Continuing the Dialogue with Irshad Manji

IrshadManji_17May2016-0473Irshad Manji joined us at York House once again from March 17 to 19, 2016, to continue the dialogue with our Junior School and Senior School students around the concept of moral courage.

During this visit, Irshad had the opportunity to deepen the conversation with students in Grades 4 through 9, as well as the Student Executive, to explore questions around what moral courage means and how we can practise moral courage in our daily lives.

With aims of integrating questions of moral courage into the curriculum, teachers in the Junior and Senior Schools developed case studies ahead of Irshad’s visit to explore age-appropriate questions of gossiping, exclusion, competition, and leadership. In preparation for Irshad’s visit, students in Sonia Baldissera’s Grade 9 English class explored people who have exhibited moral courage in its many forms. Irshad joined these conversations across grades and facilitated rich discussion with students in small-group settings over her three-day visit.

So much of what Irshad talks to students about when exploring moral courage is centred around self-awareness. Because she had already met many of the girls the last time she was here in the fall, she felt that she was able to share more of her own self-awareness journey when facing similar challenges in her life. In turn, the girls seemed to feel as though they could be more open and thoughtful when exploring questions around these universal issues, and take their time in generating conversation with their classes.

When working with students, Irshad often feels she has as much to learn from them as they do from her. This time, she felt that YHS students showed her how truly universal the concept of moral courage is when talking about issues related to inclusion, competition, and leadership. In the course of these conversations, she said she often felt as though a light bulb was going off for the girls. As a result, she received an unexpected outpouring of gratitude from students after she visited them in their classroom or even as they passed her in the hall.

Commenting on this last visit with Irshad, Kara McDonald, YHS Global Programs Coordinator, said, “Sitting in on several of these class conversations, I too was impressed with our students’ questions and ability to think more deeply about these topics that matter.”  

We are not sure when Irshad will be back for another visit but to say that Irshad Manji is a busy lady would be an understatement. She plans to launch a Moral Courage Learning Lab at the University of Southern California (USC) as part of their Annenberg School Centre for Communication, Leadership, and Policy in early November. Her hope is that this will give students a safe haven to explore provocative questions and allow them to interact with students that they may disagree with on certain issues, and even experiment with the use of digital media as a forum for these conversations. She also continues to teach at New York University about four times per year and is working with the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools on a separate moral courage project. On top of all of this, she plans to launch her next book in the coming months.

You might ask why she does all of this? The answer seems to be her unyielding belief in the power of people being able to exercise moral courage. The belief that moral courage is at the heart of personal growth, self-awareness, and finding one’s voice. It is also her belief that each of us is truly happiest when we are learning and growing.


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