Meg Roberts, CBC, January 17, 2022
Anti-racism advocates and a university professor are calling an assignment handed out at a junior high school in St. John’s “racist” and say it could result in bullying and discrimination.
A textbook assignment that was sent to CBC News by a concerned parent asked students to write down two reasons why immigrants and refugees should be allowed into the country — and two reasons why they should not be.
The textbook provides a list of reasons why immigrants and refugees should be allowed in the country; for example, “Canada is a big country with room for many more people” and “Immigrants provide new ideas and skills.”
Delores Mullings, a professor of social work at Memorial University, says she’s concerned with the textbook’s suggestions for opposing migration: newcomers “may take jobs away from resident Canadians,” and “Some immigrants draw on social welfare programs and services,” according to the textbook.
She said one of the most concerning suggestions in the textbook was one that read, “The changing ethnic makeup of the country will increase racial tensions in Canada.”
“It’s shocking that the school board would first still have a textbook like this. It makes me wonder who is reviewing the content that the students in the province are being exposed to,” said Mullings.
“We are asking students to not only read but ingest and think about how to discriminate and stereotype against different groups of people who are coming into Canada.… It’s xenophobic and it’s racist.”
The assignment was taken from a textbook called Canadian Identity, published in 2011 by Nelson Education for the Newfoundland and Labrador social studies curriculum.
Mullings also said the assignment could be devastating for some parents and children who have migrated to the province, which doesn’t line up with the government’s own immigration initiatives.
Education Minister Tom Osborne said he reviewed the assignment and textbook, and believes the social studies curriculum needs “a refresh.”
“I was shocked and disappointed,” he told CBC News. “We want people to feel welcome … especially students in our schools. We don’t want them sitting there feeling as though they may or may not belong in the classroom.”
Although the social studies curriculum was established in 2011, Osborne said department staff regularly review curricula but the first time the department heard of the assignment was through CBC’s interview request.
Osborne said critical thinking is encouraged in the classroom as it’s important to academic growth but the material also needs to be approached with sensitivity and respect.
He also questioned the factuality of some of the material, including the message that immigrants take resident Canadian jobs.
Osborne said the department is looking at removing the textbook from the curriculum and department staff will review material to replace it.
“It is really dehumanizing,” said Maria Dussan, a member of the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador. “As a person that has gone through the whole immigration system I had a really visceral reaction.”
She said the Education Department and school district are not taking action quickly enough to remove the material, and the coalition is asking the government to use an anti-racism framework to guide all curriculum decisions.
That would include an avenue for students, their families and teaching staff to make complaints about the curriculum.
The coalition also wants the department to hire a committee of racialized consultants from multiple communities and to develop anti-racism training for teachers and people who are involved in curriculum development.