A youth protest last week has prompted discussion on whether a balanced approach is being taken to teach a group of Saskatoon grade 8 students about the environment.
On Thursday, 45 students gathered outside Saskatoon City Hall in support of protesters against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Youth held signs reading “TD stop funding Dakota Access pipeline,” “water is life” and “keep oil in the ground.” They also used Facetime to communicate directly with protestors in North Dakota and cheer them on.
“I love the environment… it’s protecting me, so I need to protect it,” 13-year-old Sam Edwards said Thursday.
Edwards and other classmates from St. Edward School are involved in an EcoJustice class.
When concerns were raised following 650 CKOM’s report of students taking part in the demonstration during school hours, Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools issued a statement Monday describing the EcoJustice class as a program influenced by the Pope’s recent calls on the faithful to be good stewards of the Earth.
The board went on to say the course uses “experientlal learning to allow students to understand and critically evaluate real community issues that affect us individually provincailly and globally as Canadians and as Catholics.”
That said, the board stated it was a “significant concern” to have students participating in the rally and said appropriate steps would be taken with staff involved. The board declined to elaborate on what those steps might be, citing a policy of not commenting on personnel matters.
650 CKOM obtained a copy of a letter sent by the EcoJustice program teachers to parents on Friday. They wrote:
“We were a topic of discussion this morning in the media. In contrast with what was reported, yesterday was not a protest but rather a gathering focusing on prayer, song and ceremony.
The focus was to support a group of youth who are standing up for their Missouri watershed and territorial lands. Yesterday was not an anti-pipeline protest. Students stood in solidarity and prayer with a group enacting a same value set.
It’s important to note that yesterday’s experience was an extension of previous learnings of treaty, forgiveness and reconciliation. Our learning around these topics is always ongoing but we will never force students to participate in action.”
One parent, who didn’t want their name used, spoke highly of the confidence, public speaking and, to some extent, critical thinking students learn in the program. But the parent also voiced concerns, adding students who want to opt out of events such as last week’s rally have to provide a reason.
“It’s an incredible educational experience, but the politics in the class is to the point of bullying,” the parent said, adding if a child disagrees with a teacher’s perspective, they could find themselves ostracized from the group.
That said, the parent was firm about not wanting to see the program cancelled. Rather, they hope it will be adjusted to better showcase different perspectives of the political debate, or leave out politics altogether.