A draft of the teachers’ guide for a Grade 12 elective course whose topics include sexual orientation and gender identity is being hailed by queer activists as a step in the right direction for BC’s education system.
Making Space, Giving Voice: Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice Throughout the K-12 Curriculum: A Guide for Teachers Response Draft was posted on the BC Ministry of Education’s website Oct 1. The guide is meant as a complement to Social Justice 12, a course whose range of topics includes sexual orientation, gender identity, race and ethnicity.
Education minister Shirley Bond was travelling last week and unable to comply with Xtra West’s requests for an interview. However, Lara Perzoff, a ministry spokesperson, says the guide was developed to support teachers in successfully integrating the Social Justice 12 course curriculum in the classroom.
“The guide was designed so teachers could help teach [the Social Justice 12] course exploring the nature of a just and equitable society,” Perzoff says, adding: “It’s to support teachers in successfully integrating the curriculum in the classroom.”
Perzoff says she doesn’t know if it will be mandatory for teachers to follow the guide.
“It’s something to refer to,” she says. “The SJ 12 course covers so many social justice issues —even cruelty to animals. There’s a whole variety of suggestions on introducing the curriculum.”
The teachers’ guide comes on the heels of a draft of the Social Justice 12 course curriculum posted on the ministry’s website in August.
The ministry began developing the course last summer after settling a human rights complaint filed by gay activists Peter and Murray Corren. The Correns alleged that the government’s failure to address gay, lesbian and transgendered relationships in the public school curriculum violated the BC Human Rights Code.
The 68-page teachers’ guide covers strategies for addressing diversity and social justice in any subject area, as well as conflict management and what teachers should take into consideration when teaching about social justice and diversity. Sexual orientation and gender identity are explicitly mentioned repeatedly throughout the document.
Although the guide was specifically created to accompany the Social Justice 12 course, it mentions sexual orientation in its section on Grades 4-7 language arts as well, suggesting teachers ask students to consider how the narrative of a piece of literature or a film would change if the gender or sexual orientation of a given character were different.
Perzoff says she is not aware of any development of social justice courses for lower grades at this time.
The draft of the teachers’ guide is available for viewing at www.bced.gov.bc.ca/irp/drafts. The public is invited to respond to the document using the online response form by Nov 1.
“The minister is really welcoming public consultation,” Perzoff says. “It’s public opinion that helps round out these guidelines.”
Anti-homophobia consultant Glen Hansman, who is also president of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers’ Association, has already reviewed the guide. He says he thinks Making Space is a good first draft of an official document he hopes will be widely distributed to schools around the province.
“There is a lot of useful material included in the document, including suggestions for lessons, references to a variety of resources for various grade levels and subjects, links to the curriculum, and theoretical frameworks,” Hansman says.
“I am pleased to see that all of the protected characteristics under the BC Human Rights Code get a mention, but that gender identity is made reference as a type of difference which one should be mindful of, not only in the broader community but in terms of learners in individual classrooms,” he notes.
Although Hansman sees the creation of the guide as a positive step for the Ministry of Education, he says he’s cautious about over-praising any document drafted by the government —”especially one which claims to be ‘socially just.'”
“Even when intentions are well-meaning, which I believe they are here, it is still always important to ask questions such as: Whose version of social justice is this, and for what purposes? Who gets left out when we speak of diversity here, and what will we do to rectify those absences?” Hansman explains.
Hansman also dislikes the title of the document, which he says smacks of paternalism.
“To claim that one is ‘giving voice’ assumes that the ‘other’ doesn’t have voice or agency to begin with. Rather than ‘giving voice,’ what is important is for those with more privilege to make efforts to hear and to become allies with those with who have less.”
Social Justice 12 is being piloted this fall in seven schools around the province: Mount Baker Secondary (Cranbrook), Sparwood Secondary (Sparwood), New Westminster Secondary (New Westminster), Dr. Charles Best Secondary (Coquitlam), Alberni District Secondary (Port Alberni), North Island Secondary (Port McNeill) and Glen Lyon Norfolk School, an independent institute in Victoria.
A draft of the Social Justice 12 curriculum is available on the ministry’s website, with a final draft scheduled for next September. The course will then be offered as an elective and will be available to both public and independent schools in BC. Schools will decide whether to offer the course based on demand.
The deadline for responding to the Social Justice 12 course draft is Dec 10.
Jane Bouey, an education activist who sits on the Vancouver School Board’s Pride committee, is urging queer community members to voice their opinions.
“One thing I encourage Xtra West readers to do is take a look and give it some positive feedback,” she says. “The Christian Right will be sending in a gazillion briefs and sending in negative feedback. The community needs to be putting in a good word.”