People for Education founder Annie Kidder tells grads they offer hope for the future

On June 21, education advocate Annie Kidder was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree in recognition for her work to advance the public education system. The honorary degree was presented during afternoon Spring Convocation ceremonies for the Faculty of Education.

From left, Chancellor Greg Sorbara, honorary degree recipient Annie Kidder, and York President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton

Committed to an effective and responsible public educational system, Kidder has worked tirelessly to support parents, help students and guide government policy. She is the founder and executive director of People for Education, which has evolved into Ontario’s preeminent public education advocacy organization. Not only is she consulted by the province when determining government policy, she also travels across Canada to offer advice and build support for improving public education systems.

“The gratitude part is easy: I’m grateful to York University for the honour of this degree; for the recognition of the importance of the work People for Education has been involved in over the last 20 years (this degree really reflects the work of a whole team of people – not just me). And, I’m grateful for the bridge this helps to build – between the academic community and the world of non-profits – like mine,” said a visibly moved Kidder. “For me today it’s the sense of responsibility that’s a little bit harder.”

Annie Kidder addresses convocation

She said that she wanted her convocation address to help launch graduands into the next stage of their lives, but feared they were entering a deeply troubled world.

“We seem to be a long way from solving the intractable problems that divide us and that jeopardize our collective future,” said Kidder. “We haven’t closed the gap between rich and poor. We haven’t overcome the inequities in our society that are at least in part fueled by marginalization based on race and class and ethnicity.

“We failed to solve our environmental problems – in fact sustainability and climate change are an even bigger threat today than they were when I was young,” she said. “Now we have something different and much worse: we have increasingly angry forms of populism that are dividing us and threatening our democracies; we have millions of refugees who are displaced from their homelands by civil war, terrorism, oppression or deprivation – or a terrible mixture of all of those things.”

Spring Convocation ceremonies for the Faculty of Education

“Maybe even scariest of all is the notion that this a ‘post-truth’ era – one where people talk about alternative facts as they are a real thing with impunity, or where people can say things like ‘I don’t care what the evidence is, I don’t agree,’” said Kidder.

“Despite that, I think there is hope,” she said with a smile, “And you’re it. You – the graduating class in education – actually embody hope. And I hope that you can remember that as you go forward.”

There is no more important job in the world than being a teacher, said Kidder, echoing earlier remarks by York University Chancellor Greg Sorbara. Doctors can save lives, carpenters can build homes, social workers can help families and air traffic controllers keep all those planes from crashing, she said. “But teaching, that is what changes everything!”

As educators, Kidder told the Faculty of Education graduands that they are responsible for ensuring that new generations can innovate, adapt, imagine and continue to learn.

“You’re going to educate kids so that they don’t fall prey to the divisiveness that is so prevalent today. So that they don’t feel they have to be on a ‘side’ and so that they can understand different points of view and which things are based on evidence and which are based on emotion, she said. “You’re going to be educating the new generations that this country, and our world, needs.”

The job of publicly funded schools is to prepare the next generations to play a real role in the world – no matter who they are or what their backgrounds, said Kidder. “I hope that you truly believe and understand how vital that job is for all of us, and how much hope you can provide to the world,” said Kidder.

In closing, she advised graduands to remember their “humanness” and to bring it to every conversation they have. “That essential humanness that we have is the thing that connects us, that allows us to have empathy and compassion, and even to understand different points of view,” said Kidder. ”We are human. And sometimes it’s really hard to be human. But if we can bring ourselves, our humanness, and our sense of connection to each other and the world around us, we could definitely have a bit more hope than maybe we do right now.”