Head’s Blog: Four Flags

IMG_0789If you walk by the front door of LCC’s main school building, you will note that we proudly fly four flags: Canada, Québec, LCC and Round Square. The final one requires some consideration. Although we are a member of many school associations, Round Square is more than a membership; it represents an ethos that underscores our approaches to education. Why is this significant?

Round Square is a global association of nearly 200 schools inspired by Kurt Hahn, an influential educator in Europe pre-WWII. He was a visionary who believed that it is concrete experiences beyond the classroom that have the most profound impact on student growth. Even in the 1930s, he was concerned about what he called “decays” in youth, especially regarding compassion, curiosity and the potential toxicity of entitlement. Hahn was adamant that the adolescent mind was too focused on the self and needed to be shaken and challenged by active learning experiences.

All Round Square schools dedicate time and attention to what have become key areas of focus, the RS IDEALS. This represents a commitment to Internationalism, Democracy, Environmentalism, Adventure, Leadership and Service. These foundational elements exist in all Round Square schools, from Canada to India to Thailand and Argentina, but always interpreted through a local lens.

If one looks at the Round Square flag, the organization’s name is there, but it is off centre, quite intentionally. A key objective of the Round Square ethos is to provide experiences that challenge students’ norms. When grappling with new ideas or experiences, students do broaden and shift their perspectives, preparing them to be more competent and confident global citizens.

During the past decade, membership in Round Square has had a significant impact on LCC students and our school. Through thoughtful discussion and a wide array of concrete experiences (international exchanges, conferences, service, leadership training) students have grown and developed in ways that are profound and lasting.

So now we are ready to welcome the world. In late September of 2018, LCC will host the Round Square International Conference, inviting approximately 450 student and adult delegates from 65-70 schools from around the world. Under the thematic banner of “Bring Your Difference”, together we will investigate the meaning and importance of diversity in today’s world. For a full week, our extended school community will come together to act as hosts and we look forward to everyone’s contribution. Reflect on this next time you walk by our four flags. Perhaps the concrete experience will push us all a little off centre and we will surely be the better for it!

Head’s Blog: In Defence of Truth

Do you always tell the truth? Probably not. In fact, I’m sure you don’t because none of us does. Honestly, people stretch, cover-up or mangle the truth for a host of reasons all the time, many of which are justifiable and humane.

For reasons of tact, compassion or diplomacy, we are all usually quite prepared to lie. Just to be nice, we tell a friend recovering from a serious illness that he/she looks okay, when in our heart of hearts we don’t believe it. You may not like your close friend’s outrageous new outfit, but as a true friend you will most often be inclined to offer a compliment to avoid hurting them for no good reason.

We are often forced to hide, soften, stretch, or maybe even misrepresent certain difficult truths in an effort to protect people, to not embarrass them in a public way. My mother used to call these white lies. We were taught at home that they were essentially okay, understandable and justifiable.

Yet, there isn’t a person alive who hasn’t bent the truth or presented a half-truth for personal gain or to get out of something you didn’t want to do. So, beyond white lies, the question is: how far will you go with stretching or bending the truth?

Unfortunately, lying to get your way can work or appear to work for you. But just because you manage to get away with it once – or even a few times – does not mean that it’s a good way to live because the truth matters.

We all need to accept responsibility for our actions, our behaviours, our general comportment and self-regulation. It is no surprise to you that baseline honesty or truthfulness is a key pillar of good citizenship, and a consistent record of honesty and dependability impacts one’s overall personal integrity and what we tend to refer to as character and one’s reputation. Honesty and consistency of behaviour help build a sense of trust, which is critical to stable friendships and harmonious family, work and community relations. It actually takes a long time to forge a solid reputation. However, if one becomes known for being a liar, all that you’ve built can collapse overnight.

I recently heard an interesting podcast by a Stanford University education professor and psychologist, Dr. Bill Damon. This noted psychologist has studied many attributes of human behaviour and has identified a trend in North America. More and more people seem to be lying primarily in an effort to boost their ego or simply for personal advantage in an increasingly competitive society.

Obviously, that’s not a good development. Professor Damon expresses a concern as a psychologist, that people who are inclined to lie about things are actually also being self-deceptive. They need to realize that his research also shows that such people are generally less competent, which can be very destructive in the long run. In essence, lying to yourself or to others catches up to you. Not facing the truth head-on is an easy way out but it doesn’t pay off in the long run.

Professor Damon’s work reminds us about the importance of foundational ideals such as honesty. He says that we often need to work hard to get to the truth. He also asserts that we need to defend the value of conversation, reasoning, debate, discovery, insight and, ultimately, the defence of truth, especially in schools where learning and ideas are paramount. If we were to allow lying and the law of the jungle to dominate, it will surely undermine our community and social fabric.

As you know, there’s a lot of talk these days about “fake news” – the fact that your inbox and social media networks are full of information expressly designed to deceive you or pull you over to the position of a particular friend, interest group or politician. So, discerning truth from falsehood – and the courage to defend the truth, is indeed honourable and principled – is now perhaps more important, yet more difficult than ever.

You can be certain that the defence of truth is what our founder Dr. Fosbery envisioned for his school in 1909 and was what our Canadian forefathers envisioned for this country 150 years ago as a key virtue for a free society. So I urge you today to stand up for honesty. Don’t deceive yourself; your personal development, your reputation and our society’s greater good all depend upon it!

Head’s Blog: Pink Shirt Day

Pink_Shirt_DayIt was Pink Shirt Day on Wednesday all across Canada. It’s an initiative that was started some years ago by two courageous boys in a high school in Nova Scotia. They openly and actively defended a new student, a younger boy in grade 9, who was taking heat from some students for wearing pink. In an act of solidarity and support, the two senior boys got their hands on dozens of pink t-shirts and issued them to boys as they entered the school one morning.

From those roots, Pink Shirt Day developed into a national awareness campaign against bullying. In addition to wearing pink, participants are asked to practice acts of kindness and do whatever they can to minimize physical, emotional and online bullying in their communities.

Pink Shirt Day is a call to action to students to build awareness and defend weaker kids whenever and wherever they can.

This campaign reminds me of some striking experiences I had a few years ago while visiting public high schools in Bogota, Colombia. We currently have a couple of Round Square exchange students at LCC from Bogota (Andrea and Juan). Given that Pink Shirt Day is essentially about creating a safe and peaceful learning environment, I’m sure they’re very proud that the most recent winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is their president, Señor Juan Manuel Santos.

From the early 1960s to 2013, known to all Colombians as La Violencia, civil war dominated Colombian life. Last fall, after four years of negotiations with a revolutionary guerrilla group called FARC and other smaller groups, President Santos managed to finalize a peace treaty with the FARC, which had waged a decades-long civil war against the government.

According to a study by Colombia’s National Centre for Historical Memory, 220,000 people died in the conflict between 1958 and 2013, most of them civilians. Also, more than five million civilians were forced from their homes between 1985 and 2012, generating the world’s second largest population of internally displaced persons.

During my visit to Colombia, I had the privilege of seeing and experiencing the country with about two dozen school principals from all around the world. Our focus was on how to build peaceful communities in our schools. After years of civil war, educators in Colombia had much to teach us. We visited 15 schools in several different communities. Two of the visits were particularly memorable:

The first was with student leaders in a large high school who had decided to call themselves “Agents of Peace.” Each young leader wore an armband or a vest identifying him or her as a “Peacemaker.” Believing that there had been too much violence around them for too long, and that adults hadn’t really been able to model peaceful resolution, the students focused on ways to implement peaceful conflict resolution as the top priority in their school. These students were impressive and engaging. They were proud, clear about their priorities, and intentional about establishing peace as a norm in their school and beyond.

The second special visit was a performance at a Colombian arts school with a wonderful private dance troupe. Each of the dancers originally came from the poorest communities or barrios in Bogota. The older dancers (in their 20s and 30s) had been doing this for years and developed into an internationally recognized dance troupe. That day, they modeled how they actively paid it forward with younger students. They showed how they taught young kids from the poorest communities of Bogota how to dance. As the founder and director of the troupe told us, the young students had seen and experienced too much violence and suffered daily from the poverty in their lives. Learning to dance gave them skills, confidence, and a sense of peace and calm – something that was relatively absent in their lives of struggle.

These experiences were important reminders that acts of kindness and agents of peace come in different forms and exist in many different cultures.

I think we all have a responsibility to contribute to sowing seeds of kindness, empathy and care in our communities, wherever we are. Today I think this is particularly important. We don’t have to agree with one another all the time, but we do need to be respectful and accepting of difference at all times. These norms, these foundational values, matter a great deal.

I was proud to wear pink on Wednesday, and hope we will all stand up for the weak or the victims of bullying and harassment, whenever we are aware of it.

My thanks to those students in Nova Scotia and Colombia for reminding us all that we each have an important duty of care in our community. I hope that you regularly practice kindness and acceptance every day. Remember, peace, acceptance and trust form the bedrock of healthy communities everywhere. – Chris Shannon, Headmaster

Head’s Blog: Green With Envy

FacebookMost of us are familiar with the saying “green with envy.” It originated in the works of William Shakespeare who repeatedly warned his readers/audience about the negative impact of “green-eyed jealousy” that exists in all people. More than 500 years later, how is it rearing its head amongst today’s youth?

It is interesting that well before Shakespeare was writing in the late1500s, virtually all of the world religions had identified envy or jealousy as a notable vice. In the Christian tradition it was the first of the seven deadly sins. The perils of envy are the focus of the Fifth Hadith in the teachings of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. The Buddhist tradition identifies the three poisons and the Jewish sages and the Talmud holy book identify envy as a human affliction or character flaw which can be diminished but never fully stamped out; it’s an unavoidable part of the human condition. In essence, envy is about having too much attachment to things or the personal qualities of others.

I was struck by an article written by a recent high school graduate in the UK who looked at envy today. Lisa was writing about the impact of social media on her generation. She noted that many of her friends are constantly seeking “likes” for their Facebook postings, yet many admit to having few close friends. Another of her friends had large numbers of Instagram followers but had actually been buying them. She admitted that her social media feeds were full of carefully-staged photos, only showing people at their best in life. Lisa writes, “It’s easy to envy people when all you see is a tiny spectrum of their life – a small window displaying only the narrative they wish you to see. It seems like anything too personal or hard to discuss or unglamorous, slips out of the photo stream.”

So how about real-life issues like problems with friends, personal heartbreaks, family issues, financial crises, illness or physical challenges? Or how about the daily hard slogging of studying, completing assignments and projects and the challenge of just balancing it all?

Reminder to today’s teens: that unglamorous reality is real life, but nobody posts that stuff. Let’s face it, much of social media is essentially a glistening shiny world of people’s “perfect fake lives.”

This is not to say our students shouldn’t be on social media. The capacity to share is actually wonderful. But teenagers are naturally quite susceptible to peer pressure, what sociologists call the immense “power of the tribe.” If they allow it, there will be a constant sense of pressure to reach for more and more likes on each updated profile, on each new Instagram post, encouraging new readers to follow their every success.

So my advice is for teens to try to be more realistic and avoid feeding the green monster of envy. If our students think their lives are humdrum, especially in wintery February, they shouldn’t worry. No fake glistening world required; our students are just fine the way they are. I see them in action and their teachers and coaches remind me of that every day.

Envy or jealousy will never magically disappear because we want it to. But it can be buried with a simple antidote: invest in others and their success. The more one does this, the more one connects with the essence of being human, and jealousy will be diminished because feet will be firmly planted in reality. That’s a timeless truth that will never change no matter how you project it to the world. – Chris Shannon, Headmaster

Head’s Blog: May We Live in Interesting Times

More information on the Quebec City shooter’s motivation will likely emerge soon. Was he a lone wolf? Was he radicalized online? We don’t know. But as Premier Couillard stated on Monday, “Every society has to live with its demons. Our society is not perfect. No society is.”

I think it is also appropriate to consider Premier Couillard’s message of solidarity with our Quebec Muslim community:

“Nous sommes avec vous. Vous êtes chez vous. Vous êtes bienvenus chez vous. Nous sommes tous des Québécois. Il faut qu’ensemble on continue à batir une société ouverte, accueillante et pacifique” … “We are with you. You are at home here and you are welcome at home. We are all Quebecers. Together we have to continue building a society that is open, welcoming and peaceful.”

This horrendous incident came on the heels of a difficult weekend in the United States following last Friday’s signing of an Executive Order by the new US President barring entry to the US by citizens of seven Muslim nations. That order resulted in chaos last weekend at the US border, especially in airports, where many peace-loving Muslims with legitimate visas or work papers in the States were detained at the border or barred from entry.

On Saturday evening, a US court overruled the presidential order as unconstitutional. Since then, there have been many protests, seen by many as overly zealous and extreme violations of some people’s fundamental rights.

In his first week in office, the US President also ordered a directive for the construction of a wall with Mexico and the renegotiation of NAFTA, which defines free trade between Mexico, the US and Canada. He’s a man in a rush and the world is considering how to respond.

Our Prime Minister is walking a tightrope with the Trump administration. Rather than openly declare that Mr. Trump is wrong and misdirected, Prime Minister Trudeau took to Twitter himself on the weekend stating: “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.”

On the trade front, Mr. Trudeau recently conducted a retreat with his colleagues to consider next steps in dealing with the Trump administration. Again, the Canadian strategy seems to be avoidance of overt declarations that Trump and his officials are misdirected or wrong on policy. Rather, the strategy is to provide them with reminders that Canada is the principal trade partner for some 35 US states, with an estimated nine million American jobs tied into that trade relationship.

So the closing of American borders and the overt shift in the mindset of American leadership is having a serious impact on America’s traditional role since 1945 as the beacon of democracy on a global scale. The shift we are witnessing is complicated, so it requires our attention and ongoing discussion to best understand the short and long term impact on Canada. Our students need to be informed and take a position on these evolving issues. That’s the responsibility of citizenship and civic involvement. I urge them and their families to talk, discuss and analyze. Canadian values are on the line. Let’s make sure we defend them.

Yesterday, Premier Couillard urged politicians and the public to “think twice” about the “words we write, the words we utter.” He stated, “Words can be knives,” and urged all citizens in Quebec to “cool the rhetoric” and be more measured and balanced in our public discourse. Good advice! – Chris Shannon, Headmaster