Curriculum Inclusion: Representing...

Curriculum Inclusion: Representing BIPOC History and Contributions in Schools

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By Natasha Cooper

In Canada’s unique and complex history, the stories of Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour or BIPOC communities have often been overlooked, written out, and silenced.  This reality is harmful to all students studying history, as it falls short of the primary reason why we teach students history; to understand the past so they can better understand the world and social-systematic structures they are currently living in.

Recognizing and teaching BIPOC history is imperative for students to understand the full and diverse range of Canada’s heritage.  For far too long, an Anglicized curriculum emphasizing the triumphs of white settlers in this country has been the brunt of what Canadian students are taught in the classroom. These lessons fail to recognize the experiences of BIPOC communities, as well as any community that did not fall into a White, Anglo-Saxon and protestant background.  It is easy to see how such a narrow framework of history curriculum is harmful to students and society.

While there are some lessons on the Atlantic Slave Trade as well as some more informal educational initiatives that take place in schools during black history month, many have noticed that the Canadian curriculum has large gaps in their curriculum on BIPOC experiences and contributions in Canada. Furthermore, when the history of minority groups is discussed, especially those of African descent, mostly negative experiences and stories are considered.  While of course, students need to be aware of the historical injustices that have taken place against BIPOC communities, it would also be beneficial to include the cultural history and positive impact of these peoples as well. It is necessary that further exploration of the experiences of BIPOC communities in Canada, both the good and the bad, are present in history lessons to ensure that students from all backgrounds feel positively represented.  Lessons on African civilizations and the achievements of black scientists, for example, are scathingly absent in the classroom.

Another matter of concern is the inconsistency of the curriculum taught in schools. Unfortunately, what students are learning in History varies from classroom to classroom and can also be largely dependent on the teacher they have. This means that for a more inclusive history to be taught, school boards across the nation must do more to ensure that these lessons are mandatory within the curriculum.  Black people across Canada, more specifically educators and parents, have been campaigning for more teachings on the black experience in Canada for decades now.

Only very recently, perhaps in light of the BLM movement are their voices finally being heard. British Columbia has made steps to include more elective history courses including Asian Studies, Genocide Studies, and BC First People’s Studies.  More elective courses covering a more diverse set of history is a great step forward but still lacks assurance that all Canadian students have a mandatory baseline understanding of our shared history with BIPOC communities. Teachers might find there simply are not enough hours dedicated to history to include all significant peoples and stories. This might mean that maybe these themes and lessons should also be highlighted in English, Social Studies, Geography, and other humanities courses.

BIPOC inclusion in history can have a profound impact on self-esteem and a sense of belonging.  BIPOC students seeing themselves reflected in their curriculum is both validating and empowering.  By learning about the resilience, resistance, and achievements of BIPOC people, students can become more engaged in their own communities and be drivers of social change and justice.  If educators and school boards can take more steps to diversify mandatory history curricula, students will experience a more nuanced and accurate understanding of how our nation has come to be one of the most multicultural countries in the world.

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