infographic of unemployment and poverty statistics
Sankofa Black Heritage Collection. Rubicon Press, 2015.

Black-Focused Content Matters: Incorporating Black Canadian Perspectives in the Classroom

Natasha Henry

Black history, when and if taught in Ontario classrooms, generally receives marginal treatment and is laden with American content – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, American slavery. There are no specific learning expectations in the Ontario curriculum on African Canadian history, leaving the possibilities of what to teach wide open, which can be overwhelming for teachers not familiar with the content or seeking more Canadian-based subject matter. A large part of my work as an educator is developing resources to fill the gap in African Canadian content for teachers and students and facilitating workshops on teaching Black history. One question I consistently get from teachers who attend my workshops is whether I can recommend any good resources to incorporate the Black Canadian perspective into their classrooms. I gladly provide a long list of resources to those who ask and I am thrilled to add the new Sankofa Black Heritage Collection to my list of recommendations.

I learned about this trailblazing anthology when I was asked to contribute two titles – Firsts and African Diaspora – and was immediately excited about its potential. The books in the collection are not text-heavy and are appropriate for the target audiences of grade 4 to 8 students. Sankofa includes a wide range of text forms: interviews, profiles, fiction, timelines, biographies, infographics, poems, articles and folktales. There is a good balance of historical and contemporary content. Early Civilizations of Africa features African kingdoms across the continent. There are profiles of African Canadians such as John “Daddy” Hall, Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Elijah McCoy and Viola Desmond. The struggles by people of African descent in Canada, the United States and other parts of the world are explored in Freedom and Rights and Equality . Places of Black settlement in Canada during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries such as the communities of Birchtown, Africville, Buxton and Amber Valley are included. Contemporary topics include hip hop culture and its global reach, racial profiling, fashion blogging, Afrofuturism and the use and impact of various forms of media by Black youth. The collection presents diverse perspectives and experiences of people of African descent, linking Blacks in Canada to Black peoples globally.

The books are very informative for teachers and students looking for valuable information on various aspects of Black history. The array of topics covered in the series helps teachers effectively integrate more African Canadian experiences across the curriculum in a meaningful way. There are curricular connections to language, social studies, history, geography, science and technology, math, sports and the arts.

Sankofa enhances critical literacy instruction through its supportive features. It incorporates questioning throughout each book. Each title opens with an “Essential Question” that encapsulates the big idea and provokes relevant inquiry. The “Think About It” activities raise questions to connect students’ prior knowledge to the content in the book. The range of text genres provides opportunities for students to participate in deep authentic discussions and to engage with the text. The “Connect It” feature invites young readers to further explore topics through independent or group activities. The “Scaffolding” supportive feature assists in moving students through certain texts and developing stronger comprehension.

The Sankofa Black Heritage Collection , authored entirely by writers of African descent (many Ontario-based teachers), was intended to engage readers, especially (but not only) Black learners, through culturally relevant and responsive literature. African Canadian students can see themselves and aspects of their


General Secretary Sharon O’Halloran

ETFO’s 20th anniversary is an opportunity to look back on our remarkable legacy as an organization. Since our formation in 1998, we have worked tirelessly to ensure the health and safety of our members and our students and made important gains for our members through collective bargaining.

ETFO President Sam Hammond

The election of Donald Trump in the US has had powerful reverberations internationally. This new political reality underlines the importance of ETFO continuing to work with and support our social justice partners. We must work together to fight against systems that undermine and oppress us.