New School community from today and yesterday celebrated 50th anniversary

About 150 current and former students, facilitators, faculty and friends of New School attended a 50th anniversary celebration at Dawson on April 13. For many, New School was a defining moment in their lives.

It was “really great to see so many people from such a span of years come out with fond memories of New School,” said Andrew Katz, an English teacher who has been teaching in the New School for the last six years.

Andrew, who served as MC, asked the guests what had brought them back to New School. Various guests in the audience offered answers: “community, acceptance, sharing, memories, inspiration, love, safe places, challenges, accountability, growth, laughter, humour, Greta, identity, empowerment, party, making a difference, humanism, activism, care.”

New School offered these kinds of nourishment and others which sustained students during their Dawson years and way beyond.

“I just feel that there was this ‘food’ that we all came for, and were able to find here tonight,” Andrew said.

Thinking about New School

Speakers sat on the stage in a cozy half circle, facing the audience. Fellow New School teacher who has been teaching Humanities at New School for almost a decade, co-coordinator Mari Heywood, said that two ways learners share is through passing around the microphone, “and that includes understanding how much New School resonates with and draws on circling pedagogies, as well as the ways these draw on restorative justice principles.”

Longest serving New School teacher, co-coordinator Cory Legassic, who is a Sociology and Humanities teacher, added that “New School is really this coupling between humanistic education and critical pedagogy, or what we call critical humanistic education.”

In its current incarnation, New School is an alternative way of taking English and Humanities courses. The courses are open to anyone in any program and are equivalent to regular English and Humanities credits. The courses take place in a dedicated space on the 8th floor and students work in smaller learning groups, where they have a greater role in shaping the content of their courses and designing how they will study.

Support from Director General Diane Gauvin  

New School has been a trailblazer in innovative pedagogy, said Director General Diane Gauvin in her remarks. New School “has redefined the landscape of education at Dawson by embracing new approaches that resonate with the ever-evolving needs of students,” she said.

She referred to the new Strategic Plan for Dawson College and said: “this is what we’re aspiring to: to engage students, to make them discover critical thinking. New School was at the forefront of this 50 years ago. It was created to engage students in their learning and to build communities.”

Diane spoke about how New School “doesn’t fit into the structure” of traditional classrooms, which has at times been a challenge, but also an opportunity, especially for students who tend to struggle in traditional classroom settings. Through the years she has always supported New School because “it’s not just about delivering lectures. It’s about igniting curiosity, fostering critical thinking, and nurturing creativity. It’s about sharing and caring. What else is more important? New School has consistently empowered students to become active participants in their own learning journey.”

Diane closed her remarks with a heartfelt thank you: “The commitment of the faculty and facilitators of the New School is truly commendable. And I want to thank all of you here today who have, as teachers — we have some here on stage, but also in the room — if you’ve worked at the New School, thank you.”

One of the teachers who was there for more than four decades of New School’s history was Greta Hofmann Nemiroff, who gave the keynote address. She recounted the history of New School, of which she is a co-founder, and spoke about the highs, the lows, the wonderful moments, and the challenges.

Greta looks back and forward

Greta is concerned about the lack of time today for both students and teachers to engage in community. She also sees the new digital reality as a threat to authentic human interactions and spoke about the new threats to humanity: the housing crisis, environmental depreciation, an era where genocide is normalized.

The world needs critical humanism more than ever, Greta said. “We are becoming bystanders,” she said. “We are the lucky bystanders to the horrors that are going on. And I think it’s hard for young people to feel good about the future when they see themselves in this situation.

“And we also see, of course, how the bystander situation is taken up by our governments. And then, in case this is not enough, we see an incredible phenomenon of many countries actually democratically voting in fascist governments.

“…The New School has tremendous challenges. Our students have tremendous challenges, but the New School has never accepted a bystander status and never will, I hope. And we’re a very long way from those delightful students in 1973 who wanted love and peace and thought it was possible.

“And I would say, well, what do we need now? What does education mean now? My argument is that we need critical humanism now more than ever. We need to get back to those values of us, the people together.”

Greta is very pleased that New School colleagues are working on revitalizing the school and she shared her three hopes for the New School.

Hope for New School’s future

“The first thing I would want for the New School is that it will continue to address and encourage the ability of students to find their voices, to shed other people’s voices that have been implanted into them, and to advocate and speak up for themselves and others.

“The second — that I loved about the New School — is that everybody is seen as a knower. Everybody knows something that nobody else knows. And I hope that kind of respect for the knowledge of everybody and the knowledge of people’s life experience continues to be an important factor in what the New School is.”

“The third one is that New School continues to be open to debate out there.

“May the voyage of the next 50 years continue to spread the ideas and pedagogy to critical humanism and, of course, love and peace.”

Last Modified: May 9, 2024