We have to be able to engage respectfully with those who hold other opinions
The constant quest for truth is a fascinating journey. One of the most powerful truths ever stated was made by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, who explained that there are only two races of people, the decent and the indecent, and they’re found in every group.
I tend to lean to the left of the political spectrum on many issues, yet I value the opinions of those on the right because I know that the best solutions to our problems come when we share ideas.
In a recent foray into right-wing perspectives, I found a video by a well-known pundit telling his followers about people like me. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and thought it was a fake video made to discredit the man. As I investigated further, I found the video on his website.
Dennis Prager, the co-founder of video hosting site PragerU, said: “For people on the right, the way to a better society is almost always through the moral improvement of the individual. … For people on the left, the way to a better society is almost always doing battle with society’s moral failings.”
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The truth is that there are immoral people in both groups; the vast majority of people on both the left and right are striving to be the best they can be. Few would dispute this statement attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Prager also strongly criticizes American schools, and I assume he would have the same opinion of Canadian public schools. “With the ascent of left-wing ideas, character education has all but disappeared from American schools. Children are not taught to focus on their flaws but on America’s. Social issues have replaced character education.”
As I look at the British Columbia kindergarten through Grade 12 curriculum, I see that character development is front and centre in our children’s education. It states: “People who are personally aware and responsible demonstrate self-respect, persevere in difficult situations, and exercise responsibility. They understand that there are consequences for their decisions and actions.”
This reflects a focus on self-regulated learning, meaning helping children to recognize how they learn, teaching them to set goals and follow through on their goals, and celebrating the inevitable progress that follows. These valuable lessons empower children to be lifelong learners and productive citizens.
With an added emphasis on Indigenous culture in Canadian schools, there’s also a strong focus on character education, as expressed by different Indigenous groups across the country. These include such moral principles as honesty, courage, wisdom, humility and love.
So what Prager says about our schools is simply wrong. I cherish the time I spend with my students studying books like Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (his account of survival in Nazi concentration camps) and Sean Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens. I find Prager’s words not only wrong but deeply insulting.
Prager offers overly simplistic generalizations of people who disagree with him, and, at least in the examples above, his statements are untrue. That’s never helpful, especially in a society that’s growing more and more polarized.
We have to be able to engage in dialogue with those who hold different opinions. We need to listen and then respond with logical counterarguments when necessary.
Prager has a right to his website and opinions, and I’m thankful for the freedom to refute his statements. As the great American scholar Noam Chomsky states, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for those we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”
Roslyn Kunin specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.
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