How much can you put into 24 hours?

The last time I sat down to “publish” a posting was a little more than 24 hours ago.  So much has happened since then that it’s hard – even for me – to believe it’s been such a short length of time.   Okay, a confession.  I like to watch the TV show 24.  Yes, I know it’s geared to adrenalin junkies and that it goes way way over the line with torture.  Nonetheless, a confession’s a confession, right.  So let me share this past day with you.

The following events happened between 1 P.M. on February 12th and 9 P.M. on February 13th.

PREVIOUSLY:  First, you need to know the events of the day before so that this will make sense.  Yesterday (Feb 12th) Toronto police were called to the campus of one of Canada’s largest universities for the second time in two weeks.  Hillel@York, the on-campus club for Jewish students at Toronto’s York University, reported that anti-Israel activists isolated and threatened Jewish students during a news conference on the fallout from a three-month-long strike that ended recently at York.  Jewish students were subjected to anti-Semitic slurs and physically intimidated. The anti-Israel activists barricaded Jewish students in Hillel’s office.  Toronto police escorted the Jewish students out of the office to ensure their safety.  Among the slurs uttered by those barricading Hillel’s office were, “Die bitch — go back to Israel” and “Die Jew — get the hell off campus.”  A week earlier, police had been called to York during a physical altercation involving an anti-Israel activist. 

On Thursday morning I received an e-mail (passed along by David) notifying me of what had happened the day before and letting me know that there was an Anti-Israel rally scheduled for 2 o’clock that afternoon at York, evidently organized by the very same students who’d done the intimidating the day before.  

And now … tick, tick, tick.

THE FOLLOWING EVENTS TAKE PLACE BETWEEN 1 P.M. AND 4 P.M.:  I’m retired so there was nothing from keeping me from joining this demonstration.york-rally302-1024x682  I called my son and asked if he’d like to join me and of course he did want to and suggested that we take guitars.  Son of a hippie for sure!  I picked him up (my guitar already in the trunk of the car) and then we picked up a friend of his (with another guitar) and we headed to York.  To see a group of students walk into the room to stand in front of the other protestors wearing t-shirts saying “Jews Need Not Fear Here” made me want to weep.  The real point is, I think, that no student should have to fear going to their university campus.  No student.  The amazing thing for me in this whole demonstration was how a group of young people, determined not to protest with intimidation at all, took out drums and guitars and raised voices in song, substituting those protest chants that just add to tension with words of prayerful songs for peace and love and unity.  Well, at least that’s what was happening on one side of the room.  After an hour or two the demonstration ended without – as they say – further incident.  

THE FOLLOWING EVENTS TAKE PLACE BETWEEN 4 P.M. AND 6 P.M.:  I’ve now completed both the “Level 1” training to be on a Red Cross Disaster Response Team and a course on the history and foundations of the Red Cross.  This afternoon I received an email from the Red Cross folks and here’s what it said:

Hello Everyone,

This is an exercise.  Please see the attached email regarding the current situation in Southwest Ontario.  We are looking for you to respond to us regarding deployment.  The question is, if this was a REAL emergency would you be able to be deployed for three weeks.  Please let me know a yes or no to this question. The fan out team will also be calling you. 

Also we need you to complete a survey and here is the link.

The current situation they’re talking about is a lot of flooding because of rainfall on top of a lot of snow and warming conditions in general.  I immediately sent back my response:  Yes!  I then completed the survey, and now I have a second confession (boy oh boy, two confessions in one posting … I’m going downhill!).  The survey asked whether or not we’d done adequate disaster preparedness in our own homes so that we could head out to help others without worrying about our own families.  I said that I had … by which I really meant that I’d been meaning to and would right away.  Indeed, I did stock up on my way home today and tomorrow I’ll organize everything in one place.  Being ready for 72 hours of emergency “time” is a good idea after all.  I have one more course that I’ll be taking next week (upgrading CPR and First Aid) and then I’ll be able to put my name into the on-call schedule.  There’s a 1 week course on International Humanitarian Law that I might be able to take that really interests me too.  As I anticipate my first call I’m filled with both dread and excitement.  More adrenalin I guess.

THE FOLLOWING EVENTS TAKE PLACE BETWEEN 7 A.M. AND 9:30 A.M.:  I had to leave the house by 7 this morning to get to Hamilton on time to deliver the keynote.  I made it out the door just on time, with a cup of coffee in my hand and a plethora of butterflies in my stomach.  The drive took close to an hour and a half.  I’d chosen my clothes carefully of course, including a new pair of “heels” that I’d not yet worn but looked so right with the suit I was wearing.  Once I found the convention centre and parked I presented myself at the registration desk, got my conference package, met with the IT guy (Marius – extremely helpful) and made sure that the photoshow I’d prepared (nearly 300 images of students, teachers, classrooms, and schools from all around the world) was ready to run.  I stayed far away from the coffee although I was craving that caffeine hit; not a good idea when you’re going to be “on stage” for over an hour with no bathroom breaks.  My handout of the 18 Lessons I wanted to leave behind was ready to distribute following my address.  I was as ready as I was going to be.

THE FOLLOWING EVENTS TAKE PLACE BETWEEN 9:30 AND 11:00:  I spoke. (I’ve posted the 18 “Lessons” below).  Early on in my speech I talk about my first day of Kindergarten and coming home and singing “Jesus loves me this I know”  and “Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear lighto to my father.  This morning I sang those lines to my audience.  When I sang the first line and they all gasped and laughed I knew this was going to be alright after all.  They listened intently for an hour, laughed when I’d hoped they would.  There were even some tears in the room.  Afterwards something I’ve never had happen after speaking before took place; lots of people came up to thank me (that’s not the new part) and hug me (that’s the new part).  One man told me that he’d left teaching (after 20 years as a teacher) a number of years ago because he was so distraught about the direction that education was taking and that he now wanted to return to teaching.  He’d been trying for months and not finding any success; his being already in his 50s was clearly problematic.  He said he’d been ready to give up his quest until he heard me speak and he was now ready to ‘go the distance’ and get back into this amazing field.  Many told me that they hadn’t heard anyone speak with passion about education and social justice in a long time.  A woman from Newfoundland whose work I’ve admired for a number of years hugged me (she’s tomorrow’s keynote speaker) and told me it was a great talk and said that I should start getting the word out that I was available for keynotes.  She even offered – I think – to pass that along herself to her vast chain of contacts.  Other than my feet calling out to me …. “get these torture devices off of us” … it was as close to perfect as it could have been.

THE FOLLOWING EVENTS END MY TALE:  On the drive home from Hamilton I was feeling, as the kids say, pumped.  This feeling that I do have something to say, that I can inspire others … it’s wonderful.  If I can inspire others, if I can encourage others to do better than they’re doing and to find that ‘3rd dimension” in which we can live in peace and harmony … well, if I can do that, and I so love doing it, then I guess I should put my mind to figuring out how to do more of it.  Time to follow that good advice and figure out how to do the networking.  I’ll start here!  

If you have friends who organize conferences on education, or peace, diversity, social justice … feel free to pass along my name.

I’m pretty much exhausted now and ready for some deep relaxation.  David’s finished cleaning up the kitchen after our Friday night dinner with my Mother and Ellen.  Time to retire in that other sense of the word.

And yet.  And yet.  I still feel like I’m in a fog

And now … as promised … here are the “lessons” from my keynote. 



 Dr. Sylvia Bereskin   




Make sure that expectations are clear and shared or else disappointment is bound to creep in.


No child should have to feel  marginalized.  No child should feel that they have to hide who they are. Ever.  For sure.


If you don’t really care about your students – about the children and families that you work with – as people then you can’t really reach them or teach them.  Know who they are.  Care about them.


Education is a conversation.  It takes place over many years and with many participants but in the end it is an ongoing, compelling, challenging conversation.  If you leave students out of that conversation, you’re not educating them.


You are people.  You have lives (or should) that go beyond the school or the classroom.  You have memories and fears, you have demands and dreams.  If your work overtakes your life the consequences will likely be dire. 


Encouragement leads to growth; criticism and micromanagement to stagnation, cynicism, and resistance.


The needs of the children you work with should outweigh the needs of regulations that are put in place to create an illusion of consistency.


You are important.  Your students – the children you work with, and their families – are important  too.  Find creative solutions to what appear to be roadblocks and make sure that quality of experience isn’t negatively affected by your own personal needs.  There are very few problems that don’t come with solutions; find them.


For anything to work, in a sustainable way, you have to think through the complexities and then design strategies that are straight-forward and don’t require enormous amounts of effort to keep them moving along. Otherwise, the cure becomes more onerous than the “dis-ease”.


Your job is to reach – and teach – every student, every child … regardless of age, ability, background or interest.  Any student.  All children.  Not just the ones that are eager to learn and easy to teach or work with.  All of them. 


The norm becomes the expectation.  It is up to us to set the norms for our classrooms and schools.  I’m not talking about benchmarks, I’m talking about what we expect in terms of human behaviour … in terms of respect and kindness and care.


There’s a song that says:  “You’ve got to be taught to hate”; remember that children also have to be taught to care, and accept, and embrace difference. 


Know when it’s time to say “enough is enough”.  Don’t be afraid to say it.


Remember that making a living is not the same as living a life.


You need to have the courage to recognize and identify and address the elephants in your classrooms.


There is no such thing as an innocent bystander.  You truly are part of the problem or part of the solution. 


If we continue to tread lightly and not raise issues that could be difficult and contentious in our classrooms, then we’re doing nothing to change beliefs. 


We must work together to go beyond polarities of right and wrong and help our students find a third dimension in which to live, one in which there is understanding and commitment to peaceful co-existence at the very least. 


9 responses to “How much can you put into 24 hours?

  1. I enjoyed the 24 hours in the life of Sylvia. An extraordinary day for sure. The demonstration description was very unsettling and scary but I think, made better with the presence of you, your son and his friends. I think you are on the right track with the networking and making it known you are available to speak – it is what you love and are so, so good at. I will direct my daughter towards your keynote lessons as she will going to teachers college in the fall. Thank you!

  2. Sounds like you had a great 30 hours! thanks for sharing it all, and particularly the 18 lessons….muchly appreciated!

  3. Thank you for sharing those very full-on 24 hours.
    I was saddened by the events at York University, I thought of the song from South Pacific “you have to be taught to hate” while I was reading that account and also remembered a conversation I had with David where we discussed the importance of tolerance and respect for those whose backgound, religious or cultural, differs from our own. It would be wonderful to believe that respect,tolerance and understanding could extend further than between individuals.
    Many of the 18 lessons are life lessons, perhaps too few of us are willing to say “enough is enough.” and accept the challenge to be other than an innocent bystander.

    • Interesting that the lessons I was crafting for educatirs has a broader audience as well. I wouldn’t balk at speaking to an Australian audience!

      I think we’ve all become pretty complacent and willing to accept ‘what is’ rather than insist on working towards what could/should be. Time to make a change. As Obama so eloquently said: time for change we can believe in.

  4. Hey Sylvia, last week a trough, this week a crest! How about that!

  5. An impressive and event-filled time. I am passing on the lessons learned to a few friends who are educators and Like you passionately committed to equity and social justice. thansk for making my day.

    • Thanks Bev. I hope that others will do the same. As Donna said, these are easily transferable to other fields as well with the same kind of importance.

  6. As one of the architects of the Marshaling for the demonstration, and the “Jews Need Not Fear Here” T-shirts, I’m glad that our response had the desired effect of being peaceful, but powerful and unabashed.

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