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Blog: Monday, June 8th, 2020

Reflections on the Protests for Racial Justice

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

I would be remiss if as an educator, superintendent and black man I did not comment on the world-wide anti-racism protests which have been sparked by the recent murder of George Floyd. I have been asked by friends, my own children, as well as community members about my perspectives on this very disturbing event and the subsequent protests which have rocked the world. I could speak/write about this matter for days, but instead will restrict my comments in this medium to two key ideas.

We Are Inextricably Connected

While some Canadians may thankfully reflect that systemic racism and injustice of the kind we have seen in the USA is not as deeply rooted in the Canadian cultural fabric, I would first ask you to reflect on the words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

First of all, we do not need to look very far to see similar blemishes in this country. I will not list them here, but we have seen some very hurtful and troubling signs of racism perpetrated against citizens in this very community, never mind across the country. As much as it hurts to admit it, this happens in schools every day, places which should be exemplars of good citizenships and inclusion. Yes, it is certainly less prevalent than it was a decade ago, and by and large, schools have a growing repertoire for dealing with incidents of racism when they occur. However, I would humbly ask each of us to pause before we point the finger at our American neighbours. We have much work to do right there in Canada, British Columbia, Abbotsford…in our own back yards.

The second point I would surface from Dr. King’s message is about our common humanity, and by extension, our responsibility to translate our ideals into action. So, what should we as mature adults do to address these issues? There is a long list of things we should consider. I think that compassionate and courageous conversations about racism should be at the top of that list. Some of us struggle to speak about issues of race and racism because it makes us feel uncomfortable, oftentimes for fear of causing further offence. However, silence on this matter is unhelpful. I would encourage everyone to have a conversation with someone from the racialized community about racism, (in)equity and (in)justice in our country. Take a minute to listen to their story and (try to) walk in their shoes.

Our District recently drafted an equity framework (adapted from the Ministry of Education Equity in Action Project) as a way to focus our conversations and practice on meeting the needs of each of our students. You will note that one of the key dimensions (Interpersonal Lens) relates to the type of discourse the adults have about students.

Our Children Are Watching

The idea I will address relates to our responsibility as educators to engage kids about what is unfolding before our eyes.  Children all around the world are trying to make sense of these very complex issues and are looking to adults for guidance. I ask our educators to reflect on the role we play in the public education system in shaping the hearts and minds of young people as they become the citizens of tomorrow. This is the picture of a teachable moment.

Again, I know many teachers are nervous about addressing such issues with their students for fear of causing offence or simply because you don’t know where to begin. I would argue that we must be courageous, compassionate and thoughtful in the manner we do this. We nonetheless have a responsibility to engage students in age-appropriate ways. We might be surprised by their ability to critically think about some of these concepts. As a colleague said to me recently, deliberate avoidance of these issues will speak volumes to our children. 

As an aside, there are many well-designed and credible resources available to adults to help host these conversations with children of all ages. They range from the print and digital resources to materials which provide users with skillful approaches to deepen student thinking about complex issues (There are a number of big ideas, curricular and core competencies in our current social studies curriculum related to this very topic). If we truly want our children to help create and live in a more just, equitable, inclusive and welcoming Canada then we must teach them about the racism and injustice that exists for racialized communities in our country. In this vein, I leave us with a consequential quote from Frederick Douglas: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

By Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.