My first Red Cross emergency call! After all of these months of being on call but not actually called, one ring of the phone and everything changed. A few weeks ago we had a bit of a heat wave in Toronto – temperatures well above 30 degrees celsius (mid 90s for those of you still measuring in fahrenheit) with a lot of humidity. In these conditions the city will issue a heat alert which is primarily intended to protect seniors, children and others at high risk for heat-related illness. People are told to avoid exertion, stay home if possible, and, if necessary, centres with air conditioning are set up for folks who have no other place to stay cool. With that one phone call I launched into action to do my part.
This is all good and well but I am ashamed to say that we have a lot of people living on the streets of Toronto. I tried to search for actual numbers but, not surprisingly, was only able to find information that did little more than obfuscate. Suffice it to say that the number continues to grow rapidly and that other than the development of studies and papers like “The Blueprint to End Homelessness in Toronto” not enough is being done so that we don’t need over 4,000 shelter beds each night, with thousands more joining the ranks of the homeless each month. These folks have nearly nowhere to go to escape the heat, just as in the winter they have nearly nowhere to go to escape the cold.
By now you might be wondering how my work with the Red Cross and the heat are connected. Well, when the city issues an extreme heat alert they call on the Red Cross to deliver bottles of water throughout the city. My job was to drive a truck (once we’d loaded it with cases and cases and cases of water) to 6 big city parks and pass out bottles of water to homeless folks – and anyone else – in the park. I had two young men with me; they’d take cases and walk through the park and I’d stand near the back of the open truck and pass out bottles of water to anyone coming by. We then delivered cases of water to a few community agencies that would distribute them on the streets and to old folks’ shelters. Everyone was really grateful to receive the water and it felt like time very well spent.
Driving from one park to another I most magnanimously said to the young men I was with: “You can listen to the radio if you’d like”. Before I issued that invitation I’d given it some thought, knowing that they’d likely pick a station with music that was painful to my ears. Well, there were two of them and one of me, I didn’t want to feel that I had more power than they did just because I had the truck keys, and so … invite them to ‘tune in’ I did. “Thanks”, one of them said, “what station would you like?” There it was, a way for me to be generous of spirit and still listen to good music. Could I take that moment and go with it? No. “Any channel you’d like; you pick” I said, ready for the acoustical onslaught.
I was so delighted when I wasn’t immediately accosted by loud noise and objectionable lyrics that it took me a few moments to actually begin hearing what was being said. Oh my goodness! I’m not sure what the station was (just as well) but having done a little research I was shocked at how many religious stations – Canadian, American, International – there are. Funniest of all was the warning that popped up when I tried to access a site called jesus-radio; it said: “Warning! Visiting this site may harm your computer!” Seems to me that listening to this radio station should have also come with some warning … maybe something like: “Warning! Listening to this program may harm your relationships with the people who live in your community.”
Let me be clear; I am not against religion. I’m not even against religious radio. What I am totally and utterly against – however – is what I heard coming over the radio waves that day. Veiled with words from the Bible there was a diatribe of what I could easily see falling into the category of hate speech or at least was in violation of our regulations – under the Broadcasting Act – prohibiting broadcasting or distributing programming that contains abusive comments about individuals or groups – comments that would expose someone to hatred or contempt on discriminatory grounds. And so I drove in silence as I heard clear messages that only those who believed in Jesus could enter heaven. Straight out. Can’t get in through Buddha. Can’t get in through Shiva, or Allah, or God. It’s either with Jesus or you’re condemned to hell I guess. There was lots more to this spewing; I just can’t bring myself to repeat it. I was pretty much disgusted.
But what was even more upsetting to me was that this young man had chosen to listen to this, was listening intently, and didn’t see the hatefulness he was being fed. I did try to challenge him – gently. “Did you hear that jump in logic?”, I asked. He didn’t seem to have any grasp of what I was asking or saying. If we’re educating our young people to just listen without thinking … well, how could that possibly lead to anything good.
If this young man’s inability to engage in critical thinking is representative of what we’re achieving (or not achieving) through our education systems we’re in deep trouble. I have to laugh, of course, whenever I use the term ‘critical thinking’ (purposeful and reflective judgment about what to believe or what to do) because some years ago, when rewritinig the entire high school curriculum in Ontario, we were ordered by the henchmen then in power not to use the term ‘critical thinking’ because it meant we’d teach students to criticize government. He didn’t seem to understand that not teaching children to be critical thinkers meant that they’d not have the skills for “purposeful and reflective judgement about what to believe or what to do”. Or maybe old Mike just realized that the ability to think critically might mean folks would understand more fully what the ramificationis of electing repressive leaders could be. I wish.
So I’ve learned a couple more things today. I’ve reminded myself of how important it is for me to do whatever I can to bring critical thinking back to the forefront of learning. I’ve taken note of how deeply hatred is embedded in our society. I’ve become even more committed to using every opportunity I have to make a positive difference.
It’s nearly 8 a.m. now. Got to go finish working on the syllabus for my new course … and make sure that more than anything it teaches my students the importance of critical thought.