I studied a mix of History, Geography and English during my undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia. I did a practicum teaching junior and senior English and Social Studies. After a brief stop teaching math and science, my teaching load largely consisted of Socials 9, Socials 10, English 11, Law 12 and History 12 during my time at McRoberts Secondary in Richmond.
And what is something I never learned about going to school in BC, or taking social geography and history at UBC? Or never learned about through my teacher training or ever really covered in any of my classes? Our history of residential schools.
I thought I was doing a good job of exposing students to some of the real sore spots in our recent history from the Komagata Maru to the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II. If I had the chance to go back now into my classroom of twenty years ago probably the biggest change would be the increased influence of Aboriginal learning and I would correct my omission and include age appropriate materials to help students understand the ongoing legacy of residential schools in our province.
Of course, I know I was not alone. One of the many reasons I think the changes to the BC Curriculum are so important, is the purposeful embedding of Aboriginal learning throughout the curriculum. The First Peoples Principles of Learning (from the First Nations Education Steering Committee) is a document that is discussed in almost all conversations around the curriculum. No longer is learning about First Nations limited to Social Studies in grades 4 and 10 – it is truly across subjects and across grades.
Specifically to the topic of residential schools, there are a number of new and excellent resources that have been produced. In response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report for age-appropriate education materials about Indian Residential Schools teacher resources have been developed for grades 5, 10, and 11/12. These resources have received some excellent media attention recently, helping to spread the word. Other new and thoughtful resources include the BC Teachers’ Federation produced, Project of Heart: Illuminating the Hidden History of Residential Schools in BC and the Ministry discussion paper Aboriginal Worldviews and Perspectives in the Classroom. There are even examples of students learning about residential schools in daycare (the link also provides some great books for very young learners on the topic).
There is a lot I like about the changes to the curriculum. One of the most powerful differences I see in classrooms in our district, is the care and attention given to learning about our Aboriginal history. There is no doubt, if I was transported back to my classroom of the mid 1990’s I would take what I have and continue to learn about our local history and the history of residential schools and bring it in the classroom. I am so pleased that the teachers I work with today are making sure this generation of learners engages in this important part of our history.