Culturally responsive education goes far beyond an initial welcome. It’s about learning to identify and question our own cultural assumptions, and to not just make room for but actively invite in and learn from our students’ varied and rich cultural perspectives.
Two years ago we published an issue on Welcoming Newcomer Students, looking at how schools can provide sensitive and reassuring support to immigrant and refugee students and their families. That was an important aspect of cultural diversity to address, but it is only part of the picture.
Culturally responsive education goes far beyond an initial welcome and orientation. It involves recognizing that our entire education system was built around a culturally specific model, and that this model tends to discount and disadvantage the “cultural capital” of a large and growing number of students whose roots are not Western European. Many educators who come from similarly diverse backgrounds are all too aware of this fact. For the rest of us – those who fit comfortably within Canada’s dominant culture – it’s about learning to identify and question our own cultural assumptions, and to not just make room for but actively invite in and learn from our students’ varied and rich cultural perspectives.
As Stephen Hurley notes in his article describing one school’s committed work toward providing “culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy” to their diverse student population, this isn’t something we can accomplish in a single professional development workshop. It requires grappling with issues of privilege, marginalization and oppression – uncomfortable, challenging and sometimes very personal work.
Policy and curriculum are also important, of course. We have seen, for example, the harm caused by omitting Indigenous perspectives and realities from Canadian history (and other) courses, and most provinces and territories have or are in the process of revising curricula to include a more complete and fair accounting of our colonial history. But policy can’t substitute for awareness and sensitivity on the part of all school staff – what Joanne Mednick Miles refers to as “intercultural competence”. Latika Raisinghani has developed a comprehensive framework for what she terms “(trans-multi)culturally responsive education,” but even here the first step is personal: “an ideological and pedagogical commitment that requires a teacher to first become a (trans-multi)culturally responsive person”. We are challenged to not rely on formal policy and curriculum, but to do what can be done here and now to acknowledge, honour and include our students’ cultural identities, and to work toward a more equitable education experience for all.
P.S. With this issue, we also launch our new department, Well at Work. Watch for more EdCan Network initiatives around workplace well-being in the year to come!
Photo: Dave Donald
First published in Education Canada, September 2019