Tag: district priorities

Board Committed To Concussion Safety

* Updated: Please see media release below. I am pleased to see the resulting information from our administration and the steps they are taking to ensure that no shortcuts are taken when it comes to student health. *

Building on District Priority #4 (Promote health and wellness for all students and staff) at our Tuesday, November 27th Board meeting I put forward an RFI (Request for Information) to the administration regarding concussions and compliance with best practices.

Request For Information: Please provide information on how EPSB teams are compliant with best practices regarding concussions in athletics.

The safety of our young athletes is an issue of considerable importance to our community. This is an issue I’ve been hearing about frequently from parents, but also from community members given the high-profile attention that many professional athletes are shining on this issue. My intention is to ensure that this information is shared with parents and community members and together with our athletic professionals, we can further support safe sport.
Does the board have the proper policies in place to support the health of our kids?
For now, this post is merely a placeholder. Once I have the response from administration I will update and amend this blog post with links and references to the relevant material.
A district parent sent me these resources and if you have other links, please let me know michael@michaeljanz.ca and I will share them:
http://www.thinkfirst.ca/programs/concussion_resources.aspx

http://www.cps.ca/documents/position/concussion-evaluation-management

January 16, 2013

Board committed to concussion safety

Yesterday, the Edmonton Public Schools Board of Trustees received a report on the District’s use of best practices to prevent and address concussions among student athletes.

Board policy outlines the expectation that district staff provide safe learning environments for all students taking part in interschool athletic activities. To maximize student safety, staff must follow the Safety Guidelines for Secondary Interschool Athletics in Alberta and must implement safe coaching practices for athletic activities.

In addition, at least one member of a team’s coaching staff must have taken the Alberta Schools Athletic Association’s Concussion in Sports – What You Need to Know online course. Most recently, in November 2012, schools were provided with a Return to Learn Post-concussion Protocol to guide district staff in supporting students who are recovering from a concussion.

“The Board places the highest possible value on ensuring student safety,” says Board Chair Sarah Hoffman. “The District is taking the necessary steps to minimize the likelihood of concussions and to take appropriate action if they do occur.”

The District’s Comprehensive School Health team will continue to review district practice and make any necessary adjustments required to support student safety on and off the sports field. More details on concussion safety at Edmonton Public Schools can be found in the full board report, which is posted on the district website at www.epsb.ca.

What’s the hardest part about being an elected official?

Hanging out with the Students at Hall School

I’ve recently had the privilege of guest speaking to a couple of Grade 6 classes as part of their civics course. I must say these students are sharp.

From knowing intricate details about our municipal government system to the standards they hold for their elected officials, I’m relieved to know that these children are the guardians of our democratic system. These students have goals and hopes and dreams for their democracy and I was thrilled to have the chance to spar with them.

A curve ball that usually knocks me off balance is some variation of the question “What is the  hardest part about being an elected official?

I’ve been reflecting on how to answer this question and this is what I’ve come up with: Living with the  opportunity costs of your decisions.

What’s hard is knowing that every single decision you make has real opportunity costs affecting real children and real communities. Our decisions are not theoretical exercises.

Did we make the right call? And what are the trade-offs that come with every decision?

  • Should we be using operational dollars to keep smaller schools open?
  • Should we have hired one more teacher or two more special education assistants?
  • Are we okay using pesticides on our school grounds because they are the cheaper option?
  • Do we need full day kindergarten for all children or should we focus on those families with the most socio-economic need?
  • Does every decision we make help more students complete high school?
  • Are there limitations on school choice?
  • Did my decision today reflect the best interests of all students and all communities?

There is no magic bullet and what worked 5 years ago may not work today. That’s why our budget and capital plans are living documents that amend and reallocate funds to meet pressures each year. We evolve as a system, and as a board. We learn from our mistakes and we learn how to do better next time.

Reflecting on your decisions is healthy and should be encouraged for all legislators. We teach our kids to walk a mile in the shoes of others, why shouldn’t we? Good decision making doesn’t end with the final vote. Reflection and learning is key. We can always do better tomorrow than we did today.

One of the best books I use as a guide for my decision making is: Mistakes were made (but not by me.) by Tavris and Aronson.

I told the students that I love getting emails that disagree with my vote or my position. I welcome them.

What hurts is when folks don’t know that you have, and continue to weigh the consequences of every decision very seriously. One of my favorite Christopher Hitchens quotes is “Don’t assume that just because you’ve identified someone’s lowest motive, that it is necessarily the correct one.”

I would endeavor to guess that my thoughts are shared all other elected officials.

Helping life get better for LGBTTQ students, staff and families within Edmonton Public Schools.

In March the Edmonton Public School Board voted 8-1 to create a policy to create a policy that would help fight bullying and ensure safe spaces for all students, especially those who are (or are perceived to be) sexual minority staff, students, and families.

I voted to support the creation of this policy and am pleased to see our board taking steps to ensure safe and caring learning environments for all students, staff, and families of our diverse student population.

I have had the privilege of speaking to many students, staff, and families who self-identify as sexual minorities and have heard touching stories about how even just knowing that this policy is in creation has increased their families feelings of safety and security.

Our board took a strong stance to support the diverse needs aboriginal learners, fight racism with our multicultural policy, and now we are taking action on the disturbing research surrounding the bullying of sexual minorities.  Hence, the recommendation:

RECOMMENDATION

That the Policy Review Committee develop a policy that affirms the District’s commitment to providing a welcoming environment, free of discrimination and harassment, for all students and employees who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual/transgendered and queer (LGBTQ). The Committee shall look at LGBTQ policies of the Greater Victoria School District and Vancouver School Board as examples, and seek input from students, staff and members of the public.

Moving forward: The policy was drafted and posted for extensive public consultation. In June and September the Policy Committee then met to review the policy and determine if the policy fulfilled the direction of the board.

The recommended policy is now being brought forward to the Board Meeting on Tuesday, November 8th at 2PM. Our meetings are open to the public and webcast on www.livestream.epsb.ca.

The board is now debating whether the proposed board policy fulfills the direction given by the motion we passed in March. Some of the questions I’m thinking about as I review this policy are:

  • Does this policy support creating a welcoming environment, free from discrimination and harassment? What else should be included in this policy?
  • What changes might help strengthen this policy?
  • Will this provide clear direction to administration about how we can provide a welcoming environment for all students in our schools?
  • Will this policy help prevent the bullying of “straight” kids too? (research has shown that many victims of homophobic bullying are actually straight students!)

If you would like to speak to the policy, please call 780-429-8080. If you would like to contact your trustee or email the board with your feedback please email trustees@epsb.ca. If you would like to share your thoughts just with me: michael@michaeljanz.ca.

If you would like to read the full text and learn more: http://www.epsb.ca/board/november08_2011/item10.pdf

Here is the proposed Policy:

PHILOSOPHICAL FOUNDATION STATEMENT

The Board is committed to establishing and maintaining a safe, inclusive, equitable, and welcoming learning and teaching environment for all members of the school community. This includes those students, staff, and families who identify or are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, queer or questioning their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The Board expects all members of this diverse community to be welcomed, respected, accepted, and supported in every school.

All members of the school community have the right to learn and work in an environment free of discrimination, prejudice, and harassment. This right is guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Alberta Human Rights Act, and Alberta School Act. These rights shall be supported, and enforced so that all members of the school community may work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation for individual differences. The Board will not tolerate harassment, bullying, intimidation, or discrimination on the basis of a person’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

The Board believes that all sexual and gender minority students, staff, families and same- sex parented families have the right to:

be treated fairly, equitably, and with dignity and respect; have their confidentiality protected and respected; self-identification and determination; freedom of conscience, expression, and association;

be fully included and represented in an inclusive, positive, and respectful manner by all school personnel;

have equitable access to the same supports, services, and protections provided to heterosexual students and families;

have avenues of recourse (without fear of reprisal) available to them when they are victims of harassment, prejudice, discrimination, intimidation, bullying, and/or violence; and

have their unique identities, families, cultures, and communities included, valued and respected within all aspects of the school environment.

The Board is committed to implementing measures that will: 1Define appropriate expectations, behaviours, language, and actions in order to prevent discrimination, prejudice, and harassment through greater awareness of, and responsiveness to, their harmful effects.

Ensure that all such discriminatory behaviours and complaints will be taken seriously, documented, and dealt with expeditiously and effectively through consistently applied policy and procedures.

Improve understanding of the individual lives of sexual and gender minorities and their families, culture, and communities.

Develop, implement, and evaluate inclusive educational strategies, professional development opportunities, and administrative guidelines to ensure that sexual and gender minorities and their families are welcomed and treated with respect and dignity in all aspects of the school community.

The Board understands that institutional and cultural change occurs over time and believes that the provision of an annual report at a public board meeting on progress related to the strategic directions and benchmarks identified in this policy will ensure accountability and demonstrate the District’s commitment to supporting our diverse communities.

The Milk Revolution at Westglen School

Last night at our board meeting we had a fantastic visit from a couple of Westglen students, their teacher and their principal to share with the board a very special initiative called “The Milk Revolution” that is a fun, healthy, creative example of schools implementing the District Priorities right in the classroom.

Check it out: http://themilkrevolution.blogspot.com/

Check it out!

In April 2011, grade four students at Westglen School began The Milk Revolution in an attempt to educate others about the amount of sugar in chocolate milk and to encourage them to make healthier choices.

BACKGROUND

During a health lesson, students watched a clip from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and learned that a 250 ml carton of chocolate milk contains a 26 g of sugar. They decided to take action by educating others about healthier choices when it comes to drinking milk. This action took several forms, including The Milk Revolution Blog and three episodes of MooTV.

CURRENT SITUATION

Westglen students have worked hard to spread their message. They involved other classes at their school and at neighbouring schools. They also shared their message with the Westglen Parent Association, Board Chair Dave Colburn and Assistant Superintendent Mark Liguori. Edmonton-based singer/songwriter, Kristilyn Roberston, wrote a song, “One Glass at a Time” in honour of The Milk Revolution. To date, The Milk Revolution blog has received over 27,000 hits from around the world. Jamie Oliver has been following along on Twitter, and included The Milk Revolution as a Blog of the Month on his Food Revolution website. By June 2011, students achieved their goal of reducing the amount of chocolate milk and increasing the amount of white milk consumed by students during the lunch hour by 60%.

1KEY POINTS

The Milk Revolution project created by Westglen students is aligned with the Board Priority to promote health and wellness for all students and staff and with the District Plan as it pertains to enhancing quality teaching practices and supports for diverse learners. This project is just one example of how district teachers facilitate flexible, innovative and personalized approaches to learning.

The Milk Revolution demonstrates the potential of a Universal Design for Learning approach in creating more accessible, flexible and engaging activities that meet the needs of a broad range of learners.

• Throughout The Milk Revolution, students acquired and demonstrated skills in 21st century learning, including critical and creative problem solving, collaboration, communication, effective use of technology, and digital citizenship.

The Milk Revolution is an example of the leadership role students can take in promoting health and wellness for all students and staff. This student-driven project promoted healthy food and beverage choices, encouraged students, staff and parents to examine their nutrition practices, and provided opportunities, support and encouragement for staff and students to eat healthy foods.

Ward Gathering #4: You are Invited! Healthy Kids, Healthy Schools, Healthy Communities November 3rd

Ward Gathering #4: You are Invited! Please RSVP michael@michaeljanz.ca

Further information on Walk to School Week October 3-7th

This post contains information sent to me from SHAPE- Safe, Healthy, Active, People Everywhere! Happy Walking!

International Walk to School Week

Every year over 40 countries participate in walk to school events during International Walk to School Week (October 3 – 7, 2011).    SHAPE provides ideas, posters and participant stickers for participating schools.

The majority of adults surveyed walked to school.   They don’t always remember the details but do remember the fun, adventure and companionship they felt.  They walked with siblings, neighbors and often stopped to pick up friends along the way.

Today in Alberta over 50% of students are driven to school.  Parents drive them for convenience, unsafe drivers and traffic concerns.  The result is traffic congestion in and around schools, unsafe crossings and students getting less physical activity.

Parents said they would let their children walk/cycle to school if there were safer/improved routes, reduced traffic dangers and they were not alone.  This is where SHAPE can assist schools with School Travel Planning, Event Days, Walking School Busses or Walking Buddies.

For more info visit us online at www.shapeab.com

EPSB Board Highlights 2010-2011

Edmonton Public School Board Highlights 2010-2011

Click to enlarge and view 2010 EPSB Priorities

Please take a look at the attached .jpg containing some of our highlights from the 2010-2011 year.

As the board reconvenes tomorrow for our first fall meeting, it is important to take a moment to reflect on what we have accomplished since November and look ahead at the year to come. I feel on many issues our board has made significant headway, but there is still much that I would like to accomplish.

As I wrote in my first blog post, our mental concentration can be like a flashlight beam. If you don’t focus your efforts and energies on the big issues that matter most, you can get derailed by administrivia and smaller, less-pressing matters.

What most needs doing?

I pose the question to you and encourage you to email me michael.janz@epsb.ca with your own suggestions and priorities. If you haven’t signed up for our Ward F newsletter, click here.

EPSB Board of Trustees

2010 – 2011 Highlights

The previous school year was a productive one for Edmonton Public Schools’ Board of Trustees. Trustees focused on engaging with Edmonton communities and ensuring all students have a safe and caring learning environment.

• Developed the new District vision, mission and set of priorities

• Introduced live webcasting of public board meetings (www.livestream.com/edmontonpublicschools)

• Imposed a two-year moratorium on school closures and initiated the formation of a School Closure Moratorium Committee to explore ways to keep schools open

• Created a Special Needs Task Force that provided recommendations to promote an inclusive learning environment for students with special needs

• Participated in the Community Sustainability Task Force

• First Board in Prairies to approve the development of a board policy on sexual orientation and gender identity to ensure a welcoming environment for all students and staff

• Established an Anti-Bullying Advisory Committee that provided recommendations to prevent bullying

• Re-prioritized capital plan to place a high priority on modernizing existing schools

• Continued work with all orders of government and other partners to advocate for adequate, predictable and sustainable funding for education

Outdoor Education and Edmonton Public Schools

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

Recently I had a chance to sit down with a very passionate Outdoor Education teacher at an EPSB Junior High. We had a great chat about our board’s 2010-2013 district priorities, how a robust outdoor education strategy could support these objectives, especially Priority #1, increasing our high school completion rate, and the formative role that outdoor education played in our own orienting stories.

Through Elementary school I was always more of a book worm than a jock, and was more often drawn to our computers (the brand new PowerMac in the basement replacing our old IIVX for those mac users out there) than the great oudoors.

Rocky Mountain YMCA Camp Chief Hector

Rocky Mountain YMCA Camp Chief Hector

Come Junior High, I had the opportunity to go with my class to Rocky Mountain YMCA, for a week-long school trip dedicated to outdoor pursuits. That week in the woods was an incredibly formative experience for me, gave me a can-do attitude about the outdoors, and in turn life, and further ignited a love of canoeing, camping, the outdoors, nature, and wildlife. Supported by a wonderful teacher, the late Mr. Richard Barbeau, I had the chance to share my particular outdoor transformation with the town paper, and present to my own school board about the value of the program. I was changed, and Mountain Equipment Co-op Catalogues soon became well-thumbed treasures as I worked with my family to plot out my next adventure. If it wasn’t for that outdoor education experience, I know my life would have taken a much different trajectory.

The outdoors are a place of wonder, reflection, and inquiry. They foster creativity, health, and a realization of our shared humanity in a fragile and intertwined biosphere. How can we teach students about the dangers of pollution when they lack understanding of the ecosystems at risk? How can we teach conservation when a generation grows up unfamiliar with why we must conserve?

Mill Creek Ravine

Mill Creek Ravine

In our increasingly litigious and fear-governed society, some districts have had to back away from outdoor education due to increased red-tape and costs that make certain programs prohibitive. I don’t want to see this be the case for Edmonton Public Schools. Reading this book made me so thankful for the preservation of our River Valley and the fact that in 20 minutes, any of us can be hidden in a secluded tree canopy, and apart from the occasional plane, we could forget that we are in the city at all!

I had the chance to read an amazing book this summer, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder” by Richard Louv. While this book is written predominantly in an American context, many of the lessons and ideas transcend the 49th parallel and are just as important to consider for Canadian educators and families today.

The book does a great job of giving an overview into why outdoor education is important, co-ciricular opportunities for integrating nature into all subjects, and a comprehensive list of 100 actions we can all take to bring the nature back into our own lives.

“When we take nature away from people, we take away their ability to be full human beings.”

Here is a project a few Educational Psychology students did on “Last Child in the woods”

If you have a chance, pick up the book. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

New District Priorities for Edmonton Public Schools

Thank you for your feedback on my thoughts about citizenship and Edmonton Public Schools. I was happy to support a new, clear, succinct Vision, Mission, and 5 key district priorities for the next three years.

This suite of priorities will now inform our budgetary decisions over few months as we have to make tough decisions regarding our disappointing 1% budget increase.

Vision

All students will learn to their full potential and develop the ability, passion and imagination to pursue their dreams and contribute to their community.

Mission

We work with families and community partners to provide safe, caring, healthy, diverse, inclusive and equitable learning experiences that engage students to achieve their full potential in an increasingly interdependent world.

District Priorities 2011-2014

  1. Provide supports and programs that will enable all students to complete high school.
  2. Deepen students’ understanding of equity and empathy as key citizenship traits.
  3. Ensure all students and their families are welcomed, respected, accepted and supported in every school.
  4. Promote health and wellness for all students and staff.
  5. Listen to staff, honour their contributions, and support their opportunities for collaboration, growth and professional development.

Citizenship and Edmonton Public Schools

How do you define citizenship? I think Equity and Empathy are two key traits necessary for our graduates in our complex world. Through my grade 11 and 12 years I served as a Rifleman in the Calgary Highlanders Infantry Reserve-- a life experience that certainly shaped how I think of citizenship. We had done a long march and this photo always makes me grin.

As we are going through the process of reviewing and promoting our district priorities we have been talking about many of the values and competencies we would like our graduates to posses when they are finished their time with us of citizenship in our public education system. To me, citizenship means much more than our students will pick up litter in a park or will remember to recycle pop cans. Too often it seems the idea of citizenship has been diluted to mean volunteering or being a good neighbour, just as “social service” too often becomes a replacement for “social justice”.

When I think of citizenship I think about more about the root word, and what does it mean to be a citizen; of a city, of a province, of a country– and more importantly, how can we help our graduates to view themselves as citizens of the world? How can we help them recognize that life is not about them, they are about life and that they are one in a line of many; a member of a species, grounded in a shared ecology and shared community on this planet.

The concept of citizenship also makes me think about the relationship between public education and democracy, and how I would like every graduate to leave, feeling that they are prepared to be a full-participant in our democratic process and if our students were eligible to vote, their voter turnout would be 100%. We don’t have mandatory military service in our country (and I don’t think we should), but I would hope our mandatory public education system leaves every graduate feeling truly a part of our shared future.

I was keyed into a recent speech by his worship the Aga Khan at the Lafontaine-Baldwin Lecture that Mayor Naheed Nenshi quoted from in his energizing speech to the Commonwealth Club of Canada. Incidentally, If you have not watched Mayor Nenshi’s incredible speech, it is absolutely worth the 30 minutes and can be viewed here.

During his speech, Naheed spoke about being Canadian, being a citizen, and the I thought I might share this Quote from his worship the Aga Khan:

Too often, democracy is understood to be only about elections – momentary majorities. But effective governance is much more than that. What happens before and after elections? How are choices framed and explained? How is decision-making shared? – so that leaders of different backgrounds can interactively govern – rather than small cliques rule autocratically.

We must go beyond the simple word “democracy” if we are to build a framework for effective pluralism.

This will mean writing more effective constitutions – informed by more sophisticated understandings of comparative political systems. It will mean explaining those arrangements more adequately – and adjusting and amending them. It will mean separating and balancing powers, structuring multi-tiered – and often asymmetrical – systems of federalism, and defining rights and freedoms – as Canada has learned to do. I would also point here to the experience of the largest democracy, India, which defines specific Constitutional rights for eight distinctive cultural groups, an approach which has been echoed in Malaysia. And we have seen how Kenya and Kyrgyzstan are moving now to decentralize power.

All of these institutional arrangements can help resolve political deadlock, build social coherence and avoid the dangers of “winner take all.” They can provide multiple levers of social influence, allowing individuals of every background to feel that they have “a stake in society” – that they can influence the forces that shape their lives.

These are fundamental questions of public education. I thought I would just share a few of the thoughts that have been bouncing around in my mind as our board has been reviewing our district vision, mission, and priorities.

Our district will be voting on the final cut of our district priorities on Tuesday evening and you can read the draft here:

http://www.epsb.ca/board/march08_11/item03.pdf

DRAFT:

Vision, Mission, and 2011-2014 District Priorities

All students will learn to their full potential and develop the ability, passion, and imagination to pursue their dreams and contribute to their community.

Mission

We work with families and community partners to provide safe, healthy, diverse, and equitable learning experiences that engage students to achieve their full potential in an increasingly interdependent world.

District Priorities 2011-2014

1. Provide supports and programs that enable all students to complete high school.

2. Deepen students’ understanding of equity and empathy as key citizenship traits.

3. Ensure all students and their families are welcomed, respected, accepted, and supported in every school.

4. Promote health and wellness for all students and staff.

5. Listen to staff, honour their contributions, and support their opportunities for growth and professional development.

The Aga Kahn Lecture continued: (Click to listen on CBC Ideas)

III. THE FUTURE; THE PATH AHEAD

This brings me to my third and final topic this evening, the path ahead – how we might better predict and prevent breakdowns, and encourage progress.

A. Institutional Concerns

On the institutional level, we can begin by looking at the structures of public governance.

Let me warn, first, against a naïve hope that simply advancing the concept of democracy will achieve our goals. Not so. The high count of failed democracies – including some 40 percent of the member states of the United Nations – should disabuse us of this notion.

Too often, democracy is understood to be only about elections – momentary majorities. But effective governance is much more than that. What happens before and after elections? How are choices framed and explained? How is decision-making shared? – so that leaders of different backgrounds can interactively govern – rather than small cliques rule autocratically.

We must go beyond the simple word “democracy” if we are to build a framework for effective pluralism.

This will mean writing more effective constitutions – informed by more sophisticated understandings of comparative political systems. It will mean explaining those arrangements more adequately – and adjusting and amending them. It will mean separating and balancing powers, structuring multi-tiered – and often asymmetrical – systems of federalism, and defining rights and freedoms – as Canada has learned to do. I would also point here to the experience of the largest democracy, India, which defines specific Constitutional rights for eight distinctive cultural groups, an approach which has been echoed in Malaysia. And we have seen how Kenya and Kyrgyzstan are moving now to decentralize power.

All of these institutional arrangements can help resolve political deadlock, build social coherence and avoid the dangers of “winner take all.” They can provide multiple levers of social influence, allowing individuals of every background to feel that they have “a stake in society” – that they can influence the forces that shape their lives.

How we define citizenship is a central factor in this story – but one that is newly in dispute. Even the well-established concept that citizenship belongs to everyone who is born on national soil has been questioned recently in parts of Europe and the United States – as attitudes to immigration intensify.

Independent judicial and educational systems are also essential to effective pluralism, and so are non-governmental agents of influence – the institutions of civil society. As we have seen, Kenya presents a positive case study in this regard, while civil society in Kyrgyzstan was largely marginalized during its crisis.

Independent news media are another key element. This is why our Network has been involved for fifty years in the media of East Africa, and why the Aga Khan University is planning to create there a new Graduate School of Media and Communications.

The value of independent media was summarized recently by a veteran Ghanian journalist, Kwane Karikari, who wrote of their

“…remarkable contributions to peaceful and transparent elections in Benin, Cape Verde, Ghana, Mali, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia; to post-conflict transitions … in Liberia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone; and to sustaining constitutional rule … in Guinea, Kenya and Nigeria.”

Finally, let me emphasize that healthy institutions will tap the widest possible range of energies and insights. They will optimize each society’s meritocratic potential, so that opportunity will reward competence, from whomever and wherever it may come – independent of birth or wealth or theology or physical power.

B. The Public Mindset

But institutional reforms will have lasting meaning only when there is a social mindset to sustain them.

There is a profound reciprocal relationship between institutional and cultural variables. How we think shapes our institutions. And then our institutions shape us.

How we see the past is an important part of this mindset.

A sense of historic identity can immensely enrich our lives. But we also know how myopic commitments to “identity” can turn poisonous when they are dominated by bad memories, steeped in grievance and resentment.

The marginalization of peoples can then become a malignant process, as people define themselves by what they are against. The question of “Who am I?” is quickly transformed into “Who is my enemy?”

Some would address this problem through a willful act of historical amnesia – but suppressing animosity can often produce future explosions. In Kenya, national history is largely missing from the public schools. And, in the absence of shared history, divided communities feed on their own fragmented memories of inter-tribal wrongs.

On the other hand, the value of confronting memory lies in catharsis, an emotional healing process. As we know, the Truth and Reconciliation Process has helped South Africans address deep social divisions, as has Chile’s Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago.

As societies come to think in pluralistic ways, I believe they can learn another lesson from the Canadian experience, the importance of resisting both assimilation and homogenization – the subordination and dilution of minority cultures on the one hand, or an attempt to create some new, transcendent blend of identities, on the other.

What the Canadian experience suggests to me is that identity itself can be pluralistic. Honouring one’s own identity need not mean rejecting others. One can embrace an ethnic or religious heritage, while also sharing a sense of national or regional pride. To cite a timely example, I believe one can live creatively and purposefully as both a devoted Muslim and a committed European.

To affirm a particular identity is a fundamental human right, what some have called “the right to be heard.”

But the right to be heard implies an obligation to listen – and, beyond that, a proactive obligation to observe and to learn.

Surely, one of the most important tests of moral leadership is whether our leaders are working to widen divisions – or to bridge them.

When we talk about diversity, we often use the metaphor of achieving social “harmony.” But perhaps we might also employ an additional musical comparison – a fitting image as we meet tonight in this distinguished musical setting. We might talk not just about the ideal of “harmony” – the sounding of a single chord – but also about “counterpoint.” In counterpoint, each voice follows a separate musical line, but always as part of a single work of art, with a sense both of independence and belonging.

Let me add one further thought. I believe that the challenge of pluralism is never completely met. Pluralism is a process and not a product. It is a mentality, a way of looking at a diverse and changing world.

A pluralistic environment is a kaleidoscope that history shakes every day.

Responding to pluralism is an exercise in constant re-adaptation. Identities are not fixed in stone. What we imagine our communities to be must also evolve with the tides of history.

As we think about pluralism, we should be open to the fact that there may be a variety of “best practices,” a “diversity of diversities,” and a “pluralism of pluralisms.”

In sum, what we must seek and share is what I have called “a cosmopolitan ethic,” a readiness to accept the complexity of human society. It is an ethic which balances rights and duties. It is an ethic for all peoples.

It will not surprise you to have me say that such an ethic can grow with enormous power out of the spiritual dimensions of our lives. In acknowledging the immensity of The Divine, we will also come to acknowledge our human limitations, the incomplete nature of human understanding.

In that light, the amazing diversity of Creation itself can be seen as a great gift to us – not a cause for anxiety but a source of delight. Even the diversity of our religious interpretations can be greeted as something to share with one another – rather than something to fear.

In this spirit of humility and hospitality – the stranger will be welcomed and respected, rather than subdued – or ignored.

In the Holy Quran we read these words: “O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord Who created you from a single soul …” …[and] joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace ye became brethren.”

As we strive for this ideal, we will recognize that “the other” is both “present” and “different.” And we will be able to appreciate this presence – and this difference – as gifts that can enrich our lives.

Let me conclude by emphasizing once again the urgency of this challenge. We are at a particularly complex moment in human history. The challenges of diversity are frightening for many people, in societies all around the world. But diversity also has the capacity to inspire.

The mission of the Global Centre for Pluralism is to look closely at these challenges – and to think hard about them. This will be demanding work. But as we go forward, we hope we can discern more predictably and preempt more effectively those conditions which lead to conflict among peoples. And we also hope that we can advance those institutions and those mindsets which foster constructive engagement.

The world we seek is not a world where difference is erased, but where difference can be a powerful force for good, helping us to fashion a new sense of co-operation and coherence in our world, and to build together a better life for all.

Thank you very much.