Racism and anti-racism has been more part of the educational conversation this year, than at any time during my time as an educator. Early on in my career, I joined Amnesty International. Participation in community groups, and Amnesty events and actions were the source of much of my learning about white privilege and the inequity of basic human rights throughout the world. I championed Human Rights Day on Dec. 10th and taught students and community members about the International Declaration of Rights and Freedoms. As a teacher in Coquitlam, I became the chair of the Coquitlam Teachers’ Association Multicultural and Anti-Racism Committee. I coordinated the CODE (Canadian Organization for Development in Education) Project Love in the district. Students wrote letters and packaged school supplies to send off to students in countries needing this support for young learners. My foundational belief was that teaching and learning about other cultures and human rights was to key to ending racism. Well, looking around today, it is fairly evident that learning about other cultures does not equate to valuing or respecting people with other ways of being.
Multiculturalism was supposed to represent a different paradigm than the “American melting pot”. Yet, in both Canada and the United States, racism has continued to play out. An openness to learning about other cultures can create the conditions for equity for all people despite perceived differences, but it is not a guarantee it will. COVID has created the circumstances for all of us to come face to face with the magnitude of the problem. Limitations on our activities ensured that many of us were riveted to the tv to witness the horror of the end of George Floyd’s life. The words “I can’t breathe” make the racism in mainstream society palpable.
COVID or perhaps the post Trump era has also created circumstances where the worst version of too many people have emerged. These people are emboldened to say and act in ways that would not have been tolerated in recent history. Overt acts of racism are reported regularly, and hate proliferates social media. However, there is a will of people not previously involved in social justice issues to ask questions and go after finding answers. Books, online courses, and discussion groups have popped up – all focussing on race and anti-racism. Institutions are becoming more aware of the need for them to be involved in a solution.
My learning journey continues but I have heard all of the advice provided throughout these different contexts to be quiet and listen, to share my ideas, to be pro-active, to check my white privilege, to own my responsibility for the problem, identify my biases, to do more, to follow the lead of people of colour, to find affinity with those who look like me… I believe that every piece of advice provided comes with quest to make our world a more just and equitable place. Yet, like any other scenario, there is no magic answer to create the ills of the world. To be a part of the solution to racism and create a more equitable world, commit to taking action. This is not a passive process. We will need build capacity in ourselves, our colleagues, our neighbours, if our institutions are to move forward with much needed change.
The past year, I have made the following things part of my learning journey.
- Continue to celebrate other cultures and ways of life with families through Children’s Literature. Explore differences and common experiences that make us human.
I believe that we have moved beyond the need for a shelf of “Multicultural Books” in every school library. Children need to see themselves represented throughout our library collections and inquiry studies. Educators need professional development and recommendations to support book buying that help children in understanding that they do not walk alone. There are others with similar lives and experiences, and experience interesting opportunities.
As president of the BCLCILA – British Columbia Literacy Council of the International Literacy Association / ReadingBC @BCLiteracyCoun1 , I spearheaded a project to create a booklist of titles to support children in their social emotional learning, which includes seeing themselves represented in text. Many of those tests, I read on my Ms. Froese Reads You Tube channel to create community in my school.
“By valuing their culture and identity, we give students the power to see themselves in their learning.”
2. Engage widely in reading and writing about issues of race, anti-racism, and equity in order to be exposed to the pertinent issues, vocabulary, and understanding of issues of race, anti-racism, and equity.
There is no one book to read to inform understanding or action. Read widely to formulate your own ideas. I have enough titles now that I am able to lend out to support others in their learning. I Included the titles on Goodreads to open conversations and sharing with my online reading community.
Writing about your reading supports connections between all of the material you are reading. Blogging helps me to further clarify my thinking.
3. Participate in professional development and discussion groups focusing on issues of race, anti-racism, and equity. Look for techniques and tools to reduce bias and measures to determine more equitable outcomes for students.
Notice what it feels like when you are listened to, when your ideas are valued, and when you feel like you belong in the conversation.
Notice what it feels like when you hear information that you do not believe to be true, when someone makes assumptions about you, or when you feel silenced or dismissed.
4. Find your own affinity group to engage in conversation to keep learning and fine tuning your ideas.
Do not let anyone make decisions for you about where you belong. Find someone or some people who you trust to have conversations about sensitive issues or ask questions.
5. Reach out to include people with different experiences or ideas to participate in conversations.
I submitted a proposal to the Human Rights Internet ( @HRI ) with a small group of social justice advocates in fall. The purpose was to produce a documentary to facilitate conversations between people wanting to make their groups, workplace or organizations more welcoming and diverse. We wanted to pose questions and include the perspectives of a diverse range of people in Vancouver, British Columbia with different experiences, ethnicities, and perspectives. It seemed so much more straightforward when we started, but what a learning experience. Formulating questions to tease out responses without directing answers took months!
The documentary will be a project over a longer period of time. However, the open-ended questions that we have refined and the voices of people we are interviewing are fascinating. The plan has evolved to release the unedited “voices” on You Tube each week and open up the participation in the project. This way we are not tailoring the message to an agenda but allowing the voices to peak for themselves.
6. Keep your eyes and mind open as to how you can support other people in their learning journey or join them to support yours. The learning evolves as we evolve.
“We can’t teach what we don’t know, and we can’t lead where we won’t go.”