December 10, 2021 Message to Members
“I’ve got a nickel”
I like to sing. Most recently, I’ve been a member of my hometown’s community choir which performs twice a year: at Christmas, and in the spring. Each performance is the culmination of four months of rehearsal and preparation. It is a little strange, practicing seasonal holiday songs in September, and of course March of 2020 ended the practice of any songs. The last time I sang aloud publicly was the Christmas season of 2019. The first time I sang aloud publicly was the Christmas season of 1975.
Somehow my teacher seemed to know I was harbouring a wish to sing in front of an audience. When he selected me to sing a solo in our class’s contribution to the Christmas concert, I put up a reasonable objection but then secretly looked forward to every practice. I learned Clint Holmes’ lyrics by heart and practiced at home in the bathroom. It seemed that I really did sound better standing in the shower than I did standing at the chalkboard. On performance night, my mom and my aunties gushed that it sounded wonderful when I sang about that idyllic playground.
I wasn’t naïve then, nor later as an adult, when I sang this same song to my daughters at bedtime: I understood the playground is a symbol of childhood innocence and laughter. As a respected colleague reminded me this past week, playground truth can be less carefree, less fun, and reflective of fractures in the wider community.
It isn’t my story to tell; but as shown by the emotion which trapped my colleague’s words as he spoke, there is clearly a story to be heard. It arises from an invitation to racialized families new to the community. He is a Principal in a BC school, and emotion caught in his throat as he stated that life on a playground “for kids of colour is different.” His insight and his feelings are rooted in lived experience, and he brings this experience to his leadership. It is this Principal’s vision that students will find security, safety, and acceptance on his watch, regardless of race, orientation, gender, or any other marker historically used to ‘other’ and oppress a population. His lived experience fuels a compassion and a commitment to equity and dignity for all students.
The playground in our colleague’s mind is one free from racist slurs and intolerance, one that will give rise to an inclusive, diverse, and ‘healthy’ society. Arguably, a primary purpose of schools is to create a ‘public’.
Among my stack of books is one published by Valeria Hannon and Amelia Peterson in 2021, entitled Thrive: The Purpose of Schools in a Changing World. Early in the text, the authors take a stance articulated in 1996 by American educator and author Neil Postman: “The question is not, Does or doesn’t public schooling create a public. The question is, What kind of public does it create?... The right answer depends on two things and two things alone: the existence of shared narratives and the capacity of such narratives to provide an inspired reason for schooling.” Shared narratives come from the inclusion of diverse experiences, so these must find voice in our schools, our communities, and our Association.
In 2020, the Minister of Education’s Community Roundtable on Anti-Racism in Education was formed, and all sector partners were invited to listen alongside the Minister as many with lived experience shared stories of racism and discrimination. Emerging from this Roundtable is a draft action plan to address racism in BC schools, which invites sector partners to engage. Recent years have also seen several BC Boards of Education formulate and establish initiatives for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), in many cases introducing District Leads in EDI to champion the growth and permanence of policies and practices that dismantle systematic barriers, prejudice, and racism. Excellent resources in support of this work have been shared by districts, such as those available from Delta School District. The Ontario Principals’ Council has engaged a Director of EDI who believes “school administrators are integral to fostering inclusive pedagogical practices and dismantling systems of oppression and discrimination in education.” And the BCPVPA Anti-Racism Working Group has identified actions that our own Association may take to build and support our members’ capacity in this work.
Nouman Ashraf, a speaker in our professional learning series Leading for Equity, reminds us that before we can walk in the shoes of another, we first must remove our own. I believe all school leaders hold in their minds the vision of a safe and inclusive playground. The challenge for those of the dominant culture is overcoming blind spots, so that the vision can be clear, full, and accurate. The work of equity begins in the mirror; it is first personal and reflective, but needn’t be solitary. Leading for Equity continues with Carolyn Roberts: please consider joining us on February 28.
The lyrics from my childhood Christmas solo are nostalgic, expressing longing for a world that used to be, “where the children laugh and the children play”, and a nickel fills their pockets with candy. In truth, many have never experienced this world. But when Principals and Vice-Principals make the work of equity a critical and embedded priority on their watch, maybe this won’t be a world we’ve left behind.