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Gerry ChidiacOne of the things I love about being a public school teacher in Canada is that I can offer the highest quality of education possible to every one of my students, regardless of the socio-economic status of their families.

Every child is a gift to the world and the well-being of humanity is hindered when we only offer first-rate schooling to the children of the wealthy. I fail to understand why this isn’t common knowledge.

Looking through history, we see that many rich and powerful people haven’t understood the value of every human life. Sometimes I wonder what’s actually being taught in the elite schools of the world. Every now and then, however, a person like Eleanor Roosevelt comes along.

Roosevelt was a child of the American oligarchy and the niece of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States. She was also the wife of Franklin Roosevelt, her somewhat distant cousin, who is considered by many the greatest president in American history.

Franklin Roosevelt took power when his country was on a trajectory toward either communism or fascism. He used the opportunity of the Great Depression to rein in the power of unscrupulous oligarchs and earn the trust of the common American. One of the reasons why the United States was able to mobilize so effectively in the Second World War was because of the groundwork put into place as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal.

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The influence of Eleanor Roosevelt can’t be understated. She pushed forward programs that benefited ordinary people and may well have saved her country. She clearly understood that the privilege she and her husband enjoyed came with profound responsibility. In fact, the most frequent criticisms of her husband’s presidency have to do with issues on which he ignored Eleanor’s advice, primarily those of racial justice.

Today communism is fortunately no longer able to garner significant support, but the threat of fascism remains very real in the United States. Many seem to have forgotten that the best, perhaps only, way to defeat this sort of populist uprising is to respond to the needs of the struggling American effectively and empathically.

Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt certainly believed this to be true, and the long-term success of New Deal policies has proven that they were correct.

Western Europe and North America became stable and prosperous in the years following the Second World War because of improvements to public education, access to healthcare, the creation of effective social programs and a fair system of taxation.

Today, Canadians tend to look down their noses and assume that we’re immune from the rising extremism we see in the U.S. If we’re honest, however, we recognize that we’re on a similar path. We have a prime minister from an elite family who seems more interested in pleasing corporate Liberal Party donors than in doing what’s best for the Canadian people.

Even the New Democratic Party, founded on a platform very similar to the New Deal, is losing its focus. This is evidenced by an alliance with Justin Trudeau’s government on the federal level and a failure of the NDP government in British Columbia to improve healthcare or education.

The lack of investment in B.C. schools over the last two decades has resulted in a system held together by bubblegum and paperclips. I seriously wonder how much longer we will be able to give our children the quality of education they deserve. With the current strength of the B.C. economy, there’s no excuse for such austerity.

Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the most influential visionaries of the 20th century. We need to recognize that her vision is the only realistic way to create political stability, universal prosperity and peace.

Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.

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