Volume two: negative space

Volume Two: Negative Space features stories submitted by Ontario students on how their race, ethnicity, nationality, or cultural identity shaped their experience in school. They reflect on what the status of public education is today, and what it should be. They discuss what concepts like equity and representation mean to them. Their stories are followed-up by policy recommendations for the Ministry of Education and school boards.

The title of Volume Two: Negative Space draws from the concept of negative space to respond to the idea that students of diverse cultural identities only exist as as an “other version” in relation to a default pupil, and that these students must shape and contour their identities to succeed in an exclusive, rather than inclusive, school environment. These concepts highlight the principled difference between modifying an education system built for a certain default student to accommodate students of diverse cultural backgrounds, as opposed to building a system that is inclusive for all to begin with.

Volume Two: Negative Space invited to students to reflect on how their race, ethnicity, nationality, and/or cultural identity have shaped their school experience. Unlike Volume One: Learning and Living during a Pandemic, the stories have been placed together at the front of this publication. We encourage you to read them all together to note their interconnectedness as well as the common and contrasting themes present between different submissions. Students have written thoughtful and articulate reflections on their own experiences, the change they want to see, and what concepts like equity and representation personally mean to them.

Schools—such crucial paths for children’s personal development and social mobility—should be spaces that do not replicate the racism and discrimination that exists in the world at-large. Rather, they should be spaces that actively work to dismantle systems such as racism, xenophobia, homophobia, ableism, and colonialism. Where schools should be the incubators nurturing the growth of children into empathetic, socially responsible adults, they are often instead environments that present additional social and structural barriers to students of colour and non-majority religious identities from accessing educational opportunity. As long as systemic inequality continues within our schools, more students will continue to be deprived of their right to a quality education and to participate fully in school. And as you will understand through the stories these students tell, the effects of their school experience continues to shape them for years on end.

Change cannot wait. The two million students in Ontario’s public education system cannot wait for change. There are myriad solutions that can be implemented, but the first thing to do is listen. Listen to students, and listen to our stories.

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