Decolonizing Education
By Emma Mendez
and Sorcha Joseph

Q: Tell us about your project!

Emma: My group's project "Decolonizing Education" was born out of our frustration with the education system and curriculum, particularly the province's high school curriculum. In the initial discussions we had as a group we talked a lot about how we felt that the curriculum failed us. We shared stories of racist, ableist, and homophobic incidents from peers, teachers, as well as how those hateful and colonial ways of thinking were taught to us through the schooling we received. We came to the conclusion that we needed to focus our Youth Justice Lab project on imagining a future where our high school curriculum was as least colonial as possible. Eventually, we decided to create a pitch/outline for a guidebook on how teachers and those in power who shape the curriculum could address mental health, Indigenous rights, issues, and harmful lived experiences, LGBTQ+ issues (such as non-heteronormative sex-ed, pronouns, etc.), disability rights, etc. 

Sorcha: Our group, composed of myself, Emma Mendez, and Franny Hefflefinger focused our project around decolonizing the education system. We called our project Decolonizing Education, a written proposal concerning the state of cultural identity immersion among the primary and secondary school systems with respect to diverse and historically marginalized identities. Our idea was that we wanted to create a guidebook on how to do just that, it would include topics like implementing K-12 curriculum and resources on Aboriginal people in Canada and the history of residential schools, helping students that are LGBTQ2S+ have equal sex-ed opportunities, and providing safe spaces, and tackling the stigma around mental health and also providing safe environments for people that struggle with their mental health. This project is important to me because I believe that no matter who you are, you deserve to have a safe space to learn, and have the proper resources, and have safe spaces to do so.

Q: What are your hopes/aspirations for this project moving forward? How would you like your project to grow?

Sorcha: I would like to make our project a reality in the near future. Our original idea would be to create a guidebook with chapters on all of the subjects I have listed above. Then we would reach out to educators, students, The Ministry of Education, The B.C. Teachers Federation, and finally sending a letter to the Minister of Education, Hon. Rob Fleming.

Q: How have folks responded to your project? What impact has it had on them?

Emma: When we presented it, community members loved it! They were super supportive and wanted to help bring it to life. I think many older adults who watched our presentation felt really hopeful and inspired at seeing our passion and ambition for tangible long-term change. 

Q: How has the making of your project impacted you/your group?

Emma: For me, this project was a catalyst. I feel as if co-creating it showed me that community support with social justice projects did exist around me, but also that there were other youth who WANTED real change as much as I did and were willing to work to make it happen. My experience co-creating this project as well as in the Youth Justice Lab overall led my teammate Sorcha and I to create NSRJ Youth (YAC) alongside other Youth Justice Lab alumni. Not only have we created an incredible community and space, but we have been welcomed into the NSRJ community with open arms, and I think that means a lot to us. 

Sorcha: Spending the time working on this project really opened my eyes to all the problems our current education system has. There is so much missing and I know that I would like to continue spreading awareness on this issue.

Click here to learn more about Emma and Sorcha's project.