Schools must be safe havens for all

  • October 29, 2010

Chris D'SouzaMISSISSAUGA, Ont. - With hate crimes on the rise in Canada, implementing the province's new inclusive education policy comes at critical time when schools must be “safe havens” for all students, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation, says educator Chris D'Souza.

D'Souza spoke at an Oct. 22 workshop at the “When Faith Meets Pedagogy” conference on “Reaffirming our vocation to Catholic education and commitment in the service of students.”

D'Souza has been in 27 Ontario cities over the past nine months speaking about the government's new equity and inclusive education policy.

The Ontario government introduced its equity and inclusive education strategy in 2008. Boards are required to have policies in place or updated to correspond with the government’s strategy this year. The policies range from religious accommodation to tackling discriminatory biases like gender or racial discrimination and systemic barriers to education. Each board is to develop its own policy.

“The equity strategy and our Gospel values are congruent,” D'Souza said. “The strategy asks that we rethink our teaching strategies, review existing curriculum, unpack our assumptions.”
D'Souza is the course director at York University's Faculty of Education. He is also the founder of the Equity Summit group which includes more than 26 school board equity representatives. D'Souza has conducted more than 1,700 equity and anti-oppression workshops.

According to Statistics Canada, hate crimes increased 35 per cent in 2007 to 2008, with crimes related to race and ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation as part of the alarming trend. Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation doubled in 2008 and had the largest increase.

“Educational institutions must be safe havens,” D'Souza added.

According to D'Souza, inclusive education means “students have the right to be respected and protected in any learning environment” and that this “should be reflected in and connected to the curriculum.”

Within today' multicultural and multi-faith environment, it's important to challenge stereotypes, he added.

D'Souza interspersed his talk with anecdotes including his own experiences with discrimination. He related one about how a group of women in the neighbourhood rallied to his family's defence after the cottage owned by D'Souza's family had been vandalized several times.

It's important to teach students about the laws against hate speech and discrimination which are outlined in Ontario's Human Rights Code alongside lessons on Catholic values, D'Souza added.

And teachers should encourage “critical thinking” amongst their students, he said.

D'Souza noted the reality of competing rights when some parents shield their children from certain teachings which don't correspond with their religious beliefs.

But as educators, he said, “Teachers have to leave their biases at the door. We work in a publicly funded education system to promote equity.”

“If you don't want your children to hear of the eradication of homophobia, go send them to private school,” he said.

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