After winning awards for developing the Royal Flush, a high-tech device that reduces lead in school drinking water, my daughter's elementary school robotics team secured an opportunity to represent Canadian ingenuity and values at a social entrepreneurship competition in the United States.
You can't imagine how proud I am of my 13-year-old entrepreneur. You probably also can't imagine how hard it is to explain why she is banned from crossing the border.
The problem isn't U.S. President Donald Trump's ignorant attitude towards Muslim-majority countries. My kid can't engage with other innovative problem solvers in the world's largest economy simply because she goes to a public school in Toronto.
America's Trump ban does not apply to Canadian citizens. Nor does it rule out U.S. entry for our non-Canadian permanent residents. Nevertheless, the Toronto District School Board issued a travel ban of its own last year — when it somehow determined the elevated risk of having students turned back at the border justifies cutting off more than 240,000 students from significant educational, developmental and networking opportunities.
Over the past year, the TDSB's governance committee concluded this rigid educational border wall has unacceptable maintenance costs. As a result, Canada's largest school board will vote Feb. 7 on an amendment that would exempt secondary-school students from its travel ban. If passed, this motion will just make the TDSB policy even more unfair by tossing younger students under the bus.
Enter the Glen Ames Senior Public School's First Lego League robotics club.
Members of my daughter's team have heard all the adult justifications for the TDSB's Trumpian policy. They just don't accept that restricting Canadian freedoms is the way to respond to U.S. policy aimed at foreign nations. They have launched #Don'tClipOurWings, a petition campaign calling on the TDSB to allow all students to pursue available educational opportunities without borders. In a press release entitled Travel Bans Aren't Canadian, they have also called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other influential Canadians to show some leadership on this issue.
As these passionate students point out, maintaining Canada's economic health requires promoting early interest in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and math). "And yet, there is no need to worry about us. Proudly calling ourselves The Walking Lead, we regularly go to school early, stay late and work through lunch to pursue our passion for technology and social entrepreneurship," they wrote in the release. "We have put hundreds of hours into engineering and programming our competition robots, not to mention researching and developing the Royal Flush ... Our problem isn't interest in STEM education. It is the apparent lack of school board awareness of the relevance of international exposure to our development as high-tech innovators and entrepreneurs."
"We are told not to let bullies win, but Canada is letting political issues with Donald Trump limit our educational opportunities."Téa Reed Watson, my daughter
Public support for #Don'tClipOurWings is significant. Unfortunately, no federal or provincial politician has yet been willing to champion the cause. What about the TDSB? On Jan. 17, trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher invited my daughter's robotics team to present another TDSB committee with its case for lifting the ban. But that committee voted against listening because the kids were not on the agenda. As the disappointed group's statement notes: "We understand trustees are busy, but it took the TDSB more time to decide whether or not to hear our case than we needed to present it."
The Toronto Star's dismissal of these kids was even more offensive. After taking credit for inspiring the Royal Flush with its reporting of TDSB water issues, the newspaper stabbed my daughter and her teammates in the back by advocating teaching them a lesson about "inclusiveness." In an editorial calling on the TDSB to keep its blanket ban, the paper righteously insisted no Canadian school trips to the U.S. should take place until citizens of Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen are welcome in Trumplandia.
The Star's editorial board failed to explain how it justifies maintaining a Washington bureau when not all journalists in the world can travel to America. It also failed to mention that banning TDSB kids from U.S. trips hardly teaches them about inclusiveness when students in the tax-funded Catholic school system are still free to cross the border.
If the adult world would just listen, it could learn from these brilliant kids. Instead we're teaching them a lesson in poor leadership, not to mention abuse of power and media hypocrisy. For the record, these future leaders do not support any border crossings for any school team that doesn't include all interested members. They just don't understand why whole teams that want fly south for educational purposes can't even try.
As Téa Reed Watson (my wonderful daughter) noted in her team's petition, "We are told not to let bullies win, but Canada is letting political issues with Donald Trump limit our educational opportunities."
More about the school travel ban from HuffPost Canada:
Simply put, if Canadian politicians want to teach our students a real lesson about the importance of inclusion in education, then perhaps it is time to allow non-Canadians who live in our communities to vote for school boards and serve as trustees. In the meantime, the TDSB should stop playing Trump by issuing an unjustified travel ban, especially when it just waters down the benefits of possessing a Canadian passport. Ironically, relatively easy access to the United States, which remains a land of opportunity as our largest trading partner despite its current leadership, used to be one of the things that encouraged permanent residents in the TDSB system to become Canadian. No more.
Using school board authority to stop any student from pursuing educational opportunities in the United States simply because there is an outside chance they will be denied entry isn't just ridiculous — it fails to give our kids the credit they deserve.
As the students from Glen Ames put it: "We are not afraid of risking being turned back at the border. We are entrepreneurs. Risk aversion is not our thing."
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