As Canada celebrated 150 years as a country, it was very clear not everyone believed the festivities were justified. While some may have found these sentiments unpatriotic, our willingness to examine weaknesses is actually one of the keys to our greatness.
In her classic book Mindset, psychologist Carol Dweck explains how a person with a “growth mindset” knows that their talents are just the starting point. Ability develops through dedication and hard work. Life and learning become exciting adventures.
Perhaps the same can be said for countries. In celebrating our history, we not only recognize our accomplishments, we acknowledge our challenges. If we can work together to overcome these, our future becomes a growth-filled journey.
There are many things Canada needs to work on. We are a great and diverse land of opportunity, but when we look closely between and beyond our borders, we realize how much we need to improve.
First Nations protesters, for example, set up a camp on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in the days before the Canada Day festivities. Thousands of years of their traditions were disrupted by European colonization, causing deep wounds that have yet to be healed. What was interesting was that the protesters were not only allowed to stay, they met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who acknowledged the legitimacy of their concerns.
In a UNICEF study of children in the developed world, Canada ranked 25th out of 41 countries. We were in the top 10 in environmental awareness and education, but we ranked near the bottom in child poverty, food security, and as peaceful and inclusive society.
This may be a hard pill for Canadians to swallow. We like to point south and say how much better we are than our neighbours. While it’s true that we outperformed the United States in almost every category, we were far behind countries like Norway, Germany, Ireland, Japan and South Korea. We were even behind several countries that have rebuilt their democracies and economies after emerging from behind the Iron Curtain.
Much of problem comes from what protesters were saying on Parliament Hill. The conditions for aboriginal children in Canada are simply unacceptable. Federal funding for schools on reserves, for example, is 30 to 50 percent less than in provincially-run schools. In almost every category, from health and nutrition to personal safety, these children lag far behind other young Canadians. Despite the promises of the federal Liberals during the 2015 election campaign, we haven’t seen significant changes.
How does a nation with a growth mindset respond? We seek improvement. It would not be unrealistic, for example, to move Canada into the top 10 in all categories by 2025.
In a democracy like ours, this is achieved by holding our elected officials accountable. It’s also vital that those of us in positions of service become mindful of our prejudices and treat each person we work with like the most important person in the world.
We also know that many non-aboriginal children suffer. My experience in teaching urban at-risk students has been that when resources and opportunities become available, no one asks the ethnicity of a young person in need. This must continue.
What makes Canada great is our willingness to look honestly at the needs around us, and to respond in creative and effective ways.
With this growth mindset, and the creativity of a diverse and grateful population, our country will continue to thrive as we move into an exciting future.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.