FAST launches high school anti-racism curriculum

Nicole Miller

TORONTO — Despite the recent passing of Elizabeth Comper, philanthropist and co-founder of Fighting Antisemitism Together (FAST), the organization is moving forward with its mission to educate Canadian students about the dangers of hate in all its forms.

Later this year, FAST will officially launch its latest educational tool for high school teachers and students called Voices into Action, following the success of its first initiative called Choose Your Voice – an award-winning program that has reached more than two million students since 2005.

Choose Your Voice, the foundation for the latest initiative, was developed with the help of educators and what was then the Canadian Jewish Congress, to provide middle school teachers with tools to incorporate material about the history of anti-Semitism and racism into the curriculum.

Nicole Miller, executive director of FAST – a coalition of non-Jewish Canadian business and community leaders who fund projects that encourage other non-Jews to speak out – explained that following the success of Choose Your Voice, they saw the need for a similar program for high schools.

Voices into Action, an interactive site developed in accordance with provincial curriculum standards by a team of teachers, curriculum experts, graduate students, university professors, and consultants, contains five units that focus on issues related to human rights, genocide, prejudice and discrimination.

“It’s divided into five units and the Holocaust is a major feature throughout. It is at least a third of the content,” Miller said.

Although the program addresses racism, bigotry and hate in all forms, there is a special emphasis on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

The founders of FAST, Elizabeth Comper, and her husband Tony, a retired Bank of Montreal CEO, were inspired to create the organization after a series of anti-Semitic attacks in Toronto and Montreal, including the 2004 firebombing of Montreal’s United Talmud Torah Jewish day school.

“It was important to address other human rights issues, to put them on a scale, to understand that the Holocaust was as far as you could go with hatred,” Miller said.

“The Holocaust is the first chapter of units 1, 2, 3 and 4, and unit 5 is entirely about the Holocaust and it ends with a conclusion on contemporary anti-Semitism.”

Miller added that most important is the fact that the high school program is curriculum-based and completely free of charge.

“We’re not trying to make more work for teachers. They just don’t have time so it’s important that it meets the provincial curriculum requirements for a lot of different courses. But mostly in social studies and language arts, which includes English and French – our programs are completely bilingual,” she said.

She said when teachers register online, they can customize the material to complement their lesson plans.

Some of the subjects explored include the Holocaust, the “Aboriginal Experience,” gender issues, cyber bullying and the history of Chinese immigration to Canada.

“There is a whole chapter on cyber bullying, which is really, really important. It doesn’t matter what subject you teach, whether you’re a science or math teacher, that could become an issue,” Miller said.

She said although there are many great programs available to teachers that promote human rights, tolerance and counter anti-Semitism, Voices into Action is unique.

“Our model is a little different. We don’t teach the students. We give material to teachers… once they review and assess our programs, they help promote it because they see how great these resources are.”

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