Life Lenses

We all perceive the world a different way. Where I come from, what kind of family I have, even my occupation shapes the way I look at the world around me. Each aspect of my personality and external factors contribute to building a type of lens in which I see the world through. For example, I only run outside during daytime hours. The idea of running outside at night seems unsafe because of my lense as a woman, but I don’t fear police brutality because I do not have the same lense as a black person.

Image of looking through glasses
Looking through glasses

Many people go through their lives looking through their lens but never looking at them. The best example I have been given was by my ECS professor Michael Capello; every day you get up and put on your glasses. You wear them all day, they help you see the board at school and aid in depth perception when going about your day. Rarely do we take time to examine the glasses themselves. We are so busy observing the world through the lens that nobody bothers to take them off their face and critically evaluate how our site is warped by our lenses.

In Kumashiro’s book Against Common Sense, he encounters students who face the same feelings as me as the job can never be done. You can never complete the evaluation of your lenses. He says this perfectly on page 78, “My student teachers often express frustration over the contradictory implications of these theories and the notion that the work of interrupting our own privileges (racial, gender, or otherwise) and coming to know our students will never end.” This kind of interruption is crucial for educators, as self-improvement and progression are important to have a successful career as a teacher. I think it is important to notes that this work is not only done to improve the self but also to deconstruct the oppressive nature that it built into our society, and our schools.

I will leave the last words to Kumashiro as his words act as inspiration on the days when it feels most difficult to examine my lenses.

“Yet, I would also encourage my students to consider ways that the contradictions and ongoing work can present rich opportunities to challenge oppression in schools.”

The Expectation of Students in Society

Citizenship in schools. This type of learning isn’t shown on report cards, nor do students march their way from one room to the next to greet their citizenship teacher. This is one of those expectations of schools that has no place in the curriculum. It is simply an expectation that teachers teach their students about what it means to be a member of Canadian society – a citizen.

There are three different types of citizenship according to Westheimer and Kahne’s article titled “What Kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Demoncracy”.

  1. The first type of citizen is a personally-responsible citizen. This citizen does things that are generally socially expected of them without much fuss such as voting and volunteering.
  2. The second type of citizen participates in protests and plays an active roll in their community, and is called a participatory citizen.
  3. Lastly, there is the justice-oriented citizen. This type of citizen questions all that is unjust, as well as works towards real social change.

Keeping these 3 types of citizens in mind think back to your education on citizenship. What did your teachers do to teach you citizenship? And what kind of citizen were you taught and expected to become?

For myself I was lucky. My teachers did, in fact, teach me about citizenship. I participated in class elections to learn about voting, studied real Canadian candidates and picked apart their words. My class would take an afternoon to pick up garbage in my community or shovel city sidewalks in the thick of winter. We raised money for worthy causes and were encouraged to take part in marches, parades, and protests. This covers the first two types of citizen.

I was taught how to be a personally-responsible citizen and a participatory citizen, but never a justice-oriented citizen. Sure, it was implied. Class discussions and the like brought about these questions about inequality and unjust, but it was never in the volume it needed in order to produce a batch of citizens with a justice-oriented mindset.

In this type of system, students are taught to question their surroundings; they are taught to uphold it.

Numeracy Across Cultures

I hate math. That’s I’ve always thought, from the time even before I started school learning to count in my parents warm and welcoming arms. Then I moved to the classroom and my struggles weren’t met with encouraging words or soothing voices. It was teachers trying to meet the required outcomes who went by the rule that if most of the class could grasp the content, it was time to move on to

bigger numbers!

Multiplication flashcards!

Weird, half circle things called protractors because my circles just weren’t good enough!

And then I sat in the final math class of high school with a scientific calculator in my hands and not a clue what to do with it!

On my grade 12 graduation day, I promised myself that I was done math, and allowed my brain to forget all the useless math stuff I had accumulated over 12 years of learning. I thought I was done, honestly, I did.

And then…. came my first in school placement.

Bouncing from classroom to classroom I tried desperately to escape the math as I embarrassingly realized on my first day that I couldn’t even add double digit numbers without a calculator. Pathetic, I know.

My experience with math in the school system was not one of great success. It is one of struggling and tears; of confusion and frustration.

I learned a type of math rooted in Eurocentric ideas. I was never presented with a different way of learning, and neither are many students who come from other cultures with different understandings of the world around them.

Fortunately, I was lucky enough to read an article titled “Teaching Mathematics in the Inuit Community” and also hear a lecture from a faculty member on the topic of Eurocentricism education, specifically in the field of math. Both the article and lecture discuss the vast difference between Inuit ways of knowing math, which the Inuit children learn in their native language up to grade 3.

The differences in language and in idea range widely across all aspects of math. Here are some examples of the ways in which the knowledge differs:

  1. Firstly, the Inuit people use a base numerical system of 20, whereas the Euro system is 10. This stems from the practice of living in igloos, which I have come to learn trap heat very well and cause the inhabitants to remove much of their clothes exposing their ten fingers and ten toes; hence the base 20 system.
  2. Second, the Inuit people represent space differently. There are different words if 3 objects are contained within another object (pingasutalik) or standing in a row (pingasut). This is different from the Euro way in which 3 always means 3.
  3. Lastly, spatial representation to an Inuit person comes from a completely different idea than the typical euro way of knowing spatial amounts. In euro knowledge, we provide specifics on spatial measurements in precise numbers. The way that Inuit people recognize spatial amounts is through a common knowledge base of knowing and gathering knowledge from previous experiences. An example of this from the lecture would be if you were asked to run to the store and buy potatoes for supper, someone who experienced a euro-upbringing would ask how many potatoes, to which the answer would be 6; whereas someone who experienced an Inuit upbringing would answer enough to feed 6 people. The Inuit knowledge accounts for variations in shape, size, or change.

As you can see, the ways of knowledge differ greatly. This kind of misalignment is not often recognized as a big deal in the Canadian school system, as Eurocentric education is enforced as the sole correct way of knowledge. Whitewashing our students creates problematic gaps in the education sector, and erases the valuable knowledge that lies within the many cultures across Canada and the world.

Some questions to consider:

How does the eurocentric education system harm those who do not subscribe to eurocentric ideas?

How can we do a better job of incorporating other ways of knowing into the classroom?

Does eurocentric ways of knowing privilege a certain group of people in Canadian society?

A Pre-Service Teacher’s Advice

Dear Hayley

As part of my classes for my three week block I have picked up a Social Studies 30 course. This past week we have been discussing the concept of standard of living and looking at the different standards across Canada . I tried to introduce this concept from the perspective of the First Nations people of Canada and my class was very confused about the topic and in many cases made some racist remarks. I have tried to reintroduce the concept but they continue to treat it as a joke.

 

The teachers at this school are very lax on the topic of Treaty Education as well as First Nations ways of knowing. I have asked my Coop for advice on Treaty Education and she told me that she does not see the purpose of teaching it at this school because there are no First Nations students. I was wondering if you would have any ideas of how to approach this topic with my class or if you would have any resources to recommend.

From,

A Concerned Intern

 

I did not actually recieve this email, but I took on the challenge to respond to it. Hopefully, my response can help anyone else going through something similar.

 

Dear Intern,

This happens a lot more than you think, and many interns and teachers have experienced the students and support systems who resist Treaty Education. Failing to see the importance of the subject is understandable as it is a rather new addition to the classroom, but that does not give either party the excuse to act with such closed minds. Let’s jump right in and address some of these issues.

To begin with, let’s get one thing straight – you do not have to have any First Nation, Metis, or Inuit students present in the classroom to include FNMI Content and Perspectives. Treaty education is not about teaching to or about a specific culture. It is about looking back into Canada’s history that does not solely concern a single group of people, it is all of our responsibilities to learn from history. Also, FNMI students probably already have a pretty good understanding of the history of genocide against their own culture, they are the ones living in the aftermath. It is the white, Asian, African American, Islander, newly immigrated students, and did I mention white students who do not live with the constant reminder of the terrible past, that need the education to properly understand the society we all currently live in.

Another reason that it is important to learn about Treaty Education is that “we are all treaty people.” Every student in your class and every teacher in your school stands to gain something from the treaties signed years ago. Whether this is land, resources, money or education, the treaties were signed with the intention of both parties receiving something from the Treaties. (Despite the promises remaining unfulfilled or ignored, but that’s another conversation).

For myself, I struggled to make this argument. I knew that Treaty Education was important but I didn’t really know why or how to defend my beliefs. It wasn’t until I attended TreatyEdCamp that I learned everything I have written here today. I learned that admitting to being a Treaty person takes a lot of courage and responsibility. I also learned that the trauma of one group is the trauma of Canada. Most of all in TreatyEdCamp I learned that Canada’s history, no matter what how devastating, is woven into Canada’s memory forever, but it doesn’t have to influence our future.

Best of Luck,

Hayley

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.

 

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.