Children have a moral clarity that can put elders to shame. Just listen to the kids of Dewson Street Junior Public School.
The K-to-6 school near Ossington and College is on a push to help Syrian refugees. Parents are helping raise money to sponsor a refugee family and asking other Canadian schools to follow their example – the Thousand Schools Challenge, they're calling it.
Organizers talked about the idea in the school library this week. Afterward, they took reporters upstairs to room 311. Students in Ben Yanchyshyn's Grade 6 French immersion class have been studying the refugee crisis. They're learning new words, such as the French for "to capsize" and "to drown."
Mr. Yanchyshyn, a well-liked, talented teacher who once taught one of my kids, is using the refugee crisis to get the class thinking about rights and responsibilities. What rights do we in Canada, prosperous and free, enjoy? What does it mean for the people of Syria, unfree and torn by war, to be without those rights? How did the crisis start and what can be done about it? Most important: Do we, as Canadians, have a responsibility to help?
To the students of 311, the answer is, like, so obvious. I find two of them – Mahta Amini and Hannah Hewko, both 11 – at one of the desks the students share.
When I perch on a little plastic chair to ask them about the refugee issue, they bubble over with thoughts, often finishing each other's sentences in their eagerness.
"It's just sad to see people dying just on the way to come to another country," says dark-eyed Mahta. "They're just scared. They don't want their other family members to get hurt."
Hannah, a small girl with a high voice, chimes in: "Yeah, a lot of the boats have sunk and a lot of people have died."
When she saw that picture of the boy on the beach, "I was so sad. I read it in the newspaper. It was really sad. I saw him lying face-down on the beach. There was water, like, covering him. It looks like he was asleep, but he was actually dead."
"When I saw the picture," Mahta adds, "I just couldn't stop crying. It was really sad to see, like, a three-year-old boy who did nothing wrong just die on a beach."
But why should we, in faraway Canada, help the refugees? Hannah looks startled by the question and her answer is close to sarcastic: "It's a world crisis."
Mahta adds: "You see an innocent person die and you feel you want to get involved. You don't want to see another innocent person die for nothing just because they don't want to be in a war and get hurt. I think Canada should do something about it."
For them, it is just a matter of logic. The refugees are in need. Canada has the capacity to help them. Duh.
"Canada is a safe country, there's no war," Mahta says. "Canada has a lot of money, and we don't do much with that money, so I think it would be best to take that money and help them and get them shelter, stuff like that – things they need."
Hannah agrees: "We have a lot of money – that's what we have – so why don't we just use a lot of it to help refugees get food, water, the things they need to live, and after a couple of years maybe they'll be fine and live" – she pauses – "happy."
In Syria, Mahta says, "their government's really mean to them. In Canada, we have so many good rights …" Hannah breaks in: "And that's why they want to come here. So that's why we should help."
"Yeah," Mahta says, "share our luck with other people."
Share our luck. That is what it comes down to, isn't it? Canadians are lucky. We have everything. They have nothing. Their country is being ripped apart. They are fleeing for their lives. We can help, so we should.
That is as clear as day to the children of Room 311. In 10 minutes, these two little girls make the case for refugee aid with more force than a dozen earnest appeals. In their innocence, they cut through all the point-scoring and sophistry you hear in the election campaign.
Canada is falling short of its best self during the refugee crisis. The prime minister exploits the crisis to try to make his opponents looks naive, claiming they would have thrown open Canada's borders to hordes of refugees without security checks. His opponents exploit the crisis to make the government look heartless.
Young ears block out that kind of noise. Young eyes see only the necessity to act. Why should we do our utmost for the refugees? Because we can.
To these kids, it is as simple as that.