With the recent questions over academic freedom, the media’s focus on the phenomenon of cancel culture and the debacle surrounding Critical Race Theory just south of the border, it is normal to see teachers hesitate to tackle polarizing topics in the classroom.
On April 1st 2022, SALTISE hosted a webinar titled Teaching about Complicity: Reflecting on Creativity, Critical Thinking and Social Change. The presenters were Kim Simard and Pat Romano, professors at Dawson College, in collaboration with members of the Creative Collective for Change. Together, the group explored how to approach difficult topics in the classroom and offered practical tools to foster engaging and productive conversations. The presentation was creative and engaging, mixing short lectures, question sessions, and students testimonies.
Creating a safe space for discussion
The 1st section of the webinar covered the various fears and difficulties associated with addressing controversial topics in the classroom. They explained the variable importance of intent as well as the psychology behind some students’ discomfort with acknowledging their privilege or the oppression of others, which often manifests as denial, anger, or cognitive dissonance. This section concluded with an eye-opening manifesto that lays out basic rules for creating a safe pedagogical environment where everyone can feel heard and respected.
The group then approached the topic of offense versus harm and shared a variety of controversial images that were used to begin important conversations. The hosts highlighted the power of art to provoke questions and reminded attendants the best way to mitigate the risk of harm is to “do the work” and to make sure to have a thorough understanding of the topics they might want to bring up in class.
Re-framing trauma and the importance of resistance
The last section of the webinar focused on the topic of trauma. The presenters’ opinion is that focus and perspective are crucial when approaching trauma. Too often, the discussion of traumatic historical events in the classroom only end up recreating the dynamics that allowed the trauma to happen in the 1st place.
To avoid this situation, the hosts suggested that teachers focus on what was done to resist the trauma, rather than the traumatic event itself. This simple change in approach alleviates much of the guilt on both sides. It also re-frames what may seem at 1st like illogical, irrational reactions as acts of resistance.
In the end, it is important to keep lessons hopeful by focusing on what can be done. It can be easy for students to feel overwhelmed by difficult topics so it is crucial to bring their attention to what they can control.
If this summary has piqued your attention, a recording of webinar is available below. Should you want to explore the topic further, the Collective’s website offers a variety of resources, articles, and classroom activities to help you foster productive conversations and initiate your students to non-violent activism.
Recording of the webinar Teaching about Complicity: Reflecting on Creativity, Critical Thinking and Social Change (Source: SALTISE)