Winter 2019

Concentus Citizenship Education

Enabling today’s youth to be the responsible citizens of tomorrow.

On November 10th it was my privilege to meet with the executive of the Canadian Association of Principals to let them know a revolution had begun. My presentation that day was essentially an invitation to join me in that revolution. I extend this invitation to you.

Our world continually reveals itself to be more diverse, more complex, and for many, more uncertain…  this is happening at an unprecedented pace. It’s happening technologically, culturally, socially and politically. This accelerated change requires a corresponding revolution, not evolution, in our goals for education.

We are blessed to be Canadian citizens. Canadians live in peace, prosperity, and relative harmony. We have unfettered freedom and strong institutions of governance and education. We live in a nation that integrates newcomers not by force, but through generosity and benevolence. Ours is a country in which multiculturalism is a solution, not a problem. At the same time, there is a fragility attached to these observations. A fragility that is directly related to the support, knowledge, and understanding all Canadians have for our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-theistic country.

The leaders of Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden have all said in the last five years that multi-culturalism has failed in their countries with damaging consequences. Right-wing populists gained votes and parliamentary seats in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and Austria in the last year. Beyond multi-culturalism, democracy itself is in a global crisis the likes of which have not been seen since the great depression. The American bi-partisan think tank “Freedom House” has monitored the status of freedom and democracy around the world since the 1940s. In its “Freedom in the World 2018 Report” it declares: “democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades in 2017 as its basic tenets—including guarantees of free and fair elections, the rights of minorities, freedom of the press, and the rule of law—came under attack around the world.” This is supported by the World Bank’s “Worldwide Governance Indicators”. The number of democratic countries in the world peaked in 2005 and has since been continuously in steady decline.

And yet I have hope.

I have faith that we will preserve our multi-culturalism and protect our democracy. In order to do that, we need to act, and that action is to educate. To paraphrase H.G. Wells: “Democracy is a race between education and chaos”. Education must win.

Democracy is premised on an informed citizenry. This explains why a Human Rights Commissioner is so concerned with education: it is the most powerful protection for democracy and pluralism. Education is the antidote to intolerance, ignorance, hatred, and democratic indifference.

The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, and all human rights commissions, owe their existence to the world’s response to the holocaust which is contained in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was the foundation for the “Rights Revolution” that witnessed human rights move to the forefront of national and international consciousness. The Rights Revolution occurred in the last half of the 20th century. In the first half of the 21st century there is a new revolution underway:  the “Responsibility Revolution”. I invite all educators to be part of this new revolution because rights without the corresponding responsibilities have little substance.

The rights revolution was created by lawyers in court rooms. The responsibility revolution will be created by teachers in classrooms.     

Educators are agents of change. They breathe life into the past, reveal the present, and shape the future. Educators inspire hope and change. Educators, with strong resources, will enable the youth of today to become the responsible citizens of tomorrow.

Having described democratic decline around the world, let me describe to you our response. We are addressing the overdue need to intentionally, explicitly, purposefully, and methodically educate Canadian students on the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, at every stage of their education.

Using Saskatchewan as a model, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has created adaptable Kindergarten to Grade12 Canadian citizenship education resources.  Began in 2008, the project it is now a stand-alone organization with registered charity status we have named Concentus.

The Concentus Citizenship Education resources are intended to foster:

  • Engaged citizens who critically examine, question, advocate, and defend rights and responsibilities embedded in democracy.
  • Lifelong learning citizens who strive to understand the dynamics of change in our society
  • Citizens who critically seek the information and understandings needed to make reasoned and unbiased decisions.
  • Citizens with a strong sense of self, community, and place who value and demonstrate a positive commitment to those relationships at local, provincial, national, and global levels.

These teaching and learning resources took eight years to create and were built in partnership with the ministries of education and justice, universities, teachers federations, school board associations, first nations education authorities and many others. Truly a collaborative effort.

The result provides the means to produce a student that embodies the five essential citizenship competencies:

  • Enlightenment: acknowledgement that historical events create context for, and have an impact on today’s society
  • Empowerment: understanding of our rights and the accompanying responsibilities.
  • Engagement: critical thinking and active participation that contributes to a civil society.
  • Empathy: understanding, respect, and affirmation of individual, social, and cultural diversity.
  • Ethical behavior: decision making that respects the rights of others and promotes societal well-being amidst differing concepts of the public good.

Social sciences are the “on ramp” for Concentus citizenship education. There are cross-curricular opportunities and alignments with a range of other classroom subjects (numeracy, literacy, p.e.). By aligning with existing curricular outcomes and indicators, Concentus is not adding to a teacher’s duties, but assisting them in what is already required

Concentus resources help students, teachers, and schools with vetted, trustworthy, timely classroom-ready resources that address current curriculum, and also allow secure exploration of difficult and delicate topics such as: racism and bigotry, mental health and addictions, disability, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity, and indigenous culture and reconciliation.

Teaching approach is as important to effective citizenship education as the content.  Inquiry-based teaching and learning is a vital aspect of effective citizenship education and use of the Concentus resources. Students construct knowledge and deep understanding of citizenship and the accompanying issues. They take ownership and responsibility for their discoveries. Developing the knowledge, competencies and skills for the teaching of citizenship education requires a direct, intentional, and sustained process of professional development and school engagement: P.D. for teachers along with a reliable support system of fellow teachers and administrators. Informed by doctoral studies in effective education P.D., our process and partnerships are demonstrating proof-of-concept.

Introducing citizenship education that supports a culture-shift in the classroom requires a collaborative, systemic, division-level approach. We recognize that the resources and approach must be able to adapt to the unique needs and context of the jurisdiction at every level: division, school, classroom.

Our goal is to be in every grade, in every school in Canada. Saskatchewan is our pilot location… our proving grounds. Our success to date has been demonstrable.

We are learning many important things along the way. We develop, improve, adjust, and grow. Like our students, Concentus needs to be lifelong learners. This summer our new website launched and our updated resources are fully digitized online. Now all grades include translations for french immersion. All resources have been converted to a web language that is fully searchable.   

I urge each of you to explore the site and its resources at www.concentus.ca. This is my invitation to you to join the “Responsibility Revolution” and support citizenship education. This revolution gives me hope for our country. You, as educators are the wellspring of that hope.

AUTHOR BIO:
David Arnot is the Board Chair of Concentus Citizenship Education Foundation. David has served a range of secondments throughout his career as a Provincial Court Judge: as Director General of Aboriginal Justice, as Treaty Commissioner for the Province of Saskatchewan, and currently as Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.