More education on genocide needed in Canada

Hard to argue against this but one wonders, with all the demands on curriculum, how educators will find time for meaningful treatment and the extent this complements or replaces existing Holocaust-based material which also had a broader perspective:

The tragic massacre of 50 Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, is one more horrific incident that confirms mass murder has spread to even the most peaceful of nations. Like a fire, massacres are fuelled by hate and ignorance, and are now broadcast through social media, with dozens of hate crimes reported daily around the world.

There is a chilling similarity to the underlying motives behind these global violent acts. Ignorance of “the other,” be it a racial or religious minority group, is often cited, leading to an unfounded fear of being “invaded” and overtaken by foreign cultures and values. Fear then devolves into a conviction that the foreign invader must be eliminated. This is justified by dehumanizing the community, labelling it as criminal and evil, or plotting a “white genocide.”

While we must denounce this senseless violence, we must do more than react. Ignorance and fear must be prevented through education of the next generation, before racist beliefs take root and destroy lives. As the founder of the Foundation for Genocide Education—made up of representatives from the Jewish, Rwandan, Armenian, and First Nations communities—I’m convinced that by teaching high school students about the consequences of hate, fear, and discrimination, future atrocities can be avoided. Our mission is to ensure that the study of all recognized genocides, and the steps leading to genocide, are made a permanent part of the high school curriculum across Canada.

My organization is not alone in recognizing the value of learning about genocide. In 2018, UNESCO published a policy guide on the importance of teaching genocide, specifically the Holocaust, as a means to prevent future atrocities, while helping the next generation to become responsible citizens who value human dignity. This is a step in the right direction, but the challenge remains translating theory into practice.

Shockingly, our foundation’s experience demonstrates that many Canadian students graduate high schools with little to no knowledge about past or present genocides.  Some don’t even know the definition of the word.

Teachers across the country have told us that they lack the resources, time, and confidence to effectively educate their classes about this sensitive subject. Eight countries to date have made the study of genocide compulsory as part of their high school curriculums, but no Canadian province has yet done so.

How can we expect our children to recognize the dangers of intolerance and racism without proper education? How can they identify and react to online racist propaganda if they are unaware of how the media has been used historically by extremist groups to spread hate and violence?

The foundation is now partnering with Quebec’s education ministry to create a comprehensive, universal guide on teaching genocide. Once test-piloted by teachers this September, the guide will be available in every high school in Quebec by 2020. Introduced with accompanying training workshops and educational videos, it will serve to significantly build on the basic concepts of genocide already in place in the curriculum. Teachers need to be supported with the knowledge, resources, and skills required to teach about genocide and human rights, and this guide accomplishes that.

With this and next month’s commemoration days of the Armenian, Jewish, and Rwandan genocides, it’s an opportune time to reinforce the message of the devastating impact of unchecked hate. To hear the stories of survivors of the Armenian genocide, the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, and the Holocaust, is to truly understand the chilling effects of racist propaganda that leads to dehumanization and, ultimately, genocide.

As a daughter of Holocaust survivors, I know all too well that we cannot afford to be complacent. My parents survived the Holocaust by hiding in attics and barns in Poland. My mother saw her own mother killed by machine gun in the squalid ghetto where Jews were forced to live before being deported to concentration camps such as Auschwitz. My family’s story is tragically not unique, and today’s students will undoubtedly benefit more from learning about these accounts than from the messages that are communicated by crazed white nationalist manifestos and live-streamed shooting of innocent victims.

By studying the consequences of unchecked hate, students will be equipped with the critical thinking skills to better understand racism and intolerance. We must not let another year go by without passing on this essential knowledge to our youth, the leaders of tomorrow.

Source: More education on genocide needed in Canada

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.

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