Schools can promote unity without forcing idealistic suitability


It is clear that Canadians are divided on many important issues.

People are at stake between the turmoil in federal elections and the disagreement over how to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Families are not talking to each other, communities are separated, states are at odds with each other, and many friendships are over.

These discrepancies are bad enough, but they are greatly amplified by social media. Before the advent of social media, people couldn’t communicate with many others in the heat of the day. Nor was it possible to disseminate false information with the click of a button. It’s no wonder that people are spending more time online than ever before, making it very difficult to see beyond our differences.

To make matters worse, avoiding people we disagree with has never been easier. Like-minded people tend to join the same organization, work in similar professions, and share the same social media circles. Similarly, people do not hesitate to press the block button when someone challenges their deeply held views.

Fortunately, there is one place where people interact on a daily basis. It’s a public school. Students go to school about 200 days a year for 12 years, but they cannot afford to avoid contact with people other than themselves. Diversity is the reality of almost every public school in Canada.

Students not only need to share space with other students who do not share their opinions, but are almost certainly taught by teachers who challenge their thinking. Just as students do not have the same opinion, teachers do not have the same opinion. Whether students are idealistically liberal or conservative, it is virtually certain that they will all be forced to think through his or her beliefs.

Of course, this is only true if the school recognizes a variety of perspectives, not just a variety of appearances. True diversity is the recognition that people have different opinions, even if one person finds it unpleasant. Enforcing everyone to think the same is indoctrination, not education.

Schools have failed their mission if people look different but think the same way. The purpose is for people to see and think differently.

Therefore, schools should strive to secure teachers who are diverse not only in appearance but also in thinking. As left-wing teachers teach students one after another, it becomes difficult to properly expose students to different ways of thinking. It also makes things uncomfortable for students who already have a centre-right opinion.

This is why school managers should avoid focusing social justice initiatives and climate change campaigns on their mission. All students will be comfortable attending anti-pipeline rallies and listening to anti-Israeli propaganda. The Faculty of Education usually presents many of these topics as “settlement,” but it is far from settling in a wider community. Schools need to serve the community, not the idealistic agenda of some teachers and managers.

Fortunately, it is perfectly possible to unite people under the common flag of respecting the diversity of idealism. When teachers allow a wide range of discussions in the classroom and encourage students to think for themselves, students learn that they can oppose without dislike. Political, religious and ideological differences need never be personal.

Students learn a lot when teachers do a good job of moderating discussions on controversial topics. Not only do they learn about the topic, they also see teachers modeling proper discussion etiquette. This is why teachers have to keep their classrooms under control. It’s a tricky balance, but one that can be achieved by a well-educated and mature teacher.

It is also healthy for students to make sure that teachers do not always agree with each other. Students who are taught by teachers from various aspects of the political spectrum may benefit. They are exposed to a variety of facts and ideas and may be better educated.

The cure for division does not come from forcing everyone to think the same way. Rather, we need to unite and move forward by embracing the differences in idealism and learning how to approach challenging conversations with respect.

It is really possible to unite in diversity. The way forward is to respect diverse opinions. This is what schools and societies today need.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Michael Zwagstra


Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, senior fellow of the Frontier Center for Public Policy, and author of “A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.”