I’ve been away for a few weeks, visiting Paris — the city of my mother’s family. I returned on November 4th, 9 days before the Paris attacks.

While I’ve been silent for the past weeks, I want to share some thoughts.

As a mother (and historical interpreter who’s often played the part of a Victorian school teacher), I have given considerable thought to the activities of schools and heritage schoolhouses, and how education has built the nation that Canada is today.

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In a video about 19th century PEI teacher Kate Henderson, Heritage Minutes reminds us that “no group of educators ever worked harder than the young women and men who taught in one-room schools in isolated communities all over Canada. Whether boarding in the crowded homes of local families or living alone in primitive teacherages, they were under the constant scrutiny of the entire community. They usually taught seven or eight grades in uncomfortable, ill-equipped schools. With few books and almost no supplies, the pioneer teachers had to rely on their ingenuity and perseverance to survive the school year. The life of the rural teacher has become a part of Canadian folklore.”

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Here’s my favourite 19th century education quote: “What is the Teacher’s work? It is to develop the mind, to mould the heart, and to form the character of the future citizens, magistrates, and rulers of the land. It is to teach and implant that which is the only guarantee of liberty, order and social stability ‒ the essential element of a country’s prosperity and happiness. (Rev. Egerton Ryerson, Chief Superintendent of Education, Canada West, 1850).”

While the lessons of cooperation, hard work, trust, and respect that were taught by our early teachers are an integral part of Canada’s backbone, our more recent ideas of tolerance, community, and citizenship championed by our schools and school boards are central to the strength of our nation.

Sadly, our world community has lost some of its youth to radicalization, and innocent lives have been lost.

While there may be no turning back for some, we must continue emphasizing  that education remains the key to open and informed minds, generosity, humanitarian actions, and community building.

Most importantly, education ensures choices — better choices. Lifelong learning, positive thinking, and building — not destroying — should ideally be at the heart of every young person regardless of their faith or country.

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