B.C. school district investigating assignment that asked students to name 'positives' of residential schools
VANCOUVER -- A B.C. school district has launched an investigation after an Indigenous parent shared a video about one of her daughter's school assignments on social media.
The assignment asked students to list five positive outcomes of Canada's residential school system that forcibly separated Indigenous children from their communities.
"Five positive things about residential schools," the mother, Krista MacInnis, says in the video. "Can you name five positive things about Nazis and the concentration camps? Can you name five positive things about slavery? This is not OK."
Reached by CTV News, MacInnis said she was approached for homework help from her 11-year-old daughter, a student at William A. Fraser Middle School.
“I read it word for word with my own eyes and I began shaking. Involuntary tears were coming down my face. I was outraged and disgusted and heartbroken for my people. It’s the year 2020 and this is still happening,” she said.
She said the school district had reached out to her to apologize and to assure her the teacher had departed from the curriculum with a question like that.
MacInnis said the district had also asked her to take her post down, but she wanted to keep it up to draw attention to the issue.
In a statement provided to CTV News Vancouver, Dr. Kevin Godden, superintendent of the Abbotsford School District, said the district learned of the assignment Wednesday morning and "immediately launched an investigation."
"Assignments like this are not acceptable," Godden said. "This incident is a disservice to the district’s commitment to truth and reconciliation."
The superintendent described the incident as a "personnel matter," and added that he believes it is not reflective of the district's "very skilled and talented teacher workforce."
"Our school principal has spoken with the parent directly to personally apologize," Godden said. "We are deeply sorry for any harm caused to the parents, students, families and the Indigenous community at large."
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Canada established as part of a legal settlement with residential school survivors, described the system in its final report as a "cultural genocide."
Still, many Canadians - perhaps most notably Sen. Lynn Beyak - have publicly insisted that residential schools did some good. Beyak was expelled from the Senate Conservative caucus and suspended from the Senate itself for posting racist letters she received in support of her position on her Senate website and refusing to take them down.
Some parents at William A Fraser school said it’s a good idea to learn about residential schools — but not to put a positive spin on it.
“I didn’t learn about residential schools until I was 24,” said Colleen Harder. “I should have known that. I think it’s really important for Canadians to be fully informed about the past.”
Grade 7 student Jack Simoes said he had started learning about residential schools starting in kindergarten.
“They had to force them to be someone they’re not, which is in my opinion, racist, and it’s essentially masking someone’s personality,” he said.
Responding to a comment on her original video in a follow-up post, the B.C. mother addresses the idea that the assignment in question was merely a critical-thinking exercise.
She points out that her daughter is 11 years old and says it wouldn't be "appropriate" for her to learn about the many abuses of the residential school system, let alone try to weigh them against supposed positive effects. She goes on to say she can think of only one positive that came from residential schools: That some of the people who were forced to attend them survived the experience.