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Blog: Thursday, January 31st, 2019

The Equity Challenge

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

In my last post, I listed six predications which I felt would be significant for the coming year, and I have decided to start with the last one on the list: diversity, equity and inclusion. Last week was Martin Luther King (MLK) Day, and while it is an American day of observance, it is an important day around the world for all of us to reflect on our universal aspiration for equity and inclusion.

Last year brought us to another level of consciousness about the importance of creating more just, inclusive and equitable communities. Seeing the political divisions and sometimes lack of civility south of the border left many of us in Canada thinking that we are a step removed from some of those deep-seated issues. We have a well-earned reputation of being a more polite, respectful and conciliatory nation, which I would argue can sometimes lead to complacency. As I noted in my last blog, we must be careful not to set a low bar for ourselves by comforting ourselves that we are not engaged in the sort of behviours we see elsewhere in the world. That’s a pretty low bar if you ask me.

The fact is that we do not need to look too far to see some of the significant equity challenges that plague us in Canada and specifically here in BC. You only need to look a little more closely at some of our recent news to see it. The most obvious one is our long road to truth and reconciliation. The issues of gender discrimination spawned by the #metoo movement was not just about Harvey Weinstein. It was just last month that the Ontario Human Rights Commission released its report that identified that black people more likely to be injured or killed by Toronto Police officers. Closer to home, while we continue to make encouraging progress, our school districts continue to struggle with the achievement gaps between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students, between students with identified special needs and those without, and also with LGTBQ students. I could go on, but my purpose here is not to uncover our failings. Rather, it is to shine a light on the work we have ahead of us and provide some perspectives on where we can go next.

My prediction was that these issues will continue to remain front and centre in society, despite that fact that we are working away at them. That might be troubling to some, but the reason is right before us. The more we know the better we want to do. The more we learn about these issues and the impact they have on children and families, the more we want to try to address them. As marginalized people see this they begin to feel safer to surface their challenges, we in turn seek to address them. This is a good thing. However, these issues are tremendously complex, and often uncomfortable. Consequently, we must think differently about how we should approach this work.

If we are going to make a serious dent in these issues we must think firstly differently, look at this as a mindset issue. We must raise our level of consciousness about the systemic inequities in our society. In our schools we must ask ourselves how we can make the redesigned curriculum available to EACH of our students. This is why I appreciated MLK so much. One important thing he did was to raise our level of consciousness, to make us all reflect on our behavior and thinking.

Our education system is really the best hope of address societal inequities. The wonderful thing about learning is the promise of a better tomorrow.  The more we invest in creating equitable classrooms, the more we raise the consciousness of our students, the more we increase the likelihood they will grow up with better appreciation for these challenges, and will be equipped with more tools to address them.

Last month I had the pleasure of speaking with a Social Justice 12 class at Yale Secondary, where we spoke candidly about some of the equity issues facing our community.  While the issues were numerous, I left there with tremendous hope after speaking with them. The next generation of students will be better versions of the previous students, certainly better versions of us. They will be the ones who will have the courage and skill to face these issues head on and create the society I know that Dr. King dreamed about some 50 years ago.

By Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.