Critically Analyzing MY Pedagogy of Place

There comes a certain point in your adult life – or in my case, not so adult life – that saying you are a Canadian from Canada just doesn’t cut it anymore. These words are too loaded. The concepts too big to be encompassed into a single word.

So now we need to create a critical pedagogy of place. This involves undergoing the process of reinhabitation, which in the article “Learning from Place: A Return to Traditional: Mushkegowuk Ways of Knowing” by Jean-Paul Restoule, Sheila Gruner, and Edmund Metatawabin, is defined as the act of identifying, recovering, and creating material spaces and places that teach us how to live well in our total environments. And we must also begin to decolonize, which is defined in the article as changing our ways of thinking that serve to injure and exploit other people and places (Restoule., et al. pp. 74).

In order to critically evaluate their pedagogy of place, a group of youth from Albany First Nation partook in a ten-day long camping trip with Elders in order to better understand the Indigenous people and their connection to the land, nature, and all that it contains. 

Image result for treaty 9 map canadaThroughout the article, the Mushkegowuk youth and other participants worked hard to change their pedagogy of place. On the journey, an act of renaming and remapping the region in the Cree language takes place, with each bend in the river getting a name. The youth also learn how nature works together to signal clean drinking water by the croak of a toad, future weather events from the songs sung by birds, and are provided food by animals sacrificing their bodies during hunting practices. The project also fought to stop intergenerational language loss that is taking place within hundreds of indigenous languages across the world by having the Elders teach authentic Cree to the Mushkegowuk youth while simultaneously building intergenerational bonds. This type of bond leads to stronger communication on future matters.

Image result for Canada flagIn order for me to truly and critically evaluate my pedagogy of place, I must do the same things that the Mushkegowuk youth did. First I must partake in the reinhabitation of my home I call Canada.

  • Unbuild, and relearn what it really means to live on Canadian soil.
  • Concern me with the ways in which Canada has exploited the riches of the land and profited from the exploitation of the elements.
  • Learn how to live sustainably and co-exist with nature.

Then I must decolonize in order to improve the lives of everyone who inhabits this land with me

  • Understanding how my actions support the repression of minority groups rights to land in Canada
  • Educate myself on the endangerment of Indigenous languages, and their connections to the land itself.

 

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The Creation of Curriculum

School curriculum is an integral part of schooling. The subject of each student’s learning is dependant upon what is specified in the curriculum. As I learned earlier in the semester, curriculum is not always produced with everyone’s best interest in mind. It can distill inequality, and limit the successes of students who diverge from the normal student narrative.

But who makes the curricula? As someone who has never delved so deep behind the curtain, I just assumed that the people forming the curriculum were normal, non-biased, individuals. This could include teachers from different school and subject area, community members from all across the province, government officials who are well versed in the needs of the student, and maybe even parents. Boy was my impression of the curriculum wrong.

In the article “Curriculum policy and the politics of what should be learned in schools” curriculum is broken down into three blocks: actors, processes, and influences. I will break these blocks down further so we can have a better understanding of how the educational curriculum is created.

Actors

No, I don’t mean the ones who play big roles in movies or prance across the stage in an ill-fitting leotard. In this context, the actors of curriculum are those people or groups who have a voice in the creation of curricula content. In the article it says, “the main education stakeholder groups— teachers, principals, senior administrators, and elected local authorities where they exist” as well as “Postsecondary institutions often have a powerful influence on school curriculum, especially in secondary schools, through the setting of entrance requirements to their institutions” and let’s not forget about “business groups often [having] strong views about various aspects of secondary curriculum” (pp. 16). Unfortunately, the more power and money that an actor has, the louder their voice is. Meaning that interest groups with specific, biased goals could achieve an agenda that is undesirable for students.

Processes

The way in which curriculum becomes created or updated takes much more than just one person sitting down and typing up a document. The voices that collaborate in this creation are rich in knowledge and are important to the final product. As said in the article, experts from secondary and postsecondary levels work together to distinguish the outcomes of a certain subject. In recent years public opinion has also been invited into the conversation as a more educated public demands specific content for the curriculum. There are also divisions of government who work on the curriculum as well. As said best in the article, “Curriculum review groups do not do their work in a vacuum” (pp. 18). They are influenced by people and events surrounding the education sphere.

It is important to include outside opinions because curriculum designed by experts can easily fall into a situation where it cannot be transferred correctly into the classroom.  This, “Illustrates the importance of views about the relationship between the formal curriculum and real teaching and learning practices in schools” (pp. 17). When non-expert teachers try to translate curriculum to their students, there is often a discrepancy in teacher knowledge.

Influences

I’d like to believe that curriculum is made in the best interest of the student, and that the creators of said curricula treat each other with utmost respect. Unfortunately, this isn’t true. Many times people and companies have their own input and are quite persistent in their beliefs. From lobbying groups to moms on social media, the voices compete for attention on curriculum issues. Most often the experts and government staff in charge of creating curriculum are not immune to being swayed with the prospect of funding, support, and even votes in an election.

 

The making of curriculum does not go without some bumps along the way. The actors are working based on their own agendas. The process forgets that the curriculum will eventually have to be taught by an average teacher who is not an expert in their field. Lastly, each person is susceptible to influence that could prove to be harmful in the long run. Curriculum serves as an important guide for teachers in the classroom, but mediating the interests of all those involved and those who wish to be involved has proven to be an issue.

The “Good” Student

What do you remember about your school teachers? It could be their kind-hearted smiles, their ruthless marking schemes, or their ability to ignite a passion in you that you never knew you had. Now picture that teacher… there face, the sweater they wore most often, the click of their shoes, or the coffee mug they drank from, but most of all remember their voice.

“Sit down!”

“Listen!”

“No talking!”

“Hand in your homework on time!” 

Image result for students sitting in desk
via ClipartClipart

Did this just sweep you right back into that second-grade classroom? I remember sitting as the expectations raised by the teacher registered in my mind. If my silence is what she demands, will I be a good student? Does my ability to meet deadlines, sit quietly, stay silent, make me a good student?

In that teachers’ eyes, it did.

The Common Sense Narrative

As Kumashiro writes, common sense is a commonly held belief across a culture, country, or group of people. There is a common sense understanding for what makes a good student. Expectations carried across from teacher to teacher, understood by all. It’s what we learn to expect. It’s what is modeled in every classroom across Canada.

The belief that a good student sits quietly, hands folded on top of their desks, without squirming is shared among educators and is not questioned. This is an example of common sense. When we accept things as are, this can become dangerous as it does not leave room for change or improvement.

This is an Issue

Think about the students who do not fit into the “good” student narrative. The ones who suffered under their teacher’s wrath and were viewed as troubled or unteachable. This could include students who have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder), or various other reasons why a student may not learn best by sitting still and being quiet.

By upholding the “good” student common sense students who do not or are not able to fit into that box experience a hostile and unwelcoming learning environment. The “bad” students are not offered the support that they require to succeed, and it is often questioned why these students lose interest in school. It is easier to say that all students are different and learn differently than it is to adjust classroom narratives to ensure students are in a supportive learning environment.

 

Neutrality at the Expense of the Student

Image of paulo freire
Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire is a critical pedagogy educational philosopher. He is big on critiquing the current model of education and provides insight into his pedagogy in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed. He has also helped to uncover the unintentional power structures at play in education related to race, class, gender, and many more factors.

Friere is recognized for his innovative take on bias within the education system. This is shown through his quote that states:

“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.” – Paulo Freire

Neutrality of the Education System

Remaining neutral is one of the biggest goals of all teachers in the classroom. Refraining from infringing upon your students’ beliefs, and limiting discussion about controversial topics is ideal in the classroom. Paulo Freire believes that by ignoring the powers that are at play outside of the classroom, such as sexism, racism, and homophobia, neutrality is not achieved. The silence sides with the powerful, and upholds a system that oppresses the powerless.

The impossibilities That Come With Neutrality

To remain unbiased limits the possibility of change. Pretending that unfair principles within society can be ‘left at the door’ of a classroom is not only unrealistic but also misses the opportunity to address the issues and ignite social change.

The Teacher and The Student

Living in a fairytale world where all events that play out in a student and teacher’s life can be pushed aside for a math class puts unruly expectations on both parties. If schools are not a safe place to discuss the injustice or privilege granted by an unfair society, where else can students grapple with the conflicts inflicted upon them and graduate with a mindset to change the world?

The School

For myself, school was always an extension of my life. It wasn’t a loading screen that prepared me for life – it is life. The fact that many Canadians attend schools do not veer from the self-proclaimed stance of neutrality means that Canadians are being denied the space to ignite social change. Curriculum, as it stands right now, aims not to address the conflicts within the greater society, and therefore side with the powerful and not to be neutral.

The Lack of Evolution in the Curriculum

How does a student in Northern Canada finish their grade twelve education with near identical knowledge to a student who lives on Prince Edward Island? They surely were not taught by the same teacher. Nor did they attend the same school. This is part, in due, to the curriculum. Teachers plan their lessons from the curriculum. Students learn based on the curriculum outcomes and prove their knowledge through standardized testing. In the end, all Canadians finish school with… er… for lack of better words, identical tools in our tool belts. But this way of learning brings up some tough questions, with some even tougher answers.

How did the curriculum start?

You may have learned about a little something called the Industrial Revolution. This was a time when people stopped living in small farming communities in favour of the promises that came with living in the big city. Scales for production went up tenfold as demand for products rose higher and higher, demand for jobs increased, and populations of people preferred to live in large, dominating cities rather than living that country bumpkin lifestyle. This brought forth the desire for efficiency. How do we make the train go faster? How do we make the people work longer? How do we make the students learn smarter?

Meet, Franklin Bobbitt, the father of curriculum studies who developed the once popular belief that children’s time in school should be as efficient as possible and that each child should finish with the exact same educational experiences as the next. Now let’s switch to a man you may be even more familiar with – Ralph Tyler. The father of assessment and evaluation. Ring any bells? Maybe this will help:

The Tyler Rationale which is described in the article Social Efficiency Ideology by Michael Schiro:

  1. What education purposes should the school seek to attain?
  2. What educational experiences will get us there?
  3. How should we organize the experience?
  4. How do we determine that the goals for each student are being met?

This sounds familiar to the way schools are run today. And let me remind you, Ralph Tyler has long since retired his teaching hat, this way of teaching has been around for a long time. Today we hear words like aims and objectives → content → organization of teaching and learning → evaluation and assessment.

Limitations of the Tyler Rationale

The Tyler Rationale may have been ideal when the goal was to produce the same student to the same environment, equipped for the same factory job. But now we live in a world where we value all types of learners who have many experiences in and outside of school, and a plethora of different jobs that require their own list of skill sets. Trying to fit the independent learner in this confining ideal of curriculum does not work out well for the student or the society at large. The Tyler Rationale allows for students to fall through the cracks, to fail in a system that no longer prepares its students for the real world.

Exceptionalities of the Tyler Rationale

With all the negative light being thrown on the education system throughout this article, don’t forget that in its prime, the Tyler Rationale allowed for education to become accessible to all. Without it, we would be stuck in a class system that oppresses the many and favours the few. The system is only taking us down the path towards success, not getting us to our destination.

The Harmful Effects of Relying On Common Sense

I spent twelve years moving through the Canadian education system. Each year was similar to the ones before. Each classroom mirrored the last with the only difference being ‘new’ and ‘exciting’ motivational posters hanging on the walls. I would consider myself an expert when it comes to education, after all, I watched teacher after teacher model the same deliverance of material to their students through:

  • Lectures
  • Assignments
  • Homework
  • Group projects
  • and, tests

In my decision to become a teacher myself which I am currently working towards I accepted and expected that I too would organize my classroom the same as my past teachers had done, and would deliver content through:

  • Lectures
  • Assignments
  • Homework
  • Group projects
  • and, tests

After all, it was just common sense.

Do you see the pattern? The way the curriculum is recycled year after year through the generations? This is how certain practices become ingrained in our way of thinking, and eventually become common sense.

What is common sense and why does it get a bad rep in teaching?

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines common sense as “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts”. This thorough definition sums up my entire experience in the education system; I absorbed my surroundings and understood the situation and soon developed reliant knowledge based on my experience.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Not all parts of the curriculum are necessarily good. Yes, much updating needs to be done to keep up with the fast-paced changes in Canadian society. There are also parts of the curriculum, and the way in which teachers, well, teach that can potentially hurt and/or oppress marginalized groups of people in society. When we recycle previous generations ways of learning we don’t bother to question the notions of privilege and continue to ignore the changes that need to happen.

In Kumashiro’s book Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice I learned through her experience in Nepal how difficult it can be for an education system to criticize their own practice, even if it means bettering the learning experience for their students. She herself was sent to Nepal to help reform the education system with her common sense knowledge of the American education system. She witnessed first hand how difficult change can be, and learned how to criticise her own common sense of what education ‘should be’.

Kumashiro believes that “common sense is not what should shape education reform or curricular design; it is what needs to be examined and challenged.” By breaking the cycle of learned knowledge and expected common sense, we are able to slowly identify and rid our lessons of the notions of privilege and oppression to create an education system that values the lives of each student.

Contributing to the Learning of Others

The word digital citizenship implies more than one person. This means that in order for me to get the most out of this course I would have had to have interactions with others online. I not only comply with these guidelines but embrace them. I loved conversing with people online, creating new friendships, finding out similar interests, or having debates. This all helped to create my PLN – Professional Learning Network.

It was all very new to me, and I tried my best to just throw myself into the deep end and hope that I didn’t sink. Not only did I stay alive on the internet, but I feel that I contributed in a positive way to the learning of others.

Don’t just take my word for it, check out the links below to see the places in which I contributed positively to my digital community.

If you would like to see some examples of the exact ways I contributed to the learning of others check out the short video I made that includes snapshots of my interactions with others online.

This semester has been full of ups and down, but my digital relationships have been there to cheer me up and offer support. I’d like to thank those who contributed to my learning over the course of the semester, especially my EDTC300 classmates.