Teachers get lesson in black history at specialized course

Teachers in southwestern Ontario got a lesson in black history Friday at historic Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Dresden, Ont. Thirty-five teachers attended a one-day, sold-out course on how to better teach black history in school.
Natasha Henry, an educator, historian, and curriculum consultant specializing in black history, taught a specialized course in Dresden, Ont., Friday. (Lisa Xing/CBC)

Teachers in southwestern Ontario got a lesson in black history Friday at historic Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Dresden, Ont.

Thirty-five teachers attended a one-day, sold-out course on how to better teach black history in school.

Natasha Henry, an educator, historian, and curriculum consultant specializing in black history, taught the course.

“We don’t want our students to just refer to names and dates, we really want them to think critically about the history, in terms of what do we understand about ourselves today and what kind of Canada do we want for the future,” Henry said.

“It demonstrates how blacks have continued to evolve and contribute to Canada. It debunks certain myths of African Canadian history and their presence in Canada,” Henry said.

She said one myth is that all blacks who arrived via the Underground Railroad left Canada after the Civil War. That’s not true, she said.

Several teachers told CBC that they have curriculum for black history on paper but don’t have ways to make it come alive.

That’s why Steven Cook, site manager and curator at Uncle Tom’s Cabin, said it was important to teach the course there.

“I think it’s important the teachers are here because they’re immersed in the history. It helps it come alive for them,” he said. “They really get a sense of the struggle the black population went through when they first arrived here in Canada. It’s really inspiring to them and we hope they take that inspiration with them back to the classroom.”

The Uncle Tom's Cabin Historic Site commemorates the life of Rev. Josiah Henson, who is recognized for his contributions to the abolition movement and his work in the Underground Railroad.

He rose to international fame after Harriet Beecher Stowe acknowledged his memoirs as a source for her anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

“He was born with nothing, grew up with nothing. The way he was treated was just awful on the plantations,” Cook said. “Yet, he still worked for the African Canadian race to help them better themselves, educate them and become better contributors to society.”

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