Head’s Blog: Millennials as Global Citizens

RSlogo-smallRecently, I attended the Heads’ and Reps’ Annual Regional Meeting (ARM) of Round Square. Our membership includes a diverse group of 40 schools across the Americas, which comprises Canada, USA, Mexico, the Caribbean and Latin America. In addition to planning and dialogue between schools, we also ask ourselves: what impact are our global education programs having on our students longer term?

One of our conference sessions included presentations and dialogue involving two impressive young adults formerly from Palmer Trinity, the host school in Miami. The two engaging twenty-something alumni addressed the topic of millennials as global citizens. Their perspectives were certainly interesting and noteworthy.

Andrea is a Mexican-American who graduated a year ago from Harvard and is on a coveted Fulbright Scholarship this year. She works directly with young marginalized Latino immigrants in the USA, many of them known as “DACA Dreamers”: born in the USA, but children of undocumented immigrants. There are approximately one million so-called dreamers across the country. They are currently under the threat of deportation by the Trump administration, which is the focus of much negotiation between Republican and Democratic leaders. In fact, this is the central issue that led to disagreements on funding several weeks ago and the subsequent two-day shutdown of the federal government due to a budget impasse.

The other student, Dax, is a Colombian-American who had lived in five South American countries before landing at Palmer Trinity in Miami for high school. He is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy. He noted that while living in Brazil as a boy, he witnessed horrendous environmental conditions in major cities, including raw sewage openly running down steep slopes into peoples’ homes, and serious pollution in the harbour of Rio de Janeiro. His concern for the environment led to the creation of an organization called the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES), which has inspired thousands of youth around the world to stand up and act on ways to improve the ways we treat, protect and conserve our precious oceans.

These young adults were clearly excellent students, but they also possessed more than just classroom smarts. During and following high school, they have been passionately engaged in social and environmental causes beyond traditional schooling.

In fact, both Andrea and Dax thanked their school for providing meaningful global opportunities that challenged their norms, their perspectives and day-to-day experiences. This included foreign exchanges, service opportunities and classes, such as the study of Buddhism that delved into the true meaning of compassion and empathy. They reiterated that these experiences today form the primary lasting and impactful memories of their high school years. They insisted that experiential and activity-based learning helped create more meaning and relevance for them as teens, which has stayed with them as they have grown older.

They remarked that those global experiences as students were also key in their personal development, as they helped expose them to difference and allowed them to see people as different, but equal. They expressed concern that in society at large these days, too many young people don’t really know much about people who are very different in terms of socio-economic class and life experience. Andrea was moved by an experience while at Palmer Trinity and on exchange in France. It was the simple fact that her exchange host in a public high school in France could never afford to go to a cinema for a movie unless she worked as a babysitter. This wasn’t Andrea’s experience, living an upper middle-class life in South Florida – it was a bit of a wake-up call.

Andrea and Dax reiterated that they are committed to service and improving their communities. Ultimately, they shared that true service is about people, and how to help those who are marginalized and on the fringes. Dax noted that perspective matters a lot and Palmer Trinity school helped him challenge his perspectives. Yet, he is concerned that information is now being disseminated online in a manner that is very targeted and divisive – so-called fake news, a development that is both important and dangerous.

There is a lot of talk these days about a “Facebook bubble”; only connecting with people like you online, sheltered from true diversity in rest of the world. Last week, I asked our students if they live in such a bubble? How and when are their views, values and priorities fundamentally challenged? Do they actually seek different perspectives, or are they living under the illusion that they can simply wait and start to do so when they get older?

It was powerful to see confident young adults – “millennials” – remark on what has had the most profound influence on their lives, their character and their priorities. It was a great reminder that embedding global experiences shouldn’t wait. Our students should feast on all the global opportunities afforded them because the lasting impact will be significant. Next fall’s Round Square International Conference theme is Bring Your Difference. My advice to students is that they should begin to seek and invite more difference into their lives now and they will certainly be richer for it. – Christopher Shannon, Headmaster

 

Head’s Blog: Better Sleep Hygiene in 2018

Alarm_ClockAs we slide into February, this is the time of year when most people who made New Year’s resolutions, realize that they cannot meet their stated goal. According to Huffington Post, less than 10% of resolutions are kept. The classic example is the crew referred to as the so-called “January Joiners” at fitness and health clubs who have completely disappeared by February. Sadly, most fall short simply because bad habits are very hard to break. It’s human nature; setting a new direction in life is very tough, especially when personal likes and preferences are already well established.

However, despite the challenge of changing a bad habit, I have openly asked all high school students to consider a new commitment for the balance of the school year. If achieved, this one change is probably the single most significant initiative our students can take to improve their lives – and one that I think they can all achieve, if only incrementally. So what am I asking them to do? Get more sleep!

I know that some students are really good about their sleep routines and I certainly commend those who have established good patterns. However, a recent study by researchers at San Diego State University in California tells us that almost a majority of students don’t get enough sleep. This study of 370,000 US teens was published in November. It confirmed a continuing and alarming trend where large numbers of teens in the US continue to trade sleep for increased screen time. And I don’t think that there would be major differences on this topic with young Canadians. The survey showed that more than 40% of all teens get less than seven hours of sleep a night, up from about only 20% in 2009. But medical specialists reiterate that all teens actually need nine hours of sleep a night for the well-being of their bodies, brain development, the deep embedding of learning at school, as well as their emotional well-being.

Over time, a continued lack of sleep is clearly linked to depression, short-temperedness, anxiety, and a host of other negative psychological challenges and physical effects that can notably diminish the teen body. Despite broad conceptual knowledge about the impact of sleep deprivation, current evidence shows that this negative trend continues to move in the wrong direction.

So I recently asked our high school students to be honest with themselves. If they’re not regularly getting nine hours of sleep a night, they actually need more. I urged them to stop wishing for more sleep, but to actually take steps to make it happen. As with most other bad habits, if they want to truly adopt change, real life dictates that they will have to start with baby steps, as vague promises are unachievable.

The studies have shown that too much digital screen time is not only stealing potential sleep time, but too much texting, social media or video-watching right before bed can also make it difficult to fall asleep. The blue light emitted is too stimulating and makes it hard for the body and brain to wind down quickly. Yes, something called “night-mode” exists on most phones and tablets. But the experts say it’s not enough. Brain and sleep experts suggest that adolescents should limit screen time and stop all screen exposure at least half an hour – and ideally one hour – before bed.

To avoid all temptation, cellphones should be in another room, and I urge our students to return to an old-fashioned alarm clock rather than full dependence on their smartphones.

A book is also a good way to wind down while feeding the brain before bed. It’s surely a good habit to continue or pick up.

So as we move forward into 2018, I urge our students to forget false commitments to become fitness fanatics, or implement an unlikely broad overhaul of their diets. Instead, they should take some simple achievable steps toward better sleep “hygiene.” The impact could be significant. In only a matter of days they will feel better and notice improvements in all aspects of their lives. – Christopher Shannon, Headmaster

 

 

 

 

Head’s Blog: A Social Tsunami

Gender_equality_symbol_(clipart)The evidence is everywhere: a social tsunami is having a major impact all across North America and things will surely never be the same anywhere.

I am talking about the extraordinary impact on the North American workplace since the so-called Harvey Weinstein scandal. Clearly, as an influential Hollywood film producer, Weinstein took advantage of his powerful position to make inappropriate sexual advances toward young actresses trying to get a break in the film industry. Everyone seemed to reluctantly accept this as the way Hollywood worked. However, dozens of courageous women came forward and shone a bright light on Weinstein’s unacceptable behaviour. The evidence mounted to the point that the board of his own film company fired him and, quite appropriately, his reputation has been permanently stained.

Along with Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace, many other powerful men have been impacted: several senior corporate figures, Matt Lauer, host of the Today Show, Charlie Rose and Bill O’Reilly, once respected TV hosts and interviewers, and several senior American and Canadian public figures and politicians have all been held accountable. Even the American president has been accused of inappropriate behaviour toward women. And whether he likes it or not, no one is above reproach. Men in positions of power are falling from their perches of influence all across North America.

In Canada, women from all walks of life and all sectors of our economy are also coming forward to say no to inappropriate sexual comments, overt sexual harassment and even sexual assault.

The #MeToo movement is truly a tsunami that includes the voices of women who are actresses, politicians, lawyers, waitresses, police officers, teachers and many other professionals. Essentially, women are grabbing the opportunity to come together and be heard all across the continent. According to many writers and social commentators, this seems to be a “watershed moment.”

This was reinforced in December when Time magazine named its person of the year for 2017. Rather than a single person, Time singled out what it calls “the silence-breakers” – women who had the courage to launch a broad social movement. In that article, the Time staff writes:

This reckoning appears to have sprung up overnight, but has actually been simmering for years, decades, centuries. Women have had it with bosses and co-workers who not only cross boundaries, but don’t even seem to know they exist. They’ve had it with men who use their power. These silence-breakers have started a revolution of refusal.

So what does this social tsunami mean for our students, especially the teenagers? Well, first they need to be aware of it and come to their own conclusions about its impact on society at large. But in terms of day-to-day life, I believe all this is an important reminder about the need for civility between all people. Despite enormous gains for women in the past fifty years in the workplace, at universities, in professions, it tells us that true and complete equity has still not been forged. For me, it reinforces the significant importance of our coed learning environment that we should never take for granted. This is where our students establish their foundations, values and norms. LCC is quite intentionally a coed school for a coed world with boys and girls working shoulder-to-shoulder, equal in every way. Respect between girls and boys as peers, as equals, is not simply something we talk about. Our students live it; it is fundamental to their daily reality. Establishing an environment of true equity is a critical part of what we do in our learning community.

I am not naïve and do not believe that boys and girls are in agreement all the time any more than different personalities (male or female) are always inclined to agree. However, I believe quite deeply that the two genders supporting, challenging and living together, is the best environment for learning and, during the formative teen years, provides real-world experiences that are meaningful. I assert that true equity and true respect begin with our expectations and daily habits and norms right here and, thankfully, these are reinforced day in and day out by passionate educators. For this reason, there is enormous value in this coed learning environment that our students will carry with them decades beyond life at LCC.

This situation, this social tsunami, has no formal name, but courageous women have given it a voice. Whether it’s #MeToo or #Time’sUp, this movement for greater gender equity and justice is a long overdue phenomenon, one that I’ve openly asked our high school students to discuss in classes, advisories and at our lunch tables. They are the young people who will define and help to build a better LCC and a better Canada. So let’s be proactive and talk about this issue and solidly build on our community’s commitment to a core platform of respect for all.

Think about this and how together we can build an ongoing and meaningful conversation about equity and social justice for girls and boys, women and men, as peers and advocates. What a great New Year’s resolution for 2018! – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster

Head’s Blog: Montreal Smog & COP23

chimney-1705977_1280Returning to Montreal by car recently from a weekend out of town, I was disappointed to hear that our city was cloaked in an official smog warning. Many of us may be inclined to associate smog with summer heat and visible thick, orange haze. However, Montreal actually experiences more smog alerts during late fall and winter than we do during the summer. This is because of a combination of heavy cold air and light winds that trap pollution close to the ground.

The City of Montreal posts a daily Air Quality Index or AQI. It specifically measures levels of carbon and sulphur dioxide, ozone and fine particulate in the air. In recent years, air quality in Montreal has actually improved significantly, especially compared to emissions levels in the mid-1990’s. The two most recent factors leading to improvements occurred in 2014: the closure of a large oil refinery in the east end of Montreal and the shutdown of several coal-powered plants in Ontario and the US Midwest. Experts estimate that air quality in Ontario and the US states that border Canada are actually responsible for 60% of the pollutants in our air. So, we should care about policies and practices outside of Quebec.

Currently, the biggest contributor to smog in Montreal is wood-burning stoves and fireplaces. I was surprised to learn that they represent approximately 40% of the problem when compared to vehicles, which represent just over 20% of local emissions. To address this, new laws have been passed and traditional fireplaces need to be registered and upgraded by October 1, 2018, with most people moving to units that cleanly burn propane or natural gas.

How about the international scene and global warming? The 2015 UN Climate Conference “COP21” received a lot of attention a couple of years ago with the signing of the Paris Accord. It was deemed a significant international achievement because of its objective to significantly reduce emissions globally. The USA, with its massive economy, signed that accord. Yet, the Trump administration supports the coal industry and does not acknowledge global warming as a real threat. Consequently, it has declared it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which has alarmed many.

On the positive front, over the past several years the world has actually diminished CO2 emissions levels that contribute to global warming. But, 2017 has been a year where it appears that that trend has stalled and the world has actually slightly increased emissions.

China is a signatory of the Paris Agreement and is also the world’s leader in the development of renewable technologies. However, a drought there last summer diminished levels of rivers and the capacity of renewable hydro facilities to produce enough clean power to satisfy demand. So, the country was forced to turn to coal to meet power needs. India is another large country that has managed to limit the growth of emissions. Yet, forecasters wonder if that can be maintained long-term, given the growing middle class and greater demand for electricity. Given some unforeseen circumstances that have contributed to higher emissions in 2017, will this be a blip or a long-term trend? Nobody is certain about this.

Last week, environment ministers from around the world wrapped up another major UN Environment meeting in Bonn, Germany called COP23, which ended on a positive note. Canada’s Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, explained that she is part of an alliance of nations determined to completely eliminate coal-powered electricity. Canada has set the year 2030 as the year we aim to achieve this, and we hope to bring several other countries on board.

Eliminating coal-powered electricity will partly be possible due to innovation and falling costs of renewable power. Also, despite US President Trump’s support of coal and denial of climate change science, a lot of important players in the US are actually openly stepping up to combat the president’s position. Mayors of many major cities, state governors and a host of businesses are committed to reducing emissions and the impact of climate change, regardless of what the federal government does.

So, we should all pay attention to the news on climate change. Read about COP23 — there are significant developments afoot with many people and nations striving to find ways to improve the situation. Let’s remember, it’s our collective future we’re talking about here; avoidance and inaction will not solve the problem. – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster

Head’s Blog: Precious Water

faucet-2895592_1280In October, I had the privilege of being one of over a thousand student and adult delegates at the Round Square International Conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

A significant take-away from that experience relates to H2O or water, something that we have in abundance here in Canada, but an important resource that we all largely take for granted.

This is not the case in Southern Africa. Any visitor to Cape Town is immediately made aware that there is a water crisis that has affected the region because of a severe drought for the past five years. This is a place where baths are no longer permitted (plugs have been removed from all tubs in hotels) and showers are now limited to a maximum of 2 minutes.

The city of Cape Town is taking many steps to manage the crisis, yet officials are not certain that they will work. It has adopted a scenario called the new normal”, declaring the city a permanent drought region and mandating that every citizen change his/her relationship with water by simply consuming less. It has also unveiled a new Critical Water Shortage Disaster Plan in an attempt to avert an even more severe scenario in the future.

As it stands, Cape Town currently only has about 25% of the water that the city requires, and significant changes and reduction levels are being imposed on individuals, families, and institutions such as schools, universities and hospitals.

The city currently uses 618 million litres of water per day, and unless consumption is soon reduced to no more than 500 million litres/day, then the city’s water source could run dry before the end of March, only four months from now.

The municipality is limiting water consumption to 350 litres/day per household in certain cases and strict enforcement measures are being introduced, including fines and other consequences. One option being considered is extreme water pressure reduction across the whole city and to start rationing water with localized temporary shutdowns across different sectors of the city. More recycling of “grey water” will also be mandated. If the city slips into the “disaster stage” or “extreme disaster” stage, the city tap system would be turned off and people will only receive limited amounts of water at designated collection points, primarily for drinking.

Exposure to all of this made me reflect on our relationship to water here in Montreal. As Canadians, we have plenty of this increasingly precious resource. Yet that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be preserving it more. Unfortunately, on a global scale, we are actually water gluttons. On average each Quebecer consumes about 400 litres of water per day. We are the second largest consumers of water per person in the world, and we consume twice as much as the average European. So, perhaps we should start a new relationship with water ourselves.

On our west coast, the city of Vancouver decided to focus on reducing water consumption over a decade ago and has experienced success (reduction of 20+%). Yet, it is Australia that leads the world in conservation practices. These examples reinforce that we can do better here.

This week, I asked all of our high school students to show greater affinity with Round Square schools in South Africa by trying a week of 2-minute showers. I hope this first step goes well and will lead to further conservation initiatives. – Christopher Shannon (Pre-U ’76), Headmaster