B.C. Addresses Racism through Curriculum Change
In May 2014, a formal apology was delivered by the BC Provincial Legislature to Chinese-Canadians in BC. The province acknowledged and apologised for the historical wrongs committed by previous Provincial governments against Chinese-Canadians.
These include (but certainly aren’t limited to) a racist immigration tax (the Chinese Head Tax), and eventual immigration exclusion. The Canadian government profited from the Chinese Head Tax (a special tax solely for immigrants from China) – $ 23 million over 38 years (before immigration from China was banned completely in 1923), which was around the same cost as the Canadian Pacific Railway (built in large part, by Chinese railway workers).
As part of this apology the Provincial government is in the process of overhauling the Social Studies curriculum in BC – the rationale behind the curriculum changes came from “public consultations with members of the Chinese-Canadian community prior to the apology” most of these participants agreed that education was the most valuable legacy proposal. The wisdom behind this was that ignorance was at the root of racism and educating people, especially students, regarding the historical reality would ensure discrimination would not happen again.
So – what kinds of changes?
In each grade, the Provincial government outlines Proscribed Learning Outcomes (PLO’s). For each PLO, there are “Suggested Achievement Indicators” essentially, how you would know that a student has learned the outcome. When a teacher plans their course, they usually will take a look at both the PLO’s and the Achievement Indicators – which is where the new curriculum additions are found. The process of planning your course using this formula can take a lot of time – I am speaking from personal experience.
If you would like to see all of the changes for September 2015 – you can check out this link to the Ministry of Education website (I’ve included a few highlights below)
Curriculum Changes to BC Social Studies:
PLO: Evaluate why immigrants (including East and South Asian immigrants) came to BC and Canada, the individual challenges they faced, and their contributions to BC and Canada from 1815 to 1914
NEW – The Komagata Maru Incident
NEW- Describe examples of discrimination faced by immigrants, including cases of systemic discrimination by local, provincial, and federal levels of government.
PLO: Describe the factors that contributed to a changing national identity from 1815 to 1914:
NEW – Describe how different groups in Canadian society, including Aboriginal people, responded to immigration from new regions, such as Eastern Europe and East and South Asia.
NEW – Analyze how Canadian society may be different today if there had not been exclusionary policies towards immigration during this period of history
PLO – Assess Canada’s role in World War II and the war’s impact on Canada
NEW – Describe the contribution of Canadian soldiers from ethnic minorities (e.g., Japanese, Chinese, and Aboriginal Canadians) and assess the impact of their military service on post-war social changes.
Is this enough redress?
While I mentioned that teachers spend a lot of their time coordinating lessons, PLO’s and achievement indicators, teachers are sometimes tied by what material they have available. Working in a private school (despite being very tiny and not “luxuriously” funded) I have up-to-date textbooks, because we were able to prioritise that. They already cover most of the points above, and if they don’t I’ve been supplementing with graphic novels and websites. Escape to Gold Mountain was a wonderful graphic novel for explaining the construction of the CPR from the perspective of a Chinese railway worker, as well as the history of Chinese-Canadians in BC.
Because I have a projector at school, and we have computers, I was able to use the extensive material available online in class. We were also able to prioritise this. I also was able to take some students to Chinatown during Art class. The number of Chinese benevolent societies and the architecture of Chinatown shows a history of exclusion and sometimes uneasy relations with the wider community of Vancouver. I had the time and flexibility to prioritise this.
Teaching elsewhere, in the public system, I had a 15 year old textbook, an overhead projector and limited paper supplies. No time, funding or adequate supervision for field trips. I know that this is not the case in all schools and school districts, but it is definitely the case in many.
Yes, we need to consistently improve and reflect on what we teach students in BC. Yes, I agree with the changes to the Social Studies curriculum – even though I think teachers will need to add a great deal of their own depth. Where will this depth come from though with outdated textbooks and a lack of materials and funding? Updating a website and giving an apology is inexpensive. Actually ensuring that these aims are met – that will take a lot more funding and effort to truly create a “valuable legacy” and a legacy that applies to all students in BC.
If we don’t fix the gaps in the school system as a whole, what historical wrongs will we be teaching our students in another 50 years? Will we be able to defend the inequalities in our education system?