Big Thinking

Upcoming Big Thinking lectures

Building skills for citizenship: Educating our children for the common good

Joel Westheimer
University Research Chair in Democracy and Education, University of Ottawa

Date: Thursday, December 1, 2016 - 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm
Location: Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre Hotel

Ask people of any nation if they think youth and young adults should learn how to be good citizens and most will say "of course" (likely even more so following the U.S. presidential election). Ask them if teaching young people to get involved – locally, nationally, and globally – is a good idea, and, again, most will agree. But beyond the clichés, when colleges, universities and K-12 educators wrestle with the nitty-gritty details of what will actually be taught and what students will actually do, the consensus starts to fray. That’s where the real work of building skills for citizenship begins.

Joel Westheimer is University Research Chair in Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa and education columnist for CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning and Ontario Today shows. He began his education career as a middle school teacher in the New York City Public School system before obtaining a Ph.D. from Stanford University. His newest critically acclaimed book is What Kind of Citizen: Educating Our Children for the Common Good (Teachers College Press, 2015). He is the author of more than 75 academic and professional journal articles, book chapters, and books. He is currently co-directing The Inequality Project, investigating what schools in North America are teaching about economic inequality. 

This lecture will take place at the Conference Board of Canada’s 4th Skills and Post-Secondary Education Summit.


Spring 2017 line-up

Matthew Hayday

Associate Professor of History, University of Guelph
Canada 150 celebrations and national identities
February 21

Keith Banting

Professor of Political Studies and Policy Studies, Queen’s Research Chair in Public Policy, Queen’s University
Future of refugee resettlement and immigration in Canada
March 21

Stephen Toope

President of the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences & Director, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
Canada and the world
May 2

More information and registration coming soon.


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2015-2016 Season

Do we need to rethink sexual assault law?
Elaine Craig, Associate Professor at Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University
Carissima Mathen, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa
November 29, 2016

After a year that has featured dramatic sexual assault trials, including that of former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi, what are the issues that continue to plague the justice system in relation to sexualized violence? Join two legal experts as they explore this complex question, which touches on the presumption of innocence, the role of the courts, law enforcement and lawyers, and the cultural context of sexualized violence. How do we move forward and what must we do to ensure justice for all? 

“There’s an App for that?” Addressing the policy challenges of digital inclusion
Catherine Middleton, Professor, Ted Rogers School of Management, Ryerson University, and Canada Research Chair in Communication Technologies in the Information Society
November 19, Delta Waterfront Hotel, Kingston, ON

We are often told, “There’s an app for that” when trying to do something. But for many, the “app for that” is inaccessible, too expensive, unusable, or simply beyond our experience. Yet businesses, governments and even our friends and relatives frequently assume we all have some capacity to use the digital technologies that have become pervasive in society – smartphones, apps, social networking, the cloud – capacity that allows us to be included in today’s society. This Big Thinking lecture challenges assumptions about digital literacy across all segments of the population and outlines policy actions needed to advance digital inclusion for all.

Just sustainabilities in cities: Re-imagining e/quality, living within limits
Julian Agyeman, Professor, Urban and Environmental Policy, Tufts University
November 9, Hart House University of Toronto

Social justice and environmental sustainability are often seen as being at odds, especially in cities. Through his innovative concept of ‘just sustainabilities’ interdisciplinary scholar Julian Agyeman of Tufts University will argue that integrating social needs and welfare offers us a more ‘just,’ rounded and equity-focused definition of sustainability. This does not, however, negate the very real environmental threats we face. Agyeman’s wide-ranging lecture will explore examples of just sustainabilities, focusing on ideas about 'fair shares' resource distribution globally, planning for intercultural cities, achieving wellbeing and happiness, and  the concept of 'spatial justice.’ He will conclude with a consideration of roles for the humanities and social sciences in creating just sustainabilities in urban centres.

The 2016 US Election: How did it come to this, and where is it going?
Richard Johnston, Canada Research Chair in Public Opinion, Elections, and Representation at the University of British Columbia
October 25, 2016

The battle for the Republican nomination defied prediction and challenged much of what we thought we knew about parties in the United States. Many believed that Donald Trump was a creature of the media, doomed to obscurity once they lost interest. Instead, he activated potential Republican constituencies that had long been dormant. Something of the same happened on the Democratic side with the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Is 2016 an historical accident, leaving no permanent impact, or has the electoral landscape been fundamentally transformed? What impact will this have on Canada?

Is incremental equality for First Nations Children compatible with reconciliation?
Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director, First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada and Director, Equity and Diversity, Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
September 27, 2016

A Canadian Human Rights Tribunal landmark ruling released on January 26, 2016 found that the Canadian government is racially discriminating against 163,000 First Nations children and their families by providing flawed and inequitable child welfare services and failing to ensure equitable access to government services. When governments know better they should do better for kids, and this talk will discuss the history of the Canadian Government’s relationship with First Nations children and highlight the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling in the context of this value. What are the implications of this case, and how can we engage in meaningful reconciliation?

Canada's origin story
Kathleen Mahoney, Professor of Law, University of Calgary
May 10, 2016 

Since Confederation in 1867, Canada has identified and conducted itself as a country of two founding nations, the British and the French, while subordinating the status of Indigenous peoples. A new project is seeking to alter that narrative through official recognition, on the 150th anniversary of the 1867 confederation, of the foundational contributions of Indigenous peoples to the formation of Canada, in addition to the British and the French. By resetting Canada's origin story, future generations will better understand the true nature of the country's origins, and we will improve the context for discussion and action on commitments already made to reconciliation, building nation-to-nation relationships and rights to self-determination. This event is organized in partnership with the Royal Society of Canada

The evolving Middle East: Implications for Canadian strategy
Janice Stein, Professor, Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto
April 19, 2016 

The Middle East is experiencing the systematic collapse of a political order put in place one hundred years ago. This breakdown is creating ripples far beyond the region, pushing refugees up against an increasingly tightly wound Europe and exporting ideologies and ideologues that promote violence around the world. The breakdown of order can be remarkably quick, but the construction of a new order is painfully slow. How then should Canada deal with a part of the world that is likely to remain turbulent and violent for the foreseeable future yet is important to the world and to Canadians? 

Reforming Canada’s voting system: What would proportional representation change?
André Blais, Professor of Political Science, Université de Montréal
March 22, 2016

The 2015 federal election campaign brought new urgency to a fundamental issue in Canadian democracy: Should we change our voting system? Discussion has focused on the merits of a “proportional” versus a “majoritarian” system. Three questions are key: Does proportional representation foster a higher participation rate? Are voters’ preferences better represented in a proportional system? And are citizens more satisfied under a proportional system?

Thinking out loud: Talking liberal arts with Joseph Boyden
Josephy Boyden, novelist and short story writer
Big Thinking on the road at Concordia University
March 7, 2016

What does a liberal arts education mean and why is it important? Join novelist and short story writer Joseph Boyden and Concordia's Rebecca Duclos (Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts) and Jill Didur (Associate Professor, Department of English) in conversation on the future and challenges to the liberal arts. This event was made possible through a collaboration with Concordia University's Thinking Out Loud initiative.

  • Big Thinking video (coming soon)

The future of assisted death in Canada
Jocelyn Downie, Trudeau Fellow, Professor in the Faculties of Law and Medicine, Dalhousie University
February 23, 2016

Canada is rapidly moving into a new reality for end-of-life care. From an all-out ban, Canada is on course to adopt some of the most progressive assisted death legislation in the world. In the last year, Quebec has implemented permissive assisted death legislation and the Supreme Court of Canada has struck down the Criminal Code prohibitions on assisted death. Canadian legislators are under pressure to resolve a host of thorny issues by June 2016. Who qualifies for assisted death? How are interests of patients and health care providers reconciled? What oversight system is appropriate? This event was sponsored by the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation

Canada's origin story
Kathleen Mahoney, FRSC, Professor of Law at the University of Calgary and Legal Advisor at the Assembly of First Nations
November 27, 2015

This Big Thinking lecture was held at the Annual General Meeting of the Royal Society of Canada, and sponsored by the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences and the University of Calgary. 

Reconciliation and the Academy
Wab Kinew, Associate Vice-President, Indigenous Affairs, University of Winnipeg
November 17, 2015


See past Big Thinking lectures