Dr. Wright-Maley pictured in his office.

Congratulations to Dr. Cory Wright-Maley, Associate Professor in our Faculty of Education and Education Area Chair, for recently receiving the 2021/22 Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) Educational Research Award!

This award is valued at $5,000 and is presented annually to a faculty of education member, or sessional lecturer, at an Alberta university or university college that the ATA recognizes who has undertaken high quality research on classroom teaching and learning.

Dr. Wright-Maley received this award earlier this year for his work on his research paper “Glossed over and missing”: Preservice teachers learn about slavery in Canada. The ATA selection committee deemed this research paper the winning submission, stating that it “exemplifies the practical research that benefits both students and teachers.”

This research paper is available for download online here, and centers on how Canadians do not, for the most part, learn about Black histories in school, much less the troubling history of Canada’s entanglement in over 200 years of chattel slavery. And in Alberta, this history is simply not part of the provincial curriculum.

Dr. Wright-Maley’s work explores why this is, how this lack of knowledge can be remedied, and what the lingering impact has been of this history of anti-Black racism in Canada.

Interestingly, this winning inquiry didn’t begin as a research focus. Instead, it started as a simple in-class exercise in which his students were asked to respond to a reading on the history of slavery in Canada — but the results were so intriguing that these responses soon became the basis of this research project, which took over a year to publish.

After joining a Black Lives Matter (BLM) at School Higher Education working group in 2020, Dr. Wright-Maley became even more motivated to further incorporate Black histories into his courses. This group, which concentrates on how Black history and contemporary challenges are incorporated in Canada and the United States, inspires educators to reflect on how they can teach about the impact of racism and racial inequity in their classrooms.

With this concept in mind, Dr. Wright-Maley planned a reading response exercise for StMU students enrolled in his Elementary Social Studies Methods courses. Elementary preservice teachers (B.Ed. students) were given a reading from a chapter in Natasha L. Henry’s 2010 book, Emancipation Day: Celebrating Freedom in Canada, titled “From Enslavement to Freedom” and asked to craft a reflection about an insight that this reading sparked for them.

This selected chapter reading was a brief introduction to the history of enslavement of Black peoples in Canada from the early 1600’s, and after reading the reflection responses, Dr. Wright-Maley was intrigued by the results.

The elementary preservice teachers in his course were, with few exceptions, unaware of this chapter in Canadian history that has been, and continues to be, hidden from mainstream – meaning White or Eurocentric – Canadian historical consciousness.

Once the results revealed that most of the preservice teachers in the course were unaware of this significant chapter in Canadian history, Dr. Wright-Maley knew he had to dive deeper into this research and he began formulating questions about how teachers make sense of and respond to the often hidden histories of Black Canadians.

“The answers I received highlighted the extent to which people don’t know about the history of anti-Black racism and slavery in Canada,” said Dr. Wright-Maley. “I wanted to better understand this lack of…historical knowledge.”

Throughout the research that followed these responses, Dr. Wright-Maley analyzed how preservice teachers’ felt learning about this history for the first time, how they attempted to reconcile this history with their established notions of Canadian identity, whether they made conceptual connections to the present (such as the BLM movement), and how they committed to future action.

Dr. Wright-Maley shares that he is honored to have his research recognized by the ATA and is delighted that his work was considered valuable. He also takes time to explain and highlight that he is one of many academics doing research in this field, and his work would not have been possible without the help of his supportive colleagues and peers.

And while Dr. Wright-Maley recognizes that Canadians are sometimes reticent to focus on shameful episodes in Canada’s past, he explains that it is a mistake to assume that examining these histories somehow undermines people’s commitment to Canada. On the contrary, it’s the responsibility of Canadians to fully understand their history as part of our commitment to making Canada a place where everyone is seen, heard; a place where we call all belong. Through his research, he aims to understand the historical and present obstacles to said belonging.

Take, for example, the retort Black Canadians often hear when they exhort that Black Lives Matter: “all lives matter.” Dr. Wright-Maley points out that this response is often rooted in a deep misunderstanding what #BLM activists are saying. Where some people may believe that these advocates are arguing that Black lives matter more than other lives, “what they are saying is that Black lives ought to matter as much as everyone else’s and that our society does not yet act as if this is so. The evidence bears this out.”

Dr. Wright-Maley hopes that after learning about the history of slavery in Canada, his students will leave with a better understanding of how to teach others about this history, remarking “being able to look critically at our past and to be honest about how Black people have been treated in Canada historically and in the present is an important step for Canadians to do better in the future. Canadians must engage in furthering the vision of a nation consciously and conscientiously in which everyone feels in their bones that the value of one’s humanity is never in question.”

He further elaborates the importance of understanding our history, stating “if we’re not honest with ourselves about our history, it is hard to move forward in a good way. This is the same concept that our Director of Indigenous Initiatives, Michelle Scott, uses when discussing reconciliation.”

Dr. Wright-Maley hopes that as more people become aware of the history of slavery in Canada, they understand that “after learning about this history, once the veil has been pulled back, it is important to help others see what they didn’t know was hidden from them.”