X-Talks: Hope and Education


Themes of freedom, wonder, and learning emerge in the Schwartz auditorium. 

The X Talks Hope and Education seminar this January 9, was a source of inspiration to all who have a passion for the humanities. Four visionaries highlighted their challenges and successes on the topic of hope and education. Among the roughly 156 people at Schwartz Auditorium, StFX President and Vice Chancellor, Dr. Kent MacDonald was in attendance.

The first speaker Kristian Rasenberg, born in Cornwall, Ontario, is a student of Education with a background in Philosophy from StFX. Kristian wears many hats as president of StFX for SAFE (Syria-Antigonish Family Embrace), coach of Junior X-Men and Junior Varsity girls’ basketball teams at Dr. John Hugh Gillis and Mr. Razzle Dazzle, an aspiring teacher.

Kristian brought forth some major themes in the discussion around education. He spoke of his own white privilege experience in the inclusive curriculum promoted by public schools. Although sound in theory, he was critical of the practicality of education’s inclusion model established in the 90s.

Kristian uttered this message of hope and education during a discussion with me after the seminar, “I believe children are natural philosophers with an innate inclination to wonder. As an educator, I strive to nourish that inclination and foster the universal desire to learn”.

The second speaker, Tamara Cremo is a student of Anthropology and Political Science from We’koqma’q First Nation. She recalled the words of inspiration from her close relative, “Speak from the heart” the words came to mind before she spoke as an honorary youth witness at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s third National Event in Halifax, 2011.

Tamara offers an honest and vulnerable recount from when she experienced a cultural shock when she transitioned from the We’koqma’q high school to StFX University. From a culturally relevant curriculum to a curriculum in need of cultural relevancy. Tamara named StFX educators who valued her voice and integrated culturally relevant indigenous authors and topics into their curriculum; Dr. Rachel Hurst, Dr. L. Jane McMillan and Dr. Clare Fawcett merit special distinction for modeling an inclusive curriculum.

Tamara argued for the decolonization of education. One means to an inclusive curriculum is to decolonize it. Tamara contextualized decolonization as making the curriculum relevant and accessible to Indigenous, African Nova Scotian, Chinese, Japanese, Kenyan, German, Somalian, Spanish, Syrian and Turkish students, and the preceding list is not exhaustive. Tamara shared the following words of wisdom on hope and education with me, “Be friends with your students, they have knowledge to share.”

The third speaker Majd Al Zhouri pursues his dream to become an Engineer at StFX. I first saw Majd when he was acting on the Bauer Theatre stage as Arthur in the recent production of Drew Hayden Taylor’s hilarious play, Cerulean Blue. Prior to this production, Majd acted as Prince Amir in Theatre Antigonish’s production of The Ash Girl, a play by Timberlake Wertenbaker.

A fellow actor and co-playwright, StFX alumnus Brendan Ahern, joined Majd to write “To Eat an Almond” and it premiered at the 2017 One-Act Play Festival in Antigonish. The play was awarded the National Fresh Voices Activism Award later that year.

Bombs destroyed Majd’s school and home during the Syrian civil war in May of 2011. Majd spoke a powerful story of survival and hope, and he shared these equally powerful words with me after the seminar, “I believe education is the power to fight. It’s freedom. It’s being hopeful. I learned the definition of hope when I lost it during the civil war in Syria. Don’t give up, ask for help. I have hope.”

The fourth speaker, Farhiyo Salah arrived in Canada from the Dadaab camp in Kenya. Born in Somalia, Farhiyo is completing her 2nd year in the Nursing program at StFX. Farhiyo is a gifted speaker who urged people to replace bullets with books. That idea plays on the same notion that Majd touched upon - that education is more powerful than weapons.

Farhiyo is a leading activist for women's right to education, and stressed that the right is especially needed in Somalia and Kenya where women are marginalized in the classroom. Education needs to become as accessible to women as it is to men on a universal scale. Farhiyo typed the following words on hope and education to me post-seminar, “Education and Hope are the driving forces for success and transformation.”

The StFX for SAFE and WUSC (World University Service of Canada) societies respectively sponsored the relocation of Majd and Farhiyo. These societies help to make education universally accessible, and that is an honorable mission.

Four diverse perspectives constructed and deconstructed the meaning of hope and education during the X Talks. The orators formed a panel for a busy question and answer period with the audience after their individual presentations.

The first X Talks of the year concluded with a bang as the Class of 2018 representatives Alex Corrigan and Rachel Leblanc jumped on stage to announce they are almost halfway to raising their target of $50,000 for the Student Refugee Bursary which will benefit refugees who relocate to Canada. The Bursary is supported by StFX for Safe and WUSC.

Net profits from the X-Rings bought at the X-Ring Store went towards the Bursary, so way to go grads who chose to buy from the X-Store!