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Assuming Responsibility for Past Injustices

What, if any, ethical responsibility does contemporary society have to respond to the legacies of historical globalization?

Outcomes References Related Resources

Suggested Activities

As a culminating task for the inquiry, students develop their own position on historical imperialism by considering the degree to which current governments have an ethical responsibility to redress past injustices.

Sensitivity is required to help students recognize that past injustices did occur and that these injustices caused and continue to cause social, spiritual and economic harm to many people. The issue to consider is what, if anything, should be done to address these past practices. Emphasize to students that they are to base their conclusions on the available factual evidence and not on racial preconceptions or emotional responses.

List pro and con arguments on responsibility for responses to past injustices
Invite students to consider whether instances of historical imperialism in Canada and elsewhere that they have studied are "water under the bridge" or whether there might be lingering responsibilities to the descendants of people who suffered from past practices.

Direct students to work in pairs to list arguments for or against the proposition that modern society bears some degree of ethical responsibility to respond to past injustices.

Encourage students to consider pros and cons using these three criteria:

  • warranted–Do the effects require or deserve a response?
  • feasible–Is it reasonable to expect a response after many years?
  • fair–Is it fair to all parties to require redress?

You may want to adapt one of the charts and strategies in Considering Options (Support Material) to structure analysis of the pros and cons for each of these three factors. Encourage students to refer to specific instances of historical imperialism to support their claims.

Take a position on level of responsibility and kind of response
When students have assembled the arguments, invite them to consider the criteria mentioned above and take a position on the level of responsibility, if any, current governments have to respond to past injuries; e.g., very significant, no responsibility at all. Ask students to specify the kind of response required; e.g., significant redistribution of land, modest financial compensation, an apology.

You many want to adapt one of the charts and strategies in Justifying My Choice (Support Material) to structure and assess students' conclusions.

Participate in a U-shaped class discussion
Invite students to join in a structured class discussion of the issue. Direct students to align themselves along a continuum organized in a U-shape. Students who believe that contemporary society has an enormous responsibility to respond to historical imperialism should stand at one end of the U, while those who believe that there is virtually no responsibility should stand at the other end. Students who believe there is some responsibility should position themselves somewhere between the two ends.

Begin the discussion with opening statements from students at both ends of the U and alternate from side to side, working toward the centre of the U. Encourage students to shift their position in the continuum at any time if they hear arguments that they find convincing.

You may want to consult U-shaped Discussion (Support Material) for additional ideas on the use of this strategy.

After the discussion, instruct each student to prepare a position statement on the level of ethical responsibility needed to respond today to the legacies of historical globalization. Students should support their views with arguments presented in paragraphs or point form.

Last updated: May 30, 2008 | (Revision History)
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