At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, recently elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made headlines for his talks on Canada’s involvement with the Syrian Refugee crisis and on Diversity and Innovation (with his humblebrag about the University of Waterloo). He also received criticism for “swanning” around with the rich and famous in Switzerland (that selfie with Bono and Leo..). But less attention was given to this little piece on education:
The idea of embracing multiculturalism more explicitly through whole school experiences, through our curriculum, is one that we need to keep strengthening here in Canada, and we still have a lot of work to do.
But it’s worth acknowledging our progress too.
I experienced the 1980s version of multiculturalism in schools as a kid in Toronto. My sister and I performed an Indian folk dance in the gym, me in a kid’s size sari that my aunt had sewn, and my sister in a full dhoti and drawn on mustache. We loved it, and for the most part, so did the other kids. (I also took part in a Vanilla Ice lip sync performance that year, another success!) Although that folk dance was a tiny snapshot of a rich heritage, it was still a starting point for kids to ask us questions, for us to feel part of two very different cultures, yet also part of an evolving one together.
It still wasn't simple. Living in East York back then was a combination of really fun experiences with kids and teachers from other cultures, strong family values and community, topped off with a sprinkling of overt racism some days, like being called Paki as we walked home from school, or being taunted about the "Paki dot" (that last one still makes me cringe. And to think now people wear bindis as an accessory!).
Because of these experiences, I feel a humble pride in Trudeau’s understanding and acknowledgement of the complexity of multiculturalism in Canada, and in the importance of sharing these stories with other countries and systems of education. It’s a good reminder too, of the importance of public education, despite all its flaws. Just as public schools have many areas to work on, private alternatives need to address issues of access and diversity as well.
A passionate educator.. on a quest for a schooling model to love!