There is Something Wrong in Canada

Former Residential School in Alberta, Canada

In early June, News from Kamloops shook Canada when the remains of 215 children on a former residential school site in Kamloops, British Columbia (BC) were found. A week later, 751 unmarked graves at a former Saskatchewan residential school were located. The Marieval Indian Residential School site was operated by the Roman Catholic Church from 1899 to 1997 (source BBC). On June 30th, once again, First Nations in Cranbrook, BC reported 182 unmarked gravesites discovered near the location of a former residential school site close to the former St. Eugene’s Mission School (source CBC). I’m sure there will be more remains discovered.

Like most Canadians, I (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors) was outraged by this news, since these deaths resulted from bullying (#bullying #antibullying) by the governments of the day and Christian churches who ran the schools, half of which were Catholic Churches. However, I was surprised by the level of anger. It seems that Canadians either forgot about the revelations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission or didn’t pay much attention to it. ­In the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, in a document titled, Canada’s Residential Schools: Missing Children and Unmarked Burials, it was recommended that a study be done to identify the location of cemeteries and gravesites in which students were believed to be buried. The project was to collaborate with communities to identify options for commemoration, ceremony, and further community-based research. In 2009, the Commission requested the government cover the cost of this research, but the request was denied. I have to wonder, was the Canadian government trying to cover this up? The Commission revealed that there were many children buried in unmarked graves on former residential school sites.

Since the discovery of over 1000 unmarked graves, church vandalism in Canada has exploded and “suspicious” burnings of Christian (mostly Catholic) churches became widespread.  The US is experiencing similar events (see Catholic churches have been torched and vandalized in the US). From June 21 through June 26, four Catholic churches located on tribal lands in British Columbia burned to the ground. Nova Scotia RCMP report suspicious fire at Catholic church in First Nations community. An Anglican church burned on June 26, but was extinguished with minor damage. In the province of Alberta, a fire was extinguished in the early morning hours of June 28 at the Siksika Nation Catholic Church. One June 30th,  Alberta woke up to the headline, Century-old Catholic church in Morinville, Alta., destroyed by fire, a church I visited years ago. These fires appear to be intentionally set, and these attacks on churches continue. These attacks are hate-crimes directed towards the Christian community, and some even argue this is a war on Christianity (see Rebel News). I have to wonder why it took Canada’s prime minister 11 days to condemn attacks on christian churches (see Trudeau denounces church burnings, vandalism in Canada) when the October defacing of the mosque in Cold Lake, Alberta, provoked Trudeau to denounce it the next day.

Since the discovery of unmarked graves, a debate brewed in June over whether to hold Canada Day celebrations. According to the article, Cancel Canada Day: ‘Nothing to celebrate’ amid unmarked graves, many Indigenous community leaders and advocates have promoted the cancelation of celebrations, instead, asking for the day to be one to reflect on the real history of Canada and to support Indigenous people. Many communities across Canada have heeded to that call (see Timeline).

Another debate also erupted: What should Canada do about the statues that regard the very men who started the schools where these children died? Many institutions and local governments are acting to remove statues of Canada’s first prime minister, and other politicians, plus renaming streets and schools of those directly connected to Canada’s residential school program. Statues, including Religious statues, in Canada are being vandalized like the Six religious statues beheaded at Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, in Sudbury, Ontario. Vandalization of Catholic churches is rampant with at least 10 Calgary churches defaced with red paint on Canada Day. Not all Indigenous leaders agree with what’s occurring since some Indigenous chiefs and leaders decry church burnings and vandalism.

The level of reaction to discoveries on former residential school sites is unprecedented. Don’t get me wrong, the reaction should be strong. It’s a collective call for justice, and a call for all Canadians to be united with Canada’s First Nations people. The question is: Does justice mean burning churches, removing statues, vandalizing, and dumping Canada’s national day?

Sheila North, the former Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) says;

“These things are perpetuating the racism and perpetuating the hatred towards Indigenous people without even realizing.”

I have to agree! The ways Canadians are directing their anger is only keeping division alive. Such activities do nothing to further reconciliation. They are actions of revenge which divide us by perpetuating hatred towards Indigenous people, catholics, or some other group.

Not everyone thinks residential schools were bad. An Indigenous person once told me that she felt she benefited from residential schools. There are even some who believe residential schools were a good thing as a Priest under fire after sermon on the ‘good done’ by Catholic Church on residential schools. Personally, I fail to see how any good can come from government-sponsored religious schools established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. How can any good come from an estimated 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Métis children who were isolated from their culture, and who suffered abuses in the form of excessive physical abuse and sexual predation?

I understand the anger. I stand with the First Nations people and it saddens me the way our European ancestors treated them. There needs to be justice and reconciliation. However, Cancelling Culture—the phenomenon of “canceling” people, brands, shows, and movies due to problematic or offensive remarks, ideologies, and branding—is not the answer. In the article, What is the Cancel Culture Movement, it says:

One of the biggest problems with cancel culture is that people are quick to cancel, but never so quick to forgive…It ignores the idea that people can pay for their mistakes, and insists that we should all be perfect beings who have never – and will never – make a mistake. The problem is that humans aren’t infallible. Who hasn’t made a mistake in the past?

Our history should never be cancelled, instead, it needs to be studied so mistakes of the past are never repeated. We need to forgive past leaders for the damage their decisions caused, and right those wrongs. Statues should not be torn down, but serve as reminders of people who made mistakes. To cancel history doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

Cambridge Dictionary defines justice as “fairness in the way people  are dealt with.” Most Canadians and Americans would agree Indigenous people were treated unfairly. Canada’s prime minister is calling on the Pope to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools, and is urging Canadian Catholics to demand action from their church.  Churches should take responsibility, but why isn’t our government taking responsibility, since all residential schools were mandated by them? Did the PM forget that Pierre Trudeau, his father, was Prime Minister (PM) of Canada from 1968 to 1979, and during that time, the maintenance of residential schools were run by his government?

Yes, the Catholic church and governments need to apologize, but NOT just words. Apologies require actions to correct the wrongs done to survivors. PM Justin Trudeau promised to end all long-term boil-water advisories within five years during his 2015 campaign. If the PM really felt First Nations people were wronged, then he would keep that promise. Instead, Indigenous Services minister says Trudeau government won’t end boil-water advisories by March 2021. Actions speak louder than words Mr. PM.

Adam Soos from Rebel News says:  

Reconciliation is a vital conversation that we must have, but please, for the sake of any progress that we have made on the path towards reconciliation, do not associate these hate crimes with progress or justice for the tragedies of our history. This is not justice. This is just the start of another dark chapter in Canadian history.  

I couldn’t agree more. This must be a time to unite with our Indigenous people, to reconcile with our history, and to start acting as one people. Mahatma Gandhi says, “Relationships are based on four principles: respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation.” It is time to respect and understand First Nations people, their culture, and what they endured. It is time to accept them as equals, and appreciate Indigenous people for who they are. Let’s stop this nonsense that Canadians are inherently racist as Critical Race Theory would have us believe. This theory reasons that racism is systemic, is inherent in much of the American or Canadian way of life, and paints “white” people as racist. Racism is learned, and is designed to divide us. As I said in Does Media Mirror Culture, or Create Culture? “We humans are innately good, naturally cooperative, and instinctively altruistic.” It is time to start being who we truly are.

Who Are Those Characters?

Are those characters based on actual people?

Someone asked me (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors) a while back if the characters in my book, A Shattered New Start, were based on real people. That is a great question, and the short answer is no. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, here is a teaser.

I’ve worked with thousands of students, and hundreds of teachers, during my 35-years of teaching, and each person is unique in their own way. Having said that, there are definitely certain types of students and teachers. To answer the question, my characters are based on categories of students and teachers. I’ll start with the teaching staff at Rabbit Hill Academy, the setting for the book.

For convenience, I’ll refer to an article, What Is Your Teaching Personality Type? which uses Myers-Briggs personality types to identify types of teachers.

In A Shattered New Start, the Science teacher is what the article refers to as “a Purist.” These teacher types are passionate about education, zealous about their subject, have a positive and optimistic outlook, and often inspire both teachers and pupils to greatness. I like to think I was one of those teachers, however, I’m sure there are former students and colleagues who disagree. The science teacher in my book was based a lot on how I approached teaching. In my experience, these teachers were dedicated professionals who loved working with young people and wanted to make a difference in their student’s lives.

The Math teacher in Rabbit Hill Academy is what the article refers to as “The Teacher.” They are imaginative and observant, authoritative and patient, loyal and hardworking. These teachers take their job seriously.

“The Renegade,” in my story is the Physical Education (PE) teacher, as she tends to take her perfectionism and planning to the extreme. In A Shattered New Start, she is the ‘rookie teacher’ who fears failing and who is out to change the world. Most teachers start off idealistic and enthusiastic. I certainly did.

The English teacher is “The Inspirer.” These teachers bounce around the classroom shouting like maniacs about a subject, and imploring pupils to get involved. They are the passionate and energetic teachers, typically getting excited about a topic that students couldn’t care less about. In my experience, these are the teachers who like to be in the spotlight, are dramatic, and like to perform for their students.

The article called some teacher types “The Thinker.” The Social teacher in my school story is that. These educators bring a questioning approach to their teaching. In my experience, they try to get students to think. I’ve worked with many colleagues who taught this way, and I too liked to ask students thought provoking questions.

The Principal of the school is “The Supporter,” a leader with honestly good intentions and who works hard for school improvement and execution. The principal in A Shattered New Start is also “The Conventionalist,” who is honest and dutiful, and a role model. I worked with these types of leaders and those were some of the best years of my career. After all, the school principal sets the tone of the school.

For the students in my book, I’ll use the articles, 13 Types of Students…. and Types of kids in High School for reference.

The victim in my bullying (#bullying #antibullying) school story is what the article, 13 Types of Students, calls the “Intellectual Outsider.” They are the outcasts and are used to their classmates ignoring him. These students are often odd and distrustful, and usually very smart. The victim in A Shattered New Start has an impediment that makes him a prime target for bullies. I’ve comforted many victims of bullies over the years.

Neither article describes the victim’s best friend in my story. This character is very loyal, to the point where he’s jealous of anyone else his friend pays attention to. This is the friend who would do anything for his best friend. The label I would use for my character is “Hothead.”  These students become worked up easily and are seldom afraid to express themselves, often seeming aggressive to others.

 The Bully of my book, both articles refer to as “The Bully.” This is the kid that has no friends and appears very threatening. This article also has a type called “EMO.” These kids look sad or pissed off at the world. They wear the same clothes over and over again. EMO kids want attention and would do anything for it. I’ve had many of these types in my classes over the years.

The new kid in my story is the “Hard Worker.” The article, 13 Types of Students, says these students are highly motivated, know what they want, and know how to achieve their goal. They are not always the smartest student, but they try hard. In my experience, these students are positive, happy, self-confident, and pleasant to be around. These students I admired.

The annoying student in A Shattered New Start is what the article, 13 Types of Students, calls “Overactive.” This student always has a question to ask and comment to make. They often become irritating for both teachers and their classmates.  In my experience, these are the students who ask the very question the teacher just finished answering. These students would make their classmates groan and shake their heads, and frustrate us teachers.

Indian actress, Deepika Padukone, when she spoke about her battle with depression and anxiety said:

When you look at a person, any person, everyone has a story. Everyone has gone through something that has changed their life. Anxiety, depression and panic attacks are not signs of weakness. They are signs of trying to remain strong for way too long.

American writer, Nick Flynn says, “Perhaps everyone has a story that could break your heart.” I learned as a teacher, sometimes the hard way, that every child has a story and many of their stories regarding their home life and social life were tragic. My characters in A Shattered New Start all have a story, and many of those stories—or shall I say challenges—were issues my students faced. The article, Middle School Issues Commonly Faced By Kids, outlines many of those issues. My characters were no different.

John Holt is a teacher who became disillusioned with the school system after several years of working within it. In his book, How Children Fail, he said:

We destroy the disinterested (I do not mean uninterested) love of learning in children, which is so strong when they are small, by encouraging and compelling them to work for petty and contemptible rewards — gold stars, or papers marked 100 and tacked to the wall, or A’s on report cards… in short, for the ignoble satisfaction of feeling that they are better than someone else…. We kill, not only their curiosity, but their feeling that it is a good and admirable thing to be curious, so that by the age of ten most of them will not ask questions, and will show a good deal of scorn for the few who do…The anxiety children feel at constantly being tested, their fear of failure, punishment, and disgrace, severely reduces their ability both to perceive and to remember, and drives them away from the material being studied into strategies for fooling teachers into thinking they know what they really don’t know.

Another teacher, John Taylor Gatto, taught thirty years in the public school system and wrote the book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. In his book, he argues that conventional schooling is destroying the natural curiosity and problem-solving skills everyone is born with, and replacing it with rule-following, fragmented time, and disillusionment.

I have to agree with both authors. I started reflecting on the school system I was a part of for 35 years after I retired from teaching; a profession I loved. In July of 2019, I wrote a blog titled, Was I One Those Teachers Who Smothered Creativity, or Indoctrinated Children? During that time I wondered if that were true, and I now believe it to be true. We teach kids to regurgitate facts and give us what we want, then reward them with good grades. The most common question I got from students was, “What do I need to know for the test?” We squelch creativity, critical thinking, and curiosity. Many of the kids I taught were artistic and creative, but were disillusioned with school, and didn’t want to be there. Now I understand why.

My book, A Shattered New Start, gives an understanding to Factory model schools which are used today. Isaac Asimov, an American writer says, “Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” Maybe he is right. At least that way people might think for themselves instead of rule-following and becoming disillusioned. The time is ripe to create an education system that promotes curiosity, creativity, and problem-solving skills; a system that makes students better human beings.

Bullying Takes Many Forms

A commentary on the forms of bullying

I (#blog, #blogger, #YA, #authors, #somseason) stumbled upon an article, Bullying can happen in many different forms, which made me reflect on my life. The article says that most people accept physical bullying (punching, pushing) as bullying (#antibullying, #bullying), but that other forms of bullying are not as wildly accepted as bullying. In my recent post, Why do Things Have to be Complicated? I suggested that we make the definition for bullying simple, suggesting;  “If someone feels unsafe or threatened by another, then they are being bullied.”  Now I think I should expand that definition to read: “If someone feels unsafe, threatened, rejected, or inferior because of another, then they are being bullied.” The article lists some kinds of bullying as:

  1. Verbal (name-calling)
  2. Physical (punching, pushing)
  3. Social (leaving someone out of a game or group on purpose)
  4. Extortion (stealing someone’s money or toys)
  5. Cyberbullying (using computers, the Internet, mobile phones, etc. to bully others)

The article says all forms of bullying are harmful, but argues verbal bullying, which includes name-calling, is the most common type of bullying. I would have to agree. Never have I had a school yard supervision without some little person running up to me saying, “____called me a ____” You fill in the blanks. Social bullying was also a common occurrence as little ones often came up to me while on supervision saying, “____won’t play with me.”

This article provides an interesting fact (although it gives no reference as to where the fact came from). The article claims, “bullying happens to someone in Canada every seven minutes on the playground.” For the author talks for my book, A Shattered New Start, I use a PREVNet statistic, which is a Canadian authority on bullying research, who say, “75% of people say they have been affected by bullying.” I suspect that number is even higher. The point is, bullying is epidemic.

Another fact the article mentions is; “Other kids are watching 85% of the time when one kid bullies another kid. Adults, like teachers or parents, hardly ever see a bully being mean to someone else.” This is true. Kids are always watching whether you are aware of it or not. For my author talks, I use some stats provided by the Canadian Red Cross, who say; “Over half of bullied children do not report being bullied to a teacher,” and “71% of teachers say they usually intervene with bullying problems; but only 25% of students say that teachers intervene.” The latter stat is concerning.  The truth is, kids perceive teachers as ‘not caring’ or ‘turning a blind eye.” From my experience of a 35-year veteran retired teacher, I don’t believe that is true. It is more likely teachers don’t see the bullying happening. We only hear about it after the incident.

In my last post, I Want to Know, I solicited bullying stories, and I am still doing that. I offered a free promo code to the first 15 people who sent me their bullying story, and in return they could download a digital version of my book, A Shattered New Start, from the  iTunes bookstore. My email is: authorkjsom@gmail.com. The codes are valid until June 1st, so you need to hurry. Since I am asking to hear other people’s bullying stories, it is only fair that I share more of mine, so here goes.

Have I ever been the recipient of verbal bullying?  You bet, even as a teacher. I have been told to, pardon my language, “fuck off,” a few times as a teacher.  Probably the time that stands out most was during my second or third year as a ‘rookie teacher.’  I received in the mail—it was snail mail in those days—a hand written letter from a student, or maybe a group of students, telling me to quit teaching. The author(s) of the letter called me some unkind names. As an insecure ‘rookie teacher,’ that was a blow to the self-esteem. I felt unsafe, threatened, and rejected because of this letter. What might these kids do next, and in fact, my vehicle was “keyed” (scratched by a key) or vandalized around that time, so for all I know it was the same kids.

That letter bothered me for a long time, but I accepted it was kids being kids. As the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says,

Adolescents differ from adults in the way they behave, solve problems, and make decisions. Teenagers occasionally behave in an impulsive, irrational, or dangerous way…[they] don’t think things through or fully consider the consequences of their actions.” That doesn’t make the bullying okay, but it makes it understandable.

A home-schooling friend of ours, who recently read my book, A Shattered New Start, told me that it never occurred to her that a teacher might feel frightened by a student. I have on many occasions. My daughter, who is also a teacher, told me she has as well, and she teaches kindergarteners and grade ones. Students can be intimidating.

Have I ever been the recipient of physical bullying?  You bet. I remember in elementary school—don’t remember what grade I was in—my brother and I were walking home from school. We lived in a small town, so we had to walk to and from school. One of the town bullies was harassing my brother and I, calling us names, etc. What I remember most is the bully taking snow and rubbing it into our faces. My brother and I were scared as the bully was bigger than either of us. It was a humiliating and upsetting experience. We definitely felt unsafe and threatened by this bully.

Have I ever been the recipient of social bullying? You bet, as a non-athletic person. All throughout school, in gym class, I was always one of the last kids to be picked for a team. You remember those times because you feel unwanted and rejected. I felt inferior thinking I was not good enough to play on a team.

Have I ever bullied? I am sad to say, yes.  As a teacher, I once strapped a student. In the early part of my career, corporal punishment was the norm.  I hated it. Inflicting pain on a student felt awful.  The belief was, if you inflicted physical punishment on a kid, it would be a deterrent; ensuring they would never commit the infraction again. It seldom worked though.    I only ever did it once because it was such an unpleasant experience. There was nothing about being a bully—in my case, carrying out corporal punishment—that felt good.

So, there you have it; some more of my experiences with bullying. Please, please send me some of your bullying experiences, and don’t leave out your feelings. If you are kind enough to share your bullying experience, you’ll receive a free promo code to download a digital version of my book, A Shattered New Start, from the iTunes bookstore, but hurry, as the codes expire June 1st.

Email me at: authorkjsom@gmail.com.

Why do Things Have to be Complicated?

A commentary about what bullying is.

Adam Davies is a former member of Nova Scotia’s Chignecto-Central Regional School Board who writes commentaries. His editorial: Is the word bullying misunderstood? published in the Halifax, Nova Scotia’s (NS) Chronicle Herald asks the question: Is the word bullying maligned, misunderstood or meaningless? This is a valid question. If you google the definition of bullying on the Internet, you get 184 million hits. That is a lot of definitions, and they do vary greatly. Two people can witness the same incident, and one might say it was bullying (#antibullying, #bullying) and the other it was not. Why? Because each has a different definition of bullying.

Mr. Davies says;

Many of us know a textbook definition of the word, such as this from the provincial school code of conduct: ‘Bullying means behaviour, typically repeated, that is intended to cause or should be known to cause fear, intimidation, humiliation, exclusion, distress or other harm to another person’s body, feelings, self-esteem, reputation or property, and can be direct or indirect, and includes assisting or encouraging the behaviour in any way.’

However, he argues that definitions leave gaps. For example, Mr. Davies argues some bullying is dismissed as teasing or horseplay. “Clearly, bullying only means what we want it to mean,” he says. In his editorial, Mr. Davies refers to an incident that occurred in a NS High School. A CTV News report, Several students suspended after alleged assault at Cape Breton high school, describes the incident that Mr. Davies is referring to. It also has an edited video of the disturbing incident, which was a violent incident at the NS high school that was circulated on social media. It shows a grade 9 student being attacked by another student who literally throws the grade nine student across the locker room. The attacked student was hurt in the incident.

The author of the editorial argues that many news reports described the incident as an alleged assault but there were others who described it as bullying. Yahoo News’s headline, Assault caught on video at Cape Breton high school, calls it an assault, while the Halifax Chronicle Herald’s headline, Bullying incident in Coxheath shines light on complex issue, calls it bullying. So, the question is: Was it bullying or was it an assault? It’s both. An assault is a physical attack, and that clearly happened in the NS incident.

Before COVID-19, I (#blog, #blogger, #YA, #authors, #somseason) gave author talks for my book, A Shattered New Start. In that talk, I used a definition for bullying from Bullying Reporting and Prevention (BRIM), a company that develops Anti-Bullying Software. Their definition is designed for children, which is why I used it, and it says, “Bullying is when you keep picking on someone because you think you’re cooler, smarter, stronger or better than them.” Writing a post about the definition of bullying has made me realize even that definition is lacking. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) define bullying “as when there is an imbalance of power; where someone purposely and repeatedly says or does hurtful things to someone else.” Many definitions of bullying say to be bullying, it must happen more than once. The news reports fail to report whether the NS boy was repeatedly assaulted either physically (using your body or objects to cause harm), verbally (using words to hurt someone), or socially (using your friends and relationships to hurt someone). Based on my experience with school bullying, and using definitions like Oxford’s definition, “seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce someone perceived as vulnerable,” which makes no reference to repetition, the NS youth was definitely bullied.

Mr. Davies sites a 2019 research study on student well-being and experiences at school which was commissioned by the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. Their report, based on survey data from more than 54,000 students in Grades 4 to 12, did not use the terms bullying or bullying behaviour. Instead, students were asked if they felt unsafe or threatened at school within the past month. According to the survey, 19% of students felt unsafe or threatened at school, with 35% for students with physical disabilities, and 36% for those who identified as LGBTQ. The survey revealed that students were most worried about gossip, pranks and being left out by their friends and peers. Most disturbing to me was 61% of students surveyed reported feeling physically threatened and about half of those surveyed were concerned about cyber threats, including online gossip, hurtful messages and the spread of inappropriate photos.

The survey on student well-being and experiences at school reveals a lot of other things about school life, but the fact that 19%, or approximately one in five students, feel unsafe at school is alarming.

The Canadian Red Cross has a simple definition of bullying. It says, “bullying is a form of aggression where there is a power imbalance; the person doing the bullying has power over the person being victimized.” That is a good definition because it is simple, yet it encapsulates what bullying is. Perhaps there is an even a simpler definition of bullying? Maybe bullying should be defined as when a person is made to feel threatened or unsafe by another person. It’s simple, yet says what bullying is all about.

Bullying typically is defined by three elements: aggression, a power differential, and repetition. I have a problem with the repetition part. If a person feels threatened or unsafe, because of another person, even one time, then in my view, bullying has occurred. Under no circumstances should a person ever feel threatened or unsafe because of another individual. Many will argue that bullying is complex and you can’t define it as I just did, but perhaps that is the problem. Maybe we humans want to make everything more complicated than it has to be. To me it is simple. If a student, or anyone for that matter, feels unsafe or threatened by another, they are being bullied.

It’s Time to Give Youth a Voice!

A commentary on giving youth a real voice.

From CBC.com

CBC News reports in its article,  Thousands of students in U.S. walk out of classes to protest gun violence, accounts that students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida staged  a 17-minute walkout, one minute for each of the Florida school shooting victims from February 14.  This walkout was exactly a month to the day after an expelled student using an AR-15 assault-style rifle treaded into the school and opened fire, killing 14 students and three of its staff members. More than 3,000 walkouts were planned throughout the U.S. The purpose of the protests was to pressure federal lawmakers to pass gun control laws. Parkland students argue such laws will prevent other students from having to face the kind of trauma they experienced. As a retired social studies teacher, this is exactly the kind of activity I encouraged my students to participate in; to make their voices heard.

According to Wikipedia, there have been  219 (assuming I counted correctly) school shootings since the April 20, 1999. Why this date?  That is the date of the Columbine High School massacre where two Columbine students killed twelve students and one teacher as well as injured 24 others. They finished their massacre when they committed suicide. I especially remember this event because 8 days later, in Canada, a 14-year-old boy opened fire inside the W.R. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta, killing student Jason Lang and seriously injuring another student. In Canada, during the same time period, there have been three school shootings according to Wikipedia, one of which was in a college. When you compare Canada to the U.S., it clear that American students have just cause for concern.

Each time there is a mass shooting south of the border, the United States regime debate gun control, but nothing changes. Laws change minimally if at all.  Time.com makes an interesting statement saying, “though they [the students] may not be old enough to vote, they are making their voices heard outside the nation’s schools — in some cases, by physically getting up and leaving.”

That statement got me thinking. Do young people, those under the age of 18, have a voice or are they marginalized? Observing what is proceeding with the students in the U.S. and seeing them take a stand, I would say young people have been marginalized. The legal voting age in Canada and the United States is age 18. Now I’ve always bought the argument that young people are not ready to have that responsibility. They are not knowledgeable enough or responsible enough to be given the right to vote. Thinking about that, the same argument could be made about adults, those over age 18. I’ve met many, many adults who are not knowledgeable or responsible when it comes to politics. I now believe that age is not a factor.

Being curious, I wanted to know how many countries in the world have lowered the voting age to less than age 18. According to Worldatlas, Legal voting age by country, there are 15 countries plus the European Union, with its 28 member countries, that have voting ages less than 18. This is a topic I have discussed with my social studies classes over the years and I remember having some lively discussions with my under 18 students. Most advocated for the right to vote.

Craig Kielburger is a Canadian author and activist for the rights of children.  In 1995, when he was age of 12,  Kielburger saw a headline in the Toronto Star newspaper that read “Battled child labour, boy, 12, murdered.” This was a story was about a young Pakistani boy who was forced into child labour in a carpet factory at the age of four. Kielburger researched child labour and asked his seventh-grade teacher to speak to his classmates on the topic. As a result, a group of pre-teens started ‘Kids Can Free the Children’ which later became ‘Free the Children’.

In November of 2000, Craig Kielburger is quoted as saying:

Lowering the voting age to 16 is not a novel idea. Brazil has recently given the right to vote at all levels of government to 16-year-olds in that country. France, England and Australia are also contemplating lowering the voting age. Last month I attended meetings with world leaders at the State of the World Forum in New York City and met with the Japanese Minister of Finance to discuss youth issues during a trip to Japan. On November 27 [date of a Canadian federal election], however, I shall be denied the right to cast my vote for the individual I believe should lead my own country. Why? Because I am 17 years old. The time has come for Canadians to take a serious look at lowering the voting age to 16.  (see Giving Youth a Voice).

In an electoral studies research article prepared in 2012, Voting at 16: Turnout and the quality of vote choice, it says in the abstract,

Critics of giving citizens under 18 the right to vote argue that such teenagers lack the ability and motivation to participate effectively in elections. If this argument is true, lowering the voting age would have negative consequences for the quality of democracy. We test the argument using survey data from Austria, the only European country with a voting age of 16 in nation-wide elections. While the turnout levels of young people under 18 are relatively low, their failure to vote cannot be explained by a lower ability or motivation to participate. In addition, the quality of these citizens’ choices is similar to that of older voters, so they do cast votes in ways that enable their interests to be represented equally well. These results are encouraging for supporters of a lower voting age.

What struck me in this research was, “failure to vote cannot be explained by a lower ability or motivation to participate…the quality of these citizens’ choices is similar to that of older voters.” Age does not seem to be a factor.

A Capital News article,  Four reasons Canada should lower the voting age, gives the following four reasons for lowering the voting age.

  1. It might encourage a higher voter turnout. In Canada we have something called ‘Student Vote.’ On its website, it says, ‘Coinciding with government elections, students learn about government and the electoral process, research the parties and platforms, discuss relevant issues and cast ballots for the official election candidates. The results are shared with the media for broadcast and publication following the closing of the official polls.” If we are having our youth do this, why not grant the youth actual voting privileges.
  2. Young people would adopt the habit of voting. It seems to me that is what ‘Student Vote’ is attempting to do.
  3. Expand the notion of democracy. As the article says, students are taxed when they work so they should have the right to vote.
  4. The teenagers of today are engaged in their world and want to make a difference. My experience working with youth for 35 years as an educator, is I have seen many students speak passionately about world events and their role in it. It was not uncommon for me to hear a student say (paraphrased); “You adults are messing things up in our world so maybe it is our turn to have a say.”

The Guardian article, Have faith in our generation, quotes 16 year old, Chloe, from Scotland who says, “Politicians need to let go of old stereotypes and have faith in my generation.” The article explains that teens argue: ‘When we turn 16 we are trusted with responsibilities such as consenting to sexual activity, buying lottery tickets, and marrying or registering a civil partnership. It is absolutely absurd to grant young people these responsibilities without letting them have a say in their own future.’ I would also add that teens are considered responsible enough drive, so why not vote.

According to the article, Scottish 16-year-olds have proven they are engaged and capable of handling the right to vote based on the statistic that 16-year-olds had a greater turnout at the 2014 independence referendum than 18 to 24 year-olds.

I guess it’s official. I’ve had a change of mind. I do think the voting age should be lowered to age 16. We ‘Student Vote’ anyway.  Why not give them a real say? I have taught some very intelligent and passionate teens over the years who are educated on issues and know their position on issues. Yes, there are those who don’t care, but there are many people who have voting privileges who are apathetic. The fact that 31.7% of eligible voters did not vote in Canada’s 2015 federal election proves this.