It’s ironic that teachers in Ontario are in the midst of some hard conversations with the province and Ministry of Education around factors that influence our work, while many of us are spending an entire Saturday having hard conversations about equity in education; we are working on ourselves and finding ways to create equity for our BIPOC students. But, putting Provincial politics aside, I want to share what I learned from Hard Conversations 2.0 held at the University of Ottawa on Saturday, November 30, 2019.
I listened and participated in several discussions in a room of nearly 80 people, but the real lessons came from the unexpected. The real lessons came from the young voices. Students from our Board working on a Black Youth initiative gathered around a centre table, glancing briefly out to an adult audience of mostly White people, and they openly shared their lived experiences in classrooms, in Ottawa. One metaphor lodged itself painfully in my heart.
A young Black girl was asked to describe her best and her worst experience in education. She shared the joy of finding herself through class dicussions, in literature and poetry that came from the voices of Black writers. And then she spoke softly of a White teacher reading aloud from a book by a White author. The book is well known and the book uses the “n” word. She said that he read the word out loud, to the whole class, without hesitation. She said, “He tossed the word in the wind as if no one died for that word.” That metaphor made a home in my heart.
The room was silent and I’m sure that her words struck all of the White-teacher’s hearts in the room collectively and in shared shame we all acknowledged a moment of complicitness, a recollection of reading the same book, using the same word.
No teacher enters the profession to harm. We do this work because we care, because we want to inspire, but without the knowledge of the injuries we inadvertently inflict using a colonized mind, using a colonized currciulum, using a colonized bookshelf, how can we teach with equity? How can we avoid the harm?
Dr Carl James from York University in Toronto reminded us that the written material in our classrooms has an authority. The written material that we choose matters. If we truly believe that our students matter, then we must work on ourselves and deconolonize the material and the authority in classroom.
At the end of the workshop, we were called to the centre of the room, called to share our committments to this work. My colleague, Michelle, stepped bravely forward and, despite being the youngest in the room, declared that she will continue to “call in” her colleagues and address systemic racism within the system. Our principal then takes the microphone and commits publically to supporting us. We are deeply moved.
In fact, the many voices at Hard Conversations stayed with me. The conversations were meaningful and important, but what happens afterwards is what matters, so I am stepping up with as much courage as I can. I am turning inward to unpack my colonized mind and redress the systems created by colonization which have created inequity then turning outward to take action against this system of whiteness.
One thought on “Hard Conversations 2.0 – unpacking my colonized mind”
That moment is seared into my brain, too. In fact, all the voices of the students were intensely powerful for me. I have moments where I wonder if I’ve become oversensitized to issues of race, and then my students speak and I realize that the opposite is true: I am not yet sensitive enough because it is not my lived experience. You capture the day’s work well. Thanks for writing about it.