In 1970, the Toronto Board of Education (Toronto’s pre-amalgamation school board) recognized a need to diversifying its K-12 curriculum. Studies conducted by the Board had shown that Black student’s learning outcomes lagged behind that of White students. In response, Black teachers and community members called for a diversification of the provincial curriculum, stating that a growingly diverse student body required learning materials that reflected their lived experience. This call for educational diversity has been echoed by community members in the decades since, with numerous provincial studies highlighting Ontario’s need for curriculum reform. Though some steps have been made, the Ontario government has continually blocked community engagement and stalled needed diversification of the provincial curriculum. The Ontario curriculum to remains Eurocentric, failing to represent the lives of non-White students.
The existing Eurocentric curriculum has been seen to contribute to attrition among racialized students, as students who do not see themselves reflected in their school environment are more likely to leave it. The curriculum shapes the learning environment of our schools, defining what is seen as valuable and the teaching practices that guide learning. A Eurocentric curriculum signals to students that racialized people have not made valuable social, cultural, scientific, and economic contributions to the world. It is common that the only representations of Black people in the K-12 classrooms is through books written by White authors, usually regarding slavery or Jim Crow era dramas like To Kill A Mockingbird. This exclusion of any experience reflecting their own can leave racialized students to feel inferior to their peers6. With no role models and no guarantee that their success will be recognized, this can lead racialized students' sense of belonging and motivation to succeed to be threatened. Within Ontario, there is a shocking divide in the educational outcomes between Black students and their White peers. Developing a curriculum that drives engagement from all students and sets the groundwork for an inclusive school environment is a first step towards closing this gap.
History of Equity Policies Within the Ontario Provincial Curriculum
1970s-90s: Genesis of Equity Policies in the Toronto Board of Education and Inaction
In this decade, the former Toronto Board of Education implemented a number of programs to review and revise its education practices and materials in favour of creating a more diverse learning experience. These programs included the Appraisal for Better Curriculum, the Working Group on Multiculturalism and first student census in 19701. At this time, changes in national immigration policy led to increased immigration from outside of Europe, leading to an growingly diverse student body. These programs identified educational opportunity deficits and a “fundamental incompatibility between the single cultural base of the school system’s operations and the multicultural base of the community”. Even with this recognition, little progress was made in changing the curriculum or correcting negative educational outcomes for racialized students. Student surveys in the 1980s and 90s showed that educational outcomes among racialized students continued to worsen in the following decades, showing that these educational reforms were not enough to close this racial performance gap.
1992-2000: The Lewis Report and Further Inaction
In May 4th, 1992, riots broke out on Yonge Street following the acquittal of four police officers responsible for the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles. In response, the provincial government issued a province-wide report on race relations in Ontario. The subsequent report now referred to as The Lewis Report, authored by Stephen Lewis, displayed systemic racism in the criminal justice system, in employment equity, and in the school system11. The report revealed that, though the Toronto Board of education was seen as one of the most progressive school boards in the province, little positive change had been instituted for the benefit of racialized students. The curriculum remained Eurocentric, with students commonly graduated from high school without reading from a single Black author. One quote stands out when reflecting on current education policies:
Where are the courses in Black history? Where are the visible minority teachers? Why are there so few role models? Why do our white guidance counsellors know so little of different cultural backgrounds? Why are racist incidents and epithets tolerated? Why are there double standards of discipline? Why are minority students streamed? Why do they discourage us from University? Where are we going to find jobs? What’s the use of having an education if there’s no employment? How long does it take to change the curriculum so that we’re a part of it?
However, following the election of PC candidate Mike Harris to Premier of Ontario, all equitable policy developments meant to address these concerns were halted.
2008: The Review of the Roots of Youth Violence
This extensive report detailing the systems-level phenomena leading to the criminalization of youth incorporated the province’s Eurocentric curriculum in this systemic violence. This report detailed how the curriculum is foundational in creating an inclusive school environment. The report pointed out the curriculum’s failure to discuss the Canadian government’s history of genocide of Indigenous peoples, exclusionary race-based immigration policies, and histories of slavery in Canada. The curriculum vastly underrepresented racialized achievement and stereotyped racialized groups, leading racialized students to feel alienated from their own education.
2017: Ontario’s Education Equity Action Plan
As a part of the Ministry of Education’s systems-wide plan to create a more diverse learning experience for students, the Plan calls for a 4+ year development of a more equitable curriculum. However, in the Ford administrations 2020 rewrite of the curriculum, there has been no mention of these measures.
2015-2020: Truth and Reconciliation Report and Further Inaction
In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Report called for “...age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada…”. In 2017, this call to action was met by a $2.7 million dollar program in Ontario to develop such a program in collaboration with Indigenous leaders. However, in 2018, one day before the first writing session for these curriculum changes, the Ford administration cancelled these consultation sessions in order save the money that would be spent on this program. The Ministry of Education then decided to release the new Indigenous curriculum without consultation, stating that community critiques would be added after its publishing. Upon its publishing, the Ministry of Education stated that they had collaborated with Indigenous leaders, however, those who were cited as being consulted stated that they were not involved in this process5.
Recent provincial reviews of both the York Region District School Board (YRDSB) and the Peel District School Board (PDSB) called for diversification of curriculums, with both school boards displaying Eurocentric and sometimes outright xenophobic characterizations of racialized peoples in their curriculums. Most recently, the Toronto Youth Cabinet criticized the Ontario government for its inaction in addressing racism in its school boards, pointing at the still Eurocentric curriculum being taught today.
Though it has had 50 years of reports displaying the harmful effects of its Eurocentric curriculum on its diverse student body, the Ontario government continues to stall to make the needed reforms to the provincial curriculum. Though some progress has been made, it is clearly not nearly enough.
By Noah Kelly, Intern