WHAT DO YOU THINK?
and the Power of Religion
A Conversation with Ms. Beskowiney
By Yehuda Zilberstein '24
Among the team of intellectual and free-thinking teachers here at AON, one who stands out is Ms. Jestina Beskowiney. How many teachers do we know that teach multiple grades, encourage a sense of community among their
students, and keep a healthy and happy family outside the classroom? She is truly a superhero.
YZ: Where did you grow up? Where did you go to college?
JB: I grew up in a small town in Saskatchewan called Swift Current. It had 15,000 people but only one high school. It is an agriculture-based, conservative religious community that has one of the highest numbers of churches per capita in Canada. When I was in the eleventh grade, we moved to Regina, which is the capital of Saskatchewan. I earned my first degree there. A lot of people think that Canada is just like the United States, or that Canadians are just like Americans, but our education is different. The whole mindset and approach to education are different. A few years ago, I earned a degree from Framingham State, which is in Massachusetts, while I was working in Guatemala. Framingham offers a Master’s in Teaching at International Schools.
YZ: What are your hobbies outside of school?
JB: Obviously, pre-pandemic it was traveling. I’ve been to sixty-two different countries. I was just trying to see as much and do as much as I could. During my first six years of teaching, I never spent more than eight weeks in one country. I don’t know if you can call culture a hobby; but for me, learning about culture and experiencing it was. Now that I’m stuck at home, my hobbies include books, movies, and pictures. I have taken an amazing number of pictures since I have been fiddling around with photography. And I have been watching a ton of movies. My favorite movie is The Expendables—all of The Expendables. Those really bad, cheesy, violent action movies are my schtick.
YZ: Have you always wanted to become a teacher? Or is it something you discovered later in your life?
JB: No, I have not always wanted to be a teacher. For the longest time, I wanted to be a vet. I would even spend my summers on uncles’ farms tending to the animals. But then my mother, sister, and I were in a bad car accident, and I had multiple surgeries, so I couldn’t kneel or go down on my knees. Besides cattle, my other passion was history. I had a seventh-grade teacher who made me love history. Because I was not certain what I would do with a history degree, I got into teaching.
YZ: What is something no Avenues student knows about you?
JB: I’m actually an introvert, a fact I think would shock most people. I hate small talk, I hate being the center of attention, I hate going to parties. I’ve never liked clubs or bars. Except for school, school is the opposite. I’m a big stranger-danger person—unless you put me in a one-on-one situation with someone new. Then, I can talk for hours on a variety of topics.
YZ: You have traveled the world and lived in a variety of places, of all the places you’ve lived where was the most interesting?
JB: I’ve found things I loved in every place I’ve taught. I have taught in schools around the world—from Guatemala to China to the Arctic—and each one has been a learning experience. When I was in England, it was so old, and everywhere you went, the steps were worn. You would go to the old castles, and there would be grooves in the steps. It made me aware of the people who had walked there before me. It made me think of how I was just taking another step along this well-traveled path.
Kuwait was also very interesting because it is a very race-based place. The pre-conceived notions that we have about Muslims and women are nothing like it is in Kuwait. Kuwait was probably the place where I was treated best as a woman, which really opened my eyes regarding Western perceptions of the rest of the world.
In the Arctic, the most interesting thing was to see how the people tried to live in a modern society while still maintaining their ancient practices. I learned how to hunt and skin animals, because that’s what they do to survive and that’s what it takes to live up there.
In China, I felt like a complete alien. It was just an entirely different world view. The most noticeable thing for us was the fact that we are a mix-raced family. Mixed-race families do not normally exist in China, so, when you have a black man, a white woman, and a baby walking around, it turns heads.
YZ: In the beginning of my sophomore year, you told my class that it was your goal to never share your opinion or belief on matters such as religion. Why have you chosen this method of teaching?
JB: I don’t want to tell anyone that they have to think about anything. It’s not my place to shape what you think; it’s my place to shape how you think. When I was doing my teacher training, I taught a course on ideologies. My co-op teacher made me write the question, What is Ms. Beskowiney’s ideology? He said that if even half the class got it right, I had failed. That’s something that stuck with me. Obviously, I have my beliefs, and obviously, I think I’m right, but it is my job to give you the tools you need to form your own opinions without being influenced by my own. I hope that I have done a good job and will continue to do a good job at this.
YZ: After witnessing so many religions with your own eyes, how do you think religion remains to be such a strong force in peoples lives, thousands of years after being founded?
JB: I am not religious, but I do think there is this real beauty in faith and coming together. It gives people a place of connection and offers a community to those who do not have one. It can answer the unanswered questions and explain the unexplainable to people who wish to know those things. There’s a security in that blind faith. If you have that sense of faith, there is a sense of both belonging and direction. I have used the word faith on purpose because faith and organized religion are two very different things. I’m a history teacher, and I can tell you that more people have died for God, in the name of God, than for any other reason. However, that’s about the politics of religion and not about the faith of religion. Unfortunately, the two get confused very often, and that’s what leads to many of today’s conflicts. But if you focus exclusively on faith, you will find a unifying force because most all religions are basically the same. One thing that all religions tell you is to love your brother. I might not be religious, but I consider myself a socialist, and that philosophy is leaning toward my way of thinking. I want to look out for my fellow man.
YZ: With the world as crazy as it is, what is one thing that has you optimistic for the future?
JB: There’s a ton of things. I know people usually think I’m a pessimist, but I think that there is inherent goodness in the world, that there is love, and that there is a beauty in the way that young people show that love toward people they don’t know. Kids, particularly kids here at AON, are learning how to ask why more often than ever before. The more we ask why, the more we can identify problems and find solutions. I feel as if kids will be able to change the world unlike any other previous generation. They will have the ability to bridge gaps and create long-lasting connections that we’ve never had before. The fact is that I can see that quality in the kids I teach every day. I have kids in Canada, America, Nigeria, China, and Turkey all in one class, and they can all see what makes them similar. They can work together to accomplish shared goals, even though they all have different religious practices, different political views, and are of different races. That makes me optimistic about the future.