Dear Mr. Harper …
April 17, 2014
Sometimes I struggle to select a blog post topic, usually due to an excess rather than a dearth of ideas. And sometimes, like today, a most wonderful subject simply lands in my in-box!
After reading the e-mail message (from my boys’ high school English teacher) and its contents, I was reminded of my own high school English teachers and their roles in inspiring my interest in, and love for, engaging with the written word. I imagine many of you share a similar experience. What an influential role those teachers have!
Today, a high school teacher and a politician share a refreshing devotion to instilling a love for reading in young minds. Ms. Gin, the English teacher we are fortunate to have teaching the boys in our family, began a project with her students which involved connecting with none other than our country’s Prime Minister. The e-mail I received this morning was Ms. Gin’s update on this project. Read on and enjoy! (Original letters are followed by text for easier reading)
Dear Mr. Harper:
Over the summer, I came upon a book about books: 101 Letters to a Prime Minister, by Canadian writer Yann Martel. As a high school English teacher, I often find myself in a predicament similar to Mr. Martel’s but instead of wondering about what kind of literature piques the mind of our country’s leader, my concern lies in our country’s youth. What books are of particular importance in shaping the next generation of adults, the next wave of thinkers and leaders?
Inspired by Mr. Martel’s steadfast, albeit, one-sided book club, I asked my grade 11s at St. George’s School a similar question: If you were to recommend a book to our Prime Minister, what book would you put forth?
Our discussions were so rich and enthusiastic that I knew I had stumbled upon a “teachable moment.” What is enclosed in this envelope is a collection of letters from a coterie of energetic, astute and passionate young minds. They have spent a good deal of the past three weeks brainstorming, writing, editing, and sharing their book recommendations. More than anything they hope you will take their painstaking compositions seriously.
While it is widely known that Mr. Martel never received a personal reply from you, my two classes of grade 11s are hopeful that you will not only take the time to peruse their letters, but that you will also honour their work with a reply of your own.
Ms. Sandra Gin
Thank you for sharing the letters from your Grade Eleven English classes. They clearly demonstrate that a love of reading is alive and well in Canadian schools.
I would like to extend my congratulations on your efforts to promote literacy among your young charges. We are fortunate to have dedicated mentors in our nation’s classrooms.
My love of reading was also nurtured at an early age by teachers passionate about the written word. Reading opened up a tremendous window on the world for me, as it has for your students. The local public libraries near my childhood home were places of wonder and exploration.
My late father, Joseph Harris Harper, was an avid researcher and historian. He produced two studies for the Canadian Military of his day – “Old Colours Never Die” and “A Source of Pride”. I credit him for instilling my passion for history. Books, of course, have been an integral part of pursuing this great interest.
As your students will be aware, 2015 will mark the bicentennial of the birth of Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. MacDonald. Author Richard Gwyn has written an outstanding two volume biography which I would highly recommend to your students. The Man Who Made Us and Nation Maker present Sir John A’s compelling story with great skill. Canadians are in his debt.
On a more personal note, I would like to share a story with your students. In August of 2012, I had a speaking engagement in Amherst, Nova Scotia, on the grounds of the local high school. I was graciously accorded the school’s library as my temporary office. It is not often that one has an entire library at one’s disposal, and I was compelled to peruse the selection of reading materials on hand.
To my delight, a book entitled Here Stays Good Yorkshire, written by Will R. Bird, was prominently displayed. This historical novel tells the story of hearty immigrants who came to Canada from Yorkshire in the 18th century. My ancestor, Christopher Harper, was part of this early wave of immigrants, and I was deeply moved by this imagined account of experiences that would have been similar to his own.
If I were to offer one piece of advice to your students, who are obviously bright and engaged, I would strongly encourage them to continue reading, both for edification, and for pleasure. And to any budding young authors, I would reiterate that reading voraciously is the best preparation for writing of any kind. I found this to be true when writing my own book, A Great Game. I have enclosed a signed copy for your school library.
In closing, it is my hope that your students will follow in your fine example, and encourage younger students to take up this most fulfilling pursuit.
Sincerely, Stephen Harper
The Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
Books mentioned in this exchange: