Director of Education Emerita, Canadian Civil Liberties Association
Danielle McLaughlin was the Director of Education for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Education Trust from 1988 to 2016. Recipient of the 2010-2011 Law Foundation of Ontario Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship, she spent the first 6 months of 2011 as a visiting fellow at the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor. Danielle designed, developed and delivered CCLET’s Teaching Civil Liberties and Civil Liberties in the Schools programs that each year engage thousands of students from kindergarten to high schools, to faculties of education, to law schools in lively discussion about the conflicts of rights and freedoms that affect everyone who lives in a democracy. She is co-author of the That’s Not Fair! stories, written for civic engagement of young children www.thatsnotfair.ca. Danielle's book for kids 7-11 Kids Can Press is now available. A regular blogger about education and civil liberties at the HuffingtonPost.ca, Danielle believes that the best answer to a difficult question is usually another question.
Between 1997 and 2001, in addition to her educational and administrative duties, Danielle represented the Canadian Civil Liberties Association on the Toronto Police Services Board sub-committee on Race Relations.
For numbers of year now, there has been a movement that seeks to "indigenize" education in Canada. This means that our institutions will have to create an appropriate curriculum for non-indigenous and indigenous educators alike to deliver to a very diverse student body. Can this be done? If so, who will get to say what is appropriate and what is appropriation?
What is it about hair that ruffles so many feathers? Last week, despite having been told not to do so, an Ottawa teacher chopped the hair off a child, ostensibly because the child was chewing on it. The teacher appears to have believed that somehow, he was acting in the child's best interests. Had he decided the child's identity for him? Had he decided that a child with a disability cannot make his own choices as to his appearance?
Most of us have gone beyond the notion of jobs that can be performed only by men or only by women, and that race is something that is a predictor of behaviour of any kind. Why have we not begun to approach our assumptions around disability?
Even if your child is not among those who are likely targets at the border, imagine how she would feel if a classmate, friend or teacher were subject to a humiliating search, separation from the group or refusal of entry. How would she react? And how should teachers deal with this?
Among the groups that I saw at the Toronto march was a contingent of elementary school teachers. As most people know, the great majority of elementary school teachers everywhere are women. As women, they have experienced more than their fair share of discrimination, pay inequity, and even violence in the workplace. But should teachers have the right to protest and then to bring their views and opinions into their classrooms? It might depend on the views and how they are expressed.
Even a few minutes of putting oneself in another person's shoes (or wheelchair) could make a big difference. Accessibility is a right. Just by being born we all have human rights. We don't need to do or be anything special. Equality is - or should be - ours, just because we exist.
Discrimination is an odd thing. It often happens when people have the best of intentions. No one wants to make a person feel bad, but the actions they take, which they believe are in the best interests of everyone, can result in unfair treatment of someone. Rights will often come into collision with one another. Working out how best to balance this is not an easy job, but it must be done.
As the former director of education for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, I have had to stand up for the rights of people I don't like very much, people who say and write things that I had hoped never to hear or read. But I have also taken the opportunity to let them know that, just because I will fight for their right to free expression, I have no intention of respecting what it is they say or represent. I am going to use MY free speech to let the ugly, abusive, and racist people out there know that they are wrong.
If I were a teacher starting my career, or even in a well-established position, I would be very concerned that any publicly unpopular view I might hold could affect my employment. Even if I never chose to let my students know my views, my public political participation would be deeply chilled.
Like it or not, Canada is a country that celebrates freedom of expression. Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that "Everyone has freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication." That "Everyone" includes people who say objectionable, false, foolish, misguided, or even ugly things.
Being an adult, a parent, grandparent, caregiver, teacher or other adult who interacts with children is very hard work. If we are doing our job, we must tread in dangerous waters. How can we do this in a diverse and multi-layered society? Can we nurture, protect and educate children, all at the same time?
We learned that certain children at Thorncliffe Park Public School would be taught that they have "private body parts" rather than penises and vaginas. I guess that means that boys and girls are all the same below the waist at Thorncliffe Park. How is that going to work?
This may come as a shock to some readers: Teachers are human beings -- nearly all of them. This means that, like the rest of us, they make mistakes, behave badly, and sometimes just lose it. It also means that, like the rest of us, most teachers are basically good and honest people who work hard to do a very difficult job. But some are not. And the ones who are not should not be teaching.
What should a society that values education do when children refuse to go to school? Should they punish the adults in the family who do not seem to be able to control the child's behaviour? Should they punish children for refusing to take advantage of a benefit they are obliged to accept?
If an event, program, or institution is created to support a specific group of people, who determines the membership in and the rules to be followed by that group? Does it matter whether the group identifies itself as disadvantaged? What if others see the group as privileged?
Should York University accept funding that is contingent upon agreeing to remove a controversial piece of art? Without the ability to explore and express ideas that are troubling and even transgressive, universities would become mills that deliver pre-approved doses of information in community sanctioned packets.
We have heard so much about students who want a "safe space" in which to learn, when what they seem to mean is that they refuse to face any unpleasant new ideas or contrary opinions. But professors? Could we be seeing a new wave from those in authority who would like to be protected from the noxious views of students?