A new course for students to help them learn about Canada’s Black history has launched at a few schools in the Surrey school district in time for Black History Month, marking the first designated class in the district to teach about Black people’s contributions to Canada and British Columbia.
February has been recognized as Black History Month, which is observed in various countries around the world, including in Canada since 1995. Select schools in Surrey are now getting the chance to provide learning opportunities for students about the nation’s and province’s Black history, dating back to the 1600s.
More recent history includes Hogan’s Alley, which was the popular name given to Park Lane in Vancouver’s Strathcona neighbourhood that was home to the city’s large Black population and other immigrant communities. But beginning 1967, construction of the Georgia and Dunsmuir viaducts led to the displacement of the community and spelled the end for the neighbourhood that was once a place for art, culture and diversity to thrive.
“That is recent history, but most people you talk to, they don’t know anything about it. So I think there’s been an attempt to erase the Black history, that’s why we want to focus on it,” said Michael Musherure, an English teacher at Earl Marriott Secondary, who was one of three educators who developed the new Black Studies 12 course.
“History matters, so we want to talk about it.”
Teaching Black history requires nuance, Musherure adds.
“Black history is not history of pain and slavery. That is a part of it, but there is Black history of strength, there’s Black history of music, rich culture, the food, so we want to highlight all of those.”
All of those components have been included in the Black Studies 12 course, with a strong focus on B.C.’s Black history. The course is being offered at Frank Hurt, Guildford Park, L.A. Matheson and Earl Marriott Secondary schools for its introductory run.
Canada’s Black history was never part of the curriculum before the course was introduced, instead, there was always a strong focus on America’s Black history, even though “Black history is Canadian history,” Musherure said.
“The education system has a lot of work to do on our end (as teachers) because we didn’t learn it ourselves either,” said Annie Ohana, social justice teacher at L.A. Matheson.
At her school, the theme for Black History Month is Black Joy is Resistance.
Throughout the school are displays of Black heroes through the years, whose accomplishments the Black Studies course will cover.
Among the figures the teacher is highlighting are author Bell Hooks, Robert Small, an Order of Canada recipient, Ruby Smith-Diaz, an artist and educator and many others who made their mark throughout 400 years of Black-Canadian history. Afro-Indigenous and queer identities are also being highlighted.
“Most of these people are not in our textbooks,” Ohana said.
“There’s always that stereotype of Canada has so few Black people. Well, there’s a reason for that if we look at the history… Black people had huge roles in building our nation.”
At Earl Marriott, every day of February will have one or two focuses to do with Black history, with students from the United Peoples Club leading the charge for the entire month. Black Student Unions at multiple schools are also leading their own initiatives for the month.
Having designated history classes for people of colours’ Canadian history, rather than including it in a social studies or history course is problematic, Musherure said.
Instead, he believes that the curriculum for history classes in the province “needs to be re-written.”
Currently, most social studies and history classes in B.C. have a strong focus on European and American history, Musherure finds.
“We have Indigenous history classes, Black history class, Indian history class. Why can’t we have history class that teaches Canadian history? So that every student that has gone through school, they know the history of this country that we live in? It should be embedded because, otherwise, which history are we learning?” he asks.
“As a teacher, it’s painful because when you’re talking about other peoples’ histories and yours isn’t reflected. It’s painful even for our students, they want their history to be reflected in their education system.”
The process of having students see themselves more in their education is slowly progressing throughout the district, Ohana said, emphasizing that anti-racism education and implementation takes time and commitment from everybody.
“There’s a huge difference between what we used to do, to assimilate, not even have this stuff to now (recognizing) that we all have a role to play.
“It is cool when students come in on their day off to volunteer, to help a specific group feel like people are listening and paying attention,” Ohana said.
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