Human Rights vs. Money

We had a debate in history class yesterday.  What is the most important event of the 1920s?  Based on student input, the choices were: women’s rights (vote and persons case), forced enrollment of Native children in residential schools, the Great Depression (or at least the stock market crash), and the Spanish flu.

Students had fifteen minutes to develop their argument and counter arguments.  It turned into an amazing investigation into what we see as important within our society in general.

The basis for each argument ran in this way:

Residential schools- it is a truly Canadian issue (and we are studying Canadian history); it was the closest example of the Canadian government’s attempt to exterminate a culture;  the atrocities committed against these helpless children is a scar on Canadian identity; it is an issue that is still relevant today (families are still trying to cope with the impact that this government mandated action had on their identity and socialization  skills).

Spanish Flu: It killed more people than World War One; H1 N1 is a strain of this-still part of present health issue; society is devastated by the loss of life.

Women’s rights: they were part of the workforce and therefore deserved the vote; women in power could bring about changes for the public good.

The Great Depression- It was felt around the world; majority of the population was effected; the other events presented only effected some people; money makes a society progress; women  are involved in a society anyway- their right’s, while important, were not the biggest event in the 1920s.

In the end, I found myself more drawn to the argument of the group (a majority of the class) for the Great Depression- but I really didn’t want to be.  I am instinctively drawn to the importance of women’s rights and the horror of the residential schools. Why? Possibly because they are issues of character and equality-something that wasn’t even brought up in class(until I talked about it).

It brought up the fact that money speaks louder than human rights.

What is interesting is that a majority of the students have reached this conclusion themselves- I certainly don’t think I have swayed their opinion. What is also interesting is that the students who debated on the side of human rights and equality really did not have the language to explain why they felt that their particular issue was the most important- they just felt it was,  Interesting.

I would really like to explore this more.



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2 Responses to Human Rights vs. Money

  1. cwjbarrett says:

    I think it is typical to think that money means more than human rights in current Canadian society. Think back to Prime Minister Jean Chretien decision in the 90’s to have special economic trade missions to China, objected to by the opposition parties at the time. The possible benefit to the Canadian economy meant more to the governing Liberals than the horrible human rights record of China. Trade continues today, supported by all parties (including Conservatives, who objected at the time) without any improvement on human rights in China. Money means more than human rights in Canada.

    I believe the right of women to vote is the most significant historical event of the 20’s. It is interesting to note that the Supreme Court of Canada rule that women could not hold office in the late 1920’s, only to be overturned shortly afterword.

    Not mentioned in your choices, but of significant historical importance in the 20’s. First, the first international use of insulin (1921) to treat diabetes in Canada by Frederick Banting at the Toronto General Hospital. In 1923, Banting received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery. Second, the Halibut Treaty (1923) – The first time that Canada was able to sign an international treaty without the ratification of Great Britain.

  2. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. We did discuss insulin, and medical discoveries. However, he didn’t talk about the Halibut Treaty – I’m going to have to look at this one- very cool thank you. We have talked about the Statute of Westminster and the Balfour Declaration.
    To add to your point about woman’s rights- it is interesting to note that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that women were not persons- women had to go to the Privy Council in Britain to be declared persons.

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