From some recent work helping educators move into anti-racist thinking and acting in K-12 education in BC, especially with regards to anti-Indigenous racism, I have been thinking about the progressions we move through (linear and cyclical) in our anti-racist understanding and doing. Below is an adaptation of the “Becoming Anti-Racist” graphic by Andrew M. Ibrahim, MD, MSc (based on previous work by Dr. Kendi). I have added ideas and extended the arrow to indicate continual learning and growth.
The extended arrow indicates continual learning and growth. You will notice the bi-directional arrows as well – to signify that our learning is not necessary sequential and linear. It can be messy and complex.
Can you find where you are in your learning journey in this continuum? Which statements represent your knowledge, understanding, or actions? Where do you want to go next? What support do you want/need for your learning? Who can help?
Thinking that “I am not racist” is not enough. This is often because we create narrow definitions of racism that ignore the systemic structures and process that perpetuate entrenched racism. It exists in EVERY part of this country, in every sector (education, policing, health etc). When we make excuses, or try to justify any aspect of it, we are perpetuating it. We are supporting a systemically racist society.
If we are not willing to question ourselves, and our roles in it, then we are implying we have nothing left in our lives to learn. I hope people are better than that. I hope my colleagues in education are better than that, I hope people I love and care for in policing are better than that. I hope the people I trust in health care are better than that.
I acknowledge my privilege. It doesn’t matter how I identify myself as a person, I have been afforded privilege in my life because of my fairer skin and because a myriad of other things that I probably do not even think about because they have just made life easier for me. I have also been afforded privilege in my life because I have a university education, and because I do not live in poverty. It doesn’t matter that I worked hard for that; what matters is me recognizing that other people are discounted or devalued as human beings because they do not have the same.
This does not mean that I have not had significant challenges in life, but if we all really “want everyone to just get along” (a phrase usually uttered by non-BIPOC folks), then we need to have more self-awareness and understanding of how life is for those who are not afforded the same privilege we may have. And even if we do not really deeply understand what that looks like right now, then at least we can work on opening our minds to recognize that maybe there is something new we can learn.
Those who know me and the work I do might have a good idea of how often I am asked by teachers how/where they can find good resources to include First Peoples content/perspectives into their teaching. Since BC has revised its curriculum to include an increased focus on First Peoples’ content and perspectives, and the First Peoples Principles of Learning, and increasing number of educators are looking for support in this area.
Over the last few years, partly because of the job I currently have, and partly because I want to help make it easier for teachers to help their learners develop their understanding of First Peoples’ cultures, knowledge, and perspectives, I have been quick to try to provide ideas for resources. However, I have come to understand, that the resource hunt is not the first path a teacher might want to take; the real challenge in helping learners in BC come to understand First Peoples’ perspectives and knowledge is not first and foremost about the resources. It is about the lack of knowledge/understanding that many educators have in general about First Peoples. This is a very real concern in Canada, and it is often at the root of the challenge.
It is not the only concern of course. There are many educators who do have some knowledge (or are learning) but who do not want to make a mistake in their teaching (with content or process). However, the same principle applies; the more we know and the deeper our understanding, the better equipped we are to help others learn.
So what’s my point? The work we need to as teachers right now in BC, is less about looking for resources, than it is about focussing on our own learning first. We need recognize that if we work on developing our own knowledge and understanding, we will be better equipped to being to infuse what (and how) we teach with First Peoples’ knowledge and perspectives.
As we know, the BC education system is undergoing change. The process includes a move toward teaching and learning that is more responsive to the contexts and needs of the learners, and (finally) the explicit inclusion of “core competencies”. These are sets of intellectual, personal, and social and emotional proficiencies that all people need to develop in order to engage in deep learning and life-long learning. The broad categories includes more specific competencies: communication, critical thinking, creative thinking, personal awareness and responsibility, social awareness and responsibility, and positive personal and cultural identity. The illustrations (examples) of these competencies are worth checking out.
It is interesting to note though, that while the increased emphasis on personalization and the recognition of the importance of paying attention to more aspects of self may be new to being explicitly included in the provincial education discussion, these ideas are not new to indigenous peoples in Canada. These initiatives echo what has already been known by First Peoples – that education is a complex process that is personal, holistic, embedded in relationship, and is most effective when it is authentic and relevant. The more one examines the First Peoples Principles of Learning, the more one is able to see how these beliefs about teaching and learning have so much to offer our education system.
“The Nigerian storyteller Ben Okri says that ‘In a fractured age, when cynicism is god, here is a possible heresy: we live by stories, we also live in them. One way or another we are living the stories planted in us early or along the way, or we are also living the stories we planted — knowingly or unknowingly — in ourselves. We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives.’”
Thomas King, The Truth About Stories
So what are the stories we tell about our formal public education system in BC? This past year has been a challenging one, and stories abound. Most are not new; they are variations of the same themes that have been shared by the same groups of people over the last ten or more years. And (yes, I begin sentences with “and”) all the stories have truth to them, but does that mean we need to live in them, that we need to hold on to the same narratives we tell of each other just to keep trying to prove that we are “right” and that (given that so many of us seem to like to live in dichotomies) others are “wrong”? Does that help us to do our work with healthy spirits? I would suggest that if it doesn’t, then we might want to rethink those narratives. Doing our work (no matter what it is, and regardless of what out titles and positions are) with a healthy spirit is a necessity for both the children and youth we help and for ourselves. Think about it.
“what do you do?” is question often asked when meeting someone new, and lately i have found myself challenged with an answer when asked. i know what category i need to check on official forms when i have to specify my occupation, but “teacher” is not a word i would choose to use for myself. a person cannot teach in isolation – only a learner can define another person as a teacher, so should it not be left up to learners to actually define who their teachers are? instead i would describe myself as someone who tries to help people learn. not easily defined in a word perhaps, but true for me.
"The foundations of Indigeneity are these: values that privilege the interrelationships among the spiritual, the natural, and the self; a sacred orientation to place and space; a fluidity of knowledge exchange between past, present, and future; and an honouring of language and orality as an important means of knowledge transmission." (Greenwood and de Leeuw, 2007)