Adrienne Clarkson on the anguish of not belonging

Adrienne Clarkson on citizenship in her Massey Lectures this fall. Worth reading and reflecting upon:

It was in attending public school that I truly felt a sense of place in this country. Still today I believe that a public education is the single most valuable institution that our society provides to help people belong. If we are going to continue to accommodate newcomers into society, we must continue to have well-funded public education—education paid for by the state, free for all citizens. This has been key to our success ever since our humble beginnings. Without public education, we cannot have a cohesive society, a society with shared values. Without public education, we cannot continue to fulfill the public good—that is, the internationalization and the continuation of our key notions and values from one generation to the next. We can do all of this only in a democratic structure, where all children are treated as equal, regardless of income. That is how people really learn to belong. That is what public education does. We want people who will take their place in our society, but that means we must make sure there are no barriers to inclusion for people who come here.

So belonging is essential to us in Canada. We select our immigrants with the idea that they will become citizens. Immigrants are future citizens, and we recognize them as citizens in the making. As Aristotle said in Physics, “With respect to what is eternal, there is no difference between being possible and being.” New citizens take on the same responsibilities as existing citizens: obeying laws, paying taxes, voting. And once a new citizen is adopted into the family of fellow citizens, he must accept the good with the bad, both past and present, in order to contribute to and help shape the future. Canada is the land of our ancestors, as it says in our national anthem, and we are each and every one of us adopted by those ancestors. Newcomers are not invited to this country to spend a few years working, only to depart like migrants. Migrant is a very ugly word, and it should have no place in the Canadian vocabulary. Immigrant is the Canadian word. And citizenship is central to our immigration policy.

I truly believe that you can find a place to belong, as long as there is a negligible amount of force against you. I was lucky to come to this country, where we operate in an atmosphere of benevolent neglect: We are left alone to get on with our lives. This is where perseverance and generosity come in. Canadians are generous, even when they don’t know it. To me, this flexibility is the generosity that leads to gross national happiness, because it allows people to persevere through hard times and come out on the other side.

Refreshing recognition and advocacy of the efficacy and value of the more flexible, accommodative approach than the desire for more narrow and prescriptive Cartesian clarity.

Adrienne Clarkson on the anguish of not belonging.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

2 Responses to Adrienne Clarkson on the anguish of not belonging

  1. Victoria says:

    Thank you, Andrew, for this which will be the next book I read for my reading list. 🙂

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