If you are unfamiliar, Valerie is a former student of the University of the Fraser Valley. Now graduated and teaching, she felt that she should release this audio of her conversation with Professor, Nancy Norman and Department Head, Vandy Britton.
Similar to Lindsay Shepherd, Valerie decided to secretly record a conversation with her professors. During a discussion about the causes of autism, the professor noted that premature birth was linked to autism. Valerie noted that the scientific literature suggests that previous abortions are linked to premature births and therefore the normalization of abortion could be playing a role in the rise of autism.
This simple logic was seen as something that could cause students to feel unsafe, and so Valerie was called into a private conversation with Nancy and Vandy. During the conversation, previous perceived transgressions are brought up such as Valerie drawing comparisons between Christianity and an Indigenous religion and Valerie’s inability to put her “Christian identity aside and put [her] teacher identity on top of that”, as Valerie quotes a third professor who had had a similar discussion with her before.
The professors are unable to concede the logic of Valerie’s comment. They constantly reinforce the notion that ideas can make students unsafe and therefore Valerie should not bring them up. They assert that critical thought is not what is important in the classroom, but that “critical-mindedness” is. This all demonstrates that the school’s faculty drank the proverbial kool-aid and that it is not the place for dispassionate discussion it ought to be.
Listen and decide for yourself. Was Valerie’s freedom of speech “squelched”? Do we want these attitudes to pervade our academic institutions? How many students have had this happen to them? Who has kept quiet out of fear that it would?
Vandy: So, I just wanted to meet because I wanted to fully understand what happened and also, basically the gist of what I understand is that you were talking about autism in class… and then you said something about a film that you’d seen or something.
Vandy: Ok, so can you explain first?
Nancy: Yeah, for sure, so the context is correct that the class was about autism, and we were having a discussion and Valerie, you contributed that you saw this film that was about abortion.
Valerie: Yeah, well it was a documentary and it was information about medical risks of abortion.
Nancy: So, I had a difficult time in the moment, and even now—and even I did a bit of research on that film because I didn’t know it—seeing the connection between what we were talking about as a group and even the content of the whole class and how that was connected to abortion.
Vandy: So can you explain?
Valerie: Yeah, sure. So you had just mentioned recently that autism was getting diagnosed in higher and higher rates, and then you mentioned the connection that babies born prematurely are more likely to get diagnosed with autism. So I was thinking that since abortion rates are so high in Canada—they develop 100 000 per year and it affects one in three women in Canada, which is huge numbers—I thought that maybe since that was so high, and since it’s connected with premature birth, that maybe that affected autism rates.
Vandy: So the correlation you’re making is therefore if a person has an abortion, therefore, they will have… they are more likely to give birth to a child with autism? Is that what you’re trying to…
Valerie: Well, medical research shows quite a strong correlation between previous abortions and women giving birth to premature babies later on and Nancy had mentioned that premature birth is linked with autism.
Vandy: Okay, so I guess my question is: how does that further the conversation in terms of the class and how does it keep everyone in the class feeling safe I guess that would be my thing.
Valerie: Well, I don’t know if this program is about feeling safe at all times or if it’s about learning. Like, think about it, if you had a medical procedure done, wouldn’t you want to know the risks?
Vandy: If you had… so I’m just going to speak hypothetically… if I had had an abortion, for whatever reason, and then someone said to me that you’re going to give birth to a kid with autism because of that. How would that make me feel and how would that possibly help me with my learning?
Valerie: Well first one thing I did not say that you are going to give birth to a child with autism, I said that there is a link between that and premature birth.
Vandy: Okay, but you just finished saying that this program is not necessarily about safety but about learning so I’m trying to understand that connection for me.
Valerie: Well, for example, you had just said the day before said that drinking alcohol is a direct cause of fetal alcohol syndrome. I mean that…
Nancy: Well we know that actually, actually scientifically we know that.
Valerie: Well scientifically we also know about this fact about abortion and premature birth.
Vandy: But not everyone that has an abortion gives birth to a child with autism later
Valerie: And not everyone who drinks alcohol gives birth to a child with fetal alcohol syndrome.
Vandy: But everyone who drinks a lot of alcohol to the point where it impacts… does give birth to a child with fetal alcohol syndrome. That is the fact. And I’m sure Stacey covered that in his presentation. He is the expert in that area, so. I’m sure that he does cover that piece in the beginning of his presentation.
Valerie: So… well, I still don’t see what’s wrong with saying a medical statistic that seemed to fit in with the conversation that we were having as a class. Like, it’s just a medical statistic it’s not me saying that abortion is bad, it’s not even an opinion, it’s just a fact.
Nancy: But it’s… it’s…
Vandy: Well, I wouldn’t say it’s a fact… it’s, it’s… one, I mean I haven’t seen all the data, all the research related to it, so I can’t argue that point. I guess at this point I’m just thinking of it in terms of the relevancy to the conversation how knowing that impacts how you would work with kids with autism. Like the whole point about talking about autism… correct me if I’m wrong… but in my understanding, the reason you were talking about autism in class was to talk about how you would deal with students in the class about…
Vandy: So I guess I’m wondering how knowing that piece of information… that there is some correlation between abortion and premature birth and premature birth is connected to autism, and there’s a big jump there too right?
Vandy: so there’s it’s not that abortion leads to this, it’s that premature birth leads to this. So it’s not one way (unintelligible). But anyways all I can think is how does that impact how you work with that child, that’s where my question is.
Valerie: Well, for one thing, we are going to be educators in secondary school and sex education is part of that… and I think… like I don’t know a whole lot about the sex education curriculum but I think it would be really important to talk about health risks of abortion in that class because women deserve to know this, students deserve to know this. So, maybe… I had thought that it would be a benefit to the class because, for example, if anyone in the class was considering having an abortion I think they would want to know that this is a risk.
Vandy: And I come back to that. This was a conversation about autism. Right? This was about autism, it’s not about sex education. It’s about autism. And knowing that little tidbit of information which absolutely is interesting and absolutely, if I’m talking about sex ed in my class though we don’t really… but… and anyways… we would absolutely when abortion comes up we talk about the health benefits and risks because there are both, absolutely. Sometimes there are medically induced abortions because the mother’s the woman’s life is at risk.
Valerie: That is quite rare though.
Vandy: Okay… anyways, doesn’t matter I don’t know, I know myself a number of people that have had to have that happen because of their… and I… yeah, anyways…
Valerie: That must have been so hard for them.
Vandy: …Yeah, it was actually, I think so… anyways so that’s but that’s beside the point. I just want to go back to that. So it’s similar to a conversation that we had in our class and that’s why when Nancy talked about this… um…
Valerie: Which class was that, sorry?
Vandy: This was in Wynonna and my class with you. And I was talking about story and the power of story in relation to indigenous education. And then you said, and… about… that you talked about how well this actually gives more proof to the idea about… I think it was revelations in the bible? Or, I can’t remember.
Valerie: Oh, the gospels where it says that Jesus rose from the dead.
Vandy: The resurrection, yeah. Because of the four different stories. And so… and the woman… I’m like… what is this?… Then I saw the connection that you were trying to make. But again, the point I’m trying to make is that these are things that you’re saying that are derailing the conversation from the topic at hand in order to bring it to (pause) whatever you want to put forward at that moment.
Valerie: No. I was… In that class, I was just excited to… I was excited because I was seeing lots of similarities between Christianity and the Indigenous religion… and… I was just trying to say one of the things that I was excited about. I thought it was a good thing to find things in common and move forward.
Vandy: I think it is absolutely a good thing. But again, I just, it just, it threw me…
(Nancy and Vandy both laugh)
Vandy: Because I… because the… it became a proof for you about something else that wasn’t necessarily what we were talking about in that moment.
Valerie: But we were talking about how stories can go together and prove something in similar ways that science does and that’s exactly what I said about the gospels and Jesus raising from the dead.
Vandy: But, again I’m not familiar with the gospels so that wasn’t… so I had to think in that moment and I’m sure there were others in the class who knew what you knew and knew what I didn’t know (laughs)
Vandy: And so I’m just trying to think… Let’s go back to this. So then, Nancy what happened after in terms of that?
Nancy: So… I met with Valerie, and we began the discussion around my concern that bringing in a parallel between an abortion and the increased rates of autism would potentially make the environment in the classroom unsafe for some people. And it’s my role in the class to make sure it’s safe for everyone. And so we began this discussion and you asked if you could tape the conversation. And at that point, I felt that it’s best that we bring Vandy in to be part of the conversation as well.
Vandy: And why did you think it was better for me to be involved at that point.
Nancy: I think that…
Valerie: Yeah I was wondering that too.
Nancy: It’s very atypical to have a conversation taped that is a discussion between an instructor and their student about something that’s happening in the instructor’s class. So the fact that you wanted to tape it for me I felt that because it was atypical it’s better to go to the department head and have the department head involved in the conversation as well. Because… it’s so atypical that I don’t know why you’d want to do it. So to bring the department head into that conversation we have a better perspective of our roles as educators and your role as a student.
Valerie: Okay, can I explain this? I had a conversation that was slightly similar to this with Awneet before. I ended up crying a lot, and didn’t entirely understand what was being said. It was very traumatic for me (begins crying).
Nancy: I can tell, okay.
Valerie: Sorry. And, I didn’t entirely understand what she was saying. Like I said I learn better by seeing things written than hearing them. And when it was all over all I could really remember was her saying that I had to put my Christian identity aside and put my teacher identity on top of that. Even though I assured her that my identity as a Christian helps me to deeply care about students as people, and to be understanding of them. And I was just so confused by her saying that and I had to… I can’t do that because that’s the first commandment in the bible. So I can’t do that. And, I didn’t know what she expected of me for the rest of the class. So I asked her to explain to me again what she wanted me to do, and she wouldn’t. So now I don’t even… I came out of it just so scared.
Vandy: What are you scared about?
Valerie: Well, being in this program means a lot to me. And I really want to learn, and I really like hearing about new perspectives, and I also like sharing my own perspective in a discussion format. When I share my perspective I’m not trying to push my beliefs on other people. I‘m just trying to create meaningful dialogues to understand where they’re coming from and see what they think of things that I have in my worldview. You know, like the critical thinking from the five program values, it means a lot to me. And that’s all I was trying to do in Awneet’s class. I was trying to…
Vandy: Nancy doesn’t know but with Awneet’s class it was a bit of a different scenario though because there was a something that she asked you to do that you wouldn’t participate in.
Valerie: Well we had to act out a bunch of scenario’s and I told her that I was uncomfortable acting in a gay scenario. And in the class, she had said “okay, no problem you can join in another group”, but then in her office all of a sudden she was really upset with me and said I’d done that thing and that was terrible. And I did tell her, in hindsight, I probably would have done it if in class she had said: “no, you have to do this”. I just said I’m uncomfortable with this. I’m learning, right? I’m here to learn and I’m okay with that. But, yeah she said I just did a lot of other things in the class that were just too Christian and I didn’t know what they were and she wouldn’t say what they were and when I asked her to write down what she expected from me and what exactly I had done wrong besides that particular scenarios thing where all I said was I was uncomfortable with it, she wouldn’t. So, you can understand why I’d want to record the conversation now, right? I just want to learn from it and last time I didn’t I was just scared. Sorry.
Vandy: It’s okay… I think probably, well I’m speaking for Awneet now, but I think, and it’s the same thing that Nancy has, it’s about the concern for the other students in the class as well and… sometimes… well I know you’re a Christian, you’ve spoken about God and your beliefs a lot, and you’re obviously a very proud Christian, in the sense that you… you’re… you feel good about being a Christian.
Valerie: Yeah, and I realize I can’t talk the same way in the school situation that I can here and my TM and my FM can both attest to the fact that I have been very professional at the school. But here is a place where I’m really excited to have those critical thinking conversations…
Vandy: But it’s not critical thinking, it’s critical mindedness which is different. Okay, so critical mindedness is about being open to other people’s ideas too and hearing what they say and not always filtering it through your lens. So that’s where I go back to what happened in the class with me. And it’s hard, right, because the same way that we.. immediately when we hear something and it triggers a connection for us somewhere else, immediately it’s a personal connection. So my suggestion to you… and I don’t know what you think of this Nancy… is maybe that when you have those connections that you write them down for yourself. Mkay, then literally just get the piece of paper and then you’ve got that connection because that’s a great way for you to learn.
Valerie: So you’re saying that I can’t say what I’m thinking in class?
Vandy: No, I didn’t say that. Did I say that?
Valerie: Cause that’s what I did and I feel like that’s what I’m in trouble for.
Vandy: (gasps) It’s not that you’re in trouble. Really it’s not that you’re in trouble. It’s not with me and I don’t think it is with Nancy either.
Nancy: It’s just that from my perspective and what happened in my class is that I need to make sure that the other students are in an environment where they feel valued and safe and they can contribute and they’re not shut down and they’re not brought into a place where they’re uncomfortable too, right,? So, we’re all in that… same position in that room and there’s 31 people plus me, 32. So, my role is to monitor the conversation and to… when things are… when there’s a potential for actually a lot of… it could be very painful or hurtful to somebody in the class. It’s my role to talk to you about that.
Vandy: So if someone in the class had had an abortion and we don’t know, you know? It’s one in ten women. So, if… technically there could be… um, fifteen women… So two women in the class that may already have had an abortion in their life. And… it’s that thinking ahead before you say something that we’re talking to you about. It’s not that we want to shut down what you’re thinking, absolutely not. And that’s why I’m saying that sometimes really what it is is writing it down to think, okay, if I say this does it have the potential to hurt anybody?
Valerie: But the thing is it’s a medical statistic that I think everyone has the right to know.
Vandy: But again I go back to the conversation was about autism, it wasn’t about abortion. If someone was going to be… and I’d say this was true because I’ve had this as a teacher. I’ve had talks about abortion in class and it’s been a project. But I always, before it happens I talked to students and say if anyone is uncomfortable for whatever reason, come talk to me. And I’ve excused girls from being in class while the conversation has happened because I care about their safety.
Valerie: But this the university, it’s not a high school, universities are supposed to be places with freedom of speech and sharing ideas.
Vandy: It has nothing to do with freedom of speech and sharing ideas. It’s still about, you create an environment in a classroom, no matter where, no matter what age of people, that considers the need of the people. If I came in and didn’t let you say what you believe. I’m shutting you down. If I come in…
Valerie: I kind of feel like you are shutting me down though
Vandy: (gasp) No I’m not, I’m asking you to think… about… the other people around you and how what you might say could impact them. That’s a different thing than shutting you down. Your beliefs are your beliefs and it’s not my place and I would never ever ever would tell you what you can and can’t believe. But I can talk to you about what you say and how you act in the class.
Valerie: I did actually think about that comment before I said it and I was thinking that if I had had some sort of medical procedure and I found out afterwards that there were some risks I would want to know what they were.
Vandy: But why, for what purpose?
Valerie: Well like let’s say that someone in the class had had an abortion then they were considering having a child then maybe they could get extra watch by the doctor to see if any complications arise. Because there is risk involved.
Vandy: That’s not connected to autism and it would happen anyways but it’s not connected to autism (laughs) is what I keep going back to. That’s a different agenda, right? You had a different agenda. You didn’t have an agenda related to autism, in that moment, it seems, you had an agenda related to your understanding about abortion. Which is different. That’s where I’m trying to go with. If your topic had been about autism and the rise of autism and… and… some statistic related to that, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation. I think it’s because it was about something else. It was about a different topic entirely. What you’re talking about now is you think it’s… you wanted to say it because that way people who have had… may have had an abortion could learn about… but it’s it’s… that they may have a premature birth… which may or may not lead to autism. Like, the… the leap is huge.
Valerie: But we had just talked about the rising rates of autism… and I wasn’t trying to go way off topic, to me, it really fit. And… at this rate, I’m just going to be really confused with what fits with the topic and what doesn’t because to me it fit very perfectly with what we were talking about.
Vandy: What I’m wondering is, do you see how a discussion of talking about abortion in a context that’s about autism, do you see that it could be potentially hurtful or even devastating to other people in the class?
Valerie: Well… um
Vandy: Can you see that perspective?
Valerie: Yeah I know that this is a very sensitive topic. I’ve spoken to women before who have had abortions and those women were deeply traumatised by it, but those women specifically wanted people to know about the medical risks of abortion and the traumatic effect that it can have on people. They were actually asking, please… try to find ways to respectfully tell about these terrible risks involved with it. And… it seemed to me that it fit with what we were talking about in class… and… yeah. I’m sorry that you have such a big problem with that.
Vandy: My problem is only that I want to make sure the students in our class to feel safe… and… and… Nancy said the same thing in terms of… that… I think… and I’m supporting her in that idea that… your comment… because it was… I see how you see the connections, I really do. It’s just that it’s such a leap between… from going that ‘some women who have abortions may… not will, may… have children who are born prematurely. And then some children who have autism, may, but not always, may be born prematurely. So the leap is big. That’s what I’m talking about.
Valerie: Well I’m sorry that you see the leap as so big where I didn’t. Umm… yeah… I wasn’t trying to go way off tangent… I really wasn’t. To me, it made a lot of sense. So… I’m kind of wondering, now what?
Vandy: Well I guess, for me, I’m not telling you not to share in class. I’m asking you to think about what you share and of what agenda is being put forward and if it contributes to the conversation at hand in terms of supporting whatever is being discussed, versus something else, and I don’t even know what that something else is because it’s just dependent. I just… it’s… it’s troubling to me because I think that… you have… you… have… a strong faith… which is fabulous… it really is. I admire you that you have such conviction. My worry at the same time is that that conviction clouds how you can necessarily see other possibilities and ways. And I think that’s more of what I know about Awneet. I’m guessing that was her issue with you more than anything else. But again I’m putting words in her mouth by saying this. This is just what I know about her.
Vandy: As teachers, we have to be open to hear and imagine all different perspectives and accept whoever comes in the door. And my… Whoever comes in the door may or may not be girls who have had abortions and it’s not my job to tell them that they may have… that… that there’s this possibility that they may give birth to a child later in their life—because you had that abortion you may have a kid with autism. It’s not my job to do that. That’s something that they may discover on their own. If it so happens. And they’re not parallel.
Valerie: Okay, so you’re saying that I have to be open to other people’s ideas. Which, I’m trying to be. One of the difficult things for me is that I learn through asking questions—difficult questions. I asked a great number of questions in Awneet’s class… respectfully… they were difficult questions. And either she ignored the questions or she said we’ll talk about it later. That later never happened. So, I’m currently kind of afraid to ask questions, which makes it really hard for me to sort of grow.
Vandy: So, part of it may be that it’s the timing of the questions. Because I know sometimes… and this hasn’t happened with you with me… but it has happened with other students I’ve had. Where I literally have this information to talk through but I want to answer this question so I would arrange to talk to the student properly to talk through those other things just so that the other information that wasn’t of interest to everybody else but was sort of a sidebar conversation could still happen but it wasn’t going to derail everything else that was going on in the class. So maybe that would have been a good… with Nancy… that would have been a great example of something that you wondered about that you could have talked to her about separately that wouldn’t have been a sidebar to derail them. And I’m not saying… derail isn’t the right word. But just to take the conversation in a different way than what the purpose of the class was in that moment.
Valerie: I’m sort of getting the impression though that you’re saying that I need to see everybody else’s perspective with critical mindedness but other people don’t need to consider my perspective with critical mindedness. That’s the impression that I’m getting from this
Vandy: That’s what you’re feeling?
Vandy: That’s not my intention. Absolutely not.
Valerie: Then how come when I say something that… in my mind fits very well with the current conversation, it’s a problem. Like I’m gonna be scared to say anything in class then because… to me everything that I have said has been equally valid, fitting into the conversations… including the two comments, we’re talking about now. So I’m not gonna know… I’m not gonna be able to distinguish between the two. Which means I won’t really be able to contribute. And plus, I thought universities had freedom of speech for discussing controversial issues like this.
Vandy: It’s not freedom of speech per-se. We still consider people’s feelings and we don’t just say whatever. That’s why we don’t have the KKK a club on campus. That’s not freedom of speech, that’s hate. Right? So we don’t put forward ideas that are… intentionally or not… that are hateful. And I think sometimes abortion is one of those contentious issues that can make someone feel threatened on both sides.
Valerie: But I did not say any opinion on abortion, all I said was a medical statistic. There’s a big difference there.
Vandy: I agree… I agree… Like it wasn’t the whole story either. Right? Again, I’m going back to the leap. It was this leap to here, that to there. What you’re telling… saying… by saying is that abortion is causing autism. Which isn’t true.
Valerie: I already said I’m not saying that abortion causes autism.
Vandy: Then why would it have come up? That’s the piece I’m struggling to understand.
Nancy: Me too.
Valerie: Well I think we’ve already talked through this.
Vandy: No, but it… clearly it’s still bothering you. That’s why I’m coming back to it again. Because I feel like you’re feeling threatened about what I’m talking about. But I don’t want to put words in your mouth.
Valerie: Well yeah, I guess I kind of am. Because I feel like my right to freedom of speech and expression is being threatened here.
Vandy: You are allowed to say whatever you wish to say as long as it doesn’t shut down other people. I think that’s where the question is coming into play. The fact that sometimes when people have very strong beliefs and views it can shut down other people.
Valerie: But I’m very open to dialoguing about the comments I said. I would love to dialogue about this. That’s what freedom of speech is about. I’m happy to listen. So I don’t see how my comment shut people down then. I think you’re shutting me down.
Nancy: I think, how I perceived it as instructor in the moment there. Is that it was… there was a lot of potential… for that kind of connection between abortion and autism to be misunderstood, misrepresented, to be very hurtful and damaging to other students in the class. That it did not fit with what we were talking about even though we were talking about the rise in autism. We weren’t talking about what were all the factors that cause that rise. It was in response… the discussion was in response to another student’s question. So they were having an open dialogue about that. To move that open dialogue to talking about abortion brings the energy and the focus of that discussion to a very controversial and potentially damaging realm where that conversation shouldn’t have gone over there. It was a conversation about the raise in autism. It wasn’t a conversation about the risks of having an abortion.
Valerie: But we were talking about hypothetical and actual links to autism. So…
Nancy: Not hypothetical. Just things that we… is actually scientifically known… we don’t know why there is a rise in autism. We know that there is certain correlations out there that we’re getting more information about as the research keeps on. But nowhere have I ever heard that there is a link between having an abortion and the rise in autism.
Vandy: Neither have I. and I have a son with autism.
[Vandy and Nancy both laugh]
Vandy: So, it’s a…
Vandy: Yeah so it’s… it’s… there are all sorts of ideas… and I absolutely… sure… I know for sure that premature birth can… and yes… and I don’t know this version… that abortion may lead to some women having a premature birth. But it’s that extra leap that’s the problematic piece. And who knows, thirty years from now they be able to find a direct link. It’d be hard pressed for them to actually… But I struggle to see how it could happen because there’s so many variables along with everything along the way.
Valerie: Okay so, because there’s an extra step, therefore, I had stepped out of bounds in what I said.
Vandy: That’s what I’m… yeah. So if you’d said… premature birth… that’s the.. absolutely yeah… premature births may lead to autism. But it’s that the next step has not… there isn’t that direct correlation. And that’s.. That’s… honest… that’s… (laughs) that’s what the issue is… and because it is abortion. And because abortion is a hurtful topic for many people on both sides of it whether you’re pro-choice or pro-life. It’s very much the fact that… you know… people who believe strongly that abortion should not happen… It’s very painful for them because they see that a life has been taken away. And people who are pro-choice feel very strongly and passionately about that other side. But it’s… the whole point of it is that this wasn’t about abortion, it was about autism.
Valerie: But I’m quite sure that there have been other times in class when other people have said a tangent to a tangent. Like I thought that’s how class discussions worked.
Vandy: I think it does, depending on where it goes, but I don’t… I guess… and how stretched the tangent is. I don’t know. And whether it impacts the learning environment for people around them. Like if it’s something that… and that’s the piece I come back to again. It was… it’s the fact that in that moment… Nancy, I’m putting words in your mouth… felt that the safety of her class was in jeopardy because of that comment. And that’s why you wanted to speak to her, right? And that’s why she… wanted to… that’s why you wanted to speak to her, right? And then when you said you wanted to tape, and Nancy didn’t know that you’d had a thing with Awneet. So… so she doesn’t know… suddenly you wanted to tape then that’s… you said to me that you felt threatened…
Nancy: It’s an indication that this is something bigger… so… it’s important to have the department head involved.
Vandy: So then it became bigger.
Valerie: Well freedom of speech is a pretty big deal.
Vandy: But it’s not freedom of speech, sweetie.
Valerie: It kind of is to me though. Like I said, I did see the correlation. Like it fit in my mind. And I’m still not sure how I’m gonna proceed going forward participating in class. Because I’ll never know if what I’m saying is going to be too much of a tangent to a tangent or it’s gonna be like not fitting with the current discussion.
Vandy: But maybe that’s what you’re learning. Maybe that’s part of your learning journey in the program. Maybe that is part of it. I know that you are amazing… like Chuck talked about how great you are with the kids. How great… How much your TMs appreciated you, how much the students really appreciate you. The challenge that I’m seeing are here and so that’s not… so… for me what I think is what are you doing differently there that you’re not doing here. Or vice-versa. And what you just said is what you talked about. And so maybe that’s where… maybe that’s where the learning needs to happen for you here. Is that, you need to see your colleagues in the same way that you see the colleagues out in the field.
Valerie: Well I know that a lot of the discussions we have here are not things that we would be talking about in the schools themselves.
Vandy: Like what?
Valerie: Well… Things like… Well, there are definitely things like we wouldn’t tell students… You know what, maybe I need some more time to think about that.
Vandy: Yeah because I think you… you absolutely may not talk about all those things with students but you definitely would talk about them with colleagues. With TMs or administrators in the school. And I guess… it’s that professional part of you, is the part that we want to highlight. That part that you’ve did so well on the school experience and I know you will do well on the certified practicum. And we want to see that Valerie here too. So always that filter in mind. So always thinking of being that role model. Always thinking of being those things. Because I know… we know that you can do it. We see it. Right? So that’s the part I really want you to think about showing us.
Valerie: So… you don’t want me to bring up anything that could be seen as controversial here.
Vandy: No… I would want you to temper it through the lens of “would this be something I would say or talk about in the staff room with my colleagues or with my students” and if you can’t answer yes to one of those, then don’t say it. And it’s not because I’m trying to shut you down. It’s cause we’re trying to teach you to think about that professionalism piece and that it flows through both sides… all of our lives all of the time. That’s what I’m trying to say.
Valerie: I kind of thought that the university time would be a good time to ask all my questions because I have a lot of questions… that I don’t dare to ask.
Vandy: So maybe they’re questions that you do need to ask but maybe in the classroom is not the place to ask them.
Vandy: And I think that’s maybe… what we will come to with it? I would love to talk to you about some of your questions. And I mean, I don’t know if I can answer any of them… But I think the conversation is really important to have. And… yeah. So I guess just it’s just the timing and place of things is part of the professionalism. And you are a very bright girl. Very very bright and I see it, how smart you are… Intelligence in your eyes… and I do appreciate what you say in class and I say my struggle is that sometimes I… also see things through my lens so… it helps to see… to open up. Right? But, I also… I’m in a position where I am a professional. I have a teaching certificate. I have a degree and you are in the process. So, our job is to try and help you to get there and we don’t want anything to derail you from meeting your goal of becoming a teacher.
Valerie: So you’re saying I’m not allowed to see parallels between Christianity and indigenous religion and bring them up and I’m not allowed to talk about abortion in class.
Vandy: I would say you’re not allowed to talk about abortion in class (laughs) unless the topic of conversation is abortion and it’s talked about in a way where the teacher is sort of facilitating that conversation. In terms of the parallels between Christianity and indigeneity, I think that’s fine. I’m not saying if we’re talking about the spirituality and the aspects… I’m not disagreeing with what you said. I think I said in the moment “yes I see the parallels that you’re making”. Perhaps that wasn’t the best example to give in terms of… for me, that was the only example of a non sequitur that I had with you in terms of our conversation. So maybe we should just keep it with the example that Nancy gave about the topic. What happened with autism. And I know Wynonna would say the same thing. She is never about shutting people down in terms of their beliefs about spirituality. At the same time, I’m cognizant that that class is called indigenous youth and schooling. So our focus will be on that. We will draw our own personal parallels as they come up, but that is the focus. So if what you’re saying contributes to that focus, absolutely say it.
Valerie: Yeah, like I said I thought I did contribute. It just sort of bothers me that abortion affects so many people in Canada and we’re not allowed to talk about it. Not even really on university campus except in select situations.
Valerie: Well that’s the impression that I’m getting here.
Vandy: No but why does it bother you?
Valerie: Why does it bother me? Because it’s actually a big deal that has affected a lot of people so it should be something that can be openly discussed.
Nancy: If we were talking about abortion. And that everyone in the class knew that that’s what the topic was going to be about. And they could then decide themselves how they felt about it. And they could find their own safe space, either inside or by talking to me and… finding a way to know what that content was going to be about.
Vandy: And if the other part of the conversation… so you… talked about one part. But you didn’t mention the fact that abortion doesn’t cause premature births as well.
Valerie: But it does. That would be lying if I said it didn’t.
Vandy: But not all premature births are because of abortions and not all people who have abortions have premature births. That’s the piece that I’m struggling… So yes I’m sure there are a small percentage of women… maybe, I don’t know.
Nancy: Maybe it’s statistically connected… I don’t actually know the statistic.
Vandy: But I do know that I have friends who have had abortions that there was no premature birth.
Valerie: Well it’s not like 100% it’s just a percentage of risk…
Vandy: That’s my point that.. so that’s the other part of the conversation… that… so that the other people would have the opportunity to say “yeah and there are people that have full-term births that have had abortions too. That’s the other side of it.
Valerie: Yeah, I know. If it was 100% risk then it would be 100%. But it’s not and I never said it was.
Vandy: No, but you didn’t say… anyways I don’t wanna…
Vandy: In terms of the conversation, yeah I’m sure there’s place on campus to talk about abortion.
Valerie: Really? Where?
Valerie: Because in my experience there’s not one.
Vandy: I just don’t think teacher education is the place because we’re not that medical… maybe. Science classes, possibly? I don’t know. It certainly came up in my sociology classes. But not in teacher education because it has… abortion and conversation about that topic has nothing to do with learning how to be a teacher.
Valerie: But it is a special need for a lot of students. Like high school girls who have gone through this. I think teachers should learn to empathize with them because they need so much help.
Vandy: Okay but there’s a bazillion things… there’s about a zillion things that we could talk about with teenagers that we don’t have time to talk about in teacher education. We have ten and a half months to learn how to be a teacher. Right? So… abortion as far as I’m concerned is probably down at about 100 000 on the list of important things that I’m gonna… think that you as a population of people in a bachelor of education need to think about in terms of what you’re going to teach to kids. If you were teaching a unit on sex education then absolutely that would become important to you. But all of you have different curricular areas and you’re a focusing in those different areas. And other than that, that’s the part that maybe you’re learning in that moment. If you’re talking about grade 12 and biology and the development of the fetus. That might be a place where it could make sense in the conversation. But it doesn’t in terms of learning how to be a teacher.
Valerie: I kind of think that if I were to agree to never bring up abortion in class again I would be saying that freedom of speech doesn’t exist anymore in the full(?) sense of the word.
Vandy: I’m not saying that. We did not say that you can’t bring up abortion.
Valerie: Yeah you basically did.
Vandy: Oh my gosh!
Valerie: You said you can only bring it up in the certain context when the class is prepared.
Vandy: Yes! So that’s not saying that you can’t talk about it. It’s saying think about the context of what we’re talking about.
Valerie: But I don’t think… Is there going to be that context at some point in the program?
Vandy: I don’t know! But what does abortion have to do with teacher education is what I’m struggling to understand. Where does in the bachelor of education… what part… what goal…
Valerie: It’s not abortion specifically. It’s just the right that Canadians have to bring up… like for freedom of speech.
Vandy: You keep going back to this idea of freedom of speech and your freedom of speech is not being squelched. Freedom of speech is that you have the opportunity to share provided it isn’t hurtful of other people. That’s the mandate of the university. That universities are inclusive places. Inclusive of all people’s ideas. So if we had set up a classroom and we were talking about that topic, by all means, all of people’s opinions would be included. But that had nothing to do with the topic which was autism.
Valerie: It did have to do with the topic!
Vandy: No it talked about… (sigh)… we just finished talking… Valerie, I’m not… It’s… We’re just going around in a circle.
Valerie: Yeah we are.
Vandy: Right and so… I’m saying yes you can talk about abortion or any other thing if it comes up in the context of whatever the conversation is and all party… all sides of whatever controversial topic are brought up. But this isn’t about abortion. It’s the same as talking about murder, or capital punishment or… oh gosh any topic, really, could be a potential conversation to have with high school students. But we don’t talk about all those things that may be a topic. We talk about classroom management. We talk about working with kids with autism. We talk about learning how to lesson plan. We talk about learning how to work with kids who have grown up… whose parents went to residential schools. That’s what we talk about because that’s the most immediate need. And if you think that’s me shutting down your freedom of speech. I don’t know where you get that leap (scoffs). It’s… this is about meeting the task at hand which is to get you a bachelor of education so you can teach. Okay? And that’s all I want to do. Genuinely, that’s all I want to do. Okay?
Valerie: Yeah I still think this is against freedom of speech but…
Vandy: If you think it is then you can talk to… I mean… we have… There’s a human rights lawyer on campus that you are allowed to talk to for sure. There’s an ombudsperson that’s your if you feel that I’m infringing on that.
Valerie: And I’m still not sure like… I’m really not gonna be able to tell the difference then between what I’m allowed to say and what I’m not allowed to say.
Vandy: Why don’t you practice it for a while? And see. I think it will… I think you will… I think you do know because you did it on your school experience. So… I guess for me that lets me know that you do kind of know. Maybe it’s just having to rethink what it means to be… you’re not a student anymore is another piece of it. You’re in a professional program. So there’s a different expectation of conversation. Right? So maybe that’s a different way to think about it. It’s not that we’re saying you don’t have freedom of speech it’s that “I need to think about how I’m presenting myself as a professional”.
Valerie: Another thing about school experience is that I was teaching sciences, and I kept it at science but now we’re talking about all these bigger controversial things and I want to say my thoughts to hear what other people think about what I think and I want to ask questions. And so far I’ve gotten in trouble twice now for doing that. I wasn’t intending harm.
Vandy: Yeah, and so I don’t think you were. And then that’s the only… the conversation is just to put that little thing in your head to think about. And it’s not about shutting you down. It’s asking you to think. You talked about how important critical thinking is to you… critical mindedness… so we’re asking you to always think with that lens of how… “what I’m saying, how could it impact the feelings of other people?”
Valerie: Yeah… I guess I’ll probably get marched up to the office a few more times.
Vandy: I don’t think so.
Valerie: Yeah. Well, I’ll think about it anyways.
Vandy. Okay. If you want to talk about it more we can talk about it next week too, okay?
Vandy: And honestly at any time you can talk about it with Barbara too if you need to. She’s there to help support you. And I know that… Awneet you can talk to her. And I know Awneet would too. I know Awneet really respects you. So…
Valerie: She does? I thought she hated me.
Vandy: Oh, she doesn’t hate you. She talks about how bright you are and about what a strong student you are.
Valerie: Maybe I should meet with her and ask those question then because I really want to hear her perspective and try to understand her because I really don’t.
Vandy: And that would make you feel better, right?
Valerie: It would.
Vandy: So maybe you, me and Awneet should talk. Just in terms of the… yeah… so.
Valerie: Or I could just talk to Awneet.
Vandy: If you want to, okay. Anyways I don’t want you not to feel supported (laughs) because we do care about you, and we do want you to be successful. So we’re just trying to put things in place to help you to get there and I think probably what’s happened… when you come to campus… you’re not alone in this. This has happened before. People go back into student role and we’re not students still. You’re a teacher candidate. Okay?