“Public education is a journey. It is about the preservation of democracy, the liberation of the human spirit, and the self-fulfillment of our youth. It enables our society to maintain its heritage and cultural traditions. It readies our citizens to face future challenges and achieve positive results. Finally, it prepares young people with an understanding of today’s knowledge to build and sustain our communities in the unknown challenges of tomorrow.” — Education and Our Future: A Road Map to Innovation and Excellence, 2007 report commissioned by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Department of Education
In 2010, recognizing the importance of fostering a generation of youth educated on crucial global issues and equipped with critical minds, Beth Peddle, a 19-year-old undergrad from St. John’s studying French and education at Memorial University, joined a group of her peers to embark on a collaborative project to create a learning resource for high school teachers in Newfoundland and Labrador to educate their students about “glocal justice”.
Glocal justice is a term used to describe the “think global, act local” principle in the context of social justice. Applied to education, it’s a holistic framework and approach to educating and empowering youth to meet the major challenges we face today, like poverty and inequality, climate change and human rights, to name a few.
Now 23, Peddle is nearing completion of her Master of Education degree at MUN, where she’s focusing her attention on program evaluation, which deals with “taking a systemic research approach to judging the merit of the efficiency of a program,” she explained. She also recently accepted her first teaching job and is about to commence her second term at Beaconsfield Junior High in St. John’s.
“By youth, for youth”
But Peddle’s career work really began during her undergrad, years before she would have the opportunity to engage students as a teacher in the province’s public school system.
The Global Citizenship Initiative (GCI) was initiated by MUN students in 2007. It aimed to inspire and empower youth to engage in important local and global issues. Peddle was a member of the GCI’s volunteer team that began researching and developing the Glocal Justice resource, a tool for teachers instructing the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District Grade 11 elective Ethics and Social Justice.
A “by youth, for youth” project, the online resource offers teachers an easy and accessible way to engage students in some of the more complex but pressing issues and topics of our time.
“At the time we were aged 19 to 25, so we were recently in the school system, we were familiar with what youth are most interested in, how youth learn, really connected to that community and still working with youth on a daily basis in extracurricular activities,” she explained. “So this resource was actually created by a combination of pre-service educators—which is what they call people who are doing their Bachelor of Education—and then people who have a little bit of content expertise, so people with political science degrees, people with sociology degrees, people with cultural studies degrees.”
Peddle said one of the challenges for high school teachers instructing the Ethics and Social Justice course is that becoming a teacher requires specializing in “teachable” subjects. “Math, social studies, history, geography — your conventional subjects,” she explained. “You can’t do a background in social justice or global issues or ethics or philosophy or sociology, or anything in the area of this course — none of those things are considered teachable subjects. So you might luck out with a teacher who’s done a bunch of their electives in one of those subjects, or who’s studied it extracurricularly, read a bunch of novels about it. But for the most part teachers are not trained to teach ethics and social justice.
“When you assign a teacher something they have no experience with, it’s a lot harder for them, it puts extra stress on their life, and they’re going to shape it based on their background,” she continued, explaining teachers using the Glocal Justice resource have everything laid out for them. “So I figured this is a good opportunity for us to fill a gap, because some resources have been provided by the department, and there are tons out there on the Internet but they take forever to find — it’s such a time commitment to track down the best resources, to screen them, to make sure the content is accurate and appropriate, and all that.”
After engaging the Department of Education in a dialogue about the project, Peddle said her group was optimistic it could develop the resource in a way that would teach glocal justice effectively, within the course’s mandate, and while meeting the department’s requirements.
“They have certain standards at the department which make a lot of sense,” Peddle said. “We had to be inclusive, so we couldn’t have all of our [lessons] be writing exercises or everything be oral exercises, for example. We had to be aware of people’s different learning styles, which is something that an everyday classroom teacher has to keep in mind with every lesson they design.”
Teaching important topics, meeting students’ (and teachers’) needs
Through eight units and 30 “solid lesson plans,” Peddle explained, the resource begins by introducing the foundations of social justice and social activism, then explores issues like globalization, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and gender equality, fair trade, climate change and the environment and, in keeping with the course’s original mandate as a religious studies class, belief systems and how they influence our perspectives and the decisions we make.
“It’s kind of an introduction, but not in a general textbook kind of way. It’s not a bunch of definitions,” Peddle explained, describing the first unit. “We focus a lot on, what are some facets of social justice? So there’s an article there about an activist locally, who wrote a paragraph and did a video talking about activism and things you can get involved with. Then we did provincial issues and we did women’s rights; at the time the government announced it was coming out with a big women’s rights campaign, so we did a little profile article about the Iris Kirby House. And then, as a national issue, there was an article, I think from Maclean’s or the Globe & Mail, about Canadian poverty, on how the biggest cities…have more poverty and crime than one would expect. And then there’s an article about child soldiers from Sierra Leone.
“So we’ve done it so that it’s local, national and global so they can tie it together.”
The resource also avails of three core media for learning in order to account for and integrate different learning styles, Peddle explained.
“One is project-based — there are no tests, just two little quizzes in there to make sure you’ve caught some points about what fair trade is and what climate change is, for instance, but a lot of it is project-based, so working with other people to develop communication and collaboration skills,” she said, explaining students are encouraged to follow their own interests within those groups.
We want to encourage people to develop respect for dialogue. —Beth Peddle
“A lot of it is personal reflection, so we acknowledge that the students will have very different experiences with different issues. Some may have never heard of this particular concept or this particular injustice, and others will have lived it in their families or in their neighbourhood and that sort of thing, so we have a lot of personal reflection and some journaling, but the journaling can be done as blogs or in an actual journal. And the other thing we have is actual discussion — we want to encourage people to develop respect for dialogue.”
Unlike most high school resources, Glocal Justice introduces students to concepts and frameworks of knowledge typically taught in sociology, anthropology, ethics and philosophy.
“There isn’t a lot of opportunity for students to pursue that in high school and get an introduction to it,” she said. “If they landed in a sociology course in university it’s often by accident or by random curiosity and not because they know they’re passionate about that issue.”
Though Peddle said the ideas and lessons aren’t compartmentalized into those post-secondary academic disciplines.
“There aren’t places in the resource where it talks about, this is a sociology theory or this is a sociology topic,” she explained. “So it doesn’t explicitly name philosophy or sociology or anthropology, and partially so it doesn’t alienate the teachers. We want to make everything as hands-on and accessible as possible for both teachers and students.”
Peddle said the prompting questions featured in the lessons will guide teachers who may be unfamiliar with a particular topic. “We’ve got a section about LGBTQ rights in Canada, and we have a timeline of when certain rights were finally granted, and some of the rights that are still not yet granted,” she explained. “So it’s all laid out for teachers in that way — they don’t have to worry about not knowing.”
Available to teachers, one way or another
The resource is currently available online, and also in the Department of Education’s hands, said Peddle.
“They’re looking at it, and there are certain ways they share resources so they’re looking at what’s most appropriate. I think they’re excited about it.
I strongly believe that the factors that make you who you are and how you view the world when you’re an adult are solidified pretty early on, and our schools are really the place where that happens. —Beth Peddle
Whatever the outcome, the resource is already online and available for teachers to reference, said Peddle.
“If the department doesn’t have a place for me in this project, that’s fine with me because it’s on the Internet and I’ll share it in other ways,” she added. “I’ll contact other youth and social justice organizations and have them spread it as well.
“Sometimes teachers are more receptive to things they come across themselves, or that are passed from a friend, than something that’s handed to them in that big binder that they get on the first day of class,” she continued. “It can be overwhelming, so to have a friend endorse it might actually be more effective.”
Peddle makes a strong case for the resource’s adoption, however — particularly in the context of the major challenges and global crises today’s youth are unavoidably facing.
“I strongly believe that the factors that make you who you are and how you view the world when you’re an adult are solidified pretty early on, and our schools are really the place where that happens,” she said, explaining students don’t always develop insight and balanced perspectives on important global issues at home.
“We do get a lot of that from our families, but if our families aren’t talking to us about these issues, or if we’re getting one particular perspective and not a balanced perspective from them, then schools are really the crucial piece to our understanding of the world, our perspective on controversial issues and things like that,” she continued. “So I’ve always wanted to work within and with the school system to make it the best possible shaper of our students and our youth, because I think that’s the best chance of them being active citizens and voting and being critical about how they vote.”
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