Grade 11 English course with focus on Indigenous voices to become mandatory in London region
The course is already a requirement for students in many school boards in the province
The region's largest school board will make a Grade 11 English course that focuses on Inuit, Metis and First Nations authors mandatory for high schoolers after a push from the Indigenous student trustee.
The course is already compulsory at Toronto, York and Durham school boards; It's been mandatory since 2017 at the Lambton-Kent School Board.
"We don't have education about my people and our issues," said Lyzee Ninham, a Grade 12 student at Laurier Secondary School and the Thames Valley District School Board's Indigenous student trustee.
"I like that the course is contemporary and that it also reflects how things that happened historically have changed the way that we are viewed today."
Ninham is from Oneida Nation of the Thames. Trustees voted earlier this week to make the course mandatory as of the 2024/2025 school year after Ninham pitched the idea. There will be professional development for teachers who want to teach the course.
All Grade 11 students already have to take English; the learning areas are the same as other English courses, but the focus shifts to a range of Indigenous literary, oral, media and cultural texts.
Increasing Indigenous voices
The course is already offered at some high schools in the region as one of the Grade 11 English courses that students can take. It's called Understanding Contemporary First Nations, Metis and Inuit Voices.
"I think it's an important course," said Leanne Gill, an English teacher and librarian at Laurier Secondary School who taught the course for the first time this year.
"I approach is as if I am learning right along with the students, because I am," she said. "I'm teaching things that I was never taught in school, so I am very open about the fact that I had to do much learning myself before I taught it to them. We discover lots of things together."
Gill is not Indigenous, and wasn't taught Indigenous works as a student.
"I know I was taught an incorrect version of history, full of omissions. We have to fix the mistakes of the past. We know there are a lot of myths out there, and a lot of really good literature that's being ignored, so if it becomes a mandatory course then we can ensure that students move into their adult years having a corrected version of history," she said.
"If students know the truth and we can combat the misinformation and the myths, then we have a lot more people who are willing to do the tough work of reconciliation and decolonization."
The mandatory Grade 11 course now focuses on multicultural authors and Shakespeare's Macbeth.
In her course this year, Gill's students studied poetry by Mi'kmaq poet Rita Joe, Tuscarora writer from Six Nations of the Grand River Alicia Elliott, Anishinaabe writer Waubgeshig Rice and many others.
For Ninham, who sat in on some of Gill's classes but didn't take the course because she is already in Grade 12, hearing from contemporary Indigenous authors was refreshing.
"I enjoyed Macbeth, but at the same time, it didn't match the problems that we face today, and it didn't match the experiences of anyone in the classroom. No one could relate with the text," she said. "It makes it hard to study something when no one is making points to relate to it."