Canada’s History of Education

Canada’s history of education is one that often gets told in tiny pieces with its faults sugar coated and the effects present in today’s society ignored. For this week I was given a wide array of resources that pieced together Canada’s entire educational history. These resources opened my eyes to the true history of Canada’s education system.

The first thing I learned was from the Schooling in Saskatchewan document. I had always wondered how English and French immersion schools came about, and this article covered the entire evolution of such schools. I had not known that twenty short years after Manitoba joined confederation that they had abolished separate denominational schools and French as an official language. I also learned that it took the implementation of the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms for Saskatchewan to create a Francophone School board.

Next I read the truly heart-wrenching stories from Shattering the Silence: History of Residential Schools in Saskatchewan which was written by Shuana Niessen. There were three stories written that depicted the lives of a parent who was left behind as their child was carted away to attend an Indian Residential School, then of the child in question and their experiences at these schools, and lastly, an intergenerational trauma survivor. For myself throughout my education I was typically exposed to the stories of the student. These stories were the easiest to comprehend and connect to. This was my first time considering the parents of the students. The story managed to encompass more than the separation and anxiety that crippled the parents of these children. It included

Teepee in the middle of a modern street
Fibonacci Blue Flickr via Compfight cc

the pressures that came along with providing for their community in a new world where challenges such as colonization were never experienced. The final story brought me to the present where I read of the deep cut that colonization and residential schools inflicted in First Nation, Metis, and Inuit family lineage. I learned of the intergenerational violence that the survivors become entrapped in and of the challenges that the survivors and their families are currently facing because of residential schools.

After taking all of this new knowledge in, I am left with many questions. Where do we go from here? Is it right to keep expecting students to succeed in such a flawed system? How do we, as educators, incorporate the vastly changing needs of our students into a curriculum that hasn’t been updated. Most importantly, how do we deal with the flaws of our education system and provide adequate education for the twenty-first century student?

The above question leads my train of thought to analyse how far schools have come. On the surface it is easy to point out that we no longer remove children from the influence of their families and communities, but we are not fostering that experience appropriately in the classroom. We no longer use physical punishment and tolerate sexual abuse, but our expectations of children are oftentimes unattainable (hence the use of prescription drugs to alter their behaviour).

Canada’s history of education bleeds into the present and well into the future. We cannot continue to ignore the impacts of our past mistakes as it impacts of society today.

Unearned Privilege

White privilege is a heavy topic. Although my ECS110 class covered this topic and allowed me to feel much more comfortable speaking on this issue, I do not get a free pass from discussing thing and I am certainly not an expert. I am still exploring my white privilege in relation to the other forms of privilege in my life and in the relationships I have with those around me. I feel that acknowledging your privilege is the first step to productive change, but I have a long road ahead of me before privilege and systemic racism are factors of the past.

Girl Standing with Backpack
The eclectic Oneironaut Flickr via Compfight cc

Through Peggy Mcintosh’s insightful article “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” I learned that my privileges are “invisible packages of unearned assets”. This is an interesting way of looking at privilege. Thinking about it in a physical sense where there is in fact a backpack which has assets to aid me in life is an interesting concept that I can add to my growing arsenal of knowledge.

I also learned about a defense mechanism that many white people tend to use in conversation about white privilege. That is where it is interlocked with racism, sexism, and heterosexualism in order to ‘spread the target’ or ‘soften the blow’. As Peggy McIntosh states in her article since racism, sexism, and heterosexism are not the same, the advantages associated with them should not be seen as the same.” Which in turn makes them uncomparable in a discussion about white privilege.

Lastly the entire list that McIntosh was able to create opened my eyes to the privilege I have. The twenty-six scenarios she posses are only the tip of the privilege iceberg, yet they change the way I move about my everyday life. It has drawn attention to the unfair actions that society seems to constantly dismiss as optional. I am specifically astounded by the act of presenters who are asked to speak on behalf of their race. In this very class we applauded Anna-Leah King as she stood before us and generalized the genocide of her people for our learning experience.

This entire article leaves a coil of guilt in my stomach. I realize that guilt and shame was not the purpose, and that my time is better spent on finding solutions to the issue of white privilege, specifically my white privilege. The question I will be asking myself is how do I lessen the unearned assets in my invisible knapsack? How do I go about ridding myself of my privilege, and ending this unfair privilege for all white people? I find the solution problematic and uncertain. The direction that I need to be going in is vague and I am not sure where to begin this journey of shedding my privilege. I don’t wish to renounce my whiteness or pretend I don’t belong to my own race. I believe that ending the privilege is possible and needs to be obtained for the benefits of those who do not have this privilege and for those who do. White privilege is not about guilt, it is about action.

Muffins for Granny

This week class was spent learning about the importance of Aboriginal identity through the stories of Anna-Leah King and from the film Muffins for Granny. King spoke about her parents’ experiences going to residential school. It wasn’t until I looked up from my note taking that I saw her face mid-story. Gloss coated her eyes thick beneath her lashes and with each word she said a wave of emotion followed, as if it pained her to speak so openly about her parents, herself, and her people. Allowing myself to accept the stories spilling out from between her lips and into my open and supporting heart is one thing, but to metaphorically cut herself open and bleed the truth to a receptive audience is absolutely astonishing.

Then came the film. I have watched many films on the subject of Residential school, but had yet to watch Muffins for Granny made by Nadia Mclaren. The film is dedicated to her Grandmother who shared her tragic experiences in Residential school. The film showcased 7 others who’s stories continue to haunt me well passed the end of the documentary.

From the presentation and film viewing I learned a lot. I had never bothered to think about a presenters feelings before. Whether the topic be very personal or standardized facts with no personal connection, I never stopped to wonder what effects these topics actually had on the speaker. This causes me to reflect back on other presentations I had sat through mindlessly absorbing the words without empathy. Even one week before when I had the privilege of listening to Christian speak about his experience with gender identity while growing up, I was so focused on how I would apply the new lessons I learned from his presentations into my own life in a positive way that I lacked the empathetic nature that I have now. It was as if with Anna-Leah King that my eyes had been opened to a whole new world of listening with an empathetic ear. I would like to thank Ms. King for the insightful presentation and for recommending the heart-touching film Muffins for Granny. If you have not seen the film I encourage you to watch the trailer below.

Reflecting back on her presentation along with the film that followed moves me to tears. As a way to express my feelings about this presentation I have written the poem below.

 

For You

For the lives that go unlived and the dreams that go undreamt,

For children that ’re not taught and the land that wasn’t leant.

The valiant and the brave fought for the innocent.

This is for the children, families, communities,

For the ones who had to suffer with no opportunities.

The continued negligence reveals the truth of our species.

This is for the food, plates uneaten and unserved,

They made it sound important as if the people they deserved.

A population in starvation, yet their cries will go unheard.

This is for the bodies buried, burned, and all forgotten,

Will the families hear the words if their ears are filled with cotton?

Darkened hearts that keep on beating, taking orders they are rotten.

For the children stuck in past, present, future it’s unsure,

We need to work together wading through the truth obscured.

Teach me in your language let your voices sound secure,

Of the hurtful kind of suffering that your people must endure.