This week, the Simcoe County District School Board sent the following letter to provincial Minister of Education, Lisa Thompson, regarding her government's decision to cancel curriculum writing sessions aimed at incorporating teachings about residential schools into students' lessons:
Dear Minister Thompson,
This letter is being written with respect to the recent cancellation of curriculum writing sessions, including those focusing on Truth and Reconciliation and Indigenous Languages in Kindergarten.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action included a commitment to Education for Reconciliation (Article 62), and called upon the “federal, provincial and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators to, (i) make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal people’s historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve (12) students”.
As a direct outcome and response to the Call to Action, revisions to the Social Sciences (Grades 1 – 6), History and Geography (Grades 7 – 8) and Canada and World Studies (Grades 9 – 10) curricula that now incorporate the contributions, history and perspectives of Indigenous peoples are expected to be implemented in September 2018. Curriculum writing workshops, such as those mentioned above, were an opportunity to ensure that revisions to the curriculum are implemented successfully this fall.
The cancellation of these specific writing sessions sends a negative message to the education system, the Indigenous community (including students), as well as the greater public. In our opinion, it infers that there is a limited value placed on the curriculum revisions, and the Call to Action in general. While we recognize that there were costs associated with the sessions, given the last-minute notice, most if not all costs associated with travel and accommodations could not be refunded, greatly reducing any proposed amount of savings.
The Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB) has worked diligently to continue to build bridges with our local Indigenous communities, to overcome a legacy of mistrust and conflict related to colonialization, illustrated all too clearly through Ontario’s history of residential schools. The proposed revisions to the Ontario Curriculum are very positive first steps and the corresponding implementation strategies, such as the now cancelled sessions, are essential to ensure the revisions are implemented successfully. They provide a rare opportunity and second chance for reconciliation.
Reconciliation is not about “closing a sad chapter in Canada’s past” (Honouring the Truth, Reconciling the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015), but about opening a new positive pathway to the future, and education is well suited to provide that pathway. The SCDSB’s Strategic Priorities (2017-2022) are based on four foundational principles, including Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Well-Being, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and Community. As a school board, we will continue to support programs, strategies and initiatives that ensure all students, including Indigenous students, reach high standards of achievement within their learning environments. These environments reflect all voices and perspectives through the development of trusting relationships with the community.
We trust that, as Minister of Education, you recognize this commitment on our part and that you will endeavour to support these efforts through curriculum revision, to ensure that reconciliation and a path forward takes place.
Chair, Simcoe County District School Board