Our society is under serious strain right now.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought out the worst in some people, particularly on social media. No longer do we give people the benefit of the doubt. Rather, we automatically assume the worst about those who disagree with us.
On one side, we have the COVID deniers who think this virus is a hoax. They argue that the government created a fake pandemic in order to permanently strip Canadians of their rights.
On the other side, we have the hardcore lockdown advocates. They think that governments should simply lockdown everything until the COVID case count drops to zero.
These are the people who call government snitch lines to complain about wholesome activities, such as kids tobogganing on a nearby hill. In their mind, anything fun counts as a gathering and must be shutdown.
To be honest, neither group sounds like they’d be much fun at a party. Perhaps it’s good that gatherings aren’t allowed right now. People in these two camps are too critical of each other.
But one thing both groups have in common is a shared obsession with COVID-19. Needless to say, this obsession does not make for a healthy political dialogue. It’s tough to have a civil discussion with someone who seems to be out to destroy your way of life.
Sadly, there is a lot of misinformation being circulated by both sides. We are finding out just how little some people know about basic things, such as which level of government is responsible for healthcare and how vaccines work. Some don’t even know how to write a coherent paragraph.
This is why we need schools. If students don’t acquire a strong knowledge base and learn how to think critically while in school, they probably won’t pick these things up afterwards. In other words, we need to get serious about educating our children.
School is the place where people from all walks of life gather together on a daily basis. This is where students encounter people who are different from themselves and where they are forced to learn about things outside their comfort zone. Contrary to what some progressive educators think, learning is hard and it doesn’t come naturally.
It’s important that students learn how to tell the difference between reliable and unreliable sources of information. They need to distinguish fact from fiction. As we’ve seen during this pandemic, people are far too easily sucked into crazy conspiracy theories. Of course, this must not continue.
In order for teachers to do their jobs effectively, parents need to trust them. This won’t happen if it looks like teachers are using their position to indoctrinate students.
For example, taking students to climate change rallies or getting them to write one-sided letters to politicians is a surefire way to breed mistrust in schools. Just because a teacher is passionate about a particular cause doesn’t mean that all of his or her students feel the same way.
If we are going to create common ground, we need to raise the level of discourse. This can only happen if people, including teachers, are reasonably well-educated.
Now more than ever, we need to ensure that schools are places of education, not indoctrination. The stakes are too high for us to do anything else.
Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher, a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, and author of A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.