Editor’s Letter: Learning and Unlearning

For a magazine with an educational mandate, breaking accurate news is just as important as challenging long-standing national myths

Illustration of an apple with a bite taken out of it, with arms and legs. The apple is kicking a yellow worm.

When you publish a general-interest magazine under an educational mandate, there’s always a risk that the reporting will be depressing. From the climate crisis to the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no shortage of bad news to focus on. One of the ways we navigate this challenge at The Walrus is by approaching every story through the lens of how it advances or helps contextualize a conversation.

In the September/October 2021 issue of The Walrus, a number of features explore what we’re learning in this time of rapid disruption, change, and growth—reflecting the theme of education, literally or more broadly.

Our cover story, “Students for Sale,” describes the professional industry that has sprung up around the recruitment of international students for Canadian colleges and universities. As Nicholas Hune-Brown reports, many international students pay high tuition fees, as much in the hope of obtaining permanent residency in Canada as to get a degree. The financial pressure has only risen with pandemic restrictions and reduced access to jobs, and these students must navigate unforgiving bureaucracies with few of the social and familial supports the average domestic student receives.

Other features in this issue challenge some long-standing myths about Canadian exceptionalism—for example, that the country has very different values from those of the United States. In “Province of No Choice,” Jessica Leeder describes the plight of Adrian Edgar, the only doctor in private practice performing surgical abortions in New Brunswick. For those of us who grew up hearing the name Henry Morgentaler mentioned on the evening news, and as the US gears up for a Supreme Court hearing that some think could overthrow Roe v. Wade, it may come as a surprise that the fight for abortion access is still ongoing in parts of this country. (As a side note, Leeder’s piece is one of the most fascinating blow-by-blow accounts of the machinations of provincial politics I’ve read.)

And, in an essay adapted from her 2021 CBC Massey Lecture, Esi Edugyan excavates the buried history of slavery in Canada through the example of Marie-Joseph Angélique, a young woman for whom a square in Old Montreal is named. Most Canadians learn about slavery through the story of the Underground Railroad; it’s less common knowledge that enslaved people also lived and worked here. Beyond correcting that misconception, Edugyan’s story, “Slavery’s Ghosts,” offers a literary lesson on the role of ghosts in cultural memory. As the Giller Prize–winning novelist writes, “The stories of the dead, too, are a graveyard, a monument of words.”

This fall, we are developing a new series by writers ages thirteen to eighteen. As teens become increasingly visible in public life, from young environmental activists like Greta Thunberg to the many ways Gen Z is influencing mainstream coverage of politics and culture through platforms like TikTok, they are engaging in the same conversations we explore regularly in The Walrus. In the coming months, we will commission work by young people on everything from science to politics to the arts. If you know a young writer or artist who might be interested in contributing, please direct them to thewalrus.ca/teenwalrus.

Jessica Johnson
Jessica Johnson (@ejessicajohnson) is a former editor-in-chief of The Walrus.
Graham Roumieu
Graham Roumieu (roumieu.com) is a National Magazine Award winner and a regular contributor to The Walrus. He draws for The Atlantic, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.