Over the years, seven neighbourhood fathers in Toronto have become friends and set up a support network for each other.
During the pandemic and with the introduction of remote schooling, the dads had an opportunity to see and hear how their kids are being taught in school.
The situation sparked conversations within the group and that’s when the dads decided to take their conversation public and create a video they posted to YouTube.
“We’ve had the luxury during COVD-19 to be able to sit in on some of our children’s classes,” Michael Avis said in the video.
“And we’ve seen some things and we’ve heard some things that, you know, are part of a conversation that we think we need to have.”
One example happened during Black History Month when a teacher used language that concerned Avis.
“I want to preface that I’m a teacher. The teachers have my full support,” said Avis, who is a father of three.
He said he doesn’t think teachers receive adequate training in how to address race.
“I don’t think there’s proper training for them to be able to speak meaningfully, to be careful of the language, or to be aware of the language that they’re using and how it can affect racialized kids and brown and Black kids and Indigenous kids.”
But that wasn’t the only moment the fathers heard during the pandemic. So the group of friends decided to take action and record their thoughts, hoping it could be a useful tool for schools and educators. The link was emailed to their children’s principals and vice-principals.
In the video, the fathers recommend a few changes, such as inclusive language, inclusive literature and more Black representation in the classroom with educators and guest speakers. They also offered to be a resource for the schools to draw upon.
“There’s definitely got to be some teachers out there and maybe some principals out there who are going to appreciate that,” said Carey Cox, who is also featured in the recording.
“It’ll give them a perspective that maybe they hadn’t thought about and it might influence the way they approach this next time.”
“There’s a huge disconnect in the kinds of language, in the kinds of knowledge that educators are having, particularly white educators, but other racialized educators are having about Blackness and Blackness in Canada,” said Funké Aladejebi, who is an assistant professor in the department of history at the University of Toronto.
She says part of the problem is that Canada’s education system fluctuates by province to province. This means there isn’t a standard level of teacher training across the country.
“There are pockets and schools and institutions that are doing it well. There are educators in individual classrooms that are thinking critically about how to address and speak to their Black students. And then there are schools that aren’t doing it well,” Aladejebi said.
“And as a result, we don’t have a uniform way of understanding whether or not we’re doing it.
Sadie Kuehn believes equitable education policy has gone backward. She has been fighting for equity in schools for more than 50 years.
“In terms of policy, it is really easy for institutions right now to say, oh, well, we’ve done that … that’s been dealt with,” said Kuehn, who was Vancouver School Board’s first Black trustee. “It’s often people who have not been directly impacted or affected by racism and hate who are making those decisions.”
Experts say Canada’s inability to move the needle forward is caused by the country’s failure to confront its long-standing history with colonialism.
“Our history is very much — and I’ll use the term — whitewashed. So, we need to actually improve that reality to actually better have us better informed about what our true history is,” Kuehn told Global News.
“Because let’s face it, as Canadians, we find it really difficult to talk about race and its impact on people.”
Aladejebi said when colonial models came in, Canada’s education system was structured around religious-based institutions.
“When it does that, it doesn’t envision certain groups of people as being part of the Canadian citizenry and as a result, racialized folks, Indigenous folks, Black people are excluded from those conversations entirely,” she said.
To get the real picture of how the exclusion began, you have to dig a little deeper into history. Many Canadians assume segregated schools are unique to the United States. However, they happened in Canada, too. One example is Ontario’s Common School Act of 1850. Its implementation led to segregated schooling.
“The Common School Act of 1850 was not helpful for Black students particularly. And I think some members or members in Black communities at the time thought that there were elements of it that were helpful,” said Aladejebi, who specializes in Black Canadian history.
“More often than not, actually, the Common School Act was actually used to separate children from classroom spaces to further demarcate that separation by race. And this becomes a continuous problem that we see even in our own current, present-day schooling practices.”
Nova Scotia had similar legislation, too. And to some extent, comparable practices were taking place in Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and British Columbia.
“I do think that we need to have a complete overhaul of our education system or really have a forceful conversation about educational reform,” Aladejebi said.
“But Black community members have been talking about this for as far (back) as the 1960s and 1970s, when they’ve been asking our curriculums to change, to speak to the Black experience in really important ways. And we’ve not yet been able to do that well.”
“I honestly believe that we need to reimagine, reimagine education,” said Kuehn, adding, “This isn’t about shaming people or making folks feel bad, but it’s about knowing what is true and being willing to move from there and ensure that everyone has equality and that we have a system that is truly fair for everyone.”
That’s why the fathers from Toronto decided to make the video: to help schools and educators have the tools to reimagine.
“The way I see it is, when you are trying to make change, you can’t be the only one asking for change,” said Clifton Corbin, who has been on the parent council since his son started school in 2016.
“Like, if we are hoping to get more diverse faces in the curriculum, then we need a plurality of people asking for that same thing.”
Ivan Karimwabo, one of the dads who spoke out, said: “We don’t have to go for home runs, … racism done. We can’t really do that but there are some things we can do.”
“Seeing what is happening now with my daughter I was like, man, it reminds me of the same struggle that we when through,” Ian Watson told Global News.
“There is always, this great person has done this, this great individual has done that. But there weren’t people who looked like me.”
“I (would) just love to see more, you know, educators that look like me. Whether it’s supply teachers or, you know, they’re bringing people into the schools – for plays or musical presentations, or a scientist,” Cox said.
Avis points to the fact that the fathers are available to help, and they have a wide breadth of knowledge to offer. He is a college professor, Cox is an engineer, and among the others, there is a photographer, a project manager, an account development executive, a doctor and one who has a book being released later this year.
“We’re at a watershed moment. I think there’s a lot of awareness,” Avis said.
“I hope this can start a conversation — a deeper conversation — about what are we really doing: are we ticking boxes or are we really doing something different? And that I don’t have the answer to.”
See this and other original stories about our world on The New Reality airing Saturday nights on Global TV, and online and globalnews.ca.