Learning from Place

The article suggests that a “critical pedagogy of place” aims to:

(a) identify, recover, and create material spaces and places that teach us how to live well in our total environments (reinhabitation); and (b) identify and change ways of thinking that injure and exploit other people and places (decolonization) (p.74)

  1. List some of the ways that you see reinhabitation and decolonization happening throughout the narrative.
  2. How might you adapt these ideas to considering place in your own subject areas and teaching?

The article lists many ways that the research project conducted in Fort Albany First Nation demonstrated reinhabitation and decolonization. For example, the researchers had youth from the community do interviews with elders to connect a sense of place and the importance of the ways of knowing which was a form of material creation that taught these youth how to live in their environments.

As well as interviews, the researchers took community members on river excursions which revealed an importance in naming sites along the river in Cree. It was found that many more sites could be named using the Cree names rather than English mappings of this area which failed to outline many key sites. By conducting these excursions, a deeper understadning of Cree words and concepts to the land was gained by the participants, proving that a distance from this connection had been gained over the generations.

This research project truly brought youth and elders together to address reinhabitation and decolonization. A significant part of this was the difference between how these generations understood ‘place’. Once again, Cree terminology came in to play as the terms “paquataskamik” and “noscheemik” were defined in relation to place as understood by Cree culture. Paquataskamik refers to traditional territory, all of the environment, nature, and everything it contains; whereas, noscheemik is the word for “camp” and describes a more specific area within paquataskamik. The researchers recovered that these terms were being used improperly by younger generations within Fort Albany First Nation. This meant that youth in the community did not have a true concept of what paquataskamik is. An elder community member even described this term as “too high a word” for young people. By making this connection, the younger generations can begin to identify the significance of place in relation to the Ways of Knowing and can address reinhabitation and decolonization in a real way.

I believe that these ideas can be used and adapted in many areas of study in today’s curriculum. By aiming focus at the ideas of place in this article, students can begin to see on a larger scale the importance of land to Indigenous people and how it is still being exploited today. For example, in geography, a connection could be drawn between these ideas and the ever-growing oil industry. Who is benefitting from the oil industry? Who makes the decisions to use land that is sacred to Indigenous people?

If change is to be expected for Indigenous Ways of Knowing in Canadian policy, we must start by educating students on the priority differences between Western culture and Indigenous cultures.

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Curriculum Policy and Politics

Before reading prompt:

How do you think that school curricula are developed?

I think that school curricula is developed by school division representatives meeting to discuss the curriculum and what needs to be improved. I would imagine that this happens provincially as each province is responsible for producing its own curriculum. To have symmetry among the different curriculums throughout the country, province representatives must also have to meet to discuss larger scale changes.

I imagine that developing school curricula is a task not taken lightly.

After reading prompt:

How are school curricula developed and implemented? What new information/perspectives does this reading provide about the development and implementation of school curriculum? Is there anything that surprises you or maybe that concerns you?

School curricula is influenced by many different parties along the way before reaching the classroom ranging from national to local to school to state participants. At each of these rest stops along the way, the individuals involved have some say in what should be implemented into the curriculum and/or how it should be implemented. Curriculum decisions are made by a panel of experts and are then implemented based on the influences mentioned earlier.

After doing the reading, I was surprised to learn that so many people have an influence over what the curriculum consists of. According to this reading, individual preference of those holding the position of cabinet minister or political advisor can be implemented fairly easily. This means that curriculum decisions don’t necessarily boil down to majority rule but simply to personal preference, which seems unfair as the cabinets of government are filled with white cabinet ministers over minority representatives. I was also surprised to find that Elementary schools often have complete control over what they choose to be emphasized from the curriculum.

As for the Process aspect of how curriculum decisions are made, I found it interesting to learn that the measure of actual classroom experience is ever disappointing. Often curricula is put in place that is not effectively taught by many or even most teachers. An example is given on new mathematics curricula brought in that was developed by six teachers who were said to be the “only ones who could teach it successfully”. I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked about this gap between formal curriculum and real teaching and learning practices but I did not believe that it still posed such a wide problem.

The collection of research and results are ongoing as a way to always be improving curriculum. Teacher implementation of curriculum is often shaped by day to day realities of their workplace, their habits, and their personal views about what is practical. All of these factors increase the likelihood that the intended result will not be produced; therefore, research is still being done on how to mediate personal interests in hope of developing the intended vision of educational expertise.

The common sense and what is ‘good’

As we know, the curriculum has been written by the powerful. Painter’s “A History of Education” exemplifies this perfectly by emphasizing the “uncivilized communities” as uneducated; therefore, implying that European communities are inherently more educated. This is where our curriculum stems from. These ideas of a hierarchical society where minorities are seated below white culture seeps in to education and into the minds of students learning in our classrooms. Painter’s first chapter goes as far as to say “Their education is thus too primitive in it’s character to bring within the scope of our present undertaking.” He even claims that education to the “uncivilized communities” only consisted of training the body for “war and the chase”. By now, most university students should be aware that the “uncivilized communities” in which he is referring to are the Aboriginal communities that were taken over in North America. These communities were taken over because of the Europeans differing views on common sense.

Common sense decides what is the norm for every aspect of education. What qualifies a normal teacher. What qualifies a normal students. And what qualifies normal behaviour, beliefs, and values within society’s parameters. In a North American school, a good student would demonstrate traits such as completed homework, regurgitation of information, ability to memorize content for exams, ability to demonstrate topics covered in assignment form, and proven skill in reading, writing, and arithmetic. A good teacher would assess the students’ learning with tests and assignments, cover “academic” topics only (not political), and would present themselves in a “professional” and “effective” manner. These ideas are all believed to be characteristics of a good school setting; one without too much difference or individuality. A cookie cutter school is a model school.

But with these common sense ideas come consequence. These projected values are steeped in white culture that can be traced back to 1886 when Painter described “the end result of education…the ideal of all culture, is Christ.” This demonstrates that education has been linked to the dominant culture for centuries and what we teach and how we teach is representative of white culture. This leaves minority cultures feeling alienated and inferior.

Kumashiro discusses alternative teaching methods in chapter 2 of “Preparing Teachers for Crisis: What it Means to be a Student”. These ideas, although proven effective, are viewed as unproductive and nonsensical because they don’t align with the comforting common sense ideas of education. People view these ideas as abnormal because they are different and may be difficult to comprehend. An example of white culture being valued over minority culture can be be seen in the participation of the Christmas holiday in North American schools. Christmas is a large celebration for many schools and is accepted as joyous and normal. However, if holidays from different cultures were brought in to schools, many parents would feel “uncomfortable”. This is because religious views that don’t agree with the dominant Christian religion are viewed as the “wrong” religion and society has deemed them different and therefore not normal.

So with this, how can we claim that our common sense ideas present in every day school life aren’t just as assimilative as the ways of the European settlers?

Formal Schooling

Murray Rothbard was an American heterodox economist, historian, and political theorist. He also held the title of S.J. Hall Distinguished Professor of Economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where it is said that he was able to attract a large number of “students and disciples” through his many writings, many of which were on Libertarian studies. Although his area of expertise and best known work is not in the study of curriculum, he did write a book called “Education, Free & Compulsory” which discusses the generations of reformers who have “failed to improve the educational system”.

The quote that I’d like to unpack comes from Rothbard’s book “Education, Free & Compulsory” and states: “It is clearly absurd to limit the term ‘education’ to a person’s formal schooling”.

This quote instantly reminds me of the praxis approach to curriculum theory and practice as it puts emphasis on learning from life outside of school. Home life and any other after school life all affect learning. This means that every child who walks in to a teachers classroom has different background education already under their belt. As a future educator, I find that fact intimidating. It’s like playing a board game with your students and having everyone at a different starting point. The game will undoubtedly play out differently for each student. However; I believe that it is our job as educators to ensure all students make it to the finish line, regardless of where they start out.

The quote also addresses the thought of “formal” education as apposed to “informal” education. Formal education refers to a teachers purposeful delivery of content while informal refers to everything a child learns that wasn’t intended as course material at school. The thought of formal education and curriculum makes me think of the product model of curriculum theory and practice which approached curriculum as a way to produce model citizens for society’s benefit. This model molded it’s curriculum in hopes that every student would come out with the exact same skills and learnings, much like a product out of a factory. When the product approach was used, the values of a model citizen often resembled Western ideals of Christian whiteness. Although I’m sure the ‘formal’ curriculum of the past, especially at the time of product model education, didn’t come right out and say that “White” values would lead to success, I’m sure the ‘informal’ curriculum did. To the students who didn’t fit the ‘cookie cutter’ (pardon the cliche) image of the dominant race, this way of teaching would prove very diminishing and unrepresentative.

I find Murray Rothbard’s quote intriguing as it addresses many aspects of curriculum covered already in this class. Although Rothbard fits the “male, pale, stale” role, he seems to have some socially just thoughts on the education system. He was aware that the educational curriculum was very important to society. He also stated that “the curriculum is politicized to reflect the ideological priorities of the regime in power.”

Developing an identity- a personal narrative

When asked to think of an incident involving inequality or difference of some type that helped shape my identity, nothing obvious came to mind. I had a really hard time thinking of any ways in which I’ve been personally affected by inequality which led me to the realization that my privilege has probably allowed me to drift through life without experiencing inequality first hand. Because I am white, I am not seen as ‘different’ which is why I was not easily triggered when asked about incidents of “difference” that developed who I am today. Once I made this connection, I stopped trying to think from a place of being the victim, per say, and began thinking of times when I experienced unfair opportunities as a member of the dominant culture. One incident in particular came to mind.

It was grade 11 English class and I was, and had been throughout all of high school, an 80s and 90s student. I loved English and the creative twist that most assignments in this class allowed for. I enjoyed the content we covered and am sure that because of this, I was liked by my English teacher, let’s call her Mrs. Rose. During this semester, Mrs. Rose had been teaching us self-reflection. Many assignments given throughout the semester had been to reflect on a time when you experienced something similar to a character from a story that we had read. Although I didn’t mind most assignment given to us in this class, there was one in particular that triggered some form of discomfort in me. It was nearing the end of the semester and Mrs. Rose decided to assign another reflective assignment but this time we weren’t asked to compare ourselves to any story. We were to think of a time in our lives when we experienced strong unhappiness or happiness with someone we love and then to write a letter to that person addressing this emotion and get it signed by them. I hated the premise of the assignment. I believed that what Mrs. Rose was attempting to do was a job for a therapist and not a high school teacher. I didn’t think that she should be asking students to solve problems with their loved ones by writing them letters because I didn’t think it was any of her business to ask that of us. My reaction to the assignment was simply to not do it, which was very out of character for me. The due date came around and I had nothing to hand in. Shocked, Mrs. Rose asked to see me after to class for clarification on why I hadn’t been able to complete the assignment. I expressed my concern honestly and after some discussion, we reached the verdict that I would think about it and hopefully complete the assignment by my personally extended due date which was a week away. She strongly encouraged me to complete it as report cards were coming up and marks needed to be in. She didn’t want to have to give me a zero which would bring down my grade.

Now, my problem with this series of events isn’t how I was affected personally but how I was treated differently because of my privilege. I received a second opportunity to complete the assignment, which I know others did not receive. Mrs. Rose had always been strict about her due dates which is why I was both honoured and shocked to receive an extended one. From hearing people talk in the hall or at the back of the class, I knew that there were others who also hadn’t handed in the assignment and who would most definitely be given a zero. These particular students were Aboriginal, didn’t engage with the class much, and probably had other incomplete assignments from the semester. But nonetheless, they should have been given just as much of a chance to succeed as I was given. Instead, Mrs. Rose treated them with an attitude of ‘lost causes’ and did not do everything in her power to encourage them to be active learners. School is a very different setting for minorities than it is for the majority. There is a lack of representation and systematic ways of aiming to produce what Western values deem to be a model citizen. This would make connecting with the material difficult for students who don’t have the same values and would make school feel like a foreign place where only the dominant culture succeeds. I believe that Mrs. Rose contributed to this problem by giving the white ‘model student’ extra opportunities than the Aboriginal ‘unengaged student’. I believe that a classroom should be a fair space where every student’s differing abilities are fostered to create the best version of themselves, not the best version of what society decides a model student is. I am bothered by incidents like this because they are not far and few between, they are common and accepted by teachers today. Even if the teachers are unconsciously doing it, they are still favouring the dominant culture.

How did this help to develop my identity? Well, this is most definitely not the only time in my life when my whiteness benefited me. I’m sure that it happens every day from the lack of assumption that I will attempt to steal when I walk in to a store all the way to being given a job over minority applicants. I am learning to be aware of this privilege and to do everything I can to create a world that isn’t run by hierarchy but is fair and just for all cultures.

Response to Social Efficiency Ideology

Can you think about:

A) The ways in which you may have experienced the Tyler rationale in your own schooling?

B) What are the major limitations of the Tyler rationale/ What does it make impossible?

C) What are some potential benefits/ What is made possible?

After reading the article Social Efficiency Ideology by Schiro, I think I can safely assume that I have experienced the Tyler rationale throughout all of grade school and still well into my University career. Because education is still aiming to produce citizens who will ‘fit well’ in society, this rationale still lives in curriculum today. In my own experience, however; the Tyler rationale appeared in grammar exams and speed-reading tests all the way to “gifted” math programs in high school.

Now grammar exams and speed-reading tests are fairly straight forward in their link to the Tyler rational. Schools want a high average reading level, therefore; practice and regurgitation of English education is vital to a young students’ education. I remember having to memorize words in elementary school to ensure a pass on these pretty standard tests. The “gifted” math programs, however; catered to the students who learned quickly and showed a deeper skill level. Although I did not receive ‘poor’ grades in math courses (mid 70s- mid 80s), I did not make the requirements for the program which divided me from many of my friends and discouraged me from excelling in math. The students who were qualified were seen as a better fit to the successful citizen-mould that the ‘factory’, or school, was looking to produce. I felt as if the students who did not promise this outcome were not tended to in the same way.

This serves as an introduction to what I believe to be the limitations of the Tyler rationale. Tyler’s four questions do not foster creativity or alterations in end results that could be equally beneficial to a student’s education. Instead the goals are clearly stated and every student is expected to comply with the accepted societal goals of what it means to be a contributing citizen. Just like Bobbitt states in the article, “Society is to say what shall be accomplished in the ultimate education of each class of individuals.” And just like the factory analogy explains, the aim is to have students come out model citizens by “developing abilities to do the things well that make up affairs of adult life; and to be in all respects what adults should be.”

As for potential benefits of the Tyler rationale, I believe that it all boils down to what is easier and more efficient for society. This means the qualifications necessary for a young adult to become employed and the standards necessary to the employers hiring them. When schools produce standard students with clear and precise qualifications of education, future employers can expect these skills from a wide variety of young adults. Similarity, the students themselves can choose courses starting in early high school that pertain to their desired career path and in turn learn specific skills that will help them in adult life. The article re-iterates this by stating “”the curriculum should be “a series of things which children and youth must do and experience” to obtain the performances” [that make up the affairs of adult life]” (Bobbitt and Schiro).

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Sept. 12th- Reading Response #1 on Kumashiro

Seminar #1 Reading Response

Q: How does Kumashiro define ‘common sense’?
Why is it so important to pay attention to ‘common sense’?

A: Kumashiro describes common sense as the accepted behaviours in a given society. He exemplifies this with a story from his time teaching in Nepal and the difficulty he had adjusting to the ‘common sense’ customs of the Nepali people. He reflects on his time training in the Peace Corps and explains that they received very little training on how to teach because their superiors believed that they already knew how to since they had all gone through the education system. Basically, the were expected to mimic exactly how they had been taught and, in turn, reproduce the idea that the “American” way is the best way.
Kumashiro then goes on to explain that the common sense “American” way; while comforting to a large part of the American population, is also oppressive to anyone who doesn’t fall under the “norm” of white, European, and Christian. Through what is believed to be ‘appropriate’ behaviour for teachers in America, the classroom is filled with un-questioned rules and systems that have been accepted as the best. The comforting common sense should be questioned because we need to change the status quo in order to reach anti-oppressive education. A lot of what we do that is believed to be common sense is actually inherently learned behaviour or belief and is not necessarily inclusive. As not to divert from social norms, we often behave in ways in which we feel we “should” or in ways that are comfortably acceptable and appropriate social behaviours. Kumashiro encourages all educators not to conform but instead to integrate social justice and anti-oppressive education into their classroom.

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