Parents and Education…

Watching the news the other day, I saw a young family attending a protest at Ryerson University. I watched as the father led his young child up to the Eggerton Ryerson statue and I listened as he explained what he knew of the protest and Ryerson’s involvement in the creation of the Residential School system in Canada. They were there paying their respects to the 215 Indigenous children the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation says are buried on the grounds of the Kamloops Residential School.

What struck me immediately was the incredible parenting that was going on. Some may have watched and thought that the child was too young to be taught this important but harsh lesson. Others, far too many in my opinion, are content to leave the education of their children up to the educators. Perhaps it is a sign of our busy times, but downloading responsibility for ensuring important lessons are dealt with at school is rampant and ultimately unsuccessful.

Education is an ongoing partnership between school and family. Yes, teachers spend a good deal of time with school-aged children, but unless the parents are fully involved, lessons learned at school often seem less significant. Parents need to know what is going on in the classroom in order to both support and question what their kids are learning.

The current state of formal education regarding the Residential School system specifically and Indigenous peoples, in general, is incredibly limited and mind-blowingly simplistic. So, if you expect your child’s teacher to make sure your kids learn about Canada’s sordid past in this regard, think again. There is an old saying, attributed variously to Churchill, Robespierre, and others, that history is written by the winners. But of course, that is very simplistic and also inaccurate. History is not set in stone. When new facts emerge, it gets revisited. You might win history for a certain time period, but that doesn’t imply no one will question you or your actions at a later date. Sometimes, the historical facts do get twisted and people perpetuate lies and half-truths. In the end, history is written and re-written by everyone. 

I grew up getting a great public education in Ontario. But, it wasn’t until I taught Grade 10 Civics that I really understood anything about the Residential School system in Canada. Similarly, though I live only a few hours from Thunder Bay, I was ignorant of the ongoing marginalization and atrocities perpetrated on the Indigenous community of that city until I read Tanya Talaga’s remarkable and unsettling 7 Fallen Feathers a few years ago. And, that is after taking a number of Canadian History courses in public school, high school, university, and teacher’s college. Although I read about Indigenous people, I knew little of the horror inflicted upon them by our ancestors. Certainly, this is due to a combination of my failing memory and a telling of our history that was and continues to be Eurocentric and dismissive of Canada’s original people. Specifically, I recall a visit to Saint Marie Among the Hurons, but that did little to educate me on our Indigenous peoples and more to underscore the perceived positive impact of the Jesuits and the like. Of course, the sanitized partisan telling of Canadian History is by no means limited to the accounts and references to Indigenous people. It wasn’t until quite recently that I learned that the names of transatlantic explorers Giovanni Chabotto and Cristoforo Colombo became popularly known as John Cabot and Christopher Columbus. But I digress. 

Leaving your child’s education at the hands of teachers, schools, school boards and Ministries of Education is unwise for numerous reasons. First and foremost, involved parents underscore the importance of education to their children. Studies show that healthy parental engagement helps children develop and hone optimistic and confident social behaviours. Appropriate parental involvement and intervention lays the foundation for stronger social and academic skills. Similarly, secure attachment leads to healthy social, emotional, cognitive, and motivational development. I’m sure that parent at the Ryerson rally wasn’t thinking so deeply about what their actions meant that day, but their child will be the beneficiary of that insightful and formative engagement for the rest of their life. The child was learning about history, civic engagement, and parenting among many other things. Important life lessons for sure.

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