Students Write for Rights.

Anyone who throws the blanket note that teens and preteens are disengaged and ego-centric are clearly not seeing how amazing our kids are.

As part of our History curriculum, I have been talking to my students about how the Canadian government decided to treat the Cree First Nations people in the late 1800s (not well). Coincidentally, one of the cases that came up at Amnesty International’s 2010 Write for Rights letter-writing campaign was one of the Lubicon Cree in Alberta, who are currently living in poverty due to the destruction of their land by oil and gas companies (you can read about this in more detail here).

On International Human Rights Day, I joined millions in the letter-writing campaign and wrote a personal letter to Alberta’s Premier Stelmach, urging him to protect the rights of the Lubicon Cree to use their land and preserve their rich culture.

Today, I brought my experience to my grade 8 History class, showing them that 200 years later, the indigenous people of Canada are still being mistreated; 200 years later, our government is still violating Human Rights Laws. My students insisted I read my letter out loud, so I did. At the end of it, they cheered and asked, “Ms. Au.. Can we write our own letters to the Premier?”

My heart soared.

My students are Champions.

Scrap the formal History lesson. You can bet I said YES. “Let’s do it.”

And they did a fantastic job, at the tender age of 13. Here’s an example of one of them (grammar mistakes are preserved!):

Dear Premier Stelmach,

Greetings, Mr. Premier. My name is ——. I a writing this letter from Richmond Hill, Ontario, concerning the issue of the Lubicon Cree.

I know that it is not my place to write about such a subject, as I am mearly a simpleton next to you and your achievements, but I figured that I might be able to persuade you towards moving of Lubicon land, or giving some compensation for using it.

Indiginous people have the right to use their own lands for their own purposes. If you would like to borrow it, might I suggest asking first. Since your making a profit off of the land, maybe you could offer some sort of compensation or even a gift to the Lubicon Cree so that not only do two benefit from one, but you also get on friendly terms with the Cree.

These are just ideas, but keep them in mind. Think about how it would benifit you to have the Lubicons as partners instead of enemies. Thank you for taking your time to read my letter.

Much obliged,

There’s no question about it. I have amazing students. Amazing students who will someday learn to break out of the mold and do whatever it takes to make this world a better place.

It all starts here. And I couldn’t be more proud of them.


One act of kindness at a time…

My friend Christian wrote about hope the other day, and it really, truly, hit the nail on the head for me. It resonated through my bones with a resounding vibration that I almost started bawling like a baby.

I’m sentimental and rather tender-hearted, I know.. now GO READ HIS POST.


You probably saw that I responded to his post with this:

I am torn by these moments of hopelessness all the time, especially lately. There is so much pain lying everywhere with no one to fix it. And we can only do so much. But I’ve vowed that I would do something, ANYTHING. In contributing to the collective conscious, we are doing our part.. even just a bit. We have to believe that.

I’ve been going through phases of pessimism and cynicism lately. Not so much about nature or death or any such thing, but of people. And aren’t we always pessimistic and cynical about people? It’s people who make the choice to hurt one another. It’s people who go out of their way to make each other miserable. It’s people who make thoughtless mistakes that tear friendships and relationships apart. It’s people who decide to take concepts and ideologies and religions, and use them as excuses to destroy each other.

People. All people.

I’m not perfect either. Less than a year ago for example, I made a poor judgment call that burned bridges with some really good people in my life. In times of weakness, we sometimes make the most painful of mistakes that can really hurt others. All because we’re people.

It breaks my heart, it does.

But as in my response to Christian, we have to do what little we can. We have to believe that in doing what we can, we will help make this world a better place to live.

Each and every single one of us are individuals, and on our own, we simply can’t do everything. By making our own small contributions though, we can push the world in a different direction. Shift the momentum the kinder way. Inspire humankind to be better, stronger, wiser. Even in our own imperfections, we must push through, one day at a time. One act of kindness at a time. And maybe eventually, though we may not witness it, we will have set the stage so that our legacy of collaboration, cooperation, and passionate living carries on through our kids, our grandkids, our descendants.

And it all starts with YOU.

Being significant…

…means that the world may be a little brighter because you were important in the life of a child.

John Schwartz from the New York Times wrote an article about Tom Dunn, a former defense lawyer for those on death row. After 20 years working on defense work in capital cases, he decided to leave that profession behind and become an advocate for at-risk students.

What I find particularly beautiful about Dunn is that he has a unique ability to implicitly understand how a person’s past can horribly ruin his/her future. Every child in our classroom comes with baggage, even the little ones, and we need to respect that. You just never know what goes on behind closed doors at home.

And this, I believe, is what makes Dunn a phenomenal teacher.

He cares for each of his students individually. He seeks to understand what motivates their behaviour, and addresses their behaviour accordingly. I think he and I would agree that there are no “bad” people.. only bad choices made by good people. And believing this is truly the only way to positively influence anyone, child or grown-up alike: you must believe that they can make the right choices, even if they at one point chose not to.

Every child is precious, a treasure. We cannot give up on them, because when we do, what we are left with is a broken society. And every child has the potential to excel. They just need someone like Tom Dunn who will believe in them, and will push them in the right direction with love.

Dunn quotes Frederick Douglass: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

There is no better reason to be in education than that.


Blog Action Day: Climate Change

Whoops. I’m a day late. I was preoccupied with checking up on Bill C-6 and our potential loss of rights and freedoms last night, and I forgot to post about climate change.

So here it is.

Becoming involved in environmental sustainability has successfully inched itself into our (un)consciousness over the last decade. This means that people generally feel more inclined to make decisions based on the protection of our environment. Examples: the Greater Toronto Area has passed a law a few months ago that requires grocery stores to charge their customers for plastic bags, which should in theory discourage the use of these plastics. Currently, they are looking to make it mandatory for these same stores to provide an alternative to plastic bags so that vendors will not be tempted to make a profit off plastic bags.

There are also inspirational organizations popping up left-right-and-centre on a regular basis that help to involve youth in this environmental movement. The Pachamama Alliance is one such example: it promotes a holistic approach to simply loving our home called Earth.

Needless to say, I am quite pleased about all of this ^_^

We don’t all have to be David Suzuki in order to support a movement for climate change. It’s all in the little things we do, such as consciously making it a habit to turn off the lights in the house, optimize on our government-funded Green Bin program (yay GTA!!), minimize our use of plastics, carpool more often, etc…

Check out a list of things you can do here on Endless opportunities to raise your consciousness to the situation so that when bigger decisions are required, you will naturally feel more inclined to do what is best for our world =)


The Practice of Domination in Everyday Life

An Israeli settler tosses wine at an elderly Palestinian woman.

The article is presented to us by

It’s amazing how one seemingly subtle act of violence amidst an explosion of conflict can still become such an image of injustice.

The problem is no longer at the political and governmental level. It has become personal. And that is  one of the many reasons why the conflicts in Israel are such difficult issues to solve.

Photograph by Rina Castelnuovo/The New York Times.


The Rape of Nanking: Shining Human Courage

Earlier this year, I read Iris Chang’s “The Rape of Nanking“. The book as a historical piece is lacking in careful detail; however, it serves as a useful introduction to the Chinese perspective in World War II. As horrible as it seems already, there was more to this war than Nazi Germany and the Jewish genocide; there was more to this war than the atomic bomb dropped on the Japanese by the Americans.


The horrors inflicted on the Chinese population in Nanking can only be described as appallingly gruesome. And of course, there will be cynics who growl at these incidences, point to these acts of absolute indecency, and declare that humans are implicitly evil.


What of those who discovered the raping, those who witnessed these atrocities, and risked their very own lives to put a stop to it? What of John Rabe? What of Schindler? What of the father who gave his own life to save his daughters from rape? There are Japanese scholars aplenty now who risk ostracization and death threats and seeing their careers crumble so that they can bring this story to light.

What of them?

For as there are so many who falter and become victim to human nature’s darkest potentials, so there are those who will rise above it and fight against this darkness with courage and strength. We cannot forget that there are both. We cannot forget to protect the world of the former, and we cannot despair so much as to forget and therefore discredit the efforts of the latter.

Being born and raised with parents who will do all they can to provide for me and protect me, I am one of the more fortunate ones. But I would hope that my fears of bodily harm and excruciating pain will not keep me from pursuing justice. And I hope that at the end of the day, if I need to put everything on the line, I will do it in the name of justice and all that is right and compassionate. Because at the end of the day, what else do we have? What else do we have but our principles and our dignity? What can mean more than fighting for what we believe is right?

Generation Y in North America is lucky enough to live in an age of affluence, so much so that our basic needs are all met as soon as we are born. I hope that in being so lucky, we do not lack in sheer human courage.