I recently participated in a curriculum workshop for teachers hosted by Natasha Henry. The focus was how to incorporate African Canadian history throughout the year and across curricular areas. The workshop was engaging and informative, and challenged the way I had viewed the use of cultural histories in my own teaching. Her research into new ways to incorporate African Canadian history in everyday curriculum is inspiring. A dedicated educator and historian, Natasha has applied her research to the classroom. She has produced articles, books and teaching resources, as well as the workshop series I first attended, to support students and teachers in maintaining connections to the stories of Black Canadians.
LB: How did you come to write about Black history? Did you find that there were gaps in the curriculum?
NH: I did find gaps in the curriculum. First, when I was a student in Toronto I did not see or hear much about Black history. I had questions about the Black presence in Canada and how long Black people had been here. My own parents were immigrants to Canada. I wondered how far back the immigration of Blacks to Canada went. Were Black people here before my family immigrated to Canada? Where did they live; what did they do? I wanted to understand what it meant to be Black in Canada and to locate myself on the Canadian landscape as a person of African descent born in Canada. So I started seeking out the information for myself. When I became a teacher, the community where I taught had a large Black population. I felt a more inclusive curriculum would help my students better connect with their learning. This is where I began to develop the curriculum resources that I shared with my colleagues. The gap I identified when I was a student was still present and I wanted my students to have a different experience.
LB: Can you talk about the importance of students seeing themselves reflected in their curriculum?
NH: Well, students really feel a sense of pride when they see themselves reflected in the curriculum. It helps them identify as Canadian, especially when, sometimes, students don’t feel like they’re a part of the history taught in the classroom. Or they are made to feel that they don’t belong. When you learn more about your ancestors, those who’ve gone before you, and what they’ve accomplished, it’s empowering! If you’re envisioning something for yourself, it doesn’t look so impossible when others before you have accomplished so much. Understanding their hardships and the obstacles they faced and overcame helps students see better futures for themselves and believe in themselves.