It's hard to believe the end of this course I've been working on, reading about and thinking about non-stop for months is almost over. I still feel like I should be writing some kind of term paper but I feel that I really showed my learning in other ways thoroughly regardless of the lack of papers.
Anyway...I want to wrap this up in a blog post. I loved the book Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit by Marie Battiste. A couple of days ago I was re reading some of her writing and came across page 126 & 127 where she is talking about power relationships and the links that has to what we teach in schools and how we teach it. My own personal research melded so well with her book, it almost seemed serendipitous that I had been reading about unschooling right before I took this course.
Schooling as it is now must change. I cannot see any way around it. I recently have been taking courses that will lead to an administrative role in a school but i am beginning to wonder if that's where I want to be. I wonder how I can continue with this school system, feeling good about 'tweaking' it when it really needs a complete and utter overhaul.
Yesterday I read a book by a guy I follow on Twitter, Seth Godin. He wrote an e-book called "Stop Killing Dreams" If you want to read it, it's here: http://www.sethgodin.com/sg/docs/stopstealingdreamsscreen.pdf. His book says what Marie says, although in different language and with different reasons. Schools must change. They are hurting people. They are furthering the status quo and giving nothing back. He talks more about the factory style schooling that helped people become better factory workers that isn't really serving anyone anymore. Although I wonder...I wonder if it is serving people after all. It is definitely making us less inquisitive, more compliant consumers. When the government says something crazy, a few people will protest but most people have learned that they are helpless and can't effect change at all so they say nothing. If that's true, then what are any of us doing in education? Why are we perpetuating poverty and mindless consumerism/debt imprisonment when we are, as Godin says, on a downward spiral as a society as a result of it? It concerns me greatly.
I'm not sure what I will do from here. I want to learn more about it before I leap out of education entirely. I still hold a small amount of hope that if enough of us feel this way, that we can wait until the idea starts building critical mass and then we will be able to change things.
I want to end this on a more positive note. I loved the format of this course...allowing me to express my ideas in such a free way. I felt it led to way more learning for me personally, although it was hard to find direction at times. I have modeled my grade 12 social studies assessment model after this idea in this semester. It isnt going as well there but I have high hopes that they will pull it together at the end (as I did). I felt free near the end of the course...free in a way one rarely feels in an academic setting. I had spent a few weeks feeling guilty about reading Gatto instead of Daniel Paul's book (which I finished anyway) but it turns out that the ideas in Gatto's book led me to other ones that actually applied to the course material. So in the end, everything came together well in my mind.
I have learned a lot in this course. And it has inspired me to learn even more about this subject as I move forward in understanding the critical issues in education that we face in the 21st century. Thank you for reading.
I just made a PechaKucha last night about different forms of schooling. First let me say, I had no idea it was that difficult to record audio. Especially if you want it to be perfect. Even then, some of the audio was flawed.
In my discovery of the issues and problems with schooling, I went on a search for different forms. It started with Marie Battiste's book "Decolonizing Education" and her mention of the Maori and schooling. It got me thinking about the paper I wrote about the Inuit and how they are trying to do some of the same things that the Maori did because it was so effective. Since it's a fairly new thing in the Arctic, a lot of work remains but I have high hopes they will succeed. They have already succeeded in making sure that their language is respected and some of their culture leaks into the school system. However, being a teacher up there taught me that euro-centrism is alive and well in the administrations and teaching staff and that will be very difficult to fix if more Inuit people do not become teachers. A lot of the admin and teachers I worked with in each school tried to replicate southern schools. I mean, of course they did...that's all we knew. A very few had managed to balance the two but none were able to fully embrace the Inuit culture in the schools and do things in ways that the Inuit would do. It might have been the curriculum and it may have been the class sizes.
In a school in southern BC on a reservation, I was a science teacher. One of the women healers asked me to research ethnobotany and help her incorporate it into the school science program to build respect for her craft. So I did. Apparently I was the first science teacher that recognized ethnobotany as 'real science'.
I stay convinced that if schooling is to really serve people: any people, that we are going to have to change how to do things. Some are already doing it. Sudbury schooling in the USA, the Inuit initiatives in the far north that will ensure the survival of their language and respect for their way of life, the Maori, multiple small schools across Canada on reserves and off that are trying new forms of schooling in order to truly serve people, truly teach them useful things.
I wonder sometimes if we need to move away from curriculum based learning and into something more organic and holistic. I certainly would send my son to a school like that because I don't think the way they teach in elementary schools serves a lot of the children there. I know that in my own classrooms it is very difficult to do anything but to teach to the middle. The ones that are too fast, too smart, too interested or lacking in those things are difficult in classrooms where there are 30 students. Maybe I haven't mastered the 'differentiation' that is seen as the way to fix these issues (that rarely works, in my experience).
I have enjoyed this course (it's almost over). I enjoyed the freedom to research what I was interested in and incorporate it into my learning from the course work. At the beginning of the course I was feeling guilty about reading Gatto, Holt and Illich because I felt I should be reading other things, works that were required by the course work. I read those too eventually but while reading Marie Battiste's book I realized that it fit really well. That taking the ideas from the unschooling sector made me question everything, not take any part of the schooling experience for granted and this created a mindset that made me want to reach out to other ways of schooling children.
I'm not entirely convinced that schooling is necessary for education (Gatto is a very compelling writer). But I have since met many, many people both aboriginal and non aboriginal that believes schooling is necessary for life. At a parent teacher interview the other day, a parent explained why she wanted her daughter to 'get an education' at school and it was because in her job, she has been barred from rising higher because she didn't get her high-school diploma. So even though I question schooling, I see that other people think it's necessary and I could very well be thinking from a middle class bias. It's easy to question the status quo when you have a higher education yourself, isn't it?
Anyway, back to the point: I have enjoyed this course. I feel like I learned a mountain of information in a very short time. I have also taken the methods of evaluation and assessment and incorporated into my own courses. They are having the same struggles as I did at first and now know that the assessment method is a learning curve itself. In short, Thank you Evie for teaching me so much.
I recently watched a film called "Reel Injun" and thought it was interesting. There has been more public dialogue in the last few years about using stereotypical images to define First Nations people in our country. This has included ideas about Halloween costumes (The "I am not a costume" movement) as well as discussions about the sports teams using stereotypical images and team names that are based on a Nation's culture. I have friends on my social media accounts that agree and ones that don't. One friend thought it was honouring her culture to dress like her during Halloween and others that are offended so I became aware that the discussion was not simply a black and white answer, "Don't wear costumes are use names that are based on another's culture because it's rude" because some people feel that it is helping promote awareness of their culture.
I think Thomas King hit the nail on the head when he wrote "I'm not the Indian you had in mind." He makes sure we understood that he does not want to be and is not a stereotype. He wanted people to question the stereotypical Indian because things have changed and no one is so simplistic. Upon reading that, I thought of the times I have heard people questioning the use of snowmobiles for the Inuit because they like the image of dogsleds, for example. When reading his article I had to admit that I, too, had prejudicial expectations of certain things. For example, when being taught how to make beaded bracelets for Sto:lo days, I had a thought pop into my head about how it wasn't 'really' the traditional culture because plastic beads were probably a newish invention. After reading Thomas King's ideas about this, I realized how arrogant that was. It's arrogant, also, to talk about dogsleds as the 'only' way to be Inuit based on an archaic view of what Inuit means. And how dare we even question what other people do and how they evolve both as individuals and as a culture!
Anyway, I originally wrote this because of the film "Reel Injun". I feel that movie had these same ideas present. However, it struck me as particularly sad that a young First Nations person may not realize he was the "Indian" in the cowboys and Indian movies and that the Indians always lost in those movies, outsmarted by the cowboys (even though the cowboys were often bad at everything else). What an awful realization it must have been. Just to be clear, I didn't find it sad that he didn't realize that he was an "Indian" but that he didn't even recognize what they were really saying until later. What an awful image we were creating about them! I think some of those ideas took hold of our culture and exist still today. It's likely one of the reasons that some people think the First Nations people are so homogenous, even though there are so many nations that are so different from each other. I live in Alberta right now and as I teach social studies (which a more-than-usual dose of FNMI culture in the course), I have to make sure that the students understand that the Cree are different from the FN in BC, who are different than the northern groups, who are very different than the matriarchal peoples who inhabited the Great Lakes region, who are different than the east coast peoples, etc.
The movie was very interesting. If you have a chance to watch "Reel Injun" and want to challenge your own stereotypes, do it!
I recently introduced my class to Thomas King's "Truth about stories" Massey lectures after they read an excerpt from his book, "Truth and Bright Water". At the same time, in another class, we are talking about ideology and where they come from, who creates them, and how we are influenced by them. Thomas King always is an entertaining and engaging speaker and writer and I always enjoy introducing his ideas to my classes. What I take from those lectures is that we create our own reality with stories. Stories is all we really are. Which stories do we tell ourselves in order to construct meaning and understand our world? religions are stories, history is a story (something I've known for a long time). I asked my ideology class what stories the colonists told themselves in order to justify genocide of the First Nations people they met. I don't really know the answer to that question but it's an interesting one.
I was listening to a podcast yesterday, "Unlearn and Rewild" where Buffy Ste. Marie said that if we tell ourselves that they committed genocide because of racism, we are missing a big chunk of the real reason. Buffy said that they did it and are still doing it because of colonialism and every person who is acting in this spirit of colonialism feels helpless to change the path of what is happening. I thought that was a really important insight. I say that because even though I know as a teacher that the way we are teaching in schools is harming students, especially First Nations and Metis students in my school, I continue. And it's driving me crazy! I've seriously considered giving up education entirely and focus my attention on really helping people. The problem is, that even though the arguments of unschooling and deschooling education are compelling, I really think there might be a chance to change things for the better. How will things change, though, if the people who see the need for change and see what needs to be changed, leave? Maybe someday I will come to believe what Gatto and others like him believe and will give up and leave for other things. However, I don't want to give up so easily just yet.
If we see what needs to be changed and the system makes it difficult to change, what is it about that story that we could start retelling?
I think Thomas King is right, that we are a collection of stories and the stories we choose to tell define who we are. There are thousands of self-help books out there (Tony Robbins, Bob Doyle, Rhonda Byrne, to name a few) that espouse the same idea: that to change your story can potentially change your life. However, what do you do when you are a victim of someone else's ideology? If your story was changed because of the actions of another, like in the case of a cultural genocide? I don't actually have the answer to that question but I would like to find some strategies that are helpful. I was at a teacher's convention here in Alberta this week and one of the speakers talked about the 94 recommendations of the truth and reconciliation committee and suggested that might be a good place to start. One of those recommendations is education of the general population about the truth about what has been done and what continues to be done. The speaker that came to my class also said that: that all he personally wanted is a chance to tell his story and to make sure the story was passed on to future Canadians so that the truth was known and the past could be laid to rest.
I hope we are at a great junction where the stories will start to change. I hope that the work and the lives of all these people that are trying to sooth the past wounds will come to fruition. I feel like my story is part of a greater awakening and I hope that more people see the truth, whatever that might be. I know my story is intertwined with these stories now forever because once you see or hear a story, you cannot forget.
I recently watched this video where Noam Chomsky is interviewing Sherman Alexie, a First Nations author. I have read Alexie's book "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian" and liked the book. Sherman allows Noam to delve into deep parts of his psyche and reveals a very troubled person whose craft of writing does not bring him comfort but reveals parts of himself that he is driven to reveal. He tells us of his alcoholic father, his bi polar disorder, his foot in two worlds perspective on life. At one point he says he is a tribe of one. I like Alexie's book and so I am interested in him as an author (like he says in this interview, transparency is what we like now as readers).
Along with reading the history of the Mi'kmaq and listening to stories like the one told to my class about the residential school system, I am starting to see that there is a lot of healing needed for the people stuck in between unfair government policies that continue to this day, and public opinion that brands them as alcoholics and ne'er-do-wells that just want government handouts. It must be awfully difficult to be a First Nations person in this country.
I think books like this, interviews like this, and conversations like this need to be had so that people can gain a greater understanding. I know that for me, greater understanding brought greater empathy. I see things very differently than I did before I learned about how this group of people has been treated in Canada. I hope I imparted that to my Grade 9 class this year.
I have been reading "We Were Not the Savages" by Daniel N. Paul and it's really interesting! I am a history major originally when I took my Bachelor of Arts. I also have an ancestor that is Mi'kmaq (both of my parents are originally from Prince Edward Island). I think the book explores the history of the contact between the Mi'kmaq and the white settlers very well. I am learning things I have never learned before. One of the things that I am starting to wonder though...is that whenever I read a history that is too one-sided, too slanted, I begin to wonder if it is accurate. This book is a great balance to the typical history of FN book (which is often whitewashed to the benefit of the White establishment) but it does make the First Peoples look like saints and the White settlers look entirely like sinners and I wonder, as I read, if that could possibly be accurate. The real story is rarely like that.
I am not discounting this historical account. Please understand that I just have been trained to read histories with a critical eye and I have been feeling that it's slanted one way.
That being said, I am enjoying the book. I've taught history quite a bit so I knew the stories of the English/French fight over the control of the resources and the loyalty of the First Nations people. I knew the Coeur de Bois went and married into tribes. However, I had not heard from the First Nations perspective how this was seen before. I am getting the sense that they liked the French way better than the English. I can see why, at that time and through that perspective why that was: they had likely seen the ousting of the Acadians and knew how the British operated. The French respected them way more and had shown a willingness to learn and see through other viewpoints. This wasn't a something they were pretending to do, they really did embrace a different philosophy, at least the actual explorers did. I'm not sure the French government saw it that way. I wonder how things would have turned out had the French strategy worked and they had won the seven year war?
There are parts of the history that I've never seen before. I hold no illusions about the kindness of the English, they were brutal and heartless and, one could say, psychotic, in their pursuit of wealth and land. I knew they had done terrible things. However, ambushing a longhouse and attacking mostly unarmed women, children and elderly...that was a new low. I also only vaguely knew about what they had done after the first Thanksgiving. I didn't realize how quickly it had happened. They had no conscience whatsoever and it's still as shocking to me today as it was the first time I read it during my learning for my BA degree.
The brutal history of Canada makes one wonder at this spin we have spun ourselves to explain who we are as Canadians and as a people. I recently began teaching about the residential school system to the youngest group ever: grade 9 students. This group that I'm teaching is a lively group. Together they are highly curious and very interested in learning about things. (They are also very hard to keep quiet while teaching but that's the price you pay for curiousity as a teacher, I think). They are shocked that they've never heard of this before. I saw their difficulty in fully believing it at first but now that they do, they are having trouble understanding why. I don't know what to tell them. There is no good reason, is there? I can't even justify it myself, or explain it myself, and I am not new to the ideas I'm presenting to them. The last class I taught, they told me that they had never heard any real First Nations history before and they were beginning to think that was wrong (smart young people!). They are also having some trouble truly connecting their ideas about who we are as Canadians with the new knowledge they have just learned. I think that's a good thing. In order for us to truly move forward as a society, we have to learn about who we are, who we were, and who we want to be in the future. As long as we shut our eyes to the truth about who we were (and are) as a people, we will do more damage and will not be able to truly move forward into what I hope is a kinder, more accepting world of the future. We will be doomed to continue repeating the past. This is why books like Daniel Paul's, as slanted as they might be, are important to the discussion of who we were. The students are right: they should have been taught the whole of Canadian history way before now. How do we move forward when we keep hiding from the past?
I watched a video recently on the sense of humour, as told through the eyes of First Nations peoples in Canada. https://www.nfb.ca/film/redskins_tricksters_puppy_stew I found that very interesting as I noticed a different, more encompassing sense of humour in all the First peoples I have met in my life. One Inuit man told me I had to feed mosquitoes if I didn't have a permit to kill them (as we were being swarmed in their tent on the tundra). He said it so deadpan that for a split second I wondered if he were serious. I have also seen sharing circle leaders use humour to diffuse intense emotions while talking to a group of young people about serious and difficult subjects. I suppose all people love to laugh but I wonder if the place it comes from for the people who have been collectively and thoroughly hurt need it a little more.
The film explores different comedians and shows. I knew about the Dead Dog Cafe because I've read a few books from Thomas King and he mentions it quite a bit. I had never heard it before though, it was very interesting to hear about how people took him seriously when they did a bit on eating dogs. I can well imagine the reaction in southern BC about a subject like that! Another comedy skit is done by two women who are passionate about elders and they do a very funny impersonation of elderly women and their concerns and their everyday conversations. They had the people in gathered in tears from laughing.
Talking about real issues in a funny way, bringing issues to light in a light-hearted manner, these things seemed important as I watched the film. I was impressed that a well known comedian (well I knew him...I assume everyone has seen him) would go out of his way to come to Toronto to do a comedy show at his own expense. It sounded like he didn't have any monetary reasons for doing it (after expenses he didn't make any money, he told us). He must be awfully passionate about his craft to do that!
Last week we had a visitor come to my 12th grade classroom to talk about the residential school system and his personal experience with it. He emphasized, in his experience, that he was told over and over again that he was a 'heathen' and a 'pagan' and that's why they were doing it to him (subjugating him, essentially.) He told stories about young girls who had pins pushed through their tongues and told to bite down on the pin to stab each side of their mouth, to punish them for speaking Cree. He also told us of secret babies that were born to girls who were imprisoned in this school and sold off to Europeans overseas, never to be seen again. He also told us of his inability to parent his own children, not really knowing how to show love but only knowing what punishment looked like. It was heartbreaking and a very good description of all I've read.
I have heard stories before, have cried over the idea that we (Canada) has done this to generations of people, and yet nothing brings it home quite like a first hand experience.
We also heard a presentation from one of the members of the class, whose family has experienced the residential school system. Before our speaker came in, he stood up in class, gave a 20 minute presentation, where he told us why a lot of the First Nations people they see in our community were alcoholics and left absolutely no doubt in their minds of the reason. He told us of his grandfather being raped repeatedly by the priest, and the nuns, who were supposed to care for the children, taking him out of his bed at night for this visit.
The man who came as a speaker to our class, his main goal was reconciliation. He said that the only way that could happen is if the knowledge of what happened to those children became common knowledge and there was an understanding between those White Canadians and those First Peoples who had gone through this, about what had happened and what needed to be done from now on.
I have taught about the residential school system every year since I started teaching. However, I am always learning. More about this next post!
Taking In the past few weeks I've wandered aimlessly around two books I've been reading and various YouTube offerings about aboriginal education. The two books are "Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit" by Marie Battiste and "We Were Not the Savages" by Daniel N. Paul, both Mi'kmaq authors.( I've also been noticing how many times Marie Battiste has been quoted in our Social Studies textbook at the Alberta high school I work at, but that's a side note).
For the last two months, I've gotten quite interested in the ideas that the unschoolers are putting out there; John Taylor Gatto, John Holt, and Ivan Illich are the authors whose works I've been reading and I as I have been wondering if we are even doing the right things in school for any students, I am confronted with the idea that we have definitely not been doing the right things for our students who are at risk of being oppressed both at school and in the wider society.
All of these thoughts and ideas have led to some cognitive dissonance for me. I really believed that even though we needed to work on what we were doing, that there was some hope for our education system. After reading all these ideas, I'm wondering if education as we know it should be scrapped entirely and we should start from scratch. The more we move towards standardization, the further we move away from including people, both in our educational models and in our society at large. I find this quite disturbing. Mostly though, I'm frustrated. I do not swallow the ideas of Gatto whole, he seems quite bitter and angry. However, he makes some extremely good points. Holt, on the other hand, is hard to dismiss. Unlike Gatto, who does not seem like a academic with any qualifications other than his 30 embittered years as a teacher, Holt has a well thought out philosophy and it is quite compelling. His basic philosophy is that the whole system of education and schooling, combined with the wider society's interest in keeping people obedient and compliant, is rotten right to the core. The best thing you can do for your kids is to take them out and teach them at home. And for goodness sake, don't take them out and teach them the curriculum, which is the very thing that is perpetuating these problems, let them learn what they want to learn, what's valuable to them. He believed that if you give a child the tools he or she needs, they will need very little 'compulsion' because humans want to learn.
So what does this have to do with the books about aboriginal education? Well if I applied those principles to the idea of aboriginal education, I can honestly not see the benefit of compelling any students, but especially aboriginal students, from attending schools where the white myth of superiority is an undercurrent in everything we do. I've read a lot of other works about how to be more inclusive but I always felt that it didn't quite go far enough. That is combined with my opinion that the standard measure of 'success' is flawed as well. What is success in school anyway? Isn't it that people come out of the education system empowered, able to make good decisions, with skills that they need to move into the world of work and life? Well I'm not sure our standardized tests that are implemented by almost every province, are really measuring those things. Success is different for everyone but there are some things that are simply not valued in our school system. We steer kids away from things that they are passionate about. Art, mechanics, etc., are considered inferior to being, say, a university professor. I think that's wrong, it is creating a situation where certain people, no matter what they achieve, can never be considered successful by our society. Why don't we measure happiness after 10 years of leaving school? What if THAT was the measure? What would we change in schools if that was what we considered accomplishment in life? Or what if we measured how many community connection a person had after they had been gone from school for 20 years, what would change if that was the measure? I recently watched a TED talk where the speaker, Robert Waldinger) was arguing that happiness and fulfillment was about the relationships we had in life. http://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness If that's happiness and fulfillment, why do we measure success with a dollar value? It makes no sense!
I wonder if those are our values in education, if we have any business teaching students at all. I think that students we consider 'at risk' like aboriginal students, their values are being under appreciated. The things that are supposed to make us as humans happy and fulfilled are what the First Nations people are DOING. So why is it undervalued?
I have thoughts about each separate item I've read and studied but I will wait for another day to write about them. Those are the most burning thoughts in my heart today. As a result of this study about unschooling and the movement around the world to completely shake up/change education, I've have seriously considered pulling out of education myself. I am simply not sure we are doing the right thing anymore. I have a small burning hope that things can be changed and that I could be part of the change, but I'm just not sure what direction to go in professionally to accomplish that.
Until next time,
I've just started a new course about Decolonizing Education for First Nations students in Canada. I wanted my first blog post to be about my experiences so far and my opinions and knowledge where I started.
When I went to university years ago, I was 27 years old and had been a waitress almost since high school. I grew up right next to a First Nations reserve in British Columbia and walked to the school bus with the kids from the families there. I am telling you this because I had no idea about why things were the way they were. I went to high school completely oblivious to the challenges that faced my friends from the reserve and I had no idea why those challenges were there. BC has a rather large population of FN (First Nations) people who are fairly vocal about their rights. Throughout my time as a teenager I saw multiple road blocks. I felt bad for them but I didn't know why. I am surprised now that we weren't taught any of this in school.
Fast forward to my first year in university at the age of 27. I had decided to get a history degree and when I took my first course that dealt with the FN history in depth, I was shocked. How did I not know this? Now things started to make sense. The sense of defeat I saw in my neighbour friends, the road blocks that were erected to make a point, the country-wide struggle that I sensed but didn't really know.
In teacher's college I decided to focus on aboriginal education as much as I could because I felt like I might be a good person to enter that world. I took courses, I volunteered at the school I was student teaching in and after that year was over, I headed north to an Inuit community where I spent 2 years.
As mentioned on my "About" page, I have worked in several aboriginal schools. I am aware of the vast differences in culture, even amongst the Inuit communities (Nunavut is different than Nunavik in northern Quebec, for example). From my history education I was aware of the residential school system and the arrogance that the government and members of our society continually displays towards the aboriginal peoples of this country. From reading and listening to Thomas King (a professor in the USA that is an amazing writer, speaker and aboriginal activist) I learned how the atrocities of the residential school system were not the beginning nor are they the end. The abuse of power, the ignoring of treaties, the paternalism continues even today. I have witnessed first hand how aboriginal students are treated in public schools. I have heard white teachers talk about aboriginal students when they thought no one around them would disagree. There is latent and blatant racism that is dealt out everyday.
So this is where I start my journey into this course. I have done research in other courses about the things that administrators of schools can do to change things for the vulnerable sector of our community that are facing discrimination and barriers to success in the school system. Lewthwaite has written several great papers about the subject and I look forward to incorporating my other research into this course.
Masters in Education student at the University of New Brunswick, I am avidly interested in the future of education, especially for First Nation, Metis and Inuit students in Canada. I believe change is going to come from these sectors who have the most room for growth and the most interest in seeing the status quo changed.