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New Canadian curriculum seeks to highlight African roots rather than slave trade in Black History narrative

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According to Lorraine Harris, a teacher for over 20 years, many black students in the US and Canada suffer from low self-esteem. And by teaching the slavery narrative over and over, common American curriculums engender embarrassment and shame for Black students in the classroom.

Among non-Black students, however, Harris says it draws a spectrum of emotions including pity, empathy, and sometimes, ridicule and bullying, just like she experienced as a Black student in school in her day.

It’s time to change that narrative, she says.

“Our story did not begin with slavery.”

Lorraine Harris

Therefore, in collaboration with the Guelph Black Heritage Society, Harris created My Place In This World, a Black heritage curriculum that focuses on positive aspects of Black life and culture. The curriculum is available for use province-wide. 

Harris, who teaches in the Waterloo Region, is very active in the community. She says she aligned the provincial education curriculum expectations with resources that support Black students and non-black students in the class.

Ultimately, it’s up to the teacher to teach it.

Image Source: The Guardian

“It’s a choice, teachers aren’t expected to start at any one point. They get to choose what task they want to teach, what activities, the resources embedded so they don’t have to go out and search for additional resources to teach the different topics,” says Harris. 

The tasks are also cross-curricular which means teachers can, for example, teach the subject of language or social studies from My Place In This World to meet the provincial curriculum expectations of language or social studies so it’s reportable on a report card. 

Teaching for over 20 years, Harris says she visited many schools and has never seen the rich history of Black people being taught in the classroom. 

My Place In This World Cover Art

She says while students are taught about great heroes like Martin Luther King, there is room for more which is really critical in today’s world. 

“For the sake of our children and the sake of the times that we’re in. We’ve seen the George Floyd video. People are sick of racism. People want equity,” says Harris. 

She says it’s important to rebuild the pride of Black heritage and help people understand the real pain of slavery. 

“The curriculum is a response to a need for equity in the classroom space. That’s why I called it My Place in This World because in order to validate that Black students heritage, we need to find a place in the classroom for it to unfold,” says Harris. 

“Especially in a time like now where we are seeing mental health and depression. It really affects young black students.”

She says Black students need to understand their heritage and not just the history of slavery.

“What was the story of African people? What was their story of heritage pre-colonial slavery? That story is a rich heritage and the first curriculum piece we bring on is about African kings and queens, royalty. Why? Because we want to rebuild self-esteem,” says Harris. 

She says Black heritage is the place to start. 

“You go to the root. You go to the birthplace. You go the motherland,” says Harris. 

“And when you go to the motherland what do you find? You find great civilizations, we find magnificence. We find that kings and queens predominantly existed throughout Africa.”

Harris says it’s important to rebuild that pride for Black students so they can feel respect in the classroom. 

“All kids need it,” says Harris. 

She says though the curriculum says it’s a Black curriculum, it’s good for all subjects. Teachers interested in the curriculum can contact the Guelph Black Heritage Society. 

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