Category Archives: Education

Anna Vogt- Kindergarten Pioneer

I first learned about kindergarten teacher Anna Vogt from my friend Elfrieda Neufeld, who was related to Anna and wrote a story about her for the historical journal Preservings in 1996. As a former kindergarten teacher in both Winnipeg and Steinbach, I was very interested in learning more about Anna a woman who had been a kindergarten pioneer in those same two communities.

Anna Vogt referred to affectionately by her students as Tante Anna (Aunt Anna) was born on September 16, 1883, in Schoenwiese, a village in the Chortitza Mennonite colony in Ukraine. One of the nine offspring of Andreas Vogt and Aganetha Block Vogt, Anna was a sickly baby who her parents didn’t expect to survive. But survive she did and started her education in the Schoenwiese school.

She had to quit school after a few years to help out in the family dry goods store and do housework. In 1902 she was baptized and became a member of the Mennonite church. Her Dad was a minister who valued education and so when Anna was almost thirty years old she convinced him to let her go to Germany to study to become a teacher.

The Pestalozzi-Fröbel Haus in Berlin in 1908- photo from Wikipedia

Anna’s education fees were subsidized by a rich mill owner named J. J. Thiessen from the city of Dnipropetrovsk and in 1912 she was off to the prestigious Pestalozzi-Fröbel Haus in Berlin. The school founded by a woman named Henriette Schrader- Breymann in 1882, just the year before Anna was born, was named after prominent Swiss and German educators who believed child’s play was valuable, that each child should be taught as an individual and that children learned by doing.

Pestalozzi-Fröbel Haus was one of the few places in Germany where women could be trained as professionals. By the time Anna went to study there, the school had gained an international reputation with students coming from England, the United States, and many other European countries.

Anna Vogt with two of the Thiessen children she cared for and taught as well as on the far right Elisabeth Epp. Photo purchased from the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada.

Because Anna’s education had been limited in scope and truncated so many years before, she had to work hard to get her certificate, but in the summer of 1914 just a month before World War I broke out she graduated. That fall her father died and Anna spent the next five years in Dnipropetrovsk working as a nanny and tutor for her benefactor J.J. Thiessen who was a widower with four children.

Just after World War I ended, Anna established her own kindergarten in the community of Nieder Chortitza and soon had more than a hundred children attending classes. Nieder Chortitza was especially hard hit by the civil war in Russia. In 1919 just after Anna must have opened her kindergarten twenty-one people from the village were murdered by the army of Nestor Makhno. Anna moved her kindergarten to other villages and for a time taught at a teacher training institution in Nikolaipol.

Anna Vogt’s 1937 Steinbach kindergarten class- photo from Preservings magazine- June 1996

Anna, her mother and six of her siblings, and their families came to Canada in 1923 and made their home in Steinbach Manitoba. Anna opened a kindergarten in her home shortly thereafter and later moved it to a building on Elmdale Drive in Steinbach.

Anywhere from 25-50 children ages 3-6 attended classes at Anna’s kindergarten from 9:30 till noon. The school was closed in January and February because of the cold weather but remained in session in July and August. Anna charged $1.00 a month for tuition for a family’s first child. Additional children were only charged 50 cents and Anna never turned down children even if their families couldn’t pay.

Anna ran a tight ship. Although at times children were free to chat and visit, when Anna asked for silence she expected it and tested it by dropping a pin to see if she could hear the sound it made. Activities during a typical kindergarten session included crafts, colouring, nature study, memory work, snack time, and storytelling. The Christmas programs put on by Anna’s students were popular community events.

Anna with her 1960 kindergarten class in North Kildonan. She had 73 students. Anna is in the middle and over to her left is her assistant Annie Dyck. Photo purchased from the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada

In 1938 she accepted an invitation from the German-speaking Mennonite community in the North Kildonan area of Winnipeg to open a kindergarten there. She continued doing that work until 1966. Anna worked alone except during her last ten years of teaching when she was joined by assistant Annie Dyck who carried on Anna’s work after she retired in 1966 at age 82.

Anna at a birthday party for one of her students in 1964photo purchased from the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada

Anna died in 1975 at age 91, outliving all save one of her siblings. She was a resident at the time in the Bethania Personal Care Home which had been founded by her sister Maria Vogt and her brother Abram Vogt.

In her tribute to Anna, my friend Elfrieda Neufeld calls her a forceful visionary with a hearty laugh who left a legacy of love for children.

Other posts……..

The Old School House- Kornelson School Memories

My Father-in-Law Was Born in a School For the Deaf

A Dress From the Catalogue

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Filed under Education, History, People

Acknowledgments Are Important

One of the progressive things Kelvin Goertzen did during his short time as the premier of our province was insure there will be a treaty acknowledgment at the start of Manitoba legislative sittings in the future. It will recognize the fact that the land on which the legislature meets was once the home of Indigenous people. 

Kelvin Goertzen

Right after his appointment Premier Goertzen struck a committee to provide a report on the best way to carry out such an acknowledgment and admitted as House Leader he probably should have made that happen sooner. In a CBC interview, Goertzen said the discovery of the unmarked graves at residential schools was a significant event for him and his family that crystalized the need for a treaty or land acknowledgment. 

Of course, many organizations and institutions have been doing these acknowledgments for a long time.  My church instituted the practice about five years ago.  After we began to have a treaty acknowledgment in our bulletin, on our website, and frequently announce it at the start of our services, we created a colorful brochure to explain our rationale.  I was asked to write the text for the brochure, and it was a good exercise for me. 

I had to research the history of our province and find a way to articulate our church’s goal to recognize the important contributions Indigenous people have made to the geographical area where we worship. In my text, I expressed our church’s desire to learn from the spirituality and culture of our Indigenous neighbors and to work at building a strong respectful relationship with them that would result in reconciliation.        

An art piece called Treaty One by artist Robert Houle – photographed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

I am employed as a guide by the Winnipeg Art Gallery, and we have done treaty acknowledgments at the start of each of our tours since 2016.  The gallery staff participated in training sessions where we learned all about Treaty One signed in 1874 between Indigenous leaders and the British Crown. 

The Dakota Boat by W. Frank Lynn shows indigenous people observing the arrival of a boat carrying immigrants at the Upper Fort Garry site in Winnipeg- photographed at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

The two groups had very different ideas about what the treaty meant. While the Indigenous leaders thought it would protect their way of life and provide a framework for sharing land, the British thought the land was being ceded to them. I was glad for this training because it helped me provide an explanation when gallery guests asked me why I did a land acknowledgment before my tours. 

In my job with the education department at the University of Winnipeg, I visited many schools in the Winnipeg One School Division which began to do treaty acknowledgments each day in all their schools beginning in 2017. 

Land acknowledgment sign at the Morinville Community High School in St. Albert, Alberta

It was good to read recently that the Hanover School Division where I taught for decades has approved a treaty acknowledgment statement as well. Superintendent Shelley Amos says it is a way to show honor and respect for Indigenous people and their land and express the division’s desire to move forward in constructive ways in their relationship with Indigenous people. 

While school divisions like Winnipeg One have made treaty acknowledgments a requirement Hanover will leave it up to individual schools to decide on what occasions and in what situations the division’s official acknowledgment statement would have the most impact.  A plaque with the acknowledgment will be placed on all properties owned by the school division. 

We have been hearing land and treaty acknowledgments at sporting events, cultural events, business events, and religious events for many years now. It is good to know that both the Hanover School Division and the Manitoba Legislature are joining the effort to recognize the contributions of our Indigenous neighbors and to express our willingness to work towards reconciliation in our province. 

Other posts…….

Indigenous Canadians and Mennonite Canadians

Old Sun and Emily Carr

Who Are the Wendat?

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Filed under Education, History, manitoba

Fine Free Libraries

When I visited the main branch of the Calgary Library recently I saw this sign announcing that their city libraries are now fine-free. This means patrons will no longer be charged late fees for not bringing back items in a timely manner. Winnipeg libraries have had a similar policy since January of 2021.

One of the reasons libraries have implemented this policy is that once families owed money to a library in late fees they simply stopped coming and that meant their children no longer had access to library books. In Calgary, they figured some 19,000 children had stopped coming to the library because of late fees.

Studies have shown children from low-income families are the ones most impacted. Their families can’t afford to pay their fines so they stop coming to the library even though these are exactly the same families who might not be able to afford to buy books for their children to read at home. Libraries should be places of equitable access and late fees undermined that.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Surprisingly research shows that when libraries eliminate late fees there is actually a higher return of books, circulation increases, as does library use. In most libraries that have eliminated late fees, 95% of the materials checked out are still returned. Of course, eliminating late fees does not mean eliminating all responsibility. If people lose books or damage them beyond repair, or never return them, they are still charged a replacement fee.

Patrons in a sitting area at the Calgary Library

A CBC report in February of this year indicated some 300 library systems in Canada have eliminated late fees. Some started doing this during the pandemic for obvious reasons and then decided not to reinstitute the fees when services returned to normal. Although eliminating late fees does represent a loss of revenue for libraries, usually about 1% of their budgets, most have found creative ways to balance those losses.

Late fees may soon be a thing of the past at all libraries. I think that’s a good thing.

Other posts……….

A Waterfall on the Library

What A Library!

My Childhood Reading Heaven

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Filed under Books, Canada, Education, Family

My Grandsons Teach Me About National Reconciliation Day

We arrived in Saskatoon on September 30th the day Canada celebrated its first National Reconciliation Day. It’s a new federal statutory holiday honoring Indigenous children who were part of the residential school system.

We are staying with our children and grandchildren in Saskatoon and my grandsons told me all about the way the new holiday was marked at their school.

They had a whole school assembly on the playground. Their music teacher sang O Canada in Cree to start the assembly and then a grade three class told the story of Phyllis Webstad who is from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation.

Phyllis Webstad has shared her story in two children’s picture books. She also has told it many times in person to different groups. You can learn more on the Orange Shirt website.

In 1973 six-year-old Phyllis was excited about her first day at St. Joseph’s Residential School in Williams Lake, B.C. Her grandmother had bought her a new, bright orange shirt for the occasion. But when she arrived at the school, the staff cut her hair and she was forced to change into different clothes. Her new shirt was taken away, and she never got it back.

I must admit I had never heard Phyllis’ story before and didn’t realize that’s why orange shirts are worn to commemorate what happened to Indigenous children at residential schools. My nine-year-old grandson did an excellent job of relaying the story to me and then told me that after they heard the story in their assembly the whole school sang a song in Cree that their music teacher had taught to every class.

Each child in the school was given a stone to paint. My older grandson said he painted a feather on his stone and printed the words Every Child Matters. My younger grandson who is just five and in kindergarten said he made a big red heart on his stone. The stones were placed under the school’s friendship bench.

The Friendship Bench Project is a Canadian initiative. You learn more about it on their website.

I hadn’t heard of friendship benches but my grandsons explained it is a special bench on their school playground where kids can go if they are feeling lonely or sad. They sit on the bench and then other kids will come over to talk or invite them to play.

Stolen Words is written by Melanie Florence and has gorgeous illustrations by Gabrielle Grimard

My younger grandson told me after the school assembly his kindergarten teacher read them a special book called Stolen Words. My grandson related the entire story to me in great detail. It is about a little girl who helps her grandfather reclaim the Cree words he lost at residential school when he wasn’t allowed to speak his own language. Later I found nearly a dozen read-aloud versions of the book on YouTube. I had never heard the story before but want to buy my own copy of the book now.

Hiking the Meewasin Trail near Saskatoon with our grandchildren. Meewasin means ‘beautiful’ in Cree.

I didn’t learn anything about Indigenous culture or history, or the need for reconciliation when I was in elementary school. I am glad my grandchildren are having a very different experience. I think it is wonderful they are passing on their knowledge to those of us in the older generation who need to learn the same lessons but didn’t have the opportunity to do so as children.

Other posts……….

10 Things About Kent Monkman’s The Scream

The First Thing I Love About Canada’s New Governor-General

Two Breathtakingly Beautiful Books

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Filed under Canada, Education

What Are You Looking For In A Teacher?

Am I Looking for the Holy Grail? No! I’m Just Looking for a Good English Teacher.

Wake Me Up! Literally! You Teach Me First Period!

I’m Looking for Someone to Flood My School Schedule with High Tide Fun!

Be Prepared to Challenge Me! 

My School Day is Flatlined! I Need a High Voltage Teacher to Liven it Up!

When I was teaching high school English an assignment I gave my students during this first week of school was asking them to write a personal ad for the newspaper requesting the perfect English teacher. They had to give their ad a headline and I’ve listed some of the ones they wrote above. I just loved their ads and I learned so much about what they were looking for in a teacher that was valuable as I planned my lessons and assignments.

Many wanted a teacher to make class interesting so they could look forward to coming. They told me I should try to be imaginative, joyful, spunky, outgoing, lively, and enthusiastic. Some students felt fairness was the most important quality in a teacher, while others said they appreciated a sense of humor and an easygoing attitude. I was urged to smile, be patient, and exude confidence.

Quite a number of students emphasized the need for restraint when giving assignments. “Please remember that LIFE often gets in the way of school”, they reminded me.

I was asked to provide opportunities for all students to get equally involved in the class, no matter what their talents and abilities, and some expressed the hope that I would respect everyone’s beliefs and have the ability to “think outside the box”.


I received a myriad of valuable tips!

Be organized.

Make assignments enjoyable.

Explain things clearly.

Know when to step in and when to step back.

Be passionate about learning.

Help students appreciate literature.

Teach us some lessons we can apply outside the classroom.

Be ready to give second chances.

Share good advice.

Reward us for participation and effort.

Encourage creativity and artistry.

Don’t insist things be done your way only!

The advice my students gave me each year was so valuable and helped me become a better teacher and a better person.

Other posts…….

Teacher, Can You Spare A Dime?

My Dad Was Once A Teacher

Too Many Left-Wing Teachers?

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The Gift Was A Gift

The Gift/Tuniigusiia by Goota Ashoona

The Gift a new sculpture by Inuit artist Goota Ashoona, was a gift from the Manitoba Teachers Society to the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s new Inuit Art Centre called Qaumajuq.

The teachers of our province help impart the gift of knowledge to young people and Goota Ashoona illustrates that idea of sharing knowledge in her beautiful piece of art.

On this side of the sculpture, you can see a mother teaching her daughter to do Inuit throat singing. The mother’s face has traditional tattoos and I love the way she rests her head against her daughter’s as she passes on the knowledge of an important Inuit art form.

The woman looking skyward on the sculpture is Sedna or Nuliajuk

Storytelling is another way of passing on knowledge and that is illustrated on the other side of the sculpture which features Sedna or Nuliajuk. Sedna is the main character in a traditional Inuit story about a girl who drowns while fleeing an unhappy marriage. She becomes a mermaid who is responsible for the creation of all the animals of the northern seas.

Artist Goota Ashoona with her sculpture The Gift/Tuniigusiia

Artist Goota Ashoona says in this video that it was her grandmother who told her the story of Sedna or Nuliajuk. It’s a story that has many different versions and I shared it literally a hundred times or more with groups of visitors during the eight years I gave tours at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Just check out all the marvellous details Goota Ashoona has included in her sculpture made from Verde Guatemala marble. Can you see the mermaid’s tail to the left? Goota Ashoona shows Sedna or Nuliajuk’s fingers prominently because in the story those fingers get cut off and become all the northern marine animals. You can also see her long flowing hair. In some versions of the story of Sedna, shamans dive down into the sea to comb Sedna’s tangled hair when they want to make her happy and ask her for a favour.


I love the way the face of the older woman can be seen on this side of the sculpture as well. For me at least it alludes to the fact that Goota Ashoona heard the story of Sedna or Nuliajuk from her grandmother.

Inside the Winnipeg Art Gallery, you can see an entire gallery with dozens of artistic representations of the Sedna or Nuliajuk story including this gorgeous 2009 sculpture by Goota Ashoona.

I took this photo of The Story of Nuliajuk by Goota Ashoona on one of my last working days at the Winnipeg Art Gallery before it closed due to the pandemic.

The dedication for The Gift says it is for the teachers all around us in the land and in our lives who reveal the truth, wisdom, and beauty that connects us all.

Don’t you just love that? I could write another whole blog post just about that gem of a statement.

Why not take a close look at the sculpture yourself? You can find it on the corner of St. Mary Avenue and Memorial Boulevard.

Other posts……….

Sedna is a Planet

Inuit Art at the Zoo

Inuit Art Isn’t Just Soapstone Carvings

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Filed under Art, Education, manitoba, winnipeg art gallery

Mom’s First Day of School in 1931

My mother Dorothy Schmidt is to the left in this photo

Today is the first day of school for many children in Canada and it reminds me of this photo of my mother and her sister Viola on the first day of school in 1931. Mom was six years old. Someone has penciled on the back of the photo Dorothy’s first day of school.

I love looking at all the details in the photo. My Mom has a book under her arm which I think might be her Book 1 Canadian reader. Mom told me that for each grade in school they had a different reading book with poetry and fiction and stories about nature and history.

Check out the rather battered black lunch kit my mother’s sister is carrying. My grandmother always sewed her daughters’ dresses and from the material sticking out of both the girl’s sleeves I’m guessing the dresses were matching.

I just love the girl’s wool hats and woolen stockings. I think their grandmother made them.

My great grandmother Marie Jantz

My mother’s grandmother lived with her family till Mom was sixteen and her grandmother died. There were few nursing homes for the elderly in the 1930s. Mom said her grandmother was constantly knitting things for her family.

This is the one-room school near Drake Saskatchewan that my mother attended in 1931. Check out the kids coming to school by horse and buggy.
When it was very cold in winter my Mom said her Dad might take them to school in a horse-drawn caboose. Here the caboose is outside their farmhouse ready to leave. The kids would have hot bricks their Mom heated on the wood stove under their feet to keep warm.
The Kansas School in Drake Saskatchewan

The Kansas School had grades 1-8 and Mom thought up to 50 kids attended at a time. It was called the Kansas School because most of the children who attended it were from families who had immigrated to Canada from Kansas or other mid-western American states at the turn of the century.

My Mom with her grade one class. Mom is third from the right.

Mom’s teacher in grade one was Miss Agnes Regier and Mom really liked her. At the end of her first school year her class put on a little musical on the porch of Miss Regier’s house and all their parents came to watch. Mom also remembers how they used to chant their spelling words out loud together letter by letter. 

At recess, they liked to skip in pairs and they had skipping rhymes to chant as they did so. Mom said they also played lots of cricket using the tree stumps on the schoolyard as wickets. In winter they made a slide on the schoolyard with boxes and boards. Their stockings would be soaked when they came in and they had to take turns standing by the register to dry them.

The children at the Kansas School in the 1930s with their teacher Hans Dyck. My Mom is in the second row just to the right of Mr. Dyck’s shoulder.

In grades 3-8 Mom had a teacher at the Kansas School named Hans Dyck. He was quite strict but an excellent musician who taught his students to sing in four-part harmony and entered them in music festivals where they always took first place.

Mr. Dyck introduced them to world geography and they learned the names of the countries of the world and their capitals and even made topography maps from paste and plaster. They did science experiments and learned about masterpieces by famous artists. Mom’s favorite time of day was right after lunch when Mr. Dyck read aloud to them.

Today many parents will be snapping photos of their children as they set off to begin a new school year, just like my grandparents did in 1931 when their daughters headed off to class.

Other posts……….

They Wore Masks Too

My Father-in-Law Was Born in a School for the Deaf

Don’t Speak German

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Filed under Canada, Education, Family, History

What’s A Playground Doing Inside?

The spacious interior of the new Bill and Helen Norrie Library on Poseiden Bay has lots of room to house a literacy playground

I had to wait thirty minutes to take a photo! On Friday I went to the beautiful new Bill and Helen Norrie library to snap a few photos of the literacy playground there.

The colorful literacy playground is in front of sunny windows

I am the recently appointed editor of the regular newsletter for the Friends of the Winnipeg Public Library organization and in the next issue, I want to feature a story about the literacy playground at Winnipeg’s newest library.

Our organization’s logo is on the playground

The funds to pay for the unique playground were provided by our organization thanks in part to a generous donation by Lawrence and Reesa Cohen.

In this literacy playground activity, children can spin four wheels to give them ideas for creating a story to share with a friend or family member

What is a literacy playground you might ask? It is a small colorful wooden structure that provides children with activities that foster discussion and learning. Parents who are using the playground with their children receive ideas for things they can do to help develop their child’s literacy skills.

Of course, the literacy playground is in the children’s section of the library where it is surrounded by all kinds of books for kids displayed in a variety of ways.

Kids move these frogs and make them dance as they enjoy a poem about them
Numeracy activities are included as well

You might think a library is a place where children need to keep quiet and sit still. Not anymore! On Friday after I had explained my need for photos to the head librarian she said I was welcome to take some pictures but should wait till there were no children using the playground.

I waited thirty minutes and had a wonderful time watching an endless stream of kids enjoying the activities provided by the playground. Finally, I had to ask a couple of children to move for just a minute so I could snap my pictures.

In this activity, children match weather with appropriate clothing

It was great to see the playground our group had donated to The Bill and Helen Norrie library being put to such good use!

There are literacy playgrounds at many other Winnipeg Public library branches and they are helping kids learn through play and helping families discover that libraries are not only places for reading but also for fun, activity, and human interaction.

The goal is for every library in the city to eventually have a literacy playground. I am proud of the funding Friends of the Winnipeg Public Library has been able to provide to assist in making that goal a reality.

Other posts……….

This Was Crazy Wonderful

A New Writing Challenge

A Waterfall on the Library

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Filed under Education, Language, Winnipeg

Too Many Left-Wing Teachers?

A June 25th op-ed in the Winnipeg Sun by a writer for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy claims there is not enough diversity of thought amongst Canada’s teachers.  Too many are left-wing ideologues and because of that, students aren’t learning about the wide range of political and social views held by Canadians. 

The writer states the reason so many teachers are liberal rather than conservative thinkers is that education faculties at universities are filled with liberals.  Prospective teachers are taught by one left-leaning professor after another and so it is hard for them not to become left of centre thinkers themselves.  There is momentum for making the teaching profession more diverse by gender and race. According to the Frontier spokesperson the profession also needs to be more diverse when it comes to ideologies. 

The op-ed left me wondering how you would determine whether an educator is left-wing or right-wing?  It is fairly easy to identify someone’s gender or race in order to create a more diverse teaching staff, but if you wanted to hire teachers on the basis of diversity of thought how would you go about doing that?  

There are quizzes online that claim to determine whether you lean right or left on social, political, religious, and economic issues.  Would you give prospective educators a quiz like that to discover their ideological bent? But how would you know if prospective teachers answered such a quiz completely honestly?  Might their answers be influenced by the fact that leaning towards a certain ideology could get them a job? 

What if their ideologies changed over time?  Would you have to administer the quiz annually to be sure left-wing and right-wing teachers had remained in the same ideological camp and hadn’t had their perspectives changed by new information or personal experience? And if they had changed their ideas, would they be fired and replaced by teachers who had the views necessary to create an ideologically balanced teaching staff? 

Photo by Yan Krukov on Pexels.com

And how would you determine if teachers were indeed promoting their ideological bent with their students or keeping their opinions to themselves? Would you need cameras in the classroom to ensure teachers were voicing either the left-wing or right-wing ideology for which they had been hired in order to make their school or university more divergent in its thinking?

The op-ed writer suggests educators representing all of the country’s political parties should be in the classroom and indeed party affiliation might be a way to create a more ideologically diverse teaching staff.  Except that even within political parties the ideas of members can be very different.  Recent votes in the Canadian Parliament on the issues of conversion therapy and sex-selective abortion for example illustrate the wide range of opinions on those topics held by members within the Conservative Party. 

You also have the problem of determining political affiliation. Only a very small percentage of Canadians are actually political party members. In some federal elections, only 60% of Canadians even vote and many alter the party they vote for from election to election based on a whole variety of factors. How could you reliably determine the political affiliation of teachers or professors? Would you need to make joining a political party an employment requirement?

I don’t question whether educational institutions have teaching staffs who lean towards more progressive, liberal ideologies because the most recent Pew Research polls show that the more educated you are the more likely it is that you will be left of center on social, economic, religious and political issues.  Much as some people might like to change that, I wonder if it is possible in a democratic society where citizens are free to think and learn for themselves. 

This is the staff at the school where I had my first teaching position in 1974. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you which teachers were left-wing or right-wing in their ideology but maybe times have changed and society has become so much more polarized that educators’ political leanings are more obvious and influential.

Other posts…………..

The First Shall Be Last

Teacher Can You Spare A Dime?

Radiohead and Plato

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Graduation- A Family Story

My paternal grandfather’s opportunity to attend high school was stolen by the Russian Revolution. The plan was for him to follow his older brothers to the high school in Nikolaipol, the one nearest the Mennonite village of Gnadenthal where he grew up. In the photo above I am standing in front of the Nikolaipol high school on my visit to Ukraine. My grandfather never got to be a student there.

Instead of getting a high school diploma Grandpa was forced into military service where he spent time in prison for refusing to do weapons training since he was a conscientious objector. Eventually, he ended up in a bakery making bread for soldiers. Losing his chance for higher education made Grandpa very determined his children and grandchildren would have a different outcome.

This building now a private residence was the schoolhouse my grandmother attended in Gnadenthal

My grandmother had loved school too and was very sad when she graduated from the elementary school in Gnadenthal, Ukraine and couldn’t go further with her education because she was a girl. She wanted things to be different for her daughters.

Thanks to the financial priorities of my grandparents’ their six children all graduated from a private Mennonite high school and then went on to university or college earning degrees in education, fine arts, medicine and nursing. Their seventeen grandchildren all went to university too achieving degrees in many different fields.

My Mom at her college graduation.

I grew up in a family where education was valued and was seen as a privilege and a responsibility. So graduations were important.

My parents at the high school graduation of their granddaughter

When my Mom was really ill in the last years of her life she said one of her goals was to be alive for all the high school graduations of her grandchildren. And she was!

I was lucky indeed to have parents who valued education and paid for my university tuition which afforded me the opportunity of becoming a teacher.

During the early years of our marriage, I worked as a teacher to support my husband Dave as he completed his university degree.

Celebrating our older son’s university graduation.
Our younger son at his university graduation.

We were pleased that our sons chose to spend time furthering their education after high school. We observed the way their years at university expanded their worldview, helped foster a concern for important issues, garnered them a wide circle of friends and served to train them for their future careers.

Celebrating the graduation of twin sisters who were my students

Since I ended my career as a teacher in a high school I had the privilege of participating in the graduation festivities of many of my students.

As I have been going on my bike rides around the city I have been seeing these graduation signs on lawns, a way to recognize graduates in a year when other kinds of celebrations aren’t possible. Earlier this week I was in the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden at Assiniboine Park and saw so many graduates in their gowns doing photo shoots with their families. On social media, I have been observing the unique and interesting ways high schools and families have found to celebrate graduations even though indoor ceremonies aren’t possible.

Even in a pandemic graduations are important because they are one way we show that our society values education and we recognize the benefits it affords not only to students but to the social, cultural and economic fabric of our country and the world. My grandparents knew the value of education already a century ago and their family has been blessed by that.

Dave and I ready to attend the high school graduation ceremony at the school where we taught in Hong Kong.

Other posts……….

Graduation Photo- Dad’s Treasures

Look What He’s Doing Now

A Prayer For the New Year

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Filed under Education, Family