Plenty to discuss after long summer
It creates a lot of mixed emotions, this back-to-school moment.
For parents, there’s an inevitable feeling of relief as student-aged offspring pack up and head to class; in some cases, that’s accompanied by a spasm of separation anxiety if the youngsters in question are starting school for the first time. In other households, parental relief might be tempered by wistful notions of how summer was or wasn’t everything that was hoped.
For students, the post-Labour-Day return to school is likely to be greeted with a mixture of sadness, dread, excitement and anticipation, as the mourning of freedom’s loss is layered over thoughts of the new school year’s possibilities.
Educators, of course, already have been in back-to-school mode for weeks, preparing classrooms and lesson plans for the mass influx of students that formally sets the academic calendar in motion. And this year might prove to be a bit more challenging than most, because in addition to the courses aimed at advancing skills in prescribed subject areas, teachers also face the unenviable task of giving context to what’s been going on around the globe during the last two not-so-carefree months.
Let’s put it this way: if the world were given the welcome back assignment that awaits many students — the inevitable “What I did on my summer vacation” essay — the summary line would necessarily state “a whole bunch of scary, disturbing, nasty, inexplicably self-destructive stuff.”
From the wildfires of Western Canada to the hurricane-induced devastation of the U.S. Gulf Coast to the monsoon-flood carnage in South Asia, and from the racist ugliness of Charlottesville to the “Proud Boys” disruption of Canada Day activities in Halifax to the quickly escalating nuclear tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, this summer has given students and teachers much more than the traditional “three-R” curriculum to discuss, dissect and digest as the new school year begins.
All of which, of course, makes the process of educating young people a very tricky business. Students in the digital age are bombarded daily with imagery, information and misinformation which, on balance, is probably more likely to inflame and disturb than to enlighten.
Teachers aren’t tasked with merely imparting the knowledge contained in textbooks and other approved materials; they also must counteract the endless waves of false material presented either in error or with nefarious intent that has become an ever-larger part of the online information stream.
It becomes harder for teachers to require students to show their work when most of what passes for information online exists without attribution or credible references or traceable factual basis.
New challenges emerge constantly, as societal contexts continue to evolve. How has the process of teaching history changed if the school in which it’s being taught is considering a name change because the historical figure it memorializes is the subject of public debate?
Education in the 21st century is a moving target and the challenges facing both teachers and students are light years removed from the one-right-answer problems posed in classrooms just a generation ago.
The task, however, remains crucial. As has always been the case, what happens in the classrooms of today will have a direct bearing on how our city and our country and our world function in years to come.
As this new school year begins, we wish teachers and students every possible success. In particular, we should all support students in every way we can. The future belongs to them.