A Rocky Start
for BCTF’s Antiracism Program
Racist taunts, textbook bias, widespread neglect of First Nations students, and teachers ill-prepared to deal with the increasing diversity of the student population were the examples cited by Surrey teacher Lloyd Edwards at the 1975 AGM. Delegates called upon the Federation to take action. We struck a task force to engage classroom teachers in finding solutions. I was assigned to work with this task force. Our first project was to create a visual presentation on racism in BC, which gave a stark picture of BC's shameful history. It called on teachers to join with students in finding a positive path forward.
Incredibly, the visual presentation was met with hostility by the Surrey School Board and the BC School Trustees Association. In fact, the Surrey School Board banned its use in schools, arguing that “to talk about racism creates racist practices.” Ironically this led to widespread support for the presentation and its message. In fact, the Federation couldn't keep up with requests for its showing. The media in BC and across the country had a field day with the issue. We probably couldn't have orchestrated a better beginning for the Antiracism Program.
In reflecting on the Antiracism Program within the BCTF, I have tremendous admiration for teachers' determination to make our schools better places for all students. Teachers are undoubtedly proud of their efforts and for the opportunity the Federation has given them to speak out about a problem of immense significance. Imagine what it would be like to work in an environment that turns a blind eye to racist practices. Of course, we didn't always win the day with our Antiracism Programs but we didn't give up either.
When the BCTF launched a program to combat racism in our public schools, it was moving into new territory for a teachers' organization. Looking back some 40 years to the start of the Antiracism Program, we have set in motion many positive attitudes and strategies to tackle racism when it surfaces. Clearly our job is far from over but I'm very optimistic that the strategies now in place will help us reduce the devastating effects of racism.
By Wes Knapp, retired BCTF staff.
Reprinted from Teacher magazine,Volume 29, Number 2, January/February 2017.