Canadian classrooms are becoming more and more culturally diverse. Increases in international migration and the relative share of minority groups and indigenous school-aged populations in provincial education systems are on the rise. Such diversity adds immense wealth to our learning cultures. Approximately 30% of Canadian teenagers have an immigrant background with provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia possessing an even larger share of first- and second-generation immigrant students at 44% and 36%, respectively (Council of Ministers of Education Canada, 2015).
Similarly, the most recent census data indicated that “Aboriginal” or more appropriately, Indigenous people – defined as those who are First Nations and/or those who are Registered or Treaty Indians , and/or those who have membership in a First Nation or Indian band – experienced a population growth of 42.5% since 2006 – which was more than four times the population growth of the non-Indigenous populations over the same period (Statistics Canada, 2017).
Our increased cultural diversity underscores the importance of teaching and learning environments that reflect and support our pluralistic society. As a result, the classrooms of today in most Canadian schools are far more diverse than ever before.
As teachers we have a responsibility to ensure learning and achievement is attainable and equitable for all students, regardless of culture, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, language, gender, or religious background.
This year’s Advisory sessions at my school has been focused around the theme of promoting community and inclusivity. This has been explored through the framework of Storytelling. The TEDTalk by Chimamanda Adichie: “The Danger of a Single Story” formed the basis for this. Adichie weaves together her personal story of growing up in Nigeria and moving to the United States for college with a provocative discussion on the nature of stories and storytelling. She calls attention to “the danger of a single story.” In short, defining an experience based on a single account gives us incomplete, potentially damaging understandings of other people.
Adichie’s words of caution are an important reminder of the responsibility we have as teachers to tell stories well and to teach our students how to read and understand others’ stories. Adichie is particularly sensitive to how power shapes which stories we tell and how we tell them, defining power as “the ability not to just tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.” Adichie sees stereotypes as complicit in the perpetuation of single stories: “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Adichie also reminds us of “how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children.”
Adichie’s phrase—the danger of a single story—gives students a simple, direct way to begin developing their sensitivity to narrative and power. Students begin the year attuned to one-sided viewpoints, biases and unheard stories. We want students to think about whose perspective is being served by the way a particular story is heard.
Big questions to consider
- Who writes the stories?
- Who benefits from the stories?
- Who is missing from the stories?
- Inclusion in general
- Black Lives Matter Movement
- Gender Identity
- Indigenous Peoples in Canada