what do we stand for in the 21st century

Several hundred Yukon teachers, educational assistants, tutors and First Nation language instructors will gather next week at Porter Creek Secondary School.

Several hundred Yukon teachers, educational assistants, tutors and First Nation language instructors will gather next week at Porter Creek Secondary School. These professionals who serve the more than 5,000 kindergarten through Grade 12 students in our territory’s 28 schools will be attending their two-day biennial Yukon Teachers’ Association (YTA) Conference. They will have some 150 sessions to choose from over that time.

Many of the conference topics focus on ways to improve teaching skills or understanding new pedagogical approaches, like Building Numeracy Skills in Mathematics or Using Promethean Technology to Enhance C3 (Critical, Creative and Collaborative) Inquiry.

Still other sessions take a distinctly psychological approach to enhancing a teacher’s knowledge of student behaviours like Understanding the Teen Brain: a Construction Zone or Rest in a Restless World: Addressing Anxiety in Children and Youth.

Tamara Strijack, a registered clinical counsellor working on Vancouver Island, offers the following description for this latter presentation: “Our world is not an easy place to live. More and more children and adolescents are being affected in various ways reacting not only to the alarming world around them, but often to their own internal alarm. Understanding the roots of anxiety helps us to make sense of the child’s experience and informs how we respond as parents, teachers and caregivers. From a developmental perspective, the dynamics of alarm and attachment are inherent to anxiety and its related challenges: sleep problems, learning difficulties, attention deficits, aggression, depression to name a few.”

The YTA Conference has gathered all of these topics under the title What Do We Stand for in the 21st Century?

Conference organizers obviously could answer “teaching excellence,” but it seems much more is implied by their conference title. The sense of general anxiety pervading our society that can certainly be attributed in great part to the increasingly alarming world that Strijack refers to demands that relaying values and visions be part of a teacher’s basic approach to their task, no matter what subject they teach.

Professor Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia shared his own anxieties right off the bat at the annual Maddison lecture at the MacBride Museum last Wednesday night.

His talk, Who owns the Arctic?, began with his recounting of the dramatic changes he has seen occurring in the Arctic right now. The fact that by 2013, Byers believes, the Arctic will be seasonally ice free means it is being opened up to possible intensive resource exploitation, maritime traffic and, as a result, our attention.

Professor Byers posits reasons for it that are undisputable and frightening. He cited that in his lifetime there has been a 40 per cent increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a 30 per cent increase in ocean acidity and a 50 per cent reduction in sea ice. With the removal of multi-year sea ice a negative feedback loop has been set up. Ice, he noted reflected back 90 per cent of the sun’s energy but now the dark, open Arctic waters act like an energy-holding sponge further accelerating global warming. Byers puts it very bluntly, from his personal observations and the accumulating mountain of scientific data, to deny climate change is akin to denying gravity!

To fail to prepare the Yukon generation currently being schooled to face a world confronting not only climate change and all its implications but the consequences of our resource wasting profligacy, the glaring gap between rich and poor, and a myriad of other concerns is irresponsible. A head-in-the-sand posture on these is downright dangerous.

We need to know what we stand for and act decisively on our beliefs.

It would probably be worthwhile for the many candidates aspiring to public office in our October 11th territorial election to take Strijack’s session. The Yukon electorate has a lot to worry about. Blindly imagining that just more of the same policies or further abandoning our fate to market forces hoping somehow that these non-efforts will magically reverse the ominous trend lines casts our future to the wind.

We desperately need calm hands on the levers of power and leaders with a clear, positive vision of the future to lessen our collective anxiety. We also need educators to give our students the tools, vision and hope that they need to truly face tomorrow’s challenges.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.