You cannot teach what you don’t know, plain and simple. Unfortunately, teachers who are teaching History have likely not learned much, if anything, about the African Canadian experience when they were students. It is also quite likely they did not receive any requisite knowledge on the subject matter as pre-service teachers in universities.
The teacher is the primary conduit through which the African Canadian experience will flow to students and without effective, continuous training, the diverse stories of Canadians will not be systemically taught in schools. Consequently, teacher education needs to be a key priority in the agenda to make the curriculum more equitable, more diverse, and more inclusive. It’s not about the teacher being an expert; it’s about being a trained facilitator, willing to co-construct knowledge with their students.
We need to move beyond the superficial celebration of Black History Month - the posters hung up around the school, the announcements, and the focus on African American icons. These activities often take place outside the boundaries of the classroom, reinforcing the marginalization of Black history, and by extension, Black students. It’s time to move towards meaningful, engaging inclusion in lesson plans and learning activities in the classroom throughout the academic year.
We currently have policy guidelines and curriculum documents that encourage the inclusion of the African Canadian and other marginalized experiences in the curriculum. There is the provincial Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy, which was first introduced in 1999. This year the Ministry of Education is rolling out the revised Social Studies, History and Geography (SSHG) and Canadian & World Studies (CWS) curriculum. These documents have been restructured to foster the development of more critical thinking skills, and the suggested topics are more inclusive of the African Canadian experience, although there remains no specific learning expectations in the 2013 revised SSHG curriculum document for grades one to eight or in the CWS curriculum documents for grades nine to twelve. However, this change will not filter down to impact student learning without teacher education. Training must be mandatory and part of the push for education reform.
In April ETFO launched an education agenda called “Building Better Schools” which outlines what teachers need to help improve the learning environment for all students. One of their five platforms is Great Focus on Equal Opportunity and Inclusion platform, which supports the implementation of the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy. The teacher union recognizes that, “Teachers need classroom materials that reflect the diversity of their classrooms and school communities. Teachers and other education workers also need professional learning that improves their ability to address racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, and classism, elements that affect our schools and permeate our society.” So ETFO has recommended that the Ontario Ministry of Education, “Provide classroom resources to support the Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy and Provide teachers and other education workers with professional learning that addresses discrimination and oppression of marginalized students.”1
Teachers need access to resources to teach about the African Canadian experience, and there are plenty. Teachers also need appropriate professional training by experts in the field so they can be effective facilitators and approach the topic with some level of confidence and, where it warrants, sensitivity.
Recognizing this gap, I began offering workshops for teachers designed with a specific focus on teaching African Canadian experiences across the curriculum. My training sessions support the implementation of the revised curriculum. It provides teachers with constructive and practical classroom strategies to help them effectively infuse the experience of African Canadians into the curriculum through the use of primary sources, online tools, and a range of other well-researched, Canadian-produced supplementary materials.
This summer, I will be offering a 2-day institute for educators to assist them in gaining valuable content knowledge and learn inquiry-based approaches to teaching African Canadian history across the curriculum. The first session will be held July 9 – 10 at the Comfort Hotel at 445 Rexdale Blvd.
I am delighted to be working with the Peel District School Board to provide a training session to the teachers within their school board on August 19- 20 as part of their efforts to implement equity policies in their schools.
Conscious, deliberate action must be taken to address the persistent and systemic absence of the African Canadian narrative in Ontario history classrooms. Having informed teachers is one step in accomplishing that.