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‘Decolonization in a colonial system’: Surrey teachers aim for more inclusive curriculum

Black Studies 12 course part of educators’ strategy to remove white lens from classroom
Michael Musherure, a teacher at Earl Marrtiott Secondary, is one of the co-developers of a new Black Studies 12 course coming to the Surrey school district for the 2022-23 school year. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

When it comes to incorporating anti-racism messaging into education, one teacher says a lot of that work is “still struggling within a system that doesn’t quite let it exist.”

But that doesn’t mean teachers aren’t trying.

Next school year, the Surrey school district will be offering a Black Studies 12 course that Earl Marriott Secondary teacher Michael Musherure, along with teachers Melanie Scheuer from Frank Hurt and Manvir Mander from L.A. Matheson secondary schools, worked on for about a year before the district approved it in November. They also received guidance from social studies helping teacher Cori Penner.

The district officially announced the new course Jan. 14.

Musherure, originally from Uganda and has lived in both Norway and Canada, said his motivation was “realizing that people are very ignorant about Black people here.”

READ MORE: ‘If we are quiet, we aren’t changing the situation,’ Surrey teacher says of racism he’s faced, June 13, 2020

“The history that we know is the history of slavery, the history of the civil rights movement – that’s the history that we know about Black people,” he explained. “Then I realized that is very shallow and Black history is more than the history of slavery, it’s more than the history of rap and entertainment.

“It’s richer than that.”

That was his motivation, “to tell the whole story rather than a limited narrative” on what happened to Black people once they were enslaved and brought to North America.

The course would also focus on Indigenous Africans, he added.

“In western education, they call it pre-colonial, but pre-colonial — that’s the colonizers’ language. It’s Indigenous Africa.”

The district says the course will explore “the rich and diverse history of Black peoples in B.C. and Canada, as well as the historical impacts on current events and ongoing issues of racism, oppression, decolonization and identity in today’s world.”

The Black Studies course would be approached as a humanities course, incorporating literature and history.

For Musherure, it’s representation in the curriculum that really matters.

“The children that we teach, they really need to see themselves in the curriculum,” he explained.

“Whether they are Black kids, whether they are Asian kids, whether they are white kids, whether they are Indigenous kids, they need to see themselves in the curriculum.

“I think we still have a long way to have an inclusive curriculum.”

Annie Ohana, a teacher at L.A. Matheson, says diversifying the curriculum can help youth learn better.

“They see themselves moving ahead,” noted Ohana, the school’s Indigenous department head and Mustang Justice program founder and director.

One example of diversifying the curriculum is how L.A. Matheson focused on “four fronts” during lessons leading up to Remembrance Day, Ohana said.

The four fronts were “for veterans, for families, for oppressed and for diplomacy.”

She said teaching about Remembrance Day and the different wars at a school like L.A. Matheson, where there’s a large population of South Asians and students who were refugees, is not meant to “destroy Remembrance Day,” but to also not “just celebrate blindly.”

“It starts with the veterans, really, and their stories. At our school, South Asian veterans is absolutely common, but they don’t often talk about it,” said Ohana, explaining that the school has sourced some of its own resources to specifically teach about South Asians fighting in the First and Second World Wars.

“Even in our Remembrance Day video we made, we have refugees that shared their stories of running away from war because that’s their lived experience … You can’t glorify war when you have kids sitting in a different country, struggling sometimes and not, at least, acknowledging that.”

Critical thinking is the “bottom line,” said Ohana.

She said the province’s curriculum is “starting to get there” in terms of moving away from learning about subjects through a white, colonial lens.

“The newer version of the curriculum is better than when I started because it is more questioning. You can move things around, you can shift things around. You don’t have to do the French Revolution and the American Revolution. You can add the Haitian Revolution,” said Ohana, noting that change happened about five years ago.

When it comes to including anti-racism education into learning, Ohana said a lot of that work is “still struggling within a system that doesn’t quite let it exist. A lot of people are starting with decolonization in a colonial system, so you can do certain things, but you can’t push too far.”

But teaching about history – and what’s still going on in the world – is much more than just teaching about an event, Ohana said.

“It’s not just an incident, right? So genocide, a lot of people say it’s a process, not an event. That’s where we have to go to. Can we get to the point where we talk about residential schools as a process?” said Ohana.

“Some people might argue that our system right now is still kind of taking away from our Indigenous (students).”

Back in September, Ohana said she did a “deep dive” into the Indian Act with her students.

“I noticed a lot of people were like, ‘oh, I’ll start teaching about residential schools.’ That’s not enough,” said Ohana, referring to the immediate aftermath of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirming the remains of at least 215 Indigenous children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops in May of 2021.

READ ALSO: Remains of 215 children found at former B.C. residential school an ‘unthinkable loss’, May 28, 2021

“If you just kind of erase away the harm and how it was built, you’ll never actually solve the issues as they are.

“You’ll never get to the truth.”

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Annie Ohana, a teacher at L.A. Matheson Secondary, teaches a Grade 8 class in March of 2021. Ohana, the school’s Indigenous department head, says incorporating anti-racism work into education can be a struggle ‘“within a system that doesn’t quite let it exist.” (Photo: Lauren Collins)

Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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