Written for Daily Hive by Michael Taylor, the head of the Social Studies Department at Hugh Boyd Secondary in Richmond, BC. Taylor penned this editorial after the publication of a Vancouver Sun opinion piece that called ethnic diversity harmful.
While it is easy to get bogged down by everyday news and the challenges associated with living in an urban setting, it is important to pause and take stock of the uniquely Vancouver attributes that positively define us.
Among said attributes is our diversity. As residents of Metro Vancouver, we are exposed to ethnic diversity every day, yet we often fail to recognize just how nationally and globally distinct this is, as well as the underlying strength that it implies.
Moreover, our city’s most unique and unheralded feature is the diversity in our schools. The underlying climate of acceptance and respect toward different cultures and ethnic backgrounds is s0 interwoven into the tapestry of schools in Greater Vancouver that it has become a matter of course for students and staff.
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Having worked in the West Vancouver School District and currently at Hugh Boyd Secondary in Richmond, I have witnessed this diversity first-hand. Each day I am heartened to see students enjoying each others’ presence without giving the ethnicity of their schoolmates a second thought.
Last season on the school soccer team, I was amazed to see how quickly international students from Brazil, Korea, and Mexico quickly integrated and were welcomed by other students on the pitch, inside the classroom, and in the hallways—the result of a pervading culture of acceptance.
We often take for granted this level of inclusion and integration, despite its elusiveness to most of the world. In recent conversations with visiting teachers from Finland and Sweden, the overriding sentiment expressed is one of wonder and appreciation at how effortlessly our student body flourishes among and welcomes ethnic difference.
In many ways, our city is a global leader in an experiment that proves that students can and do thrive through multicultural experience.
Exposing our youth to diversity is not just a means of promoting a more tolerant society. Familiarity and understanding of cultural differences is a professional asset — essential to thriving in an economically interdependent world where international trade is a common occurrence.
Certainly, incidences of racism occur in Vancouver, and undercurrents of stereotyping, prejudice and anti-immigration sentiments continue to persist. Nevertheless, as a teacher, I am buoyed by a sense of optimism and a firm belief that racial undertones will diminish over time as the students we teach today step into adulthood and begin to make their mark on our city.
With the emergence of courses like Social Justice now taught in most of our high schools, and the theme of social responsibility deeply embedded in our elementary schools, students are explicitly learning the values of inclusion and diversity, as well as developing a meaningful understanding of racial, ethnic, and gender issues. They are also learning to work together harmoniously and developing ethnic and cultural understanding in the process.
As Canadians, we are taught to be humble and not boast about our achievements. But, when it comes to the diversity in our schools, we have good reason to be proud and to promote globally what is a distinctly Vancouver strength.