News and Articles

The Role of Education in Perpetuating Racism and White Supremacy: Rethinking the Eurocentric Curriculum

Lateisha Blog Photo 1
Photo Credit: CDC, Captured in a metropolitan Atlanta, Georgia primary school.
July 2, 2020

Lateisha Ugwuegbula is a 2020 Social Connectedness Fellow working with Elders and Knowledge Holders from Manitoba (with the support of the Misipawistik Cree Nation) to build a foundation of research and case studies to support the early development of an Indigenous-led Traditional learning system in Manitoba. Lateisha is passionate about development and social justice and reducing inequalities for disadvantaged and marginalized communities, particularly through education. 

Over the past few weeks, protestors have taken to the streets to support the Black Lives Matter movement and demand change globally. In comparison to the United States, Canadians have a long-standing history of being referred to as the nice neighbours in the North, but anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism exists here as well. As a Black woman in Canada, I have seen the way racism and White supremacy permeate our minds and our institutions — especially our educational institutions. Our learning spaces uphold White supremacy and allow for conscious and unconscious racial bias to create fear and a misconception of Black and Indigenous bodies that results in racism, discrimination, and too often, death.

Childcare centres, schools, and universities perpetuate racism and White supremacy in numerous ways — one of the most entrenched being through the continued support of a Eurocentric curriculum and pedagogy. Canadian educational institutions were founded on principles of colonialism and continue to centre on Eurocentric knowledge and theories of teaching and learning, leaving out the diverse knowledge of Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities. Author Marie Battiste describes this as cognitive imperialism. 

We are taught about Western notions of science and math, Western art, and Western history. For example, European history classes are deemed mandatory and simply titled “History”, as if it is unquestionably neutral information, while one Indigenous Studies or Black History class may be offered as an elective. If these lessons are taught, we typically hear an outdated, inaccurate, and whitewashed narrative. The diversity is left out, the atrocities are glossed over, and the triumphs are omitted.

This is White supremacy. 

Schools continue to position Western education as the centre of legitimate knowledge, and any other knowledge as additional and insignificant. Eurocentric curriculums teach Black and Indigenous students that their lives and the lives of their ancestors are not worth learning about, while simultaneously teaching White students that they are highly valued in spaces of knowledge and power.

The invisibility of Black and Indigenous knowledge from the curriculum has lasting effects on a student’s sense of community, belonging, and identity. In an article published in The Star, Toronto District School Board Superintendent Audley Salmon stated that, “belonging matters, especially for racialized students … (that) is huge to ensuring that they are successful.” 

The marginalization of Black and Indigenous students begins in school.

A report by York University titled “Decolonizing our Schools,” stated that “students come to school with knowledge premised on their lived experiences, the meanings they make from the lessons that schools provide depend on how this knowledge is acknowledged and respected.” Ignoring or glossing over Black and Indigenous knowledge and culture in schools leads to isolation, shame, and disconnect for many students. This consequence is significant and can affect a students future social, economic, and political opportunities. 

In an effort to see more Black and Indigenous students thrive, alternative education programs and schools have increased. Schools and education programs such as Toronto’s Africentric Alternative School and the Misipawistik Pimatisimēskanaw Program allow for culturally relevant teachings that centre on Black or Indigenous experiences. These schools and programs allow students to connect to their culture and build a strong sense of community. This is essential and inspiring; however, it is critical that Black and Indigenous students are able to thrive within the conventional school system as well. Our educational institutions should provide equitable and inclusive education to everyone.

Ontario’s Anti Racism Strategic Plan calls for better race-based disaggregated data in order to better understand the communities impacted by systemic racism, as well as continued work with the Ministry of Education to help the education community identify and address discriminatory biases and systemic barriers to support the achievement and wellbeing of all students. 

Our governments must recognize the impact that a Eurocentric curriculum has on racial minorities and continue to reshape the curriculum to better reflect the diversity of the student population, their histories, and identities.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a source of inspiration and hope, and has reminded us that we must fight to dismantle systemic racism in its many manifestations, including in the school curriculum. White supremacy within schools manifest beyond the walls of a classroom, contributing to a world filled with racism and inequality. It is easier to learn inclusion and diversity than to unlearn White supremacy. Decentering a Eurocentric curriculum will benefit us all by teaching us to celebrate our differences and commonalities. 

As civil rights activist and author Audre Lorde said, “it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”