Tag Archives: Upper School

Learning Moral Courage with Professor Irshad Manji

We live in divided times, and our world is more polarized than ever before. While social media platforms today allow us to communicate instantaneously and effortlessly anywhere in the world, they have engendered a new crisis, ironically, of communication—the effects of which we could not possibly have anticipated.

At present, the prospect of communicating across divides—political or otherwise—seems an impossible task. As our lives become increasingly isolated and insular, we feel more distant from our friends and neighbours, and from the world at large. The American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt offered a poignant assessment of our contemporary social affliction in a recent article for The Atlantic: “We are disoriented, unable to speak the same language or recognize the same truth. We are cut off from one another and from the past.” Yet, recent data published by Gallup reveals that our society was more cooperative, with intergroup relations perceived nearly twice as positively, only ten short years ago. So, how can start to bridge our modern divide and begin to heal collectively, as a society?

Professor Irshad Manji (University of Oxford) proposes a simple, yet satisfying, answer: by learning to communicate with each other—again.

Last year, Ridley College joined the growing ‘moral courage community’ by partnering with Professor Manji’s non-profit Moral Courage College (MCC), an organization that empowers and works with institutions, including K-12 schools like ours, to engage in honest diversity work rather than simply rushing to adopt the trendiest framework out of fear of appearing unresponsive. In September 2021, we invited Professor Manji to host a series of virtual workshops with students, faculty, and staff to teach us about moral courage and set out on a path together, as an institution, to develop the skills to engage constructively about contentious issues without sowing division.

Of course, Professor Manji is no stranger to Ridley College. As many in our community will no doubt recall, she was the inaugural speaker in our MGI-Gordon Distinguished Speaker in November 2005 during the tour for her controversial second book, The Trouble with Islam Today, which had been released the previous year. Seeking a dynamic speaker who could spark discussion and debate around big ideas, she fit the bill perfectly and, as with her latest visit, she certainly did not disappoint. This year, however, Professor Manji returned to Ridley in a new capacity—as our first Global Leader in Residence, sharing her wealth of knowledge and insight with our students, parents, faculty, and staff, as well as some of the intimate biographical details that inspired her to establish the Moral Courage Project.

Before joining the University of Oxford’s Initiative for Global Ethics and Human Rights, Professor Manji served for many years as a professor of leadership at New York University. Prior to that, she held a number of positions under Canadian New Democratic politicians—as a legislative aide, press secretary, and speechwriter—while somehow also finding time to moonlight as the host of a television program about queer issues and author multiple New York Times bestselling books, most recently, Don’t Label Me: How to Do Diversity Without Inflaming the Culture Wars, published by St. Martin’s Press in 2019.

But despite her many accolades—including Oprah Winfrey’s Chutzpah Award for “audacity, nerve, boldness, and conviction”—Professor Manji remains completely authentic, wholly unpretentious, and down to earth. She moves fluidly between registers from session to session, deftly navigating a spectrum of big—and often controversial—topics in a way that is engaging and memorable, masterfully modulating her message to command the full attention of her audience, whether comprised of Kindergarteners, teens, or adults over 50.

Stepping out onto the Mandeville Theatre stage in person for the first time in nearly two decades, she addresses the packed crowd on Monday morning with humility and grace—virtues she credits to having her proverbial butt kicked in the early years of her career. “I wanted to change the world without recognizing that I had to change myself,” she reflects. 

“Back then, the voice in my head told me if you don’t fight back, your opponents won’t know that you mean business. […] But this was the biggest mistake I ever could have made because it made my critics more rigid in their thinking and made my sympathizers question my sincerity.”   

But this change did not come easily. After nearly a decade of “digesting toxic energy,” experiencing clinical depression and panic attacks, she collapsed just moments before the biggest interview of her life. Then, her doctors presented her with an ultimatum—either she quit her book tour, or they quit as her doctors. “It was the hardest decision I ever had to make,” she explains. “My body was trying to tell me something, but I was not listening. Then my body showed me who was boss.” 

Today, she is no longer the incendiary, confrontational figure who “used to walk on stage with her metaphorical fists clenched, ready to punch back at her opponents,” but instead, strives to be a thoughtful and respectful adversary to those with whom she disagrees—a power she claims is entirely within reach for those who are willing to “speak truth to the power of their own egos.”

Drawing on the principles of neuroscience and positive psychology, she started the MCC to help educators and leaders communicate and develop relationships across divides by learning to modulate their emotions in situations where they are forced to confront difficult, often emotionally charged, issues. This instinct to fear and lash out when we are confronted with views different from our own, and the related impulse to subdue this perceived threat by labelling others, is a fundamental part of how we are wired, she explains. However, letting our emotions—primarily fear—guide us tends to produce only fast, often temporary, fixes that only deepen existing tensions and polarization.

 “Instinctually, we are always scanning for threats. When we perceive them, the primitive region of our brains—the amygdala [part of the Limbic System]—starts to take over. […] When we disagree on subjects that we feel passionately about, our brains make us believe others are attacking us. We perceive disagreement as an existential threat. But in reality, we are only experiencing mere discomfort.” 

In those decisive moments, we are forced to make a choice. We can let fear overtake us and become defensive—usually at the expense of being heard by our opponents—or we can choose to listen, which requires us to acknowledge and respect the singularity of the individual we are facing, despite our initial instinct to reduce them to a set of labels.   

“There is no shame in categorizing,” she continues.  

“The trouble with labels is not that they exist, but the baggage that goes with them. But we must remember that we are also owners of a more evolved part of the brain. Rather than letting emotion bully cognition out of the picture, we must find a way to let cognition and emotion peacefully co-exist.” 

A problem arises only when we let our assumptions—and our emotions—take the wheel and shut down rather than engaging with our opponents as equals. In these moments, we deprive others of their humanity by reducing them to caricatures rather than engaging with them as our equals with complex thoughts, opinions, and emotions, at which point, Manji emphasizes, “social justice becomes anti-social, and justice is reduced to ‘just us.’”

True justice, she counters, manifests when we recognize that individuals who belong to the same demographic group are not identical, and we are impelled to create space for that individual to express their unique point of view.

“I am a Muslim. But does that mean that I think like every other Muslim? Not all Muslims think alike. And if that’s true of marginalized groups, it is also true of the so-called straight white guy. […] If you’re going to [make the conscious effort to] know me, [rather than] of me, you are going to engage with me, not make assumptions based on this or that label.” 

So, how do we outsmart the limbic system which causes us to react this way? The answer might surprise you: take a deep breath. “We must give our bodies the time and oxygen to transition from this hyperemotional ego brain to the more evolved pre-frontal cortex […] where cognition and emotion can cohabit and coexist,” Manji claims. This is not to say we need to banish emotion. “Good luck trying,” she scoffs. Rather, it is coming to the realization that our biggest obstacle is not the other person, but our own egos.

“By lowering our emotional defences, we are using our power wisely to motivate the other to follow in our footsteps,” she explains. But unfortunately—in the age of cancel culture and reactive social media platforms—many social justice advocates and educators have lost sight of this noble ambition. 

As governments, businesses, non-profits, and other institutions around the world continue to direct considerable effort and resources to creating or revising DEI or JEDI mandates, Manji emphasizes the need for creating organizational cultures that respect and encourage a diversity of viewpoints, which she suggests is both a cornerstone of our pluralistic, liberal-democratic way of life. Recent events show, however, that this way of life is increasingly threatened by a creeping homogeneity driven by a fear of appearing ineffective, behind the times, or worse—prejudiced.

“There is a tendency to frame free speech as antithetical to social justice and social justice as contradictory to free speech. You can have one or the other but not both. I’m calling B.S. on that. You must have both.” 

In response to changing tides, administrators in K-12 and higher education have deployed various “inclusion efforts” and “inclusion training” programs over the last decade which Manji claims have only “inflamed the culture wars” and fuelled an “us versus them” mentality—usually in service of “speaking truth to power,” a slogan that Manji partially takes issue with.

This statement, and the term “moral courage,” she explains, are usually attributed to the same source—former U.S. Senator, Robert F. Kennedy, who was an advocate for the civil rights movement and fought against corruption before his tragic death in 1968. When we are called upon to “speak truth to power,” we are being asked to take a moral stance on an issue and stand up for what is right, even when it is inconvenient or unpopular, or our position might be perceived as unnecessarily critical or offensive. But in our current climate of “us against them,” Manji claims, “the way we speak truth to power matters as much as the truth we think we are speaking.” 

“Speaking truth to power is not enough. We must appreciate that we have power. Moral courage today has to mean speaking truth to the power of your own ego, even as you are speaking truth to powers external to you.” 

One of the key tactics deployed by the civil rights movement that ought to be leveraged by today’s educators and social justice advocates is the capacity to educate one’s emotions. She explains: 

“During the civil rights movement, facilitators of activism taught young people to educate [their] emotions. If you simply lash out, you are not going to make your point in a way that motivates the other to hear you. These moments spent so much time building resilience and antifragility. We have lost that today.” 

Doing moral courage work today, therefore, requires learning to master our emotional defences so we can productively communicate and develop relationships across divides. Doing so, she explains, permits us to overcome our all-pervasive us versus them mindset so that we can begin to work co-operatively to build cultures—organizational and otherwise—that reject shaming and labelling and champion free speech, diversity of expression, and diversity of viewpoint. For educators, this means rejecting fear and putting these skills to work in their classrooms to create and cultivate respectful spaces for open dialogue and debate. But it also means teaching students to respect the plurality of forces at work in each of us and begin to view themselves and others as more than individuals or a set of labels—but as “plurals.” Only plural, Manji explains, “accurately captures all sentient beings [and suggests] that there is so much more to any of us than meets the eye.”

This responsibility will not fall squarely upon faculty members. In the fall, Professor Manji will be virtually leading an exciting new club, “We the Plurals,” which is open to all students between Grades 7 and 12 who are 100 percent committed to the cause. The club will teach students to recognize themselves and each other as plurals, teach them to educate their emotions and equip them “with the skills to engage across lines of difference, disagreement and mutual disgust”—skills that Professor Manji notes are increasingly in demand in our global society.

Members of our faculty and staff will also enroll in Professor Manji’s Moral Courage Mentor Certification Program in the coming months to become certified Moral Courage Mentors. This program, which she bills as a “Moral Courage boot camp,” teaches participants to “finesse [their] moral courage skills, boost [their] confidence to teach those skills to younger people, and meet fellow aspiring Mentors.” At the conclusion of the course, all participants will receive a certificate issued by the University of Oxford and be equipped with the skills to teach Moral Courage both in the classroom and in communities beyond. We encourage parents and students to consider enrolling in the course as well to help us extend our Moral Courage teachings beyond the classroom.

As we continue to advocate for and define our individual approach to cultivating justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion on campus, we remain committed to empowering our diverse community of learners, fostering global competency, and providing a safe space for healthy debate on global issues. Above all, Ridley College is a place where everyone belongs and finds a home. Equally, we reject the chilling modern tendency to respond to intolerance with new, sometimes greater, forms of intolerance.

We are so grateful to Professor Manji for her kindness and profound insight, and we look forward to working with her in the future as we continue to integrate the teachings of Moral Courage into the essential foundation of our learning community.

Students Shine at Fulford Cup Debate

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Each year, the speaking arts at Ridley continues to grow, and with it, so do our students. With each debate, speech, or presentation, our Ridleians continue to develop the skills and confidence to succeed, while exploring and seeking answers to global issues. During the first debate of the year, our Ridleians put these very skills to the test,  and returned home with a trophy in hand.

On November 4th – 5th, Ridley students participated in the first Fulford Cup debate of the season, hosted by Lakefield College School. The Fulford League is comprised of 20 independent schools throughout Ontario, and a number of Fulford Cup debates occur each year. These events offer students the chance to meet, compete and grow with their peers, as the year progresses.

For this most recent debate, there were two prepared rounds on the topic of whether vaccinations should be mandatory, followed by an impromptu round on whether we should continue to fund space exploration.

Junior debaters, Bart Skala ‘19 (placed 6th individually) and Jared Sloan ‘19 (placed 8th individually) won the Fulford Cup with impressive performances, placing first overall as a team. This is the first time Ridley has won the Fulford League Bryan Jones Trophy since the 1999-2000 season.

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Seniors, Jack Richardson ‘17 (placed 4th individually) and Zane Gourzong ’18 (placed 18th individually) finished 5th as a team, in the challenging cross-examination category. This was the first competitive debate for Zane and an impressive start to his debate involvement. Jack demonstrated his experience by placing 4th overall, earning his second consecutive Fulford certificate. Our students represented Ridley well; demonstrating their dedication, talent and team work. The coaches, Andrew Leach, Sean MacPherson, and Paul O’Rourke are encouraged by the development of this year’s debate members and look forward to their next debate. The competitive calendar has just started and new students are always welcomed.

The Ridley Debating Society would like to take this time to acknowledge the generous support of W. Darcy McKeough ’51 and the W. Darcy McKeough ’51 Fund, which helps develop the speaking arts at Ridley – debate, public speaking, and model United Nations.

Want to support the speaking arts? The 2016 annual Upper School Public Speaking Competition will be held on Wednesday, November 30th, at 1:00p.m. in the Mandeville Theatre. We encourage all members of the Ridley community to attend this long standing Ridley tradition and cheer on the participants.

– Paul O’Rourke, MYP Coordinator, Department of Social Sciences (LS)

 

Get to Know Your Prefects: Graham D. ‘17

Screen Shot 2016-09-14 at 11.00.18 AMIntroducing Graham Devitt ’17 – a Prefect who has grown during his Ridley career – from Lower School, through to Upper School. Read how he has been driven to succeed during his time at Ridley and where he hopes his future will lead him.

Why did you choose Ridley?

I chose Ridley because it is one of the best schools in the area. I am a day student and choosing to go to Ridley was an easy decision, as it is both academically and athletically renowned. Ridley presents unique opportunities that cannot be found anywhere else and I knew it would be a great fit for me!

Did you feel prepared coming to Ridley?

Yes, I felt prepared coming to Ridley. I came in Lower School and integrating into the culture was much easier there. I was a bit nervous going to a new school – as Ridley’s reputation preceded itself – but as soon as I arrived I was accepted and became immersed in Ridley life.

Who is your favourite faculty member and why?

My favourite faculty member is Mrs. Roud. She taught me Grade 10 History and is also my housemaster. She has helped me evolve academically, in addition to encouraging me to push my limits and become a better person. She has helped me with everything from school work to personal projects and has always been a very caring and dependable person. I look forward to working with her to make Dean’s House and the rest of Ridley as enjoyable for everyone else as it has been for me!

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What has been your greatest challenge thus far at Ridley?

I think the greatest challenge has been making the most of all the opportunities Ridley presents. On top of academics, athletics and extra-curriculars, Ridley provides many other opportunities to advance and develop one’s education. Being able to – on top of everything else – go on exchanges, participate in service trips, and apply for awards is definitely a challenge, but one that can be extremely rewarding.

What has been your greatest accomplishment thus far at Ridley?

My greatest accomplishment would be winning the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize to travel to Europe during two weeks in the summer and visit various WWI and WWII memorials and battle sites. Although it took a substantial amount of work, the payoff is extraordinary and I am proud to have won this prestigious award.

What has been your favorite Ridley experience?

My favourite Ridley experience is going to camp at the beginning of every year. Getting to know all the new boys and doing everything from wake boarding to zip lining is both a fun and involved adventure!

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What is your favourite part of Ridley life?

My favourite part of Ridley life is being a part of a house. Being a part of Dean’s House and playing the other houses in sports, participating in house events and BBQs is truly a unique experience to Ridley and one that I thoroughly enjoy!

What part of being a Prefect are you most excited for?

I am looking forward to being a role model to all younger students and especially the new students this next year. Showing students how to make the most of Ridley life, do well in school, and more importantly, enjoy all the other aspects of Ridley – from sports, to dances, to trips – is something I’m looking forward to. The opportunity to lead others and help them make the most of there time here will be very rewarding.

How has Ridley prepared you for the future?

As you progress through Ridley, you gain more independence. This parallels life in university and beyond. In addition, Ridley life is very different than other schools. From simple things like waking up for class on your own, to tasks like touring prospective students, Ridley reinforces qualities and values that many kids don’t learn until much later in life. 

What are your plans after graduation?

I plan to go on to university to get a bachelors and most likely a master’s degree. I haven’t quite chosen what my degree will be yet but it will be something within the social sciences for sure. After that my only ambition is to move to a big city and start working. Wherever that takes me, we’ll have to see.

What advice would you give prospective students about Ridley?

Make the most of Ridley. However you ended up here, you are extremely privileged. Understand this and take all the opportunities you can, because soon enough you will be finished Ridley and those opportunities won’t be there. If you balance your academics and also have fun, Ridley will be one of the best experiences you will have in your life.

Ridley’s Language Programme – exploring the world, inside the classroom

“Every man’s ability may be strengthened or increased by culture.” – John Abbott

There are nearly 200 countries in the world, 44 of which are represented here at Ridley. With such a direct connection with people from all over the world, culture plays a huge role in the day-to-day lives of Ridleians. The more our students can experience and appreciated culture, the better equipped they will be to transform our globe when they graduate. With that being said, Ridley ensures that our students have the opportunity to explore the world as often as they can.

In order to obtain their Ontario Secondary School Diploma, students are required to study French from Grade 4 through Grade 9. Here at Ridley, students are exposed to languages far earlier. The department of Classic and International Languages has developed a curriculum that brings international cultures into the classroom, and gives students ample opportunity to become multilingual. Beginning in Kindergarten, students are introduced to French, and this language is taught up to Grade 9. Ridley’s Upper School language programme then provides students the opportunity to learn languages beyond what is most commonly offered during secondary school, beginning in Grade 10. Offering French, German, Mandarin and Spanish, the students have the choice to expand their multilingual knowledge or continue advancing in a language they have grasped. From the start to finish of each course, the students are able to immerse themselves in the language.

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“The tools to learn a new language are given to you from day one.  Learning a new language is as enjoyable at Ridley as it is educational.”

– Elliott Ziolkowski ’16

“It’s been tons of fun learning a couple of new languages. I think that the Ridley Community is the ideal place to learn languages too because of the diverse student population.”

– Joshua Allan ’16

During the course of their studies, students have the opportunity to venture beyond the Marriott Gates on class related field trips, to locations such as Toronto’s China Town, where they can experience the culture first-hand and apply the material they’ve learned in class. Apart from these day trips, a number of students decide to further apply their knowledge of these international languages by partaking in a foreign exchange.

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In addition to the extensive language options, German and Mandarin students have the opportunity to study literature in their native language, thanks to the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme. A tutoring programme is also in place, where students who are native to the language or show exemplary language proficiency can earn community service hours by tutoring their peers!

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By being an international boarding school, students studying a foreign language are able to immediately apply their knowledge with peers and roommates that are from the country where the language under study is spoken. This allows all students to see the immediate applications of content covered in their courses and make real world connections.” 

– Mr. Chris Gordon, Subject Coordinator Classical & International Languages

With so many options and opportunities for students to explore language and culture, students develop a desire to see, change and learn about the world, even after they’ve completed their secondary school education.

If you’d like to learn more about our Language Department or the courses offered, please contact Mr. Chris Gordon at chris_gordon@ridleycollege.com.

 

Ridley Theatre presents ‘The Caucasian Chalk Circle’

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This past weekend, Ridley Theatre presented The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht. The show included a diverse ensemble of 31 students from nine different countries, who showcased their talents as they acted, sang, and danced to re-tell the ancient Chinese parable of the chalk circle.

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Writing in the 1930s and 1940s, Brecht developed Epic Theatre, which aimed to illuminate social disease and critique sources of global conflict. Brecht believed that, “art is not a mirror with which to reflect reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” This production adopted Brechtian techniques of staging; for example, song was used to propel the narrative forward, characters were played by multiple actors, and stock gestures, known as gestus, were used to clarify character. Moments of suspense and tension were broken by comedy or das spass. In Brecht’s true form, these techniques allowed the actors to become story-tellers instead of re-livers of the character’s experiences, alienating audiences, and allowing them to think critically about the play’s big questions, while being entertained.

Over the past four months, our student actors trained tirelessly to develop proficiency in Brecht’s techniques. They also worked extensively with Kaeja d’Dance to use movement to illustrate moments within the chalk circle story. The students’ focus and dedication resulted in a performance that was captivating, yet thought-provoking.

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Although the curtain has closed, the skills fortified from day one of rehearsals will remain with the students as they go on to explore the world of theatre and beyond.

Ridley Theatre would like to thank the members of the Ridley community who came out to see the show! It is with great pleasure that we announce that a total of $733.00 was donated by our theatre patrons, all of which will be put toward the Ridley College Team Syria fund: a resource that will be used to sponsor a Syrian refugee family to live in Niagara. We would also like to thank our patrons for their non-perishable food donations for Community Care.

– Ms. Gillian Fournier, Department of English and Dramatic Arts

For a limited time, you can watch the recorded performance on TigerNet Live!

Spanish Classes Dance the Flamenco & Make Sculptures While Geography Classes Take in Niagara’s Geographic Splendor

Yesterday that Grade 11 and 12 Spanish classes traveled to the Gardiner Museum in Toronto to take part in both a guided tour and pottery making class.  Special exhibits included Mayan, Aztec, Inca and other Meso-American ceramic displays.  The classes made their own Meso-American sculptures. 

The day was completed with a lunch at Plaza Flamingo and a live Flamenco show. Students received an explanation of the history of Flamenco and were even given a lesson in Flamenco dancing.

Meanwhile, the Grade 9 Geography students participated in ‘Niagara Day’ – a regional geography field-trip.

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Stops included:  the Welland Canal (Lock 3 Museum and the Flight Locks); the Morningstar Mill (a gristmill built in 1872); traveling 250 feet above the Whirlpool Rapids on the Spanish Aerocar (a unique opportunity to view the physical geography of Niagara) and a visit to Cherry Avenue Farms est. 1799 to learn about the tender fruit industry in the Niagara Region.

Morningstar Mill

Spanish Aerocar

Cherry Avenue Farms

As told by Mr. Martinez and Mr. Ronald