My epiphany about students’ complacence, their tendency to unquestioning acceptance of the status quo, came about a decade ago. To be sure, I have always had individuals who are most reluctant to rouse themselves from a self-induced torpor to engage with ideas, just as I have always been fortunate to have those who think independently, challenge assumptions, and make teaching a pure joy. However, I never quite shook my disillusionment over my Grade 12’s response to a labour situation I told them about.
At one time there was a strike of projectionists in the Cineplex-Odeon chain over wages and guaranteed minimum hours of work. This labour disruption went on for some time, but ultimately most returned to their jobs except for a small group who held out for a better deal. When they eventually gave up the fight, instead of being welcomed back into the fold, they were punished by management: they would be receiving one dollar an hour less and fewer hours per week than those who had previously ended their labour action.
Because we had studied some literature of social protest, I assumed that I would get a variety of reactions from the class. I was quite mistaken. The uniform response was that management had been quite justified in taking punitive action against the rebels as a deterrent to others who much contemplate such effrontery in the future. While there might not have been a ‘right answer’ to the scenario, I had at least expected a diversity of views.
The refusal to entertain a range of evaluations left me shaken. It was with renewed vigor that I pursued the development of critical thinking skills the following semester, altering the emphasis of the previously discussed language unit considerably.