Jarvis: The public school board just nailed a teachable moment

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The public school board has just set a teachable moment.


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He rejected an inappropriate suggestion to name his new high school in Amherstburg after Lord Jeffery Amherst, the 18th century British Army commander who supported the distribution of smallpox-laced blankets to “inoculate the Indians” and wrote of the need for ” eradicate this heinous race. “

Instead, in a nod to the lighthouse that guided enslaved African Americans along the Underground Railroad to freedom here, a symbol of hope, courage, and perseverance, he named the school North Star High School.

“It’s an inspiring story for all of us, right?” said Tramaine Whited, the only person of color on the naming committee and the only committee member who initially objected to using Amherst’s name.

The north star, at the end of the Little Dipper’s handle, is closely aligned with the Earth’s axis. So, as the Earth rotates, the North Star, also called Polaris, appears almost stationary in the sky above the northern horizon. For centuries, it was used to mark the way north without maps or compasses.


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And it led tens of thousands of African Americans to escape slavery under the cover of darkness along the secret network of routes and safe houses to Canada in the first half of the 19th century.

Amherstburg, at the narrowest point of the Detroit River, was a major terminus for the Underground Railroad. Those who had escaped slavery found rest and help at the Nazrey African Methodist Episcopal Church on King Street, built in 1848 to serve the black community and now a National Historic Site.

Construction continues on the future North Star High School in Amherstburg, on Friday, October 22, 2021.
Construction continues on the future North Star High School in Amherstburg, on Friday, October 22, 2021. Photo by Dax Melmer /Windsor Star

North Star High School is everything you want in a name for a place of education. Means something. It reflects a unique and compelling part of the community’s history, one of the most important chapters in the long and colorful history of this region, a history that includes such luminaries of the abolitionist movement as Henry and Mary Bibb and Mary Ann Shadd.


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And it is a story of humanity. As Irene Moore Davis, president of the Essex County Black Historical Research Society, told Mary Caton of the Windsor Star, “It is a story worth noting.”

We teach this rich African Canadian history and the contributions of African Canadians in our schools, and in September, two schools reflecting this history will open, North Star High School and James L. Dunn Public School, named after the successful man from business and first African American. School Trustee and City Councilor in Windsor.

The North Star is also important to indigenous peoples. The Mi’kmaw call it “the still star,” said University of Toronto astronomy professor Hilding Neilson, a Mi’kmaw person who teaches a course on indigenous knowledge of astronomy.


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While each indigenous nation has a different perspective on the North Star, many have similar names because it is seen as a star that guides people.

“Much of the significance is very similar to what it was for the Underground Railroad,” Neilson said.

There has been a growing interest in indigenous knowledge of astronomy. Neilson said it has made him a better scientist.

“I’m using methods that go beyond our traditional methods of doing science,” he said, “and it has given me a different perspective of the night sky.”

It would be very important to change the name of Amherstburg, but naming the new school was an opportunity to start over, to confront and acknowledge history, to move forward and begin to reconcile with those who have not been and are not yet. , always treated fairly and respectfully.


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But it is not enough that the new school is not named after Lord Amherst, it will be called North Star.

I hope that the parents, teachers, board officials and students on the naming committee and all of us have taken the time to consider what it means to name a building, what the name says about what we value, the honor it bestows, why we have to choose carefully. And why the Amherst name would have been concerning to some people, why it has already been removed from the streets and sites of other municipalities.

If you can’t do that in a school, where we teach children, future generations, then, as Whited said, “we have some problems.”

This has been the best time to teach.

“It was an opportunity to listen,” Whited said. “When you can’t listen, it’s hard to get over things.”


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He spoke to all kinds of people about it, he said, black, white, indigenous, young and old.

“The common denominator was the lack of education,” he said. “Most of them did not know the history of General Amherst. Once it all started to come to light, I heard, ‘Oh, I didn’t even know that. Now I understand.’

“When we know more, we do it better,” he said.

“I think there was absolutely reflection, there was growth, there was learning.”

He thanked the committee and school board administrators “for getting it right.”

We should thank Whited for insisting that we use this teachable moment.

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