RealRenewal reaches out to embattled EcoJustice students

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November 13, 2016 by realrenewal

A giant thank-you card from RealRenewal was delivered to Saskatoon’s EcoJustice class on Nov. 8. RealRenewal members wanted to send an uplifting message, after the Grade 8 students and their teachers were publicly criticized for attending a community gathering on water protection.

A separate letter urged Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools to support students who stand up and speak their minds on important societal issues, and to continue offering the program’s unique educational flavour.

The card and letter spring from RealRenewal’s last Annual Meeting, which focused on experiential learning opportunities. At the meeting, we learned how courses like EcoJustice, EcoQuest and the now-defunct Trek School help students explore and engage in the world around them.

We also learned that such programs need parent and community support to survive within Saskatchewan’s current education setting, where cutbacks and mining industry involvement in classroom learning have become normalized.

EcoJustice is grounded in the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi, according to the course website.  “In EcoJustice, students become aware of important global issues and actively pursue local social justice causes,” the website states. “Our program, through real life connections with the community and environment, will develop students intellectually, socially, physically and spiritually while also enhancing their self-esteem and citizenship skills.”

“…if we have to pipeline it, we should do it in an area that is not threatened, by sacred burial grounds, and we definitely shouldn’t do it under a river.” – EcoJustice Student

Those citizenship skills were in full force when – after researching the potential impact of a pipeline leak under the Missouri River – the students decided to hop on their bikes and join a water protection gathering on Oct. 27.

At the event, described by program coordinators as prayer and ceremony, two students gave media interviews.

“I believe that we do need to keep oil in the ground. And if we have to pipeline it, we should do it in an area that is not threatened, by sacred burial grounds, and we definitely shouldn’t do it under a river,” one student said.

“In the word ‘justice’ appears in anything outside the court, it is typically a cover for socialism…” – John Gormley

Talk show host John Gormley later mocked the student’s media comments. “The ignorance there is so profound,” he said on air, asking if students were aware their iPhone cases were made of petroleum.

Speaking of the EcoJustice course, he said, “If the word ‘justice’ appears in anything outside the court, it is typically a cover for socialism and activism.” He further accused the students of “beggaring and diminishing the lives of 10,000 families in this province” who depend on the oilfields.

While the students and their teachers were under fire, division administrators took an unsupportive line.

“Although we respect students’ right to freedom of expression, comments made to the media did not reflect the breadth and depth of learning presented in classrooms throughout the division,” read an official media statement, which concluded, “We are taking appropriate steps with staff involved.”

“Ecojustice = Eco-terrorism.” – online comment

The board’s statement led to a story being published in the StarPhoenix. While many online comments on the story supported the kids, some adult readers felt it necessary to call the students “eco-terrorists,” “eco-fascists,” and “lazy.”

“Those kids can barely dress themselves let alone make logical statements regarding the shipment of oil,” opined one reader.

Comments like these prompted a discussion among RealRenewal members on social media about what they could do to show the embattled students they are respected and cared for by many. Eight members came out for an evening of art making, facilitated by artist Chelsea Flook, using studio space loaned by photographer Eagleclaw Thom.

“Thank you for standing up and taking action.” – RealRenewal card

The final product was a collage of landscapes, animals and people, as well as images of environmental threats, and inspirational sayings by Pope Francis about citizens taking action to protect the environment. “Thank you for standing up and taking action,” the card read.

Meanwhile, letters to GSCS’s director of education and board chair encouraged the Division to continue grooming young people “to act peacefully and courageously…to transform the world in ways consonant with a sense of justice.”

RealRenewal submitted letters to the editor in Regina and Saskatoon as well. In a separate action, members of the U of R Faculty of Education also drafted a letter to the board, in which educators stressed the importance of standing up for programs like EcoJustice.

Listen to the Gormley Show segment on EcoJustice (Note: The host mistakenly refers to the school as St. Philips, but it is in fact St. Edwards).

RealRenewal letterBoth the board chair and the director of education received the same letter.


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