Out with Shakespeare, in with Wagamese

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One Canadian school board has gone against the Anglo-centric grain of Canadian English classes by introducing a new curriculum focused on Indigenous Canadian literature, drawing attention to the wider lack of First Nation representation in a Canadian education.

In Ontario’s Lambton Kent District School Board, an attempt to bring academics and Canadian cultural identity together has been made with a new curriculum for its compulsory Grade 11 English class. Instead of studying Shakespeare and J.D Salinger, the curriculum will feature Canadian Indigenous authors such as Richard Wagamese, Thomas King, Shirley Sterling, and former Ontario Lieutenant-Governor James Bartleman.

The majority of Canadian students are exposed to literature from two primary sources — Great Britain and America. It’s uncommon to find a Canadian author on a high school syllabus, let alone an Indigenous Canadian author. Upon reaching its 150th anniversary, a Canadian education is long overdue for curriculums that acknowledge Indigenous culture and a more inclusive perspective of this country.

Indigenous Canadian literature may not yet be in the classics section at Chapters, but its value to a more comprehensive cultural identity for young Canadians can’t be understated. The new curriculum that the Lambton Kent District School Board is implementing includes both native and modern day perspectives of Canadians rather than relying exclusively on centuries old fiction. In a school district that includes four different First Nations communities, seeing Indigenous Canadian literature represented in an academic setting can be extremely encouraging.

High school English classes are some of the earliest interactions with literature that people have. By sticking to the classics, we can ignore the relevance of contemporary literature in English courses. Instead,  having recently written fiction featured in the classroom can be enough to engage students who otherwise struggle to relate to the social structure of Elizabethan England.

British and American texts are still going to be discussed in grades nine, 10, and 12 throughout the Lambton Kent District School Board, but they will now exist in a better balance with Canadian Literature. Instead of seeing Canada through a solely colonial lens, students will get to hear First Nations perspectives, bringing a long-neglected part of the Canadian identity into focus.

The new curriculum has generated positive feedback from the school board’s community, and hopefully will encourage more boards across Ontario and Canada to include Indigenous studies and literature in their curriculums. While it’s important for First Nations students to see themselves represented in their education, it’s equally important for other Canadians to see Indigenous literature taken seriously and treated as a main focus rather than a fringe topic.

Currently, there are no mandatory First Nations focused literature courses at Queen’s, and few electives available. Indigenous courses being given a broader focus in Canadian education systems is something that benefits the cultural fabric of Canada. Every Canadian school is built and situated on First Nations land, and it’s time that we recognize the validity of Indigenous perspectives that are so often lost in our education system.  

 

— Journal Editorial Board

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