As part of our second Multicultural Community Capacity Grant project, we’re talking wtih public school teachers and librarians from Ontario about the ways in which we can help them diversify the curriculum with local history stories.

Much of what we’ve focused on so far is Ontario’s black history, and we’ve already come up with a number of ideas for assignments, discussion and reflection questions, and ways to engage students around this history of discrimination and empowerment.

An interesting article from ten years ago, on the occasion of Emancipation Day (coming up on August 1st), articulates some of the issues we’re hearing from educators now:

We aren’t telling our kids the whole story.

They’re getting a male, Eurocentric view of Canadian history, says Gerry Rodney, a representative with the Central Ontario Network for Black History.

“They don’t talk very much about women, they don’t talk very much about blacks or [Indigenous people] as to what contributions they have made to the Canada that we know today….”


We’ve also thought about how to use inspiring stories of underrepresented people in other parts of the curriculum than history. For example, we’re considering putting together a module on women and people of colour in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Irene Uchida, who discovered how the genetic defect that causes Down Syndrome occurs, doctors Emily Stowe and Augusta Stowe Gullen and Saint-Firmin Monestime, and architects such as Bruce Kuwabara and Raymond Moriyama are a few STEM professionals we’ve profiled so far – we’d love to add to this list!

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One thing that’s particularly interesting to us, as we work primarily with digital collections and online access, is the divergence in access to technology in our schools. While many school boards no longer ban cellphones, tablets, or laptops from class, access to tech can vary widely. One study last year found that 80% of high school students have cellphones, but we know this number changes dramatically in rural areas and in urban schools with low-income households.

These same areas are far less likely to be able to supply tablets, Chromebooks, or other tools to their students out of their budgets, and far less able to raise money from the public to do so. This digital divide means our own work may not make it into the hands of students who would benefit most from positive, empowering lessons about Canada’s diversity.

We also need to take into account the different accessibility needs of students using technology. Screen readers, described images, recognized text, and webpages that still work and look good with enlarged text or modified styles are all important to us at ODW, and we’re working to improve our Exhibits module code to reflect all of these uses – we’re already compliant with WCAG standards but we can always aim higher! If you’re a VITA user with feedback about Exhibits and new features you’d like to see, now is a great time to let us know.


We’re continuing to talk to educators and work with their classes throughout the rest of the summer and the fall term. So, if you’re a teacher, a teacher-librarian, or a librarian or archivist who has worked on bringing primary sources into classrooms, and you’re interested in being a part of this project, please get in touch!


 

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Government of Ontario.

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