Educational Equality in Canada Canada's Essay

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436-437). In other words, official commitment to multiculturalism is just a smoke screen for many Canadian officials who believe that the Euro-Canadian way of doing things is the norm.

The limits of multiculturalism in practice are also visible in the treatment of Canadian citizens and immigrants who have dark skin color. According to Kelly (1998), African Canadians are routinely "racialized" and "othered" (that is, they are put outside of the dominant group). The manner in which African Canadians are unable to become fully-fledged Canadians even if they are born in Canada was succinctly explained by Marlene Nourbese Philip, an African Canadian essayist: "Being born elsewhere, having been fashioned in a different culture, some of us may always feel 'othered,' but then there are those -- our children, nephews, nieces, grandchildren -- born here, who are as Canadian as snow and ice, and yet, merely because of their darker skins, are made to feel 'othered'" (cited in Kelly, 1998, p. 7). Kelly further explains that many education administrators in Canada view Blackness as negative and thus deem the research on areas involving race and difference unworthy of study. However, the experiences of African Canadians may be considered worthy of research only when they are viewed as trouble-makers whose disruption of social norms need to be addressed and fixed.

The experiences of a few dozen African Canadian high school students whom Kelly interviewed and summarized in her book demonstrate that Canadian schools today represent the European group's lived experiences as the norm, while marginalizing or ignoring the historical memories of African Canadians and other minority groups. For example, African Canadian students who knew that Blacks had contributed to the Canada-building were consistently dismayed by the fact that these contributions were ignored or rarely acknowledged in their school textbooks or classroom discussions. One African Canadian student explained how the story of African colonization in school textbooks reflected the colonizers' story: "[They] talk about . . . all these little states in Africa, when they were founded, and how the Dutch moved here-there and the French moved here-there but not before that" (Kelly, 1998, p. 130). Kelly points out that this display of anti-Black and anti-minority bias in school curriculum contradicts the vision of Canada as a multicultural society that values and appreciates difference.

To say that the Canadian school system has not lived up to the ideal of multiculturalism is to state the obvious. However, pointing out the limits of multiculturalism and Canada's inability to treat socially disadvantaged groups with equity is not enough. It should be acknowledged that in the last forty years progress has been made, and in order to accelerate the process of multiculturalism where members of minority groups and their voices are equitably represented in educational programs and curriculums, a number of strategies need to be implemented. Kelly argues that although Canada is often assumed to be the creation of white races, it has always been a multicultural society. Canada's drafters of school curriculums need to recognize this historical multiculturalism and try to convey to children and the society that rather than being an exclusively white society, Canada has always been dealing with issues of "difference." And instead of viewing racism as the problem of Canada's southern neighbor, Canadians need to recognize how in Canada race "has been constructed and used to marginalize others. The advantage of adopting such a position is that it would move the present debates about the country and Canadian identity to a position that recognizes that differences exist and that we react and construct people in differing ways according to those differences" (Kelly, 1998, p. 135).

To mend the injustices done to Aboriginal people and their children, Millar (1996b) argues, two things must be done. Firstly, the Canadian society needs to stop denying the injustice or evading the issue, and instead acknowledge the injustice with candor and express willingness to help Aboriginal communities to overcome the social barriers established by the white society. And secondly, the history of residential schools should oblige Canadians that such practices never be repeated "again" (p. 436). Such an approach in fact should be embraced in treating Canada's all minority groups who have been historically marginalized in the school system. Reflecting upon how the school system is "failing to provide a positive learning environment that values cultural diversity while enhancing educational credentials" and how children of immigrant and racialized minority groups are not performing as well as their white peers, which encourage minority children to leave school early "without the basic tools for job success or learning skills," Fieras and Elliot (2010b) write: "unless it wants to perpetuate the marginalization of minority children, the educational system must customize its one-size-fits-all mentality to accommodate difference and different ways of being different" (p. 335).

Fieras and Elliot (2010b) offer two models that may help Canada practice multiculturalism. The first is multicultural education which is intended to enrich students by exposing them to a variety of cultures so that they learn and appreciate cultural diversity, enlighten them by explaining that alongside cultural differences there have also existed unequal power relations that have inflicted enormous damage to the marginalized groups; and empower the purpose of which is to cater the needs of minority students. The second model is anti-racist education which is committed to challenging, resisting, and transforming the system through active involvement. Anti-racist education aims at "removing the behavioral and structural components of racial inequality both within and outside the education system, along with the power and privileges that sustain racism through institutional policies and systemic practices." In its place, anti-racist education promotes 'a multicentric education, one that acknowledges multiple ways of knowing and making sense of the world rather than privileging Eurocentricity as the sole source of valid and legitimate knowledge, traditions, and experiences" (pp. 336-341). As an example of multiculturalism in practice, Fieras and Elliot (2010b) point at Islamic Focus Schools which help Canada's Muslim students to meaningfully negotiate a relationship between their Islamic identity and the Canadian secular society. Far from losing their Islamic identity or solidarity -- or, conversely, far from becoming marginalized -- Muslim students in these schools are becoming Canadians through Islam, inspiring "a new approach to multiculturalism, one that takes religious differences seriously as a basis for learning together differently" (p. 339).

Although Canada has always been a multicultural society, Euro-Canadians pursued a monocultural approach until early 1970s. Since then, Canada has been promoting multiculturalism on governmental, institutional, and social levels. While the question of multiculturalism remains controversial, a significant portion of the public endorses multiculturalism policy of Canada. In the last forty years, Canada has indeed made progress in its attempts to be inclusive of different cultures and treat members of marginalized groups with fairness and equity. Nevertheless, there are still barriers and biases in the educational sector which bars members of socially disadvantaged groups from having access to equality of opportunities in education. The ethos of Canada as a white society with only European roots is still alive in the minds of many education administrators. If Canada is truly interested in living up to its multiculturalism rhetoric, then the society needs to implement several strategies to better address the inequalities in the society. In particular, Canada's schools need to adopt multicultural and multicentric education models that ensure that social justice is established, and that members of racial and ethnic minorities are treated with equity and justice.


Fieras. A & Elliot. J (2010a) Chapter 10, Multiculturalism in Canada: "Living together with differences." In Unequal relations: An introduction to race, ethnic, and Aboriginal dynamics in Canada (6th ed) (p283-308).

Fieras. A & Elliot. J (2010b) Chapter 11, "Institutional Inclusiveness: Putting Multiculturalism to work." In Unequal relations: An introduction to race, ethnic, and Aboriginal dynamics in Canada (6th ed) (p309-343; 362-374).

Kelly, J. (1998) Under the Gaze: Learning to be Black in White Society. Fernwood publishing, Blackpoint Nova Scotia.

Millar. J. (1996a) Chapter 13, "Our greatest need today is proper education": Winding down the system. In Shingwauk's vision: A history of Native residential schools (p377-405; 526-535) Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Millar. J. (1996b) Chapter…[continue]

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