Educational Equality in Canada's Multiculturalism Essay

Pages: 8 (2862 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Race

Educational Equality in Canada

Canada's Multiculturalism and the Socially Disadvantaged Within the Educational System

In the last forty years, Canada has officially embraced the notion of multiculturalism as a policy pursued both by the government and the public. From its first inception in 1971, multiculturalism in Canada has evolved gradually, affecting the perception of Canadians themselves and their view of the world and has become an essential component of Canada's national identity. While Europeans are increasingly geared toward rejection of multiculturalism as a failed policy, Canada is committed to embracing it, including the public which is proud of Canada's ethnic and racial mosaic and views recent developments in Europe with dismay and bewilderment (Fieras & Elliot, 2010a). However, it is one thing to espouse a multicultural identity and quite another thing to pursue multiculturalism in a meaningful way, making sure that members of minority groups who have been traditionally disadvantaged in having access to the equality of opportunity in social affairs are treated with equity. For example, in the educational sphere, many barriers and biases directed against racial and ethnic minorities, whether immigrants and their children or Canada's aboriginal peoples, are still in place. If Canada is genuinely committed to multiculturalism and equity, then the country needs to work on removing the barriers and biases in school systems to ensure that members of all social groups have equal access to educational opportunities. The purpose of this paper is to critically evaluate Canada's multiculturalism and its role in education for the socially disadvantaged, and offer meaningful strategies for achieving social justice for all members of Canadian society.

Is Canada a multicultural society? If yes, to what extent? Has there been real progress in Canada's inclusiveness of minority groups? To answer this question, it is important to define minimal requirements of a multicultural society. Fieras and Elliot (2010a) point out that a multicultural society needs to have the following attributes. Firstly, the society views differences as an asset and opportunity rather than a problem to be solved. Secondly, the society duly acknowledges the contributions of minority groups to society-building. Thirdly, there are institutionalized programs and policies in place that ensure the inclusion of differences. Fourthly, "governments not only endorse difference as part of the national identity, but also take an active role in facilitating the integration of migrants and minorities into society"; and, finally, "sufficient resources are available for putting difference ideals into daily practice" (p. 291). Evaluating Canada's multicultural policy through these attributes helps us see the reality and practice as opposed to policy.

Until 1960s and 1970s, Canada mostly pursued a monocultural policy, trying to assimilate Aboriginal peoples and immigrant minority groups into the mainstream, i.e. Euro-Canadian white culture. However, since then Canada has made great strides in its multiculturalism policy, gradually supplanting the monocultural framework. The government, in particular, has initiated programs to assist in the settlement and integration of migrant groups, meanwhile educating the general public about the benefits of building a pluralistic society. The urban centers such as Toronto and Vancouver today are one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, while the notion of multiculturalism has been entrenched in the constitutional level. "Canada's official Multiculturalism has served admirably as a conflict management device for defusing intergroup tensions," Fieras and Elliot (2010a) explain, "by promulgating the once unthinkable ideas that people have multiple and complementary identities, that cultures are never fixed but evolving, that equitable outcomes can be achieved without denying cultural differences, and that culturally diverse people can coexist without conflict provided an overarching vision prevails" (p. 282). It is safe to say that official policy of multiculturalism has been in place in Canada in the last forty years.

Yet there are limitations of multiculturalism as manifested in growing public displeasure vis-a-vis immigrants and the promotion of their cultures that often -- at least, in the eyes of the public -- clash with core culture of the Canadian society. Inability of the Canadian society to fully value the difference is also manifested regularly through social venues such as media and education. Media in Canada has consistently dismissed alternative perspectives as irrelevant or inferior and has presented minority realities through the perspective of Euro-Canadian white society. Minority interests as a result have been minimized, while majority interests have been prioritized. Fieras and Elliot (2010b) explain: "Public discourses are generated in which certain persons or objects are 'normalized' as acceptable and desirable, whereas others are demonized or marginalized. And although media do not necessarily set out to control, the cumulative impact of negative images and messages has had a controlling effect through unflattering portrayals" (p. 326). Media portrayals of minority groups have normalized their invisibility while problematizing their visibility. In other words, minority groups are heavily underrepresented in media coverage, programming, or staffing or their presence is usually associated with problems that need to be addressed. Media views minority groups with a set of positive or negative stereotypes (e.g. Muslims usually associated with terrorism and tyranny) or their history is presented from the perspective of Euro-Canadians (e.g. Aboriginal history begins with the arrival of white colonists).

In the educational sphere, Canada in the past pursued a monocultural education through aggressive assimiliationist approach, which Fieras and Elliot (2010b) say is not surprising since Canada "was historically seen as a local outpost for British cultural expansion, with its goal to assimilate both the indigenes and immigrants into the colonial hierarchy of cultural power" (p. 334). But the policies have changed, reflecting the changing attitudes of the Canadian government and the public as well as changing demographics. The number of minority and immigrant students in public, elementary, and secondary schools is estimated to be 20% and is projected to reach a numerical majority by 2017. And while the openly stated assimilationist policies have been lately abandoned, "assimilation remains an unspoken but powerful ethos at all schooling levels . . . through the logical (or systemic) consequences of a racialized schooling system" (Fieras & Elliot, 2010b, p. 335). Invisible barriers and biases targeting racial and ethnic minorities still exist, making it hard for members of these disadvantaged groups to get good quality education, which in turn will affect their place in the mainstream society.

No where has Canada's discriminatory policy been more explicit than it has in treating Canada's Aboriginal peoples. From its first inception by colonial administrators and missionary groups in the seventeenth century to the modern institutionalization in 1880s and their gradual phasing out in the post-Civil Rights era, residential schools for native Canadians have subjected them to systematic abuse, mistreatment, and cultural genocide. The residential schools were run by religious authorities or government-appointed officials who denigrated native cultures, while forcing native children to embrace Euro-Canadian white identity without being able to become fully 'white' ever. One of the most abusive practices was the forceful removal of native children from their families and indoctrinating them in residential schools. This practice inflicted innumerable suffering and pain on Aboriginal Canadians and disrupted the social order of their societies. The extent of how damaging this practice was to the children removed from their families and indoctrinated in residential schools was reflected in the experience of a native woman who attended Kamploops School. While graduating from the school, she thought she "would never go back" to her reserve or home because it "just seemed like education meant that you were going to go to work in the city." But as Millar (1996a) explains, "schooling left her not wanting to return to living and working as her own people did, but did not provide her with the skills she needed to succeed immediately in the mainstream workaday world" (p. 387). In addition to disrupting native social organizations, residential schools effectively made native children out of place.

When the horrors of residential schools were exposed in 1980s and 1990s, many Canadians assumed that the abuses in residential schools were the work of school and church officials, their incompetence, and lack of funds and resources to accommodate the needs of native children. As Millar (1996b) argues, however, the root of the problem was the notion that Euro-Canadians were racially superior to the Aboriginal peoples and therefore knew better what was best for the latter. Moreover, Millar argues, that kind of "we-know-best-what's-good-for-you attitude is still alive and kicking." For instance, during the Oka crisis of 1990, the minister of Indian Affairs lectured a group of Aboriginal leaders in Ottawa how their people should have behaved when they resisted cultural assimilation. In another case involving native children at Davis Inlet, Ottawa, who have been abused, the province's premier responded to the request by a native chief to relocate the children by saying that he knew better than the chief where the children needed to be relocated. And in a case involving Indian bands in Saskatchewan who wanted to establish gambling casinos on their reserves in 1993, insisting that it was necessary for the development of their economy, the minister of finance rebuffed their request by saying that… [END OF PREVIEW]

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