What did you learn in school today?


If you’re as terrified as I am by the content and tone of contemporary political debates in the US, then you will either be greatly cheered or terribly ashamed (or both) when you take a look at a very different approach to dealing with “the other” in our lives. So, if you have not yet seen the video of Canadian PM Trudeau welcoming Syrian refugees into Canada, please take a look here.

The first time I saw this my stream of consciousness ran something like this:

Who is this kid? He’s the leader of a country? How old is this kid? Omigod, I love this kid. Right, Justin Trudeau. His dad was a famous Liberal PM. His mom hung with the Rolling Stones. Look, he’s embracing people that we’re recoiling from. Giving them coats, encouragement, love. Health insurance! In English and French. Where did this kid go to school?

Sorry, to keep referring to PM Justin Trudeau as the kid, but he just seems to be the doppelgänger of Jean-Pierre Léaud in those early Truffaut and Godard movies. And he exudes sweetness and wisdom and compassion. So, where did this kid go to school? How did he learn to become the better self to which all of us have aspired at one time or another in our lives?

I keep asking that because back in the days when the liberal arts were flourishing there was a widely shared belief that education was the key to creating a better society.

We’d overcome racism. How? Education.

We’d stop polluting the planet. How? Education.

We’d all believe in science.

We’d end fear mongering and war.

You get the point.

There are still many who believe that education can make us better people but I think it’s fair to say that our public experiment with liberal education is all but dead. It’s dying, in part, because we’ve failed to overcome our lesser selves. And it’s dying, in part, because education has become driven by narrow metrics and the management needed to achieve them. What matters now are outcomes, specifically a few easily-measurable ones.

I shall spare you further diatribe. The holidays are upon us and its time for optimism and cheer. Optimism says we can still turn this around. Optimism says that leaders who embrace rather than bomb are possible in this world. Look north.

Oh, where did that kid go to school? McGill University in Montreal. Nice place.

By Steve Zimmerman, Co-Director of C3S

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