Fostering Opportunities for Students to Learn About, and Live Out the Parliament’s Global Ethic
This essay was selected as the first-place winner of the 2023 Global Ethic Essay Contest and read on the main stage of the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA. Written by Audrey Ferrer, a Religious Education & Family Life Resource Teacher (K-12) at the Toronto Catholic District School Board in Canada, the essay explored how to bring the Global Ethic into the classroom and how, for example, it could help her students engage with various moral issues like the treatment of Indigenous people in her country.
As a Catholic high school teacher in the Greater Toronto Area, my heart sometimes breaks when in dialogue with the younger generation. Our students are struggling with post-COVID trauma and grief, anxiety about the climate crisis, and systemic discrimination. After graduation, they will face high unemployment rates and the lack of affordable housing. They witness, through media, the growing division and violence between groups. It is no surprise they have lost hope, searching for meaning in their lives. The Global Ethic, with its five Directives, can act as a guide for youth to rediscover purpose, spiritual fulfillment, skills development and build a collective conscience. The Global Ethic can engage and empower youth to make transformative changes that address the urgent needs of our communities, on issues that matter to them.
I would like to share the example of an issue that students say is of major importance in Canada: Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. Although I was born in Manila, Philippines, I moved to Canada when I was two years old. While I am not personally responsible for the historical oppression and cultural genocide of Indigenous Peoples in Canada, I understand that I am a “settler,” and I benefit from their land that was taken hundreds of years ago. And although I was not responsible for the Indigenous children who were stolen away from their families by the Canadian government, I know I am responsible for addressing the wrong-doings that happened.
To do so I can try to uphold the Global Ethic in my teaching practice. That is, I can commit to its 3rd Directive — a culture of tolerance and life of truthfulness — by highlighting the abuse of Indigenous children that took place in residential schools and how 60% of these schools were run by Catholic-affiliated organizations. As a Catholic, this is a painful part of our religious heritage and history but I can challenge my students to critically examine how and why abuse was possible. It was an arrogant sense of righteousness, with no heart to listen and learn from others, that made it possible for individuals to commit crimes against innocent children, and for a nation of bystanders to let it happen. “Beating the Indian out of the child” for spiritual and cultural salvation sprang from a colonial culture of intolerance and ignorance. In short, we must adopt a stance of humility in recognizing that no single religious or cultural group carries the whole truth and there is rich wisdom in learning from each other. If only we had listened from the heart, we would have seen the Global Ethic reflected in Indigenous teachings, and seen their connection to our own faith.
Once learning is embedded in a life of truthfulness and culture of tolerance, it is easier to focus on the other Global Ethic Directives. For example, one of the impacts of intergenerational trauma is the issue of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. Students understand the importance of the 4th Directive and its commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women. They have advocated for the police and government to address the thousands of girls and women who have been murdered or disappeared these past decades, without serious investigation or justice.
Another issue that has drawn the attention of my students is that of treaty rights and of defending land and water. Though the 2nd Directive calls for a culture of solidarity and economic justice, the government and companies gain economic profit by destroying sacred territories while Indigenous communities suffer devastating loss. For example, it is heartbreaking to hear the Anishinabek First Nation speak of their lived experiences in Grassy Narrows, a community whose water was contaminated with mercury poisoning, resulting in high incidences of cancer. It is also difficult to believe their community has been on a boiled water advisory for 48 years! To top it all off, the provincial government is planning to begin mining operations in Grassy Narrows traditional lands without even consulting them! They are only one of many Indigenous communities whose lands and lives are being threatened.
As a mother and teacher, listening to stories of their youth struggling with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, I cannot imagine how overwhelming it must be – yet I witness the strength, hope, and resilience of Indigenous peoples who continue to fight for the rights and wellbeing of their land and people.
This is where the Global Ethic helps direct the work we can do in a practical and meaningful way. Taking its 3rd Directive to heart, we can take a stand with Indigenous peoples in solidarity, asking for a just economic order, and protesting in a way that is non-violent. In the past, I’ve witnessed youth moved by such issues. They act as co-conspirators, echoing Indigenous voices to demand justice for Indigenous communities. By demanding that the government meet with First Nations to protect land and resources, youth play a role in helping promote a culture of sustainability and care for the earth, as the Global Ethic directs us to in its 5th Directive. Youth have found creative and non-violent ways to stand in solidarity, through organizing letter-writing and social media campaigns, building “pipelines of hope” in front of the Parliament building, deploying visual arts, music, drama, prayer vigil services, marches, solidarity dinners, etc. In their campaigns, youth have developed a wide array of skills – planning and organization, communication, budgeting, civic engagement, technology, even cooking! The list goes on. Most importantly, they learn they can make a difference and effect positive change in line with the 1st Directive by creating a culture of nonviolence and respect for life.
Thus, using the Global Ethics Directives to help guide youth on specific issues can be a helpful and empowering way to provide hope and resolution for problem solving and community building. As the next generation, we must invest in our future. To conclude, I challenge you with this personal and possibly, professional, question for reflection.
How are you providing opportunities for youth to learn about, and live out, the Global Ethic? Let us be very intentional in creating the space and time to do so!