KELOWNA – A Kelowna school principal says there’s more to a recent social media post that shows a seemingly sexist and racist homework assignment sent home with grade 4 students in Kelowna this week.
The assignment, titled Penelope’s Journal in Upper Canada, went home with grade 4 students at Quigley Elementary School. It involves reading the journal of a young girl brought from Britain by her parents, who are among the first settlers in Canada and then answer a series of questions.
“Life is different here,” it starts. “Back in the old land I was surrounded by wealthy and refined people... but here in Upper Canada there are no ladies.”
She also talks about the relationship between the settlers and the indigenous local population.
“Sounds like the First Nations are wanting us to leave,” she says. “They don’t like the way we treat the land. I don’t think they understand that the land doesn’t have feelings and it is our land now. I must remember that we are more educated that they are... some of their ideas are just silly."
“I wonder if the First Nations people have schools? They certainly wouldn’t be able to keep up in our schools.”
The journal includes notions of what Penelope hopes to get out of life, reflecting popular views in late 18th or early 19th century.
“I thought one day I would marry a nice boy from a wealthy family, then I would be the lady in the fancy dress,” Penelope writes. “I could have the servants, I could be the boss.”
The friend of a local parent posted the school assignment to Facebook, calling it overtly racist.
Bonnie Stelkia is a member of the Okanagan Indian Band. She says the assignment made her furious.
"As an adult and critical thinker I certainly wanted to believe that there was a bigger picture to this assignment; however, understanding that I have had these very same stereotypes attributed to myself as a child I know how disheartening it can be to hear this kind of discourse being stated about your culture," she said in an interview.
Quigley Elementary School principal Desmond Sjoquist responded immediately to a iNFOnews request for comment. He said the subjects of racism, sexism and discrimination, although difficult to talk about, can't be ignored.
“In order to understand the challenges facing Canada today, we believe it is necessary to explore the perspectives of the past,” he says in an email. “Historically, and even today, cultures have often mistreated other cultures and it is only through analyzing the past that we can learn from our mistakes to not make the same mistakes in the future."
“An ethno-centric worldview during the formation of our country led to many conflicts. It is important to discuss how different groups of people perceive each other and it is only through dialogue and discussion that we can develop empathy and appreciation for each other. This is perhaps even truer today than it ever has been in our global society.”
To that end, the assignment asks students to answer questions based on what they had just read.
The students are asked to write words that describe how Penelope’s family feels about the First Nations people, why her family might have had “such a negative view" of them and how the students' opinions differ.
Another question encourages students to relate their own customs to those of the First Nations.
“The First Nations People believe that animals watch over people and protect them and that they could ask for help from the spirit. Is there anything in your culture that is like that?”
Sjoquist says the assignment is supported by their Aboriginal Advocate who regularly visits the classrooms and works with students, teachers and parents to provide academic, cultural and social supports. He also notes that the Truth and Reconciliation process encourages "to seek first to understand before we try to make amends."
He encourages parents to come to him with any concerns.
“Taking resources out of context is always a dangerous and slippery slope,” he says. “We do our best to use culturally sensitive materials, but there are many triggers and challenges with sensitive topics that make it difficult to avoid the diverse needs of all people. This is part of the reason why the entire learning process is important to consider, as teachers do their best to monitor the responsiveness of all learners during the lessons and adjust the lesson accordingly or provide additional supports when needed."
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