Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Canadian Values

A lesson in values
When I was a young teacher, “values education” became something of a catch phrase in school circles. Although we knew in broad strokes what the phrase meant, I, at least, was not confident that if we were to begin listing those “values,” were to set out to rank their importance and actually to attempt to incorporate them routinely into our lessons, that we could ever actually agree on a values curriculum.

“Values” like fairness, respect, tolerance, cooperation were probably already implicit in what most of us were bringing to our classrooms, but conversation in the staff room indicated clearly that we teachers were not made with cookie cutters: some of us put reverence high on our list while others ridiculed it, for instance. One colleague played the stock market; his aim in life was to be independently wealthy. The high value he placed on such unassailable self-sufficiency appalled me.

Sometimes people add an adjective to imply that there are values a group holds in common, and so this election campaign has begun to throw out the term “Canadian values.” The inference is that there is a stock set of values that Canadians share and if you were to poll Canadians on the subject, their ranking of values would be more or less the same. 

Another such phrase—Christian values—may sound very much like being a Christian guarantees basic agreement on the relative importance to be placed on items in a list of values, but experience tells us that some believers value authority and tradition over fairness and equality—and the other way 'round, of course.

Stephen Harper used the phrase “Old-Stock Canadians” in the first debate and that raised a lot of eyebrows. He defined it later as "Canadians who have been the descendants of immigrants for one or more generations." Some of us joked that by this definition, we could take comfort in the fact that we qualified; others reminded us that by this definition, Indigenous people did not. It ends up being divisive by inferring that newcomers—refugees, immigrants—remain a separate classification until the children to whom they give birth in Canada reach maturity and become “old-stock,” real Canadians.

Now there's obviously one value Stephen Harper and I don't share, and we're both “old-stock Canadians.” But then, it's electioneering time and whatever value Canadians might agree on as regards honesty and integrity, we don't seem to insist on them during campaigns.

But thinking about values we share and don't share equally suggests a good exercise. Sit down in a group with a list of items that are used when values are in discussion: honesty, loyalty, self-sufficiency, hard work, respect, cooperation, punctuality, generosity, patriotism, tradition, power, health, fame, reverence for life, earth-care, fairness, kindness, etc. Have each participant choose only three that they consider to be most essential to the world as they see it. Compare lists and spend some time sharing views on why we each chose the items we did.

In fact, there are no such things as Canadian values, Christian values, at least insofar as they could be listed and ranked with confidence. For a political party to say that they are protecting my values (because I am, after all, a Canadian) feels like a pandering to my baser instincts. What they are seeking to defend is their values while hoping I will assume that they match mine.

How is this different from using female beauty to sell cars and beer, couples laughing and cavorting on beaches to sell insurance?

It assaults a few of my deeply-felt, basic values. Apparently they are not—after all—Canadian values.

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