Welcome to Day 2 of Guest post week. Today’s guest-blogger is Vicky Loras, who first came to YHB’s attention when she contributed to the culture debate here a month or so ago.
My name is Vicky Loras and I am an English Teacher, born in Toronto, Canada. For ten years, my sisters and I co-owned an English School in Greece, The Loras English Academy, but I have now moved with my eldest sister to Switzerland, where I work as an English Teacher. I believe in teaching as an ongoing learning process, both for the benefit of the students and the teacher. One of my primary educational interests is celebrating diversity and multiculturalism in the classroom.
Canadian Education: Salad Bowl or Melting Pot?
It is a snowy morning in Toronto, Canada and all the kids are in the school yard for assembly before going into their classrooms to begin the day. All of them are singing the Canadian national anthem. The principal makes the announcements for the day and all the kids file into their classes, laughing and looking forward to a new day.
This was a typical school day of my childhood, growing up in Canada. I remember all the different faces of the children and the teachers. Each one with their own, unique characteristics. My best friends in school were Hungarian-Canadian and Portuguese-Canadian. I am Greek-Canadian.
One would notice that we all have a different first compound in our nationalities (Hungarian, Portuguese, Greek) and the same second compound (Canadian). And that is what I say when someone asks me where I am from – I cannot separate them. They are both characteristics of my make-up as a person.
Every day in school our lessons were interesting and exciting and one way or another, multiculturalism found its way into them. When it was story-time reading, it was not just Little Red Riding Hood or Hansel and Gretel; Ruby Bridges came into our lives, the little girl who was not allowed to go to school in the United States of the 1960s because she was African-American. Little Two Feet, a Native American boy who wanted to go and find a horse on his own when he had to do it as a rite of passage, was also one of the stories we were read to or could easily find in the library.
For show-and-tell we would be encouraged not only to bring in our new doll or toy car to show the rest of the class, or do a new dance or sing; we were told once in a while that it would be nice for everyone to share something about their second country.
I remember once saying the Greek alphabet out loud to class, or a Greek poem, or song. One of my classmates came into class in a sari and showed us the beautiful fabric and the meaning it has for Indian people. One boy brought in souvenirs from Trinidad and Tobago. Another told us about traditions and customs of their country.
For us, at such a young age, it was something magical, as we learned about how people lived in other countries and we were drawn to how different we all were. At the same time, we were learning how to celebrate this diversity and that it is what makes humans so wonderful, each in their own way. In any case, we came into contact with real facts of life.
In addition, we also learned to respect our own origins and the new identity, that of a Canadian, which would both co-exist and comprise a dual identity for all of us. That was the meaning of the Canadian national anthem: something that brought all children and teachers together early in the morning and served as a kind of bonding, but we were never to forget our parents’ or grandparents’ origins either. We were told never to forget where we came from and that Canada welcomed everyone no matter where they were from. This is a fact, as Canada has one of the most diverse populations in the world, which manage to live together harmoniously.
This has accompanied me to this day. I am very fortunate to have been educated in this system for my first school years. I always try to have my students’ think about multiculturalism and diversity and I bring them in stories or facts from all over the world to get them thinking about how to show acceptance to all people no matter what their country of origin is, skin color, religion or belief, or sexuality.
The most encouraging thing is that children, even very young ones, are very open to this kind of thinking and just need someone to show them what diversity is and how wonderful it is. The first people to introduce them to diversity after the parents should be the educators. It is the educators’ responsibility not only to transfer knowledge but also to introduce students to values. It is my belief that giving students a humanitarian knowledge is the first priority.
Vicky blogs at vickyloras.wordpress.com/