, in its article, Brazil’s President Is Actively Trying To Destroy Amazon, claims Bolsonaro, Brazil’s controversial far-right president, appears to be sabotaging a conservation effort aiming to conserve 265 million square kilometers of the Amazon forest. Brazil’s president is not the only president putting our planet in jeopardy. National Geographic has a running list of how Trump, the current resident of the US White House, is harming the planet, all designed to increase corporate profit.

So I must ask: Is leaving a planet that is inhabitable for our children and grandchildren a priority, or is making money? Saving our planet, which is in crisis, should be the priority. Back in October of 2018, the New York Post ran a headline, Terrifying climate change warning: 12 years until we’re doomed. The headline speaks for itself. The United Nations says,

Climate Change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without drastic action today, adapting to these impacts in the future will be more difficult and costly.

How does Climate Change relate to the Amazon Forest? The answer relates to Greenhouse Gases of which CO2 is one of the biggest ones. As the forest burns, it releases CO2 into the air, contributing to global warming. As more and more of the forest is destroyed, less and less of the CO2 is removed from our atmosphere since trees trap CO2 and release O2. Remember, as I mentioned earlier, more than 20%-maybe 30%-of the world’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon. If the Amazon Forest disappears, we will have 20% to 30% less O2 for us to breathe. That is frightening, folks!

The way I see it, the world’s biggest forest—the Amazon Forest—is being deforested so more meat can be provided for the planet since 65-70% of the deforestation in the Amazon is caused by cattle ranching. A growing trend toward veganism and vegetarianism is happening, in part because of this issue. Food Revolution Network, a site committed to healthy, ethical, and sustainable food for all reports

Veganism was a top search trend in Canada in 2017. And the preliminary draft of Canada’s new Food Guide, released in 2017 by the Canadian government, favors plant-based foods

There’s been a 600% increase in people identifying as vegans in the U.S in the last three years.According to a report by research firm GlobalData, only 1% of U.S. consumers claimed to be vegan in 2014. And in 2017, that number rose to 6%.

Am I advocating that everyone should become vegans or vegetarians? No, but we certainly can decrease our meat consumption to help the planet. My wife and I have made that choice, not only to save the planet, but also for health reasons. In the September 2019 Reader’s Digest magazine is an article entitled, Foods: “Good or Bad” Too Simplistic, describes a Harvard lead analysis of 36 trials where red-meat was replaced with plant-based proteins to study the effects of meat verses plant-based diets.  Their conclusion was that cardiovascular risk factors changed more favourably with those on a plant-based diet. It seems there is increased evidence that diets high in meat—especially red meat—are not healthy. There are lots of books and documentaries on this topic, so don’t take my word for it; do your own research.

Perhaps it is time for us in North America to decrease our meat consumption for the sake our planet and maybe for our health as well. According to World Atlas’ article, Top Meat Consuming Countries In The World,  the United States is the second largest consumer of meat on the planet consuming 200.6 pounds of meat per person per year. Australia is number one at 205 pounds per person annually. Canada is in ninth place on the list of high meat-consuming countries.

We can stick our head in the sand and pretend everything is fine, or we can do something. To save our planet, there are a few things you can do. You can demand that protecting the planet is priority over profit. Demand our governments leave a planet that is inhabitable for our children and grandchildren. We can also decrease our consumption of meat. And lastly, learn about the issues. Learn about Climate Change, deforestation, and other issues that planet Earth faces. Our grandchildren are counting on it, and our planet depends on it.

Should People be Wary of being a Good Samaritan?

A commentary on helping others.

Since mid-July, Canadians, along with the world, have been shocked and frightened because of a nationwide manhunt for 19 year old Kam McLeod,  and 18 year old Bryer Schmegelsky, both from Port Alberni, British Columbia (B.C.).  The pair allegedly left on a trip to look for work in the Yukon. Initially, they were treated as missing persons after not checking in with relatives for several days, but as the days progressed, the men became suspects in the shooting deaths of a tourist couple in northern B.C.—Australian Lucas Fowler, 23, and American Chynna Deese, 24—who were found at the side of the Alaska Highway early in the morning on July 15. Then the two teens were charged with second-degree murder of a man whose body was found days later in B.C. The manhunt ended when the fugitive’s bodies were found in northern Manitoba. (see Bodies found in northern Manitoba)

Schmegelsky’s father informed the press that he fears his son, who had a troubled upbringing, is on a “suicide mission.” McLeod’s father described his son as “a kind, considerate, and caring young man” who has “always been concerned about other people’s feelings.”

I, like most Canadians, could not comprehend how two teens could carry out such a despicable act. I, like most people, wondered what went on in the head of these two young people. Did they give up hope because of these chaotic times?

On the front page of one of our local papers was a headline, Good Samaritan unknowingly helps fugitives. The story was published in many papers, including the National Post, and is  titled, My big heart could have got me killed. The story is about a man who realized later that he had a potentially dangerous encounter when he unwittingly towed the SUV used by the fugitives out of the mud. At the time, the pair were considered missing, and not suspects or fugitives.

This story got me wondering: Should people be wary of being a good Samaritan? In case you are not familiar with the Christian scriptures, a ‘good Samaritan’ comes from the parable of the Good Samaritan, found in the Gospel of Luke.

The parable, summarized by Wikipedia, goes like this. It is about a Jewish traveler who is beaten, stripped of clothing, and left half dead alongside the road. First a priest and then a Levite comes by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan happens upon the traveler. Samaritans and Jews despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured man. The full version of this parable can be read in Luke 10:25-37 of the Christian scriptures.

Ironically, last week my wife and I encountered a good Samaritan while we were camping at a campsite 20 minutes from our home. It was the first time we used our newly purchased trailer. As typical, the first time you use something new, you encounter glitches. Let me elaborate.

We were having problems figuring out how to use the furnace thermostat. Whenever the furnace came on, cold air blew out the ceiling vents. We could not figure out how to make the air blow out the floor heating vents only. While out walking one morning, my wife noticed a trailer the same make as ours, so she went and talked to the occupant, asking her if she knew how to operate the thermostat. The trailer was older than ours, so the heating system was different. She was unable to help, but she did say her husband was very handy, and would help when he got home from work.

We felt it was not important enough to bother him with our furnace issue, but about 9:15 pm that evening, all our lights went out. Now, I am the first to admit that I am not mechanically minded, so I had no idea what to do. We called our son, who also owns an RV, but he couldn’t really help without being with us. Not knowing what to do, in desperation, we went to the campsite that my wife went to earlier. This time her husband was home, and he did not hesitate to help us. He came to our trailer with his tools and determined that we had two burned out fuses. We never determined what caused them to burn out, but he replaced them with fuses he brought and thankfully, our lights worked again.

We offered to pay him for the fuses, but he declined. We offered to buy him a case of beer, but he refused that too. He told us to ‘pay it forward’. I do not know what we would have done if this ‘Good Samaritan’ hadn’t rescued us. My wife and I are so grateful that someone was able to solve our problem.

That brings us back to the question: Should people be wary of being a ‘Good Samaritan’? The man who helped us certainly wasn’t. He didn’t hesitate to. Yes, anytime you help a complete stranger, there is a risk, since you never know if he or she is someone intent on hurting you, or taking advantage of you, but those people are few and far between, in my opinion. Most people are good people.

Canadian writer, Charles de Lint, says,

“I don’t want to live in the kind of world where we don’t look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I can’t change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit.”

Even though we live during a time in history where racist, anti-immigrant, homophobic, misogynist, and white Supremist rhetoric is rampant, I believe that we all must look after one another. I want to live in the same kind of world that Charles de Lint wants. After all, helping one person might not change the whole world, but it could change the world for one person. Perhaps this video says it best.

The world is truly a better place when people care; when people come first!

Was I One Those Teachers Who Smothered Creativity, or Indoctrinated Children?

A commentary on our education system.

Several months ago, a news article came across one of my news feeds titled, We are born creative geniuses and the education system dumbs us down, according to NASA scientists. My immediate reaction was: No way was I a part of a system that “dumbs down” kids. I made them smarter. The truth was, this headline disturbed me, and when I first saw it, I ignored it and never bothered to read it, thinking I’ll read it some time later. Well, later is here, and I read the article. Here is the jest of the article.

Scientists gave a test that looks at the ability to come up with new, different, and innovative ideas to 1,600 children between the ages of 4 and 5. What they found was that 98 percent of children fell into the genius category of imagination?  The scientists were so astonished that they decided to make it a longer study and tested the children again five years later when they were ten years old. The result? Only 30 % of the children fell in the genius category of imagination. When the test was given at the age 15, the figure had dropped to 12%. Curious about adults, they tested them as well. Shockingly, only 2% of adults are still in contact with their creative genius after years of schooling.

The results were replicated more than a million times, implying that the school system robs us of our creative genius. That is especially disturbing to me because that means I played a part in it. I was a school teacher for 35 years. I had to ask myself: Did I really “dumb down” kids? I refused to believe it, but these results suggest otherwise. This bothered me, so I set out to prove otherwise.

The Huffpost’s article, How Schools Are Killing Creativity, says this about schools.

You were bullied, made fun of, and you had this teacher that told you to stop dreaming and live in reality. So what did you learn at school? You learned to stop questioning the world, to go with the flow, and that there’s only one right answer to each question. The “whys” you have always wanted to ask are never on the test, and they are omitted from the curriculum.

I had to admit, there is a lot of truth in that. I taught in a system that gave standardized tests which counted 50% of the student’s final mark. My focus as a teacher was preparing students for the government test, so I’ll be honest, all creativity went out the window. We didn’t have time to create and look at a diversity of viewpoints. We taught only what we had to in order to  prepare students for the test.

Benjamin Greene, founder of Britain’s biggest brewery says, “The biggest atrocity of all is to indoctrinate our children into a system that does not value their creative expression, nor encourage their unique abilities.”  I would have to agree, and sadly, I had to admit I may have contributed to it.

During my research, I came across numerous articles suggesting that our school systems indoctrinate children. This was even more disturbing to me, as in my mind, there was no way I was a part of a system that indoctrinated kids. I was preparing them for life and the “real world.”  Was I naive?

Most dictionaries define indoctrination as, “The process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.” American Journalist and author, Peter Hitchens said, “Is there any point in public debate in a society where hardly anyone has been taught how to think, while millions have been taught what to think?” Do our education systems teach children what to think? Having been in the education business, I would have to say yes.

Curriculum presents a point of view, and even though we as teachers try to teach kids to think critically, they are reluctant to do so. Students resist thinking critically, unless forced to, and with standardized tests, they didn’t have to for most part. Richard Dawkins, in his book, The God Delusion said, “Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.” I must agree. I believe we as an educational system have failed to teach our students how to think for themselves, or at least do it well. Instead we teach them “facts” to learn for a test.

American astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “When Students cheat on exams it’s because our School System values grades more than Students value learning.”  Therein lies the flaw with the education system. There were thousands of times during my career when students would say to me, “Just tell me what I need to know for the test.”

American journalist, H.L. Mencken said, “The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.”  Are we teaching kids to be submissive? If we are, I am troubled!

I taught in the Catholic School System, and so I had to ask: Do Catholic schools indoctrinate? Catholic Answers’ article, In Defense of Indoctrination, does not hesitate to admit that Catholic schools indoctrinate, for it states:

…indoctrination itself is not wrong, because children have to be taught something in order to grow up to be functional members of society. The question is, what should they be taught? This means that Catholics and other Christians should have the right teach their children about God and his moral law without being unfairly labeled as practitioners of “indoctrination.”

Maclean’s article, Why are schools brainwashing our children? maintains that education systems in the Western world are “brainwashing” young children to be social activists, saying,

Increasingly, faculties of education in Canada and much of the Western world are preparing their student teachers to weave social justice throughout the primary school curriculum…as well as into a range of cross-curricular activities, events, and projects. The idea is to encourage kids to become critical analysts of contemporary issues, empathetic defenders of human rights and gatekeepers of the beleaguered Earth.

Is that a bad thing? Depends who you ask.  An article by The Federalist, says,

Many people have long suspected that governments sometimes attempt to indoctrinate their people to increase the government’s own power and influence. Unfortunately, ambitious governments will not stop at merely controlling what their people can do; they must control their minds.

The article goes on to say,

Few people seem to have a clear definition of indoctrination, and thus call anything they dislike indoctrination (e.g., “Leftists professors are indoctrinating their students,” “Those fundamentalist Christians are indoctrinating their kids,” or “Facebook is indoctrinating its users.”).

What is the solution to indoctrination then?  This same article states:

The only real solution to indoctrination, then, is good teachers. Good teachers (which include parents, mentors, and other knowledgeable adults) train students in methods of thought while supplying the stuff of thought. They teach a person to evaluate an argument properly, find actual solutions to problems, and determine what is true and what is false.

I tried to be one of those teachers, and it’s true! Most of the articles related to indoctrination and the education system are critical of the system’s use of a LGBQT Inclusive Curriculum, or promotion of a liberal agenda, or a conservative one, or a sex-education curriculum that they believed promoted promiscuity, and on and on. All maintained that the school system is indoctrinating children. According to the definition of indoctrination, they are. The reality is, you cannot remove viewpoints from school systems, as every curriculum designer, and every teacher has their point of view.  Is that Good? Depends on your perspective.

As far as I am concerned, if teachers are ‘indoctrinating’ kids to stand up for human rights and to protect the planet, then I am proud that I was one of those teachers. I say bravo to the teachers who do so. If our educational systems are stifling creativity and teaching kids to be submissive, then shame on them. As The Federalist article says, teachers must be allowed to teach their students “to evaluate an argument properly, find actual solutions to problems, and determine what is true and what is false.”

Is Democracy Broken?

A commentary on the present state of the world’s democracies.

A few weeks ago, we visited friends in a nearby city. During one of our discussions, this friend mentioned that he is disillusioned with democracy (not his exact words). I asked him why and he questioned the type of leaders that were being elected; leaders who were racist, narcissistic, misogynistic, anti-immigration, and who support white supremacy. This got me thinking. I began to wonder if democracy is broken.

When I visited China last November, our tour guide said something that made me question democracy. Our guide said the democratic world accomplishes little as governments are always squabbling. He further explained, whenever a democratic country elects a new political party, the previous party’s policies are reversed, thus little progress is made. I elaborated on this in my post on China (see China post). This begs the question: Are our democracies working efficiently? Is there something wrong with the way democracy is presently practiced?

Presently, there is increasing popularity in electing extremist right-wing politicians. According to Reference, neoconservatism is considered to be one of the more extreme right-wing ideologies. It takes a firm stance against anti-authority media and aligns itself with religious conservatives. Religious conservatives have specific positions on certain political issues such as abortion, homosexuality, creationism, science education, treatment of prisoners, immigration, and many other issues. Typically, conservative Christians favour anti-abortion laws, oppose gay marriage,  and many have a hardline against illegal immigration (see Intelligence Report).

Extremist right-wing politicians also tend to be nationalistic. In high school social studies—one of the courses I taught for many years—nationalism is defined as the belief that nations will benefit from acting independently rather than collectively, emphasizing national rather than international goals. Nationalist leaders are gaining momentum in Europe (see BBC). American president Donald Trump calls himself a nationalist. (See HuffPost). There are many extremist right-wing nationalistic politicians being elected. Why is this so? Does this mean democracy is failing us?

When our politicians act more like school aged children with their bullying behaviours and temper tantrums when they don’t get their way, I believe democracy is broken. When it becomes acceptable to vote for politicians who spout rhetoric that is divisive and “unchristian,” democracy is failing us.  When it becomes acceptable for the US president to use profanity, such as the “F” bomb (listen to Trump), we are electing a breed of politicians of the lowest kind.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced criminal investigations for fraud and bribery. A google search shows numerous US politicians under investigation. The US president is under investigation for obstruction of justice as well as other crimes. Two former Brazilian presidents were investigated for a scandal known as Operation Car Wash (see BBS).

My province recently elected a premier who was under investigation of voter fraud (see CBC). I thought politicians where supposed to have integrity. Even more disturbing for me, is our newly elected premier handed out earplugs to his caucus, clearly indicating his refusal to hear debate from democratically elected opposition members about a bill that removes some bargaining rights for government workers (see HuffPost). This kind of behaviour from a leader stems from arrogance; a leader who thinks his party knows best and those who have alternative views are to be ignored. I thought the heart of democracy was healthy debate. Apparently not in my province. Former US president, Barack Obama said, “The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose.” I believe this to be true. When healthy debate is squashed in our legislatures, then as far as I am concerned, democracy is broken.

That leads us to the question: What is wrong with democracy? Former British Prime Minster, Winston Churchill once said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Perhaps he is onto something.  Louis L’Amour, an American novelist said, “To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.” Exactly!

My brother and his wife worked during our province’s recent election, and both expressed how appalled they were by the electorate. They said they had numerous voters in their 30s and 40s who were voting for the first time. They also said they fielded numerous questions asking how the voting process works. Both my brother and his wife were shocked when several voters asked them why there were names on the ballots which they did not recognize. Many of them were looking for the party leaders’ names on the ballot. I was shocked to hear this. This is why, at least in part, democracy is broken. The voters are failing democracy.

Former US president, Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” That is it! Voters are too apathetic to educate themselves. That explains, at least in part, why Donald Trump won the 2016 election.  Trump’s supporters are largely uneducated, according to polls (see Inquisitr).

Former US president, John F. Kennedy, once said, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”  I have to wonder if unprepared voters, who buy into the dangerous rhetoric being spouted by extremist right-wing nationalistic politicians is putting world security at risk. History teaches extreme nationalism started both world wars. Jose Marti, a Cuban poet, writer, and nationalist leader said, “The first duty of a man is to think for himself.”  Democracy is literally “rule by people,” and is a system where the citizens choose their leaders or government. To fix our broken democracy, people need to start thinking for themselves and educating themselves. Voters need to make informed decisions when voting, and that means determining what news stories are true and which are “fake news” stories. This does not seem to be happening at the moment as most voters believe the rhetoric spouted by extremist right-wing nationalistic politicians. English humourist, writer, and journalist, Allan Coren says, “Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they’ve told you what you think it is you want to hear.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, American 19th-century philosopher says, “Democracy becomes a government of bullies tempered by editors.” Are we electing dictators? Seems that way to me. Are we electing bullies?  I see this more and more, and voter ignorance is to blame.

Former US president, Abraham Lincoln said democracy is “government of, by and for the people.”  I still believe this is why democracy is the better system when it is not broken. Former US president Barack Obama said, “No party has a monopoly on wisdom. No democracy works without compromise.” Perhaps compromise is another problem. We’re living in a polarized time in history and compromise seems to have gone out the window. Each political party thinks they know best and are unwilling to listen to other parties’ views. An openness to different points of views and a willingness to compromise must occur for democracy to work effectively! Politicians must unite and do what is best for all. 

I know it is more complicated than what I’ve outlined, and democracy has problems other than those I’ve addressed above. The issue of corporate donations to help political parties get elected, for example.  Corporate wealth increases when a corporation’s preferred political party is elected and makes policies that perpetuate corporate greed. An informed electorate that votes responsibly is a good start to fixing our broken democracies.