A Toronto District School Board (TDSB) student is raising concerns over a “racially insensitive” poem being taught in class which makes references to slavery.
The poem was by French poet Jacques Prevert titled “Pour Toi, Mon Amour,” and was assigned during a Grade 10 virtual French class offered by the Toronto District School Board.
The part of the poem in question when translated into English reads, “‘I went to the scrap market and bought chains, heavy chains. For you, my love.’ And then it proceeds to say, ‘I went to the slave market and I looked for you but I didn’t find you, my love’,” said the student
“There are certain lines in the poem that was said that were inappropriate or culturally insensitive,” they added
The student, who did not want to be identified out of fears of repercussion, says the poem was assigned as part of their poetry unit in their French class on Thursday.
The student said there was no discussion or disclaimer explaining the insensitive nature or even the history of poem.
“In my class, we haven’t had any discussions regarding Black History Month or regarding the fact that it is Black History Month and there are some sensitive topics that will be talked about in this poem. Nothing like that was discussed prior to us getting the assignment,” the student said.
The Grade 10 student said they approached the teacher to discuss why this poem was chosen and the teacher claimed it was part of the curriculum.
“There could be other Black students that have faced racial injustice directly to them and maybe this can offend them in someway you can never know. I just don’t feel this is something that needs to be talked about or taught in classrooms,” they said.
The student tells CityNews they spoke out in hopes of getting the school board’s attention.
“We’re supposed to be going forward when it comes to racism but instead it seems like we’re going backwards because this is still being taught in classrooms. Whether this is an important part of the curriculum or not, this poem is racially insensitive to all black students across the board,” said the student.
The Toronto District School Board said they weren’t aware of the situation until CityNews reached out for a statement, but said the poem is not part of TDSB or Ministry of Education curriculum.
“We have only just learned of this incident and encourage the student and their family to speak with the principal so that we can understand what happened. In the meantime, we can confirm that this poem is not part of any TDSB or Ministry of Education curriculum.” read the statement.
“These kids, us teenagers are the future. We’re the people that will be going further so if this is something that is given and it’s supposed to be looked like that it’s fine just because its a part of the school curriculum,” added the student. “We’re [just] supposed to get it and not question anything, that’s muzzling us. Trying to get us to stop and not make changes for the future.”
CLARIFICATION: The virtual Grade 10 French class was a secondary school course offered by the Toronto District School Board.