Teachers committed to anti-racism education

posted on August 21, 2017

By Glen Hansman, Vancouver Sun |

By Glen Hansman, Vancouver Sun |

As we approach the beginning of a new school year, disturbing signs of a resurgent neo-Nazi, white supremacist movement have got teachers talking about how best to confront these toxic forces and their potential impact on our students. It’s a dilemma we have faced over the decades. Here’s an excerpt from an article in the April 1943 issue of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation magazine:

“In a very special sense, the teachers are involved in this great conflict, for they in themselves carry the light of learning and the torch of freedom — which Nazism and Fascism seek to extinguish — for if these tyrannies succeed, education ceases and propaganda takes its place. Between these two conceptions lies the world of difference between democracy and dictatorship. There can be no meeting place or compromise between them.”

From the Second World War to Charlottesville, we are reminded how critically important it is to continue educating young people to understand that “world of difference between democracy and dictatorship.”

B.C. teachers have a lot of experience with anti-racist education. In 1975, Surrey teacher Lloyd Edwards brought a motion to the BCTF annual general meeting that the federation should establish an official program against racism to help teachers and students deal with racism in school and society, to detect bias in textbooks, and to make classrooms safe and respectful for all.

“Forty-two years later, a lot has changed,” Edwards said last week. “But I still believe that the only solution to racism is to start in the elementary schools and to inculcate those ideals of justice and fair play at an early age.”

One of the first projects was to create a slide show (considered high-tech for the times) on the hidden history of racism in B.C.: the potlatch ban, the Asiatic Exclusion League race riots, the Komagata Maru incident, the internment of Japanese-Canadians, the Chinese head tax, the genocide of aboriginal peoples, the denial of many peoples’ right to vote, and other instances of injustice not previously covered in the curriculum. Unfortunately, the Surrey and Langley school boards decided to ban the slide show. (Former education minister Peter Fassbender led the “Back to Basics Bunch” on the Langley board of the day and, in a bizarre foreshadowing of Donald Trump’s messaging, Surrey board chair Jock Smith also argued the slide show should be banned because it didn’t give “both sides” of the racism issue.) Predictably however, news of the banning led to widespread interest in the slide show, and the BCTF couldn’t keep up with requests for showings.

Clearly, the urgent need for anti-racism education continues. In the past year alone, we’ve seen Ku Klux Klan literature distributed in Abbotsford, Chilliwack and Mission, neo-Nazi posters and swastikas in New Westminster, anti-Chinese flyers in Richmond, and Soldiers of Odin organizing drives in several B.C. towns. An Insights West study released last spring found that an overwhelming 82 per cent of visible minorities in B.C. say they have experienced prejudice or some form of discrimination. That statistic, and the horrific murders of six worshippers at a mosque in Quebec City earlier this year, should sound alarm bells for any Canadians who may be tempted to think that such extremism only exists south of the border.

Social media knows no boundaries, and the latest wave of anti-immigrant and white nationalist sentiment easily washes up on all shores. Teachers see firsthand how vicious online commentary, often anonymous, can drive young people to despair. We ask ourselves: What are the social conditions that lead young men (and a few young women) to those dark places on the Internet where they meet and are manipulated by those who spread hatred, whether white supremacist, Islamic jihadist, or other ideologies? How can we build the necessary networks of support so that these same young people would not be vulnerable to that recruitment?

Teachers are very conscious of the impact that the current political context and the latest news are having on students — particularly those who come from cultural minorities and other historically marginalized groups. But we also know that authentic connection to others is the best inoculation against the fear and alienation that lead youth to radical groups.

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