September always has a new year feel for me. Even though it’s been over a decade since I’ve packed a knapsack for the first day of school, September still triggers feelings of hope and possibilities. The first week of September also meant that my Facebook timeline was inundated with photos of little and big humans polished and coiffed, striking poses and looking hopeful for the upcoming school year.
My own niece started Grade 1 this year, an incredible and memorable milestone in one’s academic life. As I spoke with my mother about my niece’s experiences as a Grade 1 student, she told me about a nervous habit that my niece has acquired as a coping mechanism for stress. Apparently both this year and last, my niece has been teased by her classmates because of her beautiful skin tone.
Apparently both this year and last, my niece has been teased by her classmates because of her beautiful skin tone.
About a week prior, a friend out west confessed about the difficult decision she and her spouse have made concerning their son. They have decided to let him complete middle school in their native country of Nigeria so that he can benefit from being shaped in an academic and social environment that isn’t intrinsically designed to minimize or erase his Black boy magic. She too shared stories of her son being teased at school for his deep mocha skin tone. She shared about a teacher who has made remarks about her son pursuing a career in hip-hop without ever once documenting on his academic records his aptitude for math; he boasts an average in the 90th percentile range.
Both of those anecdotal stories come from families that reside in Canada. Their stories are not unique. Like all of its other systems, Canada’s school system was not built to include the black and brown pupils that now sit in its classrooms. Thus, like all of the other systems, the Canadian school system requires an overhaul for it produces teachers and administrators and boasts of policies and practices that continue to promote and support assimilation to white dominant culture.
Both of those anecdotal stories come from families that reside in Canada.
There is work to do within the school system, but what responsibility for creating inclusive and equitable environment lies on the children and their respective parents/guardians who populate said schools? There is a necessity for non-dominant culture parents/guardians to bolster and nurture their children’s racial and ethnic identities with an acute awareness that these same beautiful identities will suffer attack throughout the school year simply because they are different. Dominant culture parents/guardians need to cultivate within their children an understanding of what it means to be a human being who honours diversity, inclusion, and equity.
The start of this new school year means more than understanding what suitable items to pack for your child’s lunch or which sports and teams they’ll participate in. The start of a new school year signals yet another opportunity for us to mature within our little and not-so-little ones an understanding about what it means to be ambassadors of reconciliation. The start of a school year means an opportunity to be a voice for equity and inclusion by sitting on parent teacher councils and demanding that diversity and inclusion training that includes decolonizing curriculum be mandatory, for the health of our children and the staff that serve the school boards.
The start of a school year means an opportunity to be a voice for equity and inclusion.
As for me? I am about to order some of the books mentioned in this reading list and coach my brother and sister-in-law as they address the bullying my 6 year-old niece is facing at school.
What age-appropriate things are you doing to cultivate your children/grandchildren/nieces/nephews’ sense of responsibility for equity, inclusion, and diversity?