Public Education & Community the Key to Building an Inclusive Alberta

Today as part of the Alberta Government’s initiative to promote diversity and inclusion in Alberta we had the pleasure to sit down with representatives from Minister Eggen’s office and discuss the role public education can play in building community and addressing racism within Alberta. One of the most important things we were able to do at this meeting was to both share our experiences and the experiences sent to us by Albertans directly with government decision makers. We think this is the most important thing we can do as an advocacy organization, to share the voices of citizens. If you have an experience you would like to share we want to hear from you and we will pass on your comments to Minister Eggen’s office and the Office of the Premier.

Agenda July 10, 2017 Anti-Racism Meeting Ministry of Education McDougall Centre, Calgary Alberta

Attendees:

Amanda Henry – Ministry of Education

Ewar Jalal – Office of the Premier

Jeremy Nolais – Ministry of Education

Barbara S – Support Our Students Alberta

Elsa C – Support Our Students Alberta

Maureen S – Support Our Students Alberta

Support Our Students is a public education advocacy organization, and as such our concerns with racism and intolerance will have a focus specific to public education.

  1. Racism and Intolerance As Experienced by Children in the Present Day:

Racism and intolerance are very real experiences for children across all Alberta schools.  We have heard from several SOS AB supporters about their experiences, and these are some of the stories they have shared with us:  

*Please note these individuals wish to remain private, we’ve edited their letters to protect their privacy 

**Warning there is some racist language and racist situations described in the following letters which we have chosen to include


Letter received by SOS Alberta from a parent in Central Alberta, July 6, 2017

Hello,

My child who is of a mixed race  was riding the bus home last November when they were called a N—– by another grade six student who attended their school, not the same class.

After watching them cry hard after being called such a negative name when they got home from school, my partner and I tried to remind them that ignorant name calling is normally done by unkind people.

I did contact the principal right away and she confirmed that she spoke to the student about not speaking like that to others and pointed out the consequences that would happen if this ever occurred again.

They didn’t have to deal with this other student calling them this name ever again but it was very shocking to hear that negative names like this still exist and are unfortunately used among the youth in my city.

*******
I appreciate your quick response!!!
I want to share my story so that this doesn’t happen to another child again. I know that one of my close friends was able to address this issue at their child’s school by asking that more books be added that address diversity and more cultures to increase awareness/sensitivity for how people that look different can be made to feel accepted at any school they attend. That principal did bring more cultural books on staff after the request was made. I’m an elementary teacher at a large public school.  I know that there are very few books like this at our school. I wonder how the minister might feel about increasing money for books in libraries to address this issue and start teaching communities as little as elementary students to help fix this issue one step at a time.
Have a wonderful evening!!!


Letter received by SOS Alberta from a parent in Central Alberta, July 7, 2017

Please share this story with the minister of education.

My 6yr old   in grade 1 this past winter was on the bus to school. A few other grade 1 boys were sitting  on the bus and playing a game. My child asked if they could play and one of the kids said, “No, you can’t play with us since you don’t have white skin!”

My child was very sad and we did make the bussing service and our principal aware. I had a nice meeting with our principal who wanted to know if we had any ideas of how to talk about racism in the school more frequently.

***********

There are many cases of Racism in [our town] that we have personally heard from our other ethnic friends. It is quite common.

*************

It’s great you are doing this. I hope it is received well.

When my eldest child was 6 (now 12) was on a soccer team, and a kid started making fun of their gorgeous ringlet hair and called out ” curly fries! Curly fries! curly fries!”

That was another issue we had to deal with. After speaking with the parents they did understand it was racist and the kid apologized.

 


 Letter sent to SOS Alberta from parent in Southern Alberta, July 7, 2017

My children were bullied for being atheists at the Palliser school [we attended] to the point they were told they were going to hell.


Letter received by SOS Alberta from a parent in Southern Alberta, July 7, 2017)

I’d love to see it mandated that teachers and staff privately take the Harvard Racial Bias Test online so they’re aware of the biases and can work on improving them (we all have them. So much better to acknowledge!)

We also need to be teaching some more accurate indigenous history. Also should probably be openly discussing the idea of racism in the classroom since science shows that pretending to be colour blind doesn’t work or help.


Letter received by SOS Alberta from a parent in Central Alberta, July 10, 2017

A dear friend of mine  fostered a number of FN kids,  two of them were siblings that they got as newborns. Those kids were Blessed to grow up in a beautiful loving home. They were treated exactly the same as the natural born children in every respect. The younger of the two had some issues and dropped out of high school. The older child is now studying to be a Social Worker.  In any event the oldest child and their Mom (which is what they called her) were chatting one day  a few months after graduation and then it all came out. both the siblings were harassed and bullied non stop because they were FN. That was when Mom found out why the youngest quit school. This went on for the entire time they were in high school. Mom was devastated. She asked why they hadn’t told her and said she would have gone right to the school to get things sorted. The response: “Exactly Mom and that would have just made things worse for us”. Two days later mom burst into tears while talking to myself and another friend after church. She was heart broken and the sobs kept coming. The thought that those children endured so much for so long was tearing her apart. Our hearts broke for that family. How is it even possible no staff saw this? Those kids should have been safe in their small town rural high school but they weren’t. Nowhere close. I am just grateful that they have survived and maybe one day there will be healing for them.


  1.  Public schools:  

The place where children from all walks of life should have opportunities to learn across faith, culture, ability and race.  The benefits to this kind of learning and environment have been shown to be beneficial to learning and skills for later in life.  This is happening less and less:

  • Of note, the CBE no longer even includes the term PUBLIC in its title.  We must recommit & redefine what a public system truly is; accessible to ALL children.
  • Presence of Christian schools, Jewish Schools, Quranic worldview schools, Muslim Academies, Traditional learning Centres (know to appeal to certain cultures), Sports Academies, Music Programs, Language programs, all segregate children under the public umbrella.  This current system will only encourage, not discourage intolerance and racism.
  • Specialized programming, and their associated barriers (fees, application procedures) not only segregate, but disproportionately affect the most disadvantaged population who are over represented by FNMI, people of colour and other minorities.  
  • Effects of these barriers and systemic inequities result in poor completion rates and disengaged students.
  1.  Probable Solutions:

Immediate:

  • Incorporate topics of privilege, racism, intolerance (institutionalised and otherwise) into social studies curriculum.  Currently, there is not enough focus on the subject matter (both formally and informally), and the rewrite is an opportune time to weight the issue more heavily, with greater depth and detail.  
  • Provide training and support for teachers.  Assist in identifying racial bias at all levels in education. Support leaders with a vision for inclusivity and growth around issues of racism.
  • Assign a multicultural event for each public board
  • Eliminate the ability for any PUBLICLY FUNDED school to “turn” away a child. *Public funds for truly public schools*

Long term:  

  • Emphasis on diverse and inclusive community schools. De-emphasize programs that exacerbate intolerance and racism via segregation.
  • Present this vision to community leaders of varying faiths and cultures to engage in conversation with the goal to generate ideas and solutions.  Present and promote a vision that includes a truly public education.
  • Annual audit, for students and families to inventory their positive/negative experiences with inclusivity in their school.

Final Note:

Talking about diversity and tolerance is important, but means nothing unless children have the opportunity to experience diversity and exercise acceptance. Anti-racism-education cannot be theoretical, it must be practical.  For this to occur children from all walks, of all faiths, cultures, and ability must build community through public education together.  They need us to create those opportunities. It is important to fight racism, it is equally important to prevent it.

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