Mending a broken world

In a world where racial intolerance can lead to suicide bombs, burning embassies, and even genocide, York University is working to fight racism at its roots – by training future teachers to promote tolerance among the next generation.

“Mending a Broken World – Lessons of the Holocaust” is the theme of a two-day public conference on Feb.11 and 12, aimed at helping future educators from Canada and Europe teach about the Holocaust and racism, issues that are complex and delicate.

The conference is part of a larger 11-day symposium, “Learning from the Past: Teaching for the Future” for university students from Germany, Poland, and Canada. It is all part of the ongoing Mark and Gail Appel Program in Holocaust and Anti-Racism Education, a joint initiative of two York University centres: the Centre for Jewish Studies (CJS) and the Canadian Centre for German and European Studies (CCGES).

Students from Germany and Poland began arriving in Toronto on Thursday for the symposium that includes workshops and prestigious speakers. The event features European and Canadian experts on multicultural and anti-racism education and the Holocaust. Racism in Canada will also be discussed by speakers from Canada’s First Nations, an imam (a Muslim faith leader), a leader of Ontario’s black community, and Jewish community leaders.

“We are trying to mend the world, one piece at a time,” says Professor Mark Webber, CGES co-director and an organizer of the symposium. “As an anti-racism group, our fondest hope is that we’ll one day be out of business. However – despite the fact that people say horrible things like genocide won’t happen again, they do, and education is vital to changing that.”

The 32 student participants in the conference – 16 from Europe (eight from Poland and eight from Germany) and 16 from Canada (York University and Université de Montréal) – are meeting again. The same group of student teachers participated in a study tour of Europe last summer.

“We chose to direct our efforts to future teachers because they are the ones who will have the most impact on future generations,” says Professor Michael Brown, past CJS director and co-organizer of the symposium. “They will each come in contact with thousands of young people over the course of their careers.”

The events are a collaborative initiative of many individuals and institutions, including: The Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland; Baden-Württemberg Office for Civic Education, Stuttgart, Germany; Pedagogical University of Kraków, Poland; University of Montreal; and York University.

For more information on the conference, visit