A new campaign by the Ontario Black History Society is calling on the provincial and federal governments to make changes to the education curriculum to include a more in-depth look at Black history in Canada.
In an ad for the campaign titled #BlackedOutHistory, the pages of history book that cover non-Black history are blacked out; the ad reveals out of the 255 pages that make up the Nelson textbook only 13 pages cover Black history.
Natasha Henry, president of the Ontario Black History Society, said the purpose of the campaign is to raise awareness around how little Black history is taught in Canadian schools.
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“It’s intended to agitate for more support and actual concrete response from the government to integrate explicit mandated learning expectations on Black history in the curriculum,” Henry said, adding parents and students from diverse backgrounds are looking for a more comprehensive curriculum.
“It’s not enough; it’s insufficient because it’s a systemic eraser.
“Black people — people of African descent — have an over 400-year history here in Canada and that is important in part of the understanding of our colonial past and our present day, and that needs to be part of the foundational core learning of all students in Ontario.”
As part of the campaign, the Ontario Black History Society sent a video, a textbook which has been blacked out as shown in the ad, and a letter expressing concern to the provincial government.
In Ontario, topics related to anti-racism and anti-discrimination are covered starting in kindergarten and throughout schooling. Students will cover some of the challenges groups and communities faced in history, which include Indigenous communities. In secondary school, there are both mandatory and elective courses that include Black history.
Henry said in Ontario, teachers are given the option on which topics they would like to cover.
“Often times, what we hear from students from a range of backgrounds, that they are not learning about Black history at all. … It is long overdue that the concerns that have been raised by Black students and Black parents and students broadly in Ontario to have this responded to in a systemic way; as a way to address the systemic exclusion in the curriculum,” Henry said, adding that the OBHS would like to see changes made to social studies and history curriculum.
“What we would like to see initially, there is a strong response from the history and social studies curriculum from kindergarten to grade 12 and of course we would like to see more concrete integration throughout other curricular areas as well.”
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In a statement, a spokesperson for the Minister of Education said the province is “committed to supporting continued intentional learning through the curriculum and beyond, providing opportunities for students to learn about communities and our collective responsibilities for inclusion and anti-racism. We value the full range of diversity among our students and aim to create inclusive school environments where everyone in our publicly funded education system feels engaged and included, regardless of background or personal circumstances.
“The ministry works to ensure that curriculum is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the Ontario population, as well as provides students learning opportunities related to anti-racism and anti-discrimination education.”
Henry said the response the OBHS received is not enough.
“The Ontairo government issued a statement which we have received and in the statement; it is still not sufficient. Anything that does not respond in-kind with the request is not sufficient,” she said.
“In the statement it was outlined that there are opportunities in the curriculum from the front matter to teach about discrimination and racism and it further outlines the specific grade areas where there are optional topics — bracketed optional topics — that include areas of Black history, but there has been nothing substantial in terms of explicit learning expectations.”
Henry said while it’s important to understand systemic racism and how it relates to Black history, the curriculum should also look at the contributions made by Black Canadians.
“There are so many stories that can be shared of individual men and women who have contributed to their communities, looking at black settlements,” Henry said.
“It’s important, yes, that we can use Black histories and Black experiences to examine systemic racism, but it’s not the only story. It’s not the only narrative of Black history.”