Over the years, I have always found it interesting that the first three words many of my students have seemed to master by day one are peace and safety. Oh, the third? – double-double, or so it seems. I’ll get back to that in a moment. Most of my students come from places where conflict and corruption create an environment that lacks peace and safety, two things that we as Canadians often take for granted. So, when asked why they come to Canada, these two words form a neat summary without needing much grammar. Sometimes they say or write: Peaceful and Safety, or Peace and Safeful, but we get the idea.
And though they certainly did not come here for the double-doubles at Tim Horton’s, considering many left behind the delights of Turkish coffee and various forms of baklava, or real tea brewed in pots, this is the comfort Canada offers them so they take it. This is also, sadly, (unfortunately, embarrassingly) along with busy, buck-toothed beavers and cranky Canadian Geese, the Canadian icons we offer them, so they embrace them and become Timmy’s newest fan base, posting photos with Tim’s cups and the cranky Canadian Geese they encounter in the parking lot on Facebook. Who are they to question the icons of this perfect paradise of peace and safety? Like one of my students joked after winning yet another free coffee from his “roll-up the rim to win” cup, “Peace and safety and Timmies, that is all I need!”
Well, I could think of a few more things, and a double-double is not one of them, but freedom, education, healthcare, human rights, acceptance of diversity and democracy come to mind. Maybe this is a chicken and egg question, but from my many student’s perspectives, peace and safety are foundational, so much so, many chose to start a new life in a strange land to get them. Without this foundation, the human rights, the democracy, the freedom, healthcare and education and our acceptance of diversity would not be possible. With Canada’s 150th this year, we know that what we have here is worth celebrating, but we also know we have more work to do.
Canada’s best years are not behind us, they are before us. There are cracks in our social fabric that a shared double-double cannot seem to heal. The anti-immigrant/refugee sentiments bubbling near the surface lately, the islamophobia, the unrest within Indigenous communities because of hundreds of years of unresolved grievances, all point to a country that still has a lot of work to do. Canada, though largely tolerant and accepting and seen as a beacon of light in this regard globally, has an undercurrent of historic racism and intolerance that has been inherited by the sins of its colonial past. As Justin Trudeau recently reflected after visiting the Indigenous protestors who erected a Teepee on Parliament Hill for the Canada 150 celebrations, “…it is difficult to get out of colonial structures.” As instructors, we know this intolerance, this systemic racism, is not just a Canadian problem, a colonial problem, or even a Trump problem. We witness intolerance and racism in our own classrooms, inherited from historic and current conflicts around the globe. What Canada is experiencing is not unique, it is indeed universal.
But how do we keep and sustain what we still have, despite the cracks? This is the question for our next 150 years. We can’t sustain this peace and safety without a lot of work inside our classrooms, our homes, our neighborhoods and our workplaces. Peace is taught, just as conflict and racism are taught. As we build peace and tolerance within our classrooms, we build a nation of peace and tolerance.
We, as instructors, are nation builders, like all of those before us who have built this country. Yes, our primary job is to teach English and Canadian culture, but part of that culture is the idea of belonging to a diverse nation. How do we sustain what we are celebrating this year? Maybe Timmy’s magnetism for Canadians and newcomers alike holds the secret. It is a place where differences dissolve over a shared love of maple dips and double-doubles. That is it, isn’t it? – seeing our similarities first, before our differences.
What are your experiences with creating a unity in diversity in your classroom? We’d love to hear your thoughts on these issues.
Marcella Corroeli Jager grew up in the Niagara Region as an immigrant’s daughter who can relate to her student’s children and shed light on ways they are embarrassing their kids. Joking aside, she has been teaching English at the Centre for Skills Development and Training in Halton for 7 years in a LINC/ESL classroom. As a PBLA Lead for cohort 1, she has been delighted to see how clearly communicated expectations and specific feedback have enabled students to take charge of their learning, despite her disappointment that this did not free up more time while her students were busy taking charge.