“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”
It’s well known that hate speech, derogatory remarks, and racial slurs can cause irreparable harm. Despite a massive push for tolerance over the past several decades, there is still a long way to go before discrimination and racism could be considered eradicated.
“We’ve made some really great progress but we’ve got a long way to go,” said Kelsey Carlson, a Sardis secondary student.
So she has devised a plan that could help stamp out discrimination at a quicker rate. She’s written a heartfelt petition and posted it on change.org, asking the province to add a unit on discrimination to Planning 10. The course already covers some basic life skills, and is a requirement for Grade 12 graduation.
To Carlson, the course seems like the perfect place for change.
She’s hoping to get the attention of the minister of education, Peter Fassbender, through both her online petition and an accompanying letter-writing campaign. And her plan is gaining momentum; the B.C. Teachers Federation published her petition in their publication, the BCTF Social Justice Newsletter, alongside a list of units that teachers can choose to work into their classrooms.
“As a student of the public school system for the past 13 years, I have noticed a deplorable and ignominious habit of discrimination and prejudice among my fellow students,” she wrote. “This discrimination usually takes the form of slurs or other forms of verbal abuse, and is targeted towards individuals who are marginalized by their ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, income level, level of physical and cognitive ability, and/or mental illness.”
So far, 225 people have signed and left comments encouraging Carlson to continue her work.
It wouldn’t be the first time Planning 10 was fine-tuned. The course was first used as as pilot project at nine secondary schools in 2003. A B.C.-wide curriculum was finalized and put into use the following year, then updated the last time in 2007.
There are four prescribed learning outcomes for the course, which are graduation program, education and careers, health and finances. Under the health outcome are the topics healthy living, health information, healthy relationships and health decisions.
Under healthy relationships, the PLO for the course aims to include tips on “safe and caring schools, preventing and responding to harassment and intimidation, and promoting diversity.”
Carlson hopes the focus on Planning 10 could shift more in that direction and away from some of the career prep that most students have tackled by that point in their lives.
She came up with the idea in November, after taking part in a community-wide discussion led by the school board concerning the future of education in Chilliwack.
“If there were one course you’d like to teach,” the discussion facilitator asked, “what would it be?”
“That got me thinking,” she said. “We do have a Social Justice 12 course, but it’s an elective so if you’ve signed up for it, (teachers) are mostly just preaching to the choir.”
But if discrimination awareness were a mandatory part of the curriculum, she said, there would naturally be a big push toward greater acceptance of diversity.
She hasn’t heard any feedback from Fassbender yet, but she’s received plenty of support from people across the province who’ve signed the petition.
“This is such a relevant topic,” writes Emily Arnold from Surrey. “Not enough people are being taught about how harmful their words can be. I’ve seen verbal abuse escalate to the point of suicide attempts from people I care about. Unfortunately the school system isn’t doing enough to help minority students and students with mental health issues.”
And from Debra Nelson in North Vancouver: “Anything that can help cultivate tolerance is a move in the right direction. Ignorance has ruled for too long.”
Katherine Desormeaux wrote, “As a teacher and a believer in the initiative started by Martin Luther King J. I feel that this is valuable lesson that should be taught to all Canadians when they are still at an age where their beliefs can be influenced in a positive direction.”
The positive comments go on and on, and serve as encouragements to Carlson when she checks in online. While she doesn’t identify as being a visible minority susceptible to discrimination, she was bullied in middle school and knows what it’s like to be singled out.
It’s that experience, she said, that opened her eyes to the plights of others. Perhaps if more students were made aware of how their comments are perceived, even those made as a joke, a simple lesson in tolerance could change their behavior.
“To know better is to do better,” she said, a sentiment she herself learned from her mother.
She’s asking that anyone who supports her petition gets online and signs it, and uses social media in a positive way to share the link.