The Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CSSE) 2021 annual conference has concluded and left me on a roller coaster of emotions. The immense number of stakeholder voices involved in the interest of pursuing for a better education appeared to be a candle of hope during times of chaos and hopelessness. The voices of K-12 teachers, educators, administrators, government employees, researchers, and parents/caregivers across the six days of the conference conveyed a sense of community of action and advocacy towards decolonization, reconciliation, and collaboration. The horrifying discovery of the 215 Indigenous children in Canada’s largest residential school near the city of Kamloops in southern British Columbia is a wake-up call that, though there may be a recognition of injustices faced by Indigenous people in Canada, therein lies a gap to which action needs to be taken, above and beyond the repeated words of promise to the Indigenous population in Canada.
My experiences of “zooming” through the talks left me with a sense of hope seeing the concrete efforts in changing the field of education towards not simply a safe space for all students but a brave space where students can speak and act to create an environment of equitable participation. Particularly, as a gay Chinese-Canadian, the many talks led me down a journey of deep reflection of my own educational experiences, lending to the tensions of racial and sexual identity.
Adriana Oniță’s paper titled “Do you speak White?: Adolescent Spanish Heritage Language Learners in Alberta Explore and Resist Linguistic and Racial Hegemony through Art” struck a strong chord with how linguistic culture is portrayed in education: Erased and Silenced. Though not considered a heritage language, I understood the talk through the lens of second language linguistic culture and how cultural food and clothing was shamed by my peers in school. This experience lends well with a quote by Dr. Tate: “Why are you rocking the boat, just be nice, why are you an angry Black woman” in how we need to continue speaking out and not be silenced or have our experiences erased. As educators, this commitment towards action and advocacy as a theme arising from the conference needs to be realized to not only provide students the skills and space to be brave but also as supportive allies to not have marginalized students and adults do all the heavy lifting.
While many talks tugged on my racial identity and experiences, I was similarly pulled and empowered by the dialogue surrounding gender and sexual diversity in education. As an educator, I was encouraged to continue pushing the discussion on the support of gender and sexual diversity in classrooms. Particularly, through Drs. Malins and Whitty’s talk on LGBT children’s literature, hearing how the child wanted to stay in the car to avoid going into a restaurant due to his fear of harassment about wearing a dress rings too true with the fear for LGBTQ+ student as they navigate their educational spaces. This awareness of clothing, what we wear and how we look [to others] goes back to the same awareness for racially diverse students. This self-awareness and need to perform, not for ourselves but for others, highlights the need to engage in critical discussion surrounding equity, diversity, and inclusion in classroom and school spaces. Literature, then as Drs. Malins and Whitty mentioned, can be this window to open this discussion.
While reflecting on my identities as an educator and researcher, the last emerging theme that resonated with my own instruction is the increasing need to focus on supporting teachers and teacher candidates to equip them with the knowledge and skills needed to not simply foster effective teachers but to create a transformative space where students can inquire, exchange dialogue, and become advocates of their intersecting identities. Hearing Dr. Bergen’s talk on teacher candidates’ understanding of civic and anti-oppressive education, the narratives teacher candidates voiced highlighted similar barriers towards dismantling the curriculum and rebuilding an education of anti-oppression, anti-racism, equity, and justice: “what I am struggling with the most is the content not being connected back to education” – mentioned by a teacher candidate.
The experiences of the CSSE 2021 conference led me to feel elated and proud of the amazing work everyone has been doing and has done to progress education, particularly during these tough times. At the same time, as we learned in many discussions and dialogue with the presenters and attendees, there leaves much to be done for all students to feel empowered to learn and engage in their lives. Change not only for students but also for all teacher candidates, teachers, educators, and administrators. At each level, there are changes that can be made: policy, curriculum, leadership, training, and systems. Moving forward, I hope the conversation has progressed and education has moved forward to resolve the challenges we experience in the current times. It has been a delight listening to my fellow colleagues present such meaningful and relevant work in education. I hope to continue this conversation in 2022 where we can all “see” each other in person.
Until then, stay safe and proud.