A Vancouver School Board trustee has put forth a motion that Canadian province British Columbia changes the high school curriculum to include content on the contributions and discrimination experienced by early Chinese settlers.
Speaking Tuesday at a press conference, themed "Mobilize together for a responsible view of Chinese-Canadian history," VSB trustee Sophia Woo outlined her motion proposing a new history curriculum be created for students in grades 10 and 11.
The Hong Kong immigrant said the western province's current curriculum only teaches Canadian history from 1815 to 1914, largely covering its European settlement.
She would like to see it extended through to World War II, and include the discriminatory head tax in force from 1885 to 1923, when Chinese people were the only minority charged to enter Canada. She also proposed the curriculum cover the exclusion act, in force from 1923 to 1947, that cut off all Chinese immigration to the country, among other topics.
"Yes, there was discrimination in the past, but it happened in the colonial world so how can we look at things from different angles?" she said.
"What we want is for kids to have critical thinking, look more at the context, to look at things that happened 100 years ago when the world's values were different."
Woo's aim is for the school system to have such a curriculum in place for the start of the school year in September 2015.
Currently, the British Columbia government is holding public meetings around the province about the proposed language of an upcoming apology to the Chinese-Canadian community for historical wrongs. The apology involves an educational element to teach local students about the discrimination that existed towards Chinese in the province's early years.
"We need to draft a curriculum from various experts in education, and also experts in early Chinese-Canadian history, early settlement history, so we can make the curriculum more interesting, more lively and teachers are more motivated to learn and teach," Woo said.
"We need to have the curriculum first and then propose it to the provincial government, or do it more like a pilot project and then expand."
Dr. Paul Crowe, an associate professor specializing in Chinese intellectual history at the Vancouver-based Simon Fraser University, said there's evidence that Chinese people settled on Canada's west coast as far back as 1788 -- before the country's founding.
"How long do people have to be here before they are considered to be founding and helping with the building of the country?" asked Crowe, himself a British immigrant, and noted such education would be beneficial for students going on to post-secondary studies.
"When young people, 18, 19, 20, show up at university you can take the conversation further faster because they already have a sense of perspective on Canada's history that may be less clear right now."
Like Crowe, Dr. Henry Yu has been instrumental in the creation of educational tools documenting the experience of early Chinese settlers in Canada.
The University of British Columbia professor, who specializes in the study of trans-Pacific migration and settlement, said for any education at high school level to be effective, any curriculum developed needs to go deeper than the Chinese community's contribution to building the country's railroad or participating in the Gold Rush.
"Our teaching of history must reflect the true story about how our current society overcame racism against Chinese through the struggle of Chinese Canadians and others who fought against discrimination and injustice in order to create the more just society in which we now live," Yu said.
"All our children ... should proudly know how Chinese Canadians and others who recognized the inequality of their treatment forced Canada to live up to its ideals, and that the history of Chinese Canadians is not limited to the racism and anti-Chinese laws passed against them, but is full of other stories of what they did to help build a better country for all of us."
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