New ways of knowing

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Flexible thinking to combat hate

I started my career in the elementary panel of Ontario’s education system and have kept that experience with me through my years of secondary teaching and through my union leadership at all levels. In particular, I’ve kept at the forefront of my mind the value of listening and of being flexible. Young minds have a way of challenging us to rethink how we see things and how we understand the world. Learning, by definition, is to change our point of view and our ways of knowing. This is no more true anywhere else than it is in our understanding and learning around equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

As an organization, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF/FEESO) has changed over its more than 100-year history; we’ve had to listen, adapt, grow, and reframe our understandings of what it means to be a labour union. We are stronger now because we have taken on the challenges of progress, including through our work to advance equity in our Federation. The work is hard, the work can be messy, but it’s absolutely necessary. I think of the recent rise in hate and violence that various communities across Canada and the world have been experiencing. Our members, individually and collectively, are rising to the challenge to combat hate and oppression, and our organization is taking steps to dismantle structures and practices that exclude some while giving privilege to others. This labour is not without cost, but the return on investment is significant for our communities, our members, and the students they serve.

We see a federal government that is at once touting its openness and its progressive ideas, yet also see them closing the doors to thousands of would-be university students who want to study in Canada. We see a provincial government that continues to underfund education, leaving some of our most vulnerable learners without the supports they need.

Yet at the same time, we see our members working as grassroots leaders, organizing in their communities for change and for equity. We see local OSSTF/FEESO leaders and their members attending rallies supporting trans youth, calling out anti-Black racism, challenging racism, antisemitism, anti-Palestinian racism, Islamophobia, and other forms of oppression and hate. We see everyday rank-and-file members taking to the streets calling for peace, demanding respect for human rights, calling for supports for migrant workers, and carrying Pride flags. These are not isolated actions; they are examples of communities committed to listening to the lived experiences of their neighbours, their friends, and their colleagues. These are examples of true community organizing that will lead to historic change and to a more equitable society. They are examples of exactly what my time in the elementary panel taught me—that our differences are our strengths and that by listening to the experiences of others, we can reshape our thinking and can grow our understanding of one another.

So, I thank our members, and I challenge us all to seek out new ways of knowing and of engaging in our communities. Maybe I’ll even see you at a local Pride event, or a human rights protest, or your local MPP’s office and together we can take on the hard work of forwarding equity for all. We will all be better for it.

About Karen Littlewood
Karen Littlewood is OSSTF/FEESO's 67th provincial President. She was first elected to the Provincial Executive as Vice-President in 2017.

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