By Minerva Navasca, FOCUS Media Centre
For a city half composed of immigrants, most school curriculums are extremely lacking in culturally relevant teachings that are inclusive to Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) or honor their contributions in building Canadian society. Few people know, for example, that slavery was practiced in Canada or that Thornton and Lucie Blackburn, black refugees from Kentucky, started the first taxi company in Toronto in 1837, a time when Toronto wasn’t even Toronto yet! Even Canada’s own horrific relationship with First Nations Peoples are brushed aside, in favor of sharing the falsely heroic narrative of how the French and British discovered and settled this land.
In the exclusion of BIPOC subjects, our school boards continue to perpetuate the idea that only European histories are worth telling. If BIPOC stories, histories and contributions from the past are not worthwhile, then how can we, as a Canadian society, truly respect the culture and value of BIPOC communities?
The exclusion of BIPOC stories and histories deems the perspective of a large group of people meaningless, stripping these communities of their voice and pride. In recent years, school boards have attempted to address this issue by token efforts to celebrate special BIPOC cultural events such as the Chinese New Year, Black History Month, Indigenous Day, etc. However, these dismal attempts fail to hide the almost complete absence of cultural representation in the day to day curriculum, sending an implicit message that BIPOC students are “lesser than” their white peers. From an early age, this message of less worth, is learned and as these students grow, it is reinforced by the world around them. That is, however, if these messages remain unchallenged.
Lack of diversity is another problem. In the field of education, around 80% of teachers are white and it is difficult to gage if teaching faculties have a clear enough grasp of BIPOC perspectives to sufficiently include these narratives within lesson plans. This lack of diversity within the teaching profession can also hinder a BIPOC student’s connection to pursuing teaching as a career path. If youth do not see themselves represented, they can feel out of place, making it harder for them to connect to mentors or role models. This problem – alongside the financial challenges posed by pursuing higher education – can make youth seriously doubt whether they fit into the academic world or not. This insecurity can rob our society of gifted minds, rob students of reaching their full potential, and continue the cycle of academic inequality for BIPOC students in the future.
The systematic erasure of a people’s history, language and culture under a misguided notion of “education” can be traced back to one of Canada’s deepest shames: the residential schools. “Indian” residential schools operated in Canada between the 1870s and the 1990s. Indigenous children were forced to leave behind their families, their religions, and their beliefs in order to be “educated.” This led to many years of abuse, and eventual cultural genocide.
The goals of assimilation into Canadian society may not be as overt in today’s time, but they still linger. This is proven whenever black students are sent home due to their hairstyles, or when a teacher refuses to use preferred names or pronouns of a student. Whether conscious or subconscious, the habit of rejecting anything outside the norm needs to be recognized and challenged; especially within the classrooms, where so many young minds are left vulnerable and looking for guidance.
Meaningful coverage of Black histories and inclusion of Black authors, poets, and playwrights open up conversations about race, privilege, and power. It is of vital importance that these discussions are had within a safe classroom environment and that Toronto schools follow suit.