Canada’s Democracy Week
Sharon MacKenzie is an educator with 30 years’ experience teaching in British Columbia. She specializes in connecting young people with seniors. Democracy is a key theme in her approach to education.
As an educator, how do you excite people about democracy?
“I encourage people to look at democracy as a verb instead of a noun. Making informed choices is one thing, but the democratic process shouldn’t end once you’ve made a mark on a ballot. It has to carry on beyond that because we have a responsibility to follow up and support the people we elect by continuing to communicate with them and informing them about issues. Part of democracy is the ability to speak directly with your representatives about issues and work as a team to resolve them.”
How do you encourage students to be part of the democratic process?
“I always want to make sure that students see this as an action piece â€“ in other words, how can they be democracy. I encourage them to look at their school and their community and realize that they can “do democracy” right there. By giving kids a chance to practise democracy at an early age and teaching them that it’s an opportunity to express their choice and have it be respected by others, we prepare them to tackle bigger issues and choices later on.”
Is social media making a difference?
“Social media is a huge part of the “verb” of democracy, but we shouldn’t forget that social media still needs to be followed up with real action. Democracy is about us; it’s about real individuals and individuals contributing to the whole.”
You’re involved in intergenerational work, bringing young people and seniors together. Do you see any difference in the commitment to democracy?
“One of my passions as an educator has been to connect elementary school students with seniors in their community. As we sadly lose the generation that was touched by World War II and made such sacrifices in the name of democracy, one might think that the new generation is less committed to democracy. But in working with both groups, I notice that their views and understanding about democracy are remarkably similar. When you really talk to seniors and young people, they all value the same kinds of things. They value honesty, freedom of speech, being heard and the core values of democracy.”
How important is democracy to you personally?
“Democracy is very special to me, and I feel very honoured to be able to participate in the democratic process.”