Standing at the top of the Tower of Hope, I hold my breath in awe of the view of Saint-Boniface Cathedral, where Métis leader Louis Riel is buried, and The Forks, a site of age-long human activity situated at the confluence of two mighty rivers. If I look westward from here, my spirit is transported upstream to the source of the Assiniboine in the ancient glacial valleys of Saskatchewan. If I allow my imagination to flow downstream with the waters of the Red River, I start dreaming of Lake Winnipeg and Hudson Bay.
These were my intimate musings at the end of a recent visit to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg, and I must confess that I was deeply moved by the exhibits in the different galleries. That morning I had had a chance to follow the history and evolution of human dignity over several millennia and explore the perspectives of First Nations together with that of the Métis and Inuit peoples. Among the Mongolian basalt monoliths in the Garden of Contemplation, I had spent some time meditating and felt profoundly ashamed as a human being by the Holocaust and other modern-day genocides. I also learnt about Canada’s steps and missteps over the years on its journey to greater individual and social freedoms.
As this visit had been closely preceded by the Head’s Welcome Reception on October 12, the words from my speech for the occasion were still ringing in my ears, although at this point they seemed to be taking on extra layers of meaning. At the reception, I had illustrated the happy beginning of the school year by showing a number of relevant photographs on slides and I had also taken stock of the first 12 months of implementation of our new Strategic Plan. Most importantly, perhaps, I had expounded on our vision statement, according to which TFS students “are empowered to make an impact in the world.”
Indeed, one of the goals of my speech was to analyze the impact that our institution has had over the years. As the country’s first bilingual school in 1962, TFS not only inspired the creation of the French immersion system, but also contributed more widely to the development of a modern Canadian national identity based on the celebration of both official languages. This actually brings to mind a particular personal experience that I would like to share with you. When I recently attended the TSO’s tribute to Toronto-born classical pianist Glenn Gould, I was pleased that the evening’s host, Colm Feore, was switching effortlessly from English to French throughout the event. And most people seemed to understand his remarks and jokes, irrespective of the language. If I was pleased and proud about it all, it was because I was conscious that, without our school’s historical role in the promotion of bilingualism, this magical evening at the Roy Thomson Hall might not have been possible.
In addition to bilingualism, what will the impact of our school be a hundred years after its foundation? It is always risky to pinpoint new trends, but I hope and believe that our future influence will be closely associated with citizenship. This is a classical concept that is being updated and given a new lease on life by a wide variety of institutions worldwide, from France’s Ministry of Education to Columbia University. In an address delivered in late September at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, President Barack Obama, who was introduced to an audience of more than 3,000 spectators by a TFS parent, talked about citizen engagement as being key to deepening the quality of our democracies and improving the human condition. Likewise, our new Governor General, and former astronaut, Julie Payette, insisted in her installation speech that we must see ourselves as citizens of the same planetary spaceship, as partners whose success and even survival depends on our willingness to collaborate towards higher goals and the common good.
I am glad to say that, at our school, we are leaders in this new global movement, as we place citizenship at the heart of our education and link it directly with the three strategic pillars of academic ambition, all-round development and international perspective. As a matter of fact, our concept of citizenship comprises a wide range of unique characteristics. TFS citizens are expected to be intellectually ambitious in the pursuit of knowledge and meet challenges with effort so that difficulties can become learning opportunities. TFS citizens are expected to embrace an all-round education that can make them more aware of their individual rights and social responsibilities, one that enables them to see through the deceptions of all sorts of populisms and encourages them to participate more effectively in public life. Lastly, TFS citizens are expected to cultivate a universal outlook by seeking to be multilingual in order to become acquainted with different worldviews, and also by adopting an intercultural attitude, whereby they can learn from other traditions and engage in the worthy task of finding global solutions for global problems.
Therein lies our strength as an institution. By virtue of being part of the TFS “city,” our students are getting ready, without even realizing, to join the global city and contribute to its progress. The role of education is, in my view, to equip children in such a way that this transition from local to global can be as smooth as possible. We must therefore encourage them to experiment in the safety of our school so that they can gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes that they will need, once they join the world of adults, to be able to fend for themselves successfully and at the same time strive for the betterment of society.
I can now begin to understand why the speech I had delivered at the Head’s Welcome Reception came back to my mind at the end of my visit to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I suppose that, ultimately, education is the only means we have to overcome the mistakes of the past and look forward to a brighter future. Admittedly, human progress does not always move in a straight line and it is at best fragile, but it is precisely because of this that we must consider our school a metaphorical Tower of Hope at an important fork in the path of life. If all of us do the right thing, our children will endeavour to become good citizens who can make a positive impact on their communities and the world at large, much like the waters coming from the western hills and turning northward in search of idyllic lakes and bays.
Such is the power of conviction. Such is the power of youth.
Dr. Josep L. González
Head of School