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"Opening the Schoolhouse to All," a special series on public education, starts Nov. 17

"Opening the Schoolhouse to All," a special series on public education, starts Nov. 17

York University community members are playing a key role in a provocative four-part series on the challenges facing public schooling.

The Enoch Turner Schoolhouse – originally the site of Toronto’s first free school – is sponsoring a community conversation on a number of current educational concerns. Located at 106 Trinity Street between King Street East and Eastern Avenue in Toronto, Ontario. Canada. It is the oldest school standing in the city.

Coordinated by Paul Axelrod, emeritus professor and former dean of education at York University with York PhD graduate Jason Ellis, the series, “Opening the Schoolhouse to All,” poses a series of questions that panelists will take up in successive sessions beginning on Tuesday, Nov. 17 and concluding in January 2021.

image of Paul Axelrod
Paul Axelrod

 “It’s quite a lineup of eminent speakers,” says Axelrod. “Concerns about education are front and centre these days, and this series will allow for a full airing of pertinent issues.”

How has the pursuit of wider educational opportunity evolved historically? How do educational experiences vary by race, gender, neighbourhoods, and disabilities? What kinds of teaching and learning will best serve individuals and communities in the years ahead? How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting access to schools and the experiences of students, teachers, and families? These questions and more will be considered in this fascinating series of public events. 

The first session (November 17) explores The Promise of Equity: Race, Multiculturalism, and Indigenous Education, and features panelists: Carl James, Jean Augustine Chair in Education, Community and Diaspora at York University; Natasha Henry, President of the Ontario Black History Society; University of Toronto’s, Rob Vipond, author of Making a Global City: How One School Embraced Diversity; and Ryerson University historian, Ian Mosby, a specialist in the study of indigenous health and the politics of settler colonialism. The session will be chaired by University of Toronto historian, Funké Aledejebi, author of the forthcoming book, Schooling the System: A History of Black Women Teachers.

Session Two (November 24) asks Are We Moving Closer to Gender Equity in Education? Former Premier and Minister of Education, Kathleen Wynne, will be joined on the panel by University of Waterloo Professor Kristina Llewellyn, author of Democracy’s Angels: The Work of Women Teachers; Toronto teacher Sachin Maharaj, a Toronto Star contributing columnist; and Jane Gaskell, former Dean of OISE-University of Toronto, and author of numerous publications on gender and education.

The third Session (January 12, 2021) is entitled: Doing the Right Thing: Disability, Autism and Special Education. Panelists include University of British Columbia Professor, Jason Ellis, author of A Class By Themselves: The Origins of Special Education in Toronto and Beyond; Natalie Spagnuolo from the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, and co-founder of Memory Witness and Hope: Sharing Stories About Surviving Institutions; Gillian Parekh, Canada Research Chair: Inclusion, Disability and Education at York University; and Margaret Spoelstra, President of Autism Ontario. Sue Winton of York’s Faculty of Education will chair the session.

The final session (January 19, 2021) turns to higher education, and asks “Does Liberal Education Matter in the 21st Century?Lorna Marsden, former President of York University, is joined on the panel by Paul Gooch, past president of Victoria University in the University of Toronto and author of Course Correction: A Map for the Distracted University; the University of Waterloo’s Ian Milligan, author of History in the Age of Abundance? How the Web is Transforming Historical Research; and Qiang Zha, York University professor, and co-editor of International Status Anxiety and Higher Education: The Soviet Legacy in China and Russia. The session will be chaired by Paul Axelrod, former dean of York University’s Faculty of Education.

Through provocative questions and informed discussion, the series will probe the achievements, limitations and prospects of schooling and higher education in disquieting times.

The series, free of charge, and accessible online, is designed for a broad audience interested in the past, present and future of Canadian education. To register and to see the full program, go to