Friday, 6 November 2015

Because It's 2015

There has been much talk of Justin Trudeau's "mic drop" moment this week.

For the first time that I can remember, I am excited about politics, and Canadian politics at that. Many of my friends and family are too. Justin Trudeau was elected as our 23rd Prime Minister on October 19th of this year and my Twitter and Facebook feeds have been filled with excitement, hope and lots of memes about our new PM.

He and his new Cabinet were sworn in on November 4th, two days ago.

It was a historic event for many reasons:

1. Justin is our first ever second generation Prime Minister. His dad, Pierre Elliott "Trudeaumania" Trudeau, was our fifteenth Prime Minister and a media sensation. Justin is already following in his father's footsteps on both counts.

2. The announcement of the Cabinet Ministers included Justin following through on his promise to appoint an equal number of men and women. For the first time in Canadian history, we have gender parity in our federal Cabinet.

3. Some big changes were made to the titles of the Minister's portfolios, filling people with hope that our new government will make issues important to Canadians and the world a priority. We have a Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, a Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs and a Minister of Environment and Climate Change.

4. I was glued to the TV and Internet, following political news. Although I vote in every election, I have largely been apathetic about Canadian politics. Suddenly, I'm not.

The "mic drop" moment occurred when Justin, unlike his predecessor, took time to address the media immediately following the swearing in ceremony. He was asked why it was so important that his Cabinet be gender balanced. He replied simply, "Because it's 2015." The gathered crowd erupted in cheers. In the days that have followed, the Internet has also erupted in cheers.

Watching the ceremony, I was captivated by the short commentary being made by newscasters as each new member of the Cabinet approached the front of the room for their swearing in. Their ages and backgrounds varied widely, and the diversity of this group of individuals was something I'd not seen before. Not only are 50% of the appointees female, but they vary in: age; place of birth; hometown; marital status; sexuality; religion; skin colour; former professions (a teacher, doctors, lawyers, a social worker, athletes, scientists, a geologist, a police officer and war hero, professors, entrepreneurs, economists, journalists and writers, volunteers, community leaders, an orchestral musician, an astronaut); culture (we have two First Nations Cabinet Ministers); health (there is a Minister who has battled breast cancer twice); abilities (one Minister is quadriplegic, another is visually impaired) and life stories (one Minister was falsely imprisoned in another country for two years, another is a refugee to Canada).

I searched for a complete list of the Ministers, their job titles and facts about them. Finding none, I took Chris Hardwick's advice and made a thing. I Googled each member of the Cabinet and sought to find out their full name, new job title, hometown, age, place of birth and additional interesting information. This I called "Special powers." Many of the Cabinet Ministers had only local news articles and a Liberal campaign page as I began my search. In the minutes and hours that followed, I discovered that busy Internetters were creating Wikipedia pages for each of them, even as I sought information elsewhere. I've been able to return to those and get information that I was unable to find elsewhere. Eventually, I finished the 31 cards, one for each of the 30 Cabinet Ministers and one for our new Prime Minister. I have called them Canada's Cabinet Trading Cards.

I Skyped with a former student the day after he attended the Swearing-In with his class. He excitedly showed me the work they did in class to follow-up. He had marked the hometowns of each of the Ministers on a map of Canada and tallied how many males and females were in the Cabinet. This nine year old was as excited as I am, and had watched the historic event live, at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

Right now, I wish I was in the classroom. There are so many things I'd like to share with my students.

  • I would like to take the trading cards and give one to each of my students, assigning them to that Cabinet Minister for the year. I would have them research their portfolio and follow the news to see the changes they proposes throughout the year. I would encourage the student to write letters to that Minister, sharing what they learned and any advice they could share. 
  • I would print two sets of the trading cards and teach them how to play "Guess Who" with their new Cabinet.
  • I would have them order the Ministers by age and then do math about that. Find out when they first started in politics, figure out how many years of experience they each have.
  • I would have them attach the Ministers to the locations of their hometowns on a Canadian map. Then, we'd find the birthplaces of those Ministers born outside of Canada. 
Fortunately, I have awesome friends who are still in the classroom and excite me with stories of how they are teaching their students. My former teaching partner and soul sister, Tiiu, is now the Prime Minister in her grade 5/6 class. All of the students, after witnessing the swearing-in first hand, have selected ministerial positions for their class and had a raucous swearing-in ceremony today. After posting the Cabinet Minister Trading Cards on Facebook and Twitter, I have had friends add to the document and share it with other teachers, suggesting ways to use the cards. 

Tiiu's class' Ministers.

Back to the reason for this post. Gender parity was a priority in our Cabinet because it's 2015. Gender parity is important in education for the same reason. You can tell by looking around almost any elementary school that there are a higher percentage of female than male teachers. Search for the names of principals and vice principals at those same schools. You'll notice that there are a lot of men who take power positions. Look at the lists of those in power at a board or district level, and you'll see the female names continue to decrease. Attend a big teaching conference, especially one focused on technology, and look at the names and photos of the speakers. You will notice that most of them are men. Why does this disparity happen? There are so many possible reasons, and I'm not OK with any of them. 

If Justin Trudeau can assign 50% of his Minister positions to intelligent, strong and successful women, we can surely do the same in education. We need to make it a clear priority to balance out gender (and race, and sexuality, and religion, and physical ability, and age) in the most powerful and visible positions in education. 

50% of the population is female. 50% of our students are female. More than 50% of our teachers are female (some recent numbers that I was able to find show that: in Canada in 2006, 84% of elementary and preschool teachers and 57% of high school teachers were female; in the US in 2011-12, 78% of teachers were female; on a table created by The World Bank, listing gender balance of teachers from 2011-2014, most countries have a significantly higher percentage of female teachers)

Like the Canadian Cabinet now having a wider variety in voices at the table, we need more equal representation in the education conversation, at all levels.

The new Canadian Cabinet shows us what change can look like. We need to follow the excellent role modelling and make it easier and more comfortable for women to share their voices. 

Some excellent resources are available, if you want to learn more. 
  • Read about and reflect on Speaking While Female. Consider the gender biases present in the structure of meetings you attend. Are the female participants barely heard? Are they judged to be too aggressive if they speak out? Do men in the meetings take their ideas and get the credit?
  • Follow the hashtag #changetheratio and add your own observations to it. Next time you are at an education conference or professional development event, observe the ratio of male to female participants and presenters and reflect on how you feel about it. 
  • Check your Twee-Q: enter your Twitter handle (or anyone's, for that matter) to analyse the proportion of recent retweets, based on whether they came from a male or female's account. Consider, as a connected educator, whose stories you are celebrating and sharing. 
  • Consider ways that we could accept blind applications to conferences. Instead of putting a name and gender on an application, assign applicants a number. Selection committees could chose based on merit of ideas, not preconceptions about the individuals sharing them. 
  • If you're a woman, Lean In. Get more involved. Don't let yourself sit back. Become empowered to be confident and believe in yourself. 
  • Ask4More. Demand equal pay for equal work in all fields.
  • Explore "mansplaining" and do what you can to stop the cycle.
  • Share other ideas and resources you have with your communities, in person and online.
Our classrooms are full of young children who see themselves in the world around them. Seeing our most powerful governing bodies become more representative of them and their families can give them a lot of hope. They can see themselves in positions of power. Starting in their classrooms and school buildings, they need to see a more valued and diverse population of leaders. Why do we need to do this now? Because it's 2015.

No comments:

Post a Comment