Japanese Canadian Legacies – Education
Education is a key pillar of Japanese Canadian Legacies, with $500,000 allocated. A Teacher Education Committee has been created with a core advisory committee made up of Masako Fukawa, Greg Miyanaga, Vivian Wakabayashi Rygnestad, and Connie Kadota, all working or retired educators. The Teacher Education Project Director is Mike Perry-Whittingham, District Administrator with the Richmond School District. The three-year project consists of two key components: development of a Japanese Canadian History Learning Portal, and the creation of a Digital Course for Teacher Training. A teacher recruitment callout was posted last month. I spoke to Mas, Greg and Mike, Connie and Vivian via email.
Tell me about yourselves, as it relates to this strand of the Japanese Canadian Legacies.
Mas I worked in education as a classroom teacher and administrator for 30 years in Nanaimo, and also taught at two colleges in Tokyo. I was seconded to the Ministry of Education as Coordinator for Languages and Multicultural programs and subsequently as Acting Director of National and International Education. “Head-hunted” by Malaspina University College to develop and implement a BC high school program for international students, including recruitment overseas, I served as its Founding Principal.
In retirement I’ve served on the external evaluation team of Independent Schools in BC and developed teaching kits and guides for the Japanese Canadian National Museum and the Richmond Museum and Heritage Services, and published numerous articles and books
Regarding my lived experience, in 1942 our family was separated, with father sent to a road camp, and mother, my brother and I to the ghost town of Greenwood. To prevent being separated, my paternal grandparents and an uncle and his family relocated to Emerson Manitoba to work on the sugar beet farms.
Some experiences are etched in one’s memory and how I learned about the internment is one of those unforgettable moments. I was a third-year student at UBC when we were assigned essay topics in English class. One of the subjects was on the internment of Japanese Canadians. This was the first time that I was introduced to anything “Japanese Canadian” much less “the internment.”
Greg I have taught for over 30 years, all in the Coquitlam school district, grades 2 to7. It was when I was teaching grade 5 that I started including Japanese Canadian history.
Mike I am in my 31st year of teaching and administration with the Richmond School District. I spent 17 years as a social studies, history and law teacher at HJ Cambie Secondary before moving to a Vice Principalship for 10 years, and the past five years as a District Administrator. Throughout my years in the classroom and as an administrator I have authored, co-authored and supported the development of significant curriculum resources for educators in BC. I was one of several co-authors of the first major teaching resource in BC dedicated to teaching about the internment of Japanese Canadians, Interment and Redress: The Japanese Canadian Experience (2002). From 2014-2021 I co-chaired the Teacher Resource Cluster for Landscapes of Injustice where I led and co-authored a new digital resourced dedicated to teaching about Dispossession. Most recently I was contracted by the JCLS to lead the development of a digital learning hub dedicated to all aspects of Japanese Canadian history.
Connie I learned about my family’s history mainly through my Kadota grandfather and in conjunction with working on a photographic exhibit with the Asian Canadian Coalition (ACC) while at UBC in the early 70s. I went to live in Japan after graduating because i wanted to learn to speak Japanese so I could talk more to my grandfather. He was a great storyteller but had spoken mainly in Japanese to family, which I didn’t understand at all as a child. While I had had no intentions of becoming a teacher, I discovered that I loved teaching when I taught English in Japan.
Also, while in the ACC and learning about my family and community histories, I discovered the importance of documenting that history, as I had not learned it in the school system while growing up in the 50s and 60s. I also discovered that I loved photography and learned some of the basics at that time. Besides the photo exhibit the ACC mounted at UBC in 1972, I later got involved in other photographic projects such as the Dream of Riches, in 1976 and 77, and putting together a slide tape show (Images of the First Hundred Years) with Lucy Komori and other sansei, in 1977 for the first Powell Street Festival. Those three projects were all about the history of Japanese Canadians. Since my retirement, Lucy and I have also worked on other projects focussed on helping others in the JC community to share and document their histories e.g. workshops at Nikkei Place such as Tsunagu in 2020, and tsunagu.ca, the blog of JC stories collected in 2021.
Although I have mostly taught younger children at the primary level, I have always sought to have students learn about the diversity of Canada’s peoples, cultures and histories. I feel that students at every Ievel are able to learn about these histories, adjusted to their level of understanding, no matter how difficult the issue. I also got involved in anti-racism work while teaching in Vancouver, to get a Race Relations Policy on the books, to deal with racism in the schools.
In terms of being a Japanese Canadian teacher, I have also felt it’s important to have BIPOC teachers, of various backgrounds, to be role models for the diverse populations of students in our school system.
Vivian I was a teacher in Surrey for almost 30 years and then an administrator for another ten years. I’ve worked at both UBC and SFU as an advisor to student teachers and served on professional development committees at school and district levels throughout my teaching career. I was among the first teachers to work on multiculturalism initiatives and as a presenter throughout BC for the BCTF. As one of a group of five principals through the BCPVPA I helped develop the first set of professional standards for principals and vice principals in BC.
In terms of work within the Japanese Canadian community, I as chair of advisory Community Council to the Landscapes of Injustice research project from 2014 to 2021 and continue to be active in offshoot projects connected to LoI. I’ve long been actively interested in and working on legacies of internment both on an individual and community level. I’m an active member of the The Pacific Canada Heritage Centre – Museum of Migration group and a member of Hastings Park Interpretive Centre committee.
How did your family history impact your decision to go into education?
Vivian When I joined the Redress movement, meeting at Roy Miki’s house), I realized that most were sansei like me and all about the same age. We realized that our parents had told us many times from when we were very young that “we need to prove we’re good Canadians”. How were we to do that? “Get a good education and be of service to your community”. In those days the usual post-secondary options were nursing or education/teaching.
My parents constantly encouraged and supported my education. In Kamloops, Thomas Shoyama’s father had a bakery. Most Saturdays I’d go there with my father to buy bread. If Thomas was in town he would be brought out to talk to me about studying at “university”. I remember being in awe of him and his accomplishments even if I didn’t always understand what they meant.
My parents worked tirelessly in community service and I can remember when my father was given an award (I have the certificate) for “unfailing community service to the village of North Kamloops”. That was in 1955. He was also elected School Trustee for the Kamloops school district in 1957.
How has your upbringing affected your approach to teaching?
Vivian A teacher’s way of teaching is reflective of the teacher and his/her personality and way of interacting in the world. Growing up, I learned and often use the thinking of “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” and “it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it”. I like to think it worked for me in education and in my personal life.
I’ve had many years/decades as an teacher/principal and as a workshop presenter/facilitator in areas of professional development/growth. I’ve been fortunate to travel around our province in presenting to groups of school districts, VP/Principals, and teachers. I’ve been often told that I have a knack of presenting tough messages to students/adults alike in a way that is respectful and guides thinking. I think this is from years of experience as a teacher.
Given the fact that many families were reluctant to talk about their wartime experience, it’s somewhat ironic that there is this push to share the history now only with students, but the population at large.
Mas When I asked my parents about their silence, their response took me aback. I paraphrase: “We didn’t want the children to grow up bitter over events that could not be controlled. We wanted to protect you.” My fellow JC students at UBC were either just as ignorant as I was or did not want to discuss it. Stan was the exception. He shared with me the CBC interviews he had taped. Japanese Canadian history became a lifelong interest we shared.
I believe in Canada’s aspiration to become a truly multicultural society. For many years, “multicultural” meant the sharing of what is different from the majority culture – Japanese food, kimono, odori, the Japanese language. The focus was on our “Japanese” identity. The centennial of the first Japanese to immigrate to Canada in 1977 brought to the fore our dual identity of Japanese and Canadian. Redress in the 1980s brought, in my opinion, a shift to our “Canadian-ness.” The acknowledgement, apology and compensation for injustices recognized that they were perpetrated on its own native-born citizens and residents of Canada with Japanese heritage.
Fast forward to 2000. The Ministry of Education had initiated and funded the development of a resource guide for teachers to support aspects of senior social studies curriculum – that is the holocaust in Europe and the war in the Asia Pacific 1931-1945. My submission for a grant to develop teacher/student resources for the teaching of the internment and redress of Japanese Canadians was rejected. I questioned the Ministry’s unwillingness to support the teaching of injustices committed in Canada to its own citizens. At the same time, I enlisted the support of JC organizations and they signed letters of support for the project. Funding was approved. I served as the project director and two teams of teachers were organized. Developers for the secondary resource were Rick Beardsley, Bruce Kiloh, Richard Per, Jane Turner and Mike Whittingham. The elementary team was made up of Greg Miyanaga, Susan Nishi and Patricia Tanaka. Stanley Fukawa, Mary Kitagawa and Tosh Kitagawa served as community representatives.
Greg, what prompted you to get involved in creating resources for teaching Japanese Canadian history?
Greg I met Mas in the early 2000s when a mutual friend, Pat Tanaka, told me about this project Mas was developing. Mas, with a team of educators including Rick Beardsley and Mike were working on a series of high school lessons to teach about Japanese Canadian internment. Mas, being a visionary, wanted there to be some introductory internment lessons at the elementary level, which is why Pat and I were brought in.
Despite (or maybe because of) my family background, I did not know that much about what happened to Japanese Canadians during internment. I did not learn about it in school, and despite being forced out of BC, my family did not talk about it that much. (I found out later that Japanese Canadian families not talking about internment was common; I met a Japanese Canadian teacher in Ontario who only learned that her father was interned when she saw his picture in a text she was using with her class!)
In the early days of the project, I would meet in her basement in Burnaby. We would drink tea and eat yummy meals her husband Stan would get, and they gave me a crash course in Japanese Canadian history. We developed some engaging lessons targeted at the grade 5 level. Mas had them published and they were sent to every elementary school in BC. The lessons were really well-received. You can still find those original lessons at japanesecanadianhistory.net
Fast forward to 2013 when Mas invited Mike and I to be involved in the massive Landscapes of Injustice project. This multi-year, multi-institution, and multi-million dollar scholarly project was the brainchild of Dr. Jordan Stanger-Ross. His history project uncovered the story of the dispossession of Japanese Canadians, and was so broad as to include community involvement, a museum exhibit, an archival database that could be accessed by the public, oral histories, and teacher resources. Mike led the secondary school team and I led the elementary team, and we developed rich interactive lessons that would teach students about Japanese Canadian dispossession within the broader context of internment. The lessons can be found at loi.uvic.ca/secondary/ and loi.uvic.ca/elementary.
Japanese Canadian History Learning Portal
• Multidimensional and multi-facetted
• It will include a Teacher Education course
• It will marry many existing quality teaching resources (eg. Tashme, Hastings Park 1942, LOI) with new resources
• It will add and build upon the foundational resources with new resources and supplemental activities (eg. Exile, Trans-national Nikkei experiences)
• It will have a communication tool to engage teachers in upcoming events, field experiences and opportunities at NNM or at JC heritage sites
Digital Course for Teacher Training
There are two components
• Learning about Japanese Canadian history in detail. These will be built in modules and cover a vast scope of the JC experience, not just internment.
• Incorporating pedagogies of trauma, social injustice and sensitivity to difficult conversations to strengthen how we teach these lessons.
Mike, you’re not Japanese Canadian, but you have been heavily involved in Landscapes of Injustice and in creating curriculum resources. Your thesis is titled “Remembering the Holocaust: teachers’ narrative choices and students’ historical thinking,” so you clearly have a focus on persecuted communities. Where did this interest come from?
Mike From very early in my career I felt the need to educate my students about historical injustice. I felt that school textbooks were far too biased and slanted toward telling the story of Canada’s nationhood from a very narrow Anglo-European perspective. My history degree was based on US history, and the slave experience in particular, and this sparked a strong interest in historical injustice that influenced how I view history and its teaching. As you noted, my master degree work was very much focused on the importance of carefully curating what we teach as this can serve to build moral and ethical understandings in our students.
Integrating Japanese Canadian history into the BC curriculum has been a longstanding aspiration. What is the current situation in terms of what is and isn’t taught in schools when it comes to the Japanese Canadian experience, particularly in regards to the wartime dispossession, incarceration and forced relocation?
Mike The social studies curriculum in BC has a number of touch points that intersect with Japanese Canadian history. At grade 5 and 10 BC educators may choose to teach about the internment and in Social Justice 12 there are a number of points at which teachers can elect to teach injustice through the lens of Japanese Canadian experiences. In BC teachers have considerable autonomy to select the units of study they will teach, therefore creating accessible, powerful and useful resources is instrumental in bringing this history to our classrooms. During our meetings with the Ministry of Education and the Curriculum Branch we requested that the MoE revise the curriculum to make teaching the internment a mandatory and not optional requirement. As of this date there has not been a change.
I always think it’s interesting that many of us feel like we’ve been talking about the internment forever and that people must be sick of it, but the fact of the matter is that the majority of people have never heard of it. What response do you get from students when they learn about the internment and the war years?
Greg Students are always shocked to find out that this kind of internment and dispossession happened in Canada. When I first started teaching about this 20 years ago, students would go home and educate their parents about internment as well. According to Lindsay Hill who co-authored and field tested some of the Landscapes lessons, parents are more aware than they were 20 years ago, but there are still some surprises.
The main activity of the Landscapes lessons is that students “adopt” a property from 1940’s Powell Street along with the business below and the family who resided above. Later, history plays out and the family is removed from the property, and as they are in an internment camp, the belongings from their adopted property start to disappear. Some students can rationalize the people being removed, but they are OUTRAGED at their possessions being removed without permission.
An extension of Landscapes of Injustice was a field school that was open to teachers from across Canada. Our teachers from Winnipeg (Clara Kusumoto, Grace Sheppard, and Lindsey Griffin) presented to 100 elementary teachers there. One of the pieces of feedback they received from some of the teachers was they had no idea about the dispossession of Japanese Canadians. So there are still gaps in what Canadians, young and old, know about internment, so providing lessons and resources can start to fill in some of these gaps.
Mike It is a challenge to teach history to our students as they find it difficult to relate to the past, particularly if that past has no connection to them. Done well, including stories and methods that bring connections to our students lives we find students are very much engaged and often inspired about what they learn. We as educators need to leverage that passion and created more activism and agency in our students since the fundamental issues like race and class continue to negatively impact our society.
What do you think are the benefits of teaching about the internment and other historical injustices?
Mike Much is made of the statement that we will repeat the past if we do not learn about. There is some truth to that statement, but since 1945 the world has seen many more mass genocides and horrible crimes. Learning/teaching about the holocaust did not prevent these from happening. For me the key is to get at the moral and ethical framework of our students and to develop a moral compass that will guide them into their adult years. This requires specific focus on teaching about injustice, privilege and power relationships and acknowledging that Canada must grapple with these truths as much as any other country.
Greg With the Powell Street simulation, students get a personal sense of what injustice feels like. Hopefully, they can extend this sense to current injustices so they can understand what is happening but also use this empathy to prevent other injustices. Lindsay Hill has a picture of one of her students standing in front of her “adopted” Powell Street building. It is this personal, emotional connection that students have to the history that deepen their understanding of the events and issues.
Connie Hopefully it can lead to a greater awareness of issues of identity, culture, human rights, and empathy for others, as well as a necessary knowledge of the diverse history of Canada. I recently joined the JCHPICS (Japanese Canadian Hastings Park Interpretive Centre Society) to further teachers’, students’ and the public’s awareness of the history of Hastings Park. It’s a great way to bring the teaching and learning out of the classroom and into the places where this history happened.
What gets taught – and to whom – is always a contentious issue within the public school system, given the limited time in the school day. It’s one thing to allocate funds to a particular subject matter, and another to actually have the subject taught in culturally relevant and meaningful ways, or even taught at all. How do you foresee this education pillar impacting the dissemination of JC curriculum within elementary and secondary schools?
Mike It is my experience that teachers select curriculum for three primary reasons 1) It is part of the mandatory curriculum, 2) They have a personal passion or connection and 3) because they have a really good unit or set of teaching materials to use. This project aims to build capacity in all of these areas by developing a teacher education course to supplement teaching learning and pedagogy, inspire teachers with the depth and quality of the learning materials and engage them with new ways to incorporate guest speakers, survivor talks, virtual and live field studies, and to communicate current and new initiatives.
Greg When Mas started the first internment education project 20 years ago, we were really starting from scratch. Rick Beardsley had the lessons he developed, there were a few novels and a couple of videos, and almost none of it was targeted at elementary especially. There is a lot more now: the Landscapes lessons and artifacts, education kits and programs at the Nikkei National Museum, events at the Vancouver Japanese Language School, tours of New Denver, Hastings Park, and Tashme, etc. I am hoping that Learning Portal will be a “one stop shop” for all things Japanese Canadian history in BC. One of the problems with trying to teach Japanese Canadian history before was the lack of materials and resources. Now, we have some really excellent resources, and if we collect them in an accessible place, then I feel like we are halfway there.
Collectively you have many years of experience in the education system. What kinds of changes have you seen in terms of integrating these diverse experiences into the curriculum?
Greg Social Studies has really changed over time. History (my worst subject when I was in high school) used to be taught through dates and dead guys. It was boring and not relatable. Now, teachers use hands-on, engaging activities. Students become personally and intellectually involved, and explore and debate historical issues. Students can see how past and current events matter because it matters to them, the students.
Mike Contrary to the current media stories and what we I hear from the public, educators in BC having been teaching historical injustices for decades, it is not new. However, what is new is the scope, scale and awareness that seems to be reaching broader publics in recognizing that what we teach and how we teach is more critical than ever before. More resources and commitment are being leveraged by the BC government and our local school districts to ensure that many voices are represented in our school curriculum and a truly divergent set of stories should be told in our classrooms.
Connie Much more is taught about the diverse cultures and histories of Canada now, although much more needs to be done, including making JC history a mandatory part of the BC curriculum, as it is optional now. There is much greater access to books and resources, such as through the Nikkei National Museum and Landscapes of Injustice, although I am not sure how aware teachers in the system are of these resources. I am very excited about this project as I have long felt the need for resources for and awareness in teachers and students, and the importance of making it easier for them to access and use the resources.
Mas The availability of resources for teachers has grown enormously. In 2000 the teams of teachers had to develop what they needed to teach the subject. Today the focus is on assessing the wealth of materials available and online, determine their suitability and fill in the gaps.
What was essential then and is the same today is teacher training. Educators cannot be expected to teach what they do not know. An ideal requirement would be for universities to offer beginning teachers the opportunity to learn about JC history in depth so that they become knowledgeable and comfortable about introducing this topic to students. At the same time, practicing teachers can take a course on historic wrongs for credit and upgrade their credentials.
Vivian, you were a school administrator up until you retired. What role do school principals have to play in ensuring this history gets taught in schools?
Vivian I believe that it’s not enough to just include JC history into curriculum. More importantly is “how” well it is taught and learned. It begins with teachers/administrators knowing and truly understanding the impact of JC history. I’ve been saying for years that it isn’t just “JC history”. This is Canadian history. This is what happened to Canadians! This is what happens when governments and those with influence act on racist thoughts. It’s far too easy for people to say/think “oh, that was such a bad thing to do to the Japanese”. It’s more important for students/adults to learn the context, implications, and ramifications and to equate it to what is happening in today’s world. I believe that if we tie in all this to today’s similar issues, it would have far more meaning and lasting impact with today’s students. I have been active in mentoring new vice-principals/principals in conjunction with the BCPVPA.
Do you think there’s an appetite for incorporating histories like this into the curriculum?
Vivian We have to be careful about pushing to have the JC history into curriculum. We have to be aware that there are many other groups wanting to have their histories included. There are currently so many “issues” requiring teaching/learning. I like the “trickle up” theory” of dealing with people/issues. It’s effective. I often hear people/groups shouting “why aren’t they teaching xxx in schools? My answer usually is “yes, that is important but the curriculum is so crammed/full, what do you suggest be taken out in order to teach xxx?” That usually causes people to pause. I also think that people sometimes expect schools to teach who could/should be addressed by parents.
Mas, you’ve been involved for many, many years in developing education resources built around the treatment of Japanese Canadians during the war years. What do you see as the main goal of teaching this history in these fraught times?
Mas There are many perspectives when teaching historic events. I am of the opinion that the focus should not be on the wrongs perpetrated, usually on the powerless, but on how, in the case of Japanese Canadians, they were able to overcome racism and discrimination. One example is their fight for the franchise which was taken away in 1895 and reinstated in 1949. They fought for this right in the courts, on the battlefields of Europe and in the House of Commons in Ottawa. Without the franchise, JCs were powerless to influence politicians from the forced removal, dispossession and exile.
Today, the right to vote is taken for granted and the responsibility to exercise this power responsibly is waning. Voter turnout for the last municipal election was appalling. What would Canadian society be like if we were disenfranchised as were Japanese Canadians?
The format is digital to allow access to the course from any location as opposed to traditional teacher pro-d sessions that are attendee by the same teachers and rarely reach out to more than a handful.
You’re looking for a team of BC educators to design, develop, and build the digital learning hub dedicated to teaching Japanese Canadian history. How has the response been to the teacher recruitment callout?
Mike As I write this response to you on the day of the application deadline, there are 16 applicants for the teacher committee. The vast majority of these applicants are Japanese Canadian or have a strong connection to the community. The applicants are diverse in teaching backgrounds, grade levels, years of experience and areas of expertise. I look forward to working with a group of such passionate educators!
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Mas The BC curriculum states that numeracy and literacy are fundamental competencies to the success of the student in school and beyond. I would like to add a third – humanity. Given the present state of many societies, it should be a priority. Included would be anti-racism education as early as ages 3 and 4, and civic rights and responsibilities to be taught/reviewed annually by teachers and students.