ECS 210 Response 6: Learning from Place

In Jean-Paul Restoule, Sheila Gruner, and Edmund Metatawabin’s article, “Learning from Place: A Return to Traditional Mushkegowuk Ways of Knowing”, the authors state that “rehabilitation and decolonization depend on each other” (74). In this way, it is difficult to separate one from the other and so there are many instances in the narrative that exemplify both the integration of reinhabitation and decolonization. The article, for example, references the “discoveries of the Ring of Fire mineral deposits west of the community were and are bringing pressures from mining companies and the federal government to enter into large scale extractive development” (73). It is this pressure from western society to develop sacred land that pushes forward the project for intergenerational dialogue and teaching youth about Indigenous ways of knowing with an underlying message to reject the exploitation through decolonization.

As well, encouraging intergenerational relationships between youth and First Nations elders through projects such as interviews and “zines” (74) helped to create a “snowball effect” of the community wanting to contribute this important conversation of Indigenous traditional ways of life. Soon there are excursions on the river with lessons on how to survive off the land. In my opinion, there seems to be an interesting blend of incorporating tradition (lessons of surviving off the land) and modern methods of learning (documenting through audio interviews and videos). I think this helps the students see how Indigenous ways of knowing don’t have to be completely separated from the modern world. This knowledge has maintained its relevance since before European colonization, and I think this project to join youth to elders in Indigenous communities shows why it has been able to survive despite the Canadian government and general public’s repeated attempts to assimilate and eradicate Indigenous culture.

It might be beneficial to integrate a teaching style that implements more considerations for Indigenous ways of knowing. A deeper, more critical way of thinking about nature and the earth itself can be engaging if related to what students already know. For example, the river that was consistently referenced in the article is just a body of water for anyone that is solely taught in the white, majority, Eurocentric narrative. To Indigenous communities, however, it is so much more. Not only is it a means for survival, but its personal to each member of the community in unique and sacred ways. Teaching students that there is more to learn than just what Is presented at face value can allow for future generations to respect the Indigenous ways of knowing throughout their own lives and future careers.

 

Reference

Restoule et al (2013)  “Learning From Place: A Return to Traditional Mushkegowuk Ways of Knowing” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1dI7wj8JcsOuMVHjWx1aKJy3XzCSoyYuc/view.

 

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ECS 210 Response 5: Levin’s “Curriculum policy and the politics of what should be learned in schools”

Before reading the article on how the government influences policy in education and curricula, my knowledge of how the curriculum is created was vague and minimal. I know that the government has an important role in what we teach and when we teach it. I know that the team of curricula creators is usually creating the curriculum through a white, Eurocentric lens. Beyond that, I never questioned the “how” of curricula creation.

Reading Levin’s “Curriculum policy and the politics of what should be learned in schools,” I was introduced to the politics of curriculum. I learned the big debates that usually surround curriculum—such as what is taught and to what degree—as well as who is involved in curriculum. Namely, this involves government officials at various levels: some federal, most provincial, and a few municipal. As well, however, there also seems to be some influence from experts from certain subject matters, educational “stakeholders” like principals, administrators, and other groups such as parents of past, present, or future students. The development of school curricula is completed through a lengthy process of research, editing and revising. There seems, however, to be a disconnect between curricula creators (the very best teachers and/or experts in their subject) and the average school teacher. This gap prevents the curriculum from being taught efficiently because it has not been built for the every day.

I was both surprised and concerned by the interesting point that Levin brought up: “Any issue that is politically contentious can also turn into a curriculum dispute.” (15) In a way, I know this idea to be true, but I never really considered its implication until now. It brings me back to what was repeatedly said in lecture, “Education is never neutral.” Levin gives the example of sex education and I completely agree. Issues like rape and abortion—so-called “hot button topics”—cannot be (and in my opinion, should not be) avoided when developing a curriculum for sex education. Even if they are not explicitly addressed, they become the elephant in the room. Education in this way–and in other ways–are politically charged.

Reference

Levin, B. (2008). Curriculum policy and the politics of what should be learned in schools. In F. Connelly, M. He & J. Phillion (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of curriculum and instruction (pp. 7 – 24). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.Available online from http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/16905_Chapter_1.pdf.

ECS 210 Response 4: The “Good” Student–Responding to Kumashiro

In his book, Against Common Sense, Kumashiro discusses commonsense in society and more specifically, in the classroom. The notion of a “good” student ties in with the idea of commonsense. Students are seen as a “blank slate,” with a complete disregard for any students’ past experiences or positionalities. “Good” students are the ones who do not question why things are the way they are. They sit quietly and obediently in their desks, and they take what the teachers say as the truth. What’s more, the “good” student is condensed to a specific group of people. Much like the rest of Western society, a small fraction of the population is seen as the “ideal.” The “good” student is typically a well-off, heterosexual, cis-gendered male. Additionally, the “good” student model does not include those with learning disabilities. How can a student with ADHD or ADD or hyperactivity sit, listen and focus for hours at a time? It’s not realistic. Because of the commonsense idea, we cannot see the potential of those who do not fit within the ideal of society. We also cannot comprehend or understand why the student is the way they are, because we do not take into account the student’s experiences or positionality when seeing education through the commonsense lens. When refusing to break away from the commonsense idea, we are hindering the inclusion of all of our students by not providing them with an adequate and diverse learning environment.

 

Reference

Kumashiro, Kevin. 2009. Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice. ed. 2. pp. 19-32. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1kkJc7k2AyKB-Usl3pujiMAeWpfzmpZRK/view.

ECS 210 Response 3: Impressionable Students in the Classroom

“Children are like wet cement. Whatever falls on them makes an impression” -Dr. Hiam Ginnot

Independent thinking is a somewhat foreign concept in elementary and high schools. You’re expected to be a ‘good’ student (i.e. a quiet and obedient student) and memorize what needs to be memorized. Seems almost a simple concept—at face value. The reality is that the school setting alters an individual at the same level as—in my opinion—family/home life does. A child is at school for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week for 10 months out of the year for—at societal norms’ minimum—at least twelve years. Personally, school had such a heavy influence in everything that I did and said and became. I liked it well enough (would I be writing this assignment if I didn’t?) but I was changed by school. But it isn’t just the institution that altered me, nor the building itself. It was a complex combination of everything that makes up the school environment: teachers, lessons, recess games, friendship groups, boys I liked, boys I really hated, the “big kids” and the “little kids”, the politics of who sits where on the bus, etc. Without school I do not know how I would look at the world. Furthermore, if I hadn’t gone to the elementary and highs schools that I did—who would I be? What would I believe? Everything that happened at school left an impression on me that I still carry with me every day.

There are positive and negative sides to the notion of school’s influence on children. On one hand, there’s a possibility that the engaging lesson or book sparked some passion inside a child that would have been overlooked otherwise. In that case, there is a positive impression that occurred when that information or experience “fell on them” as Ginnot would put it. On the other hand, however, one misinterpreted comment by a high school teacher on your poor studying habits or a friend making fun of you for enjoying something that was deemed “uncool”, can have such an impact—or an impression—on you and your view on yourself. I like to think of it like skipping a rock on a lake (a skill I do not—even remotely—possess). The experience—however big or small that made be) is the rock. Let’s say, for example, a teacher tells a student that they are bad at reading—they dropped the rock. The initial splash is the biggest. The student might go home and cry in their room, feeling poorly about themselves, their self worth might suffer. The consequential splashes of that rock hitting the water are the after effects of that one experience. The student refuses to read out-loud in class—one splash. The student proclaims that English is their least favourite subject—another splash. The student’s reading level drops because they give up on trying to learn how to read better—a third splash. These ‘splashes’ create ripples in the water that is the student’s life. Those ripples are the long-lasting remnants of impact that last for the foreseeable future in the student’s learning career. One move can change so much in a student’s life. I think we as educators and as students need to be constantly aware of that.

ECS 210 Response 2: The Tyler Rationale and Smith’s Curriculum Theory and Practice

The Tyler rationale, as Richard Smith describes in Curriculum Theory and Practice, is a very set, regimented order of procedure that sets out to make the curriculum about teaching the same experiences to all students. This systemic order is a traditionalist set of ideas that were popular in Canadian schools, including my own; the sort of “production line” teaching style that meant a set way of doing things and little to no flexibility. I remember I did the exact same assignments and tests as my two older sisters, even though there was a maximum of five years between their time and mine. In retrospect, I think that teaching and classes should be constantly changing and evolving with not only the current cultural climate but also with the curriculum. I suppose, however, that it is easier to use the Tyler rationale, especially since that was what many of my teachers grew up with. That’s the interesting thing about teachers that I’ve realized. I’m generalizing here, but no one who hated school becomes a teacher. But so many of the students who hated school hated it because it was systemically set up against them. The school system worked for me and if I am being honest, that familiarity influenced my decision to become a teacher.  As Smith states, “The attraction of this way of approaching curriculum theory and practice is that it is systematic and has considerable organizing power” (Smith, 2000: 4). I think there is an attraction to this way because it’s easier and still accepted in Canada as the primary effective approach to curriculum. But does that make it right?

There are issues that make the Tyler rationale virtually impossible. The limitations to his thinking involve the “meeting of behavioral objectives” (ibid: 4). It allows for no flexibility in terms of student autonomy. The line between teacher and learner is not to be crossed and the material to be covered is set from before the student even signs up for the class. The “behavioral objectives” are also said to be, according to Tyler’s rationale, behaviors, and experiences that can be measured without bias in an objective light. But how can that be possible How can we measure someone’s adequacy in a subject based on one set of objectives? Shouldn’t there be more to assessment than, as Smith calls it, crossing off a “shopping list?”

On the flip side of the coin, there are certain aspects to the Tyler rationale that are not completely negative. Namely, while it does place an “emphasis on regimentation, on bells and time management, and on streaming [that] are sometimes seen as preparing young people for the world of capitalist production” (Smith, 2000: 11), it has a level of simplicity and logical thinking that can be considered beneficial for our scientific, western ideologies and our capitalistic society.

References

Smith, Richard. 2000. Curriculum Theory and Practice. 

ECS 210 Response 1– Common Sense in the Classroom: A Look at Kevin Kumashiro’s “Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice”

Have you ever been talking to a family member or a friend, and you say the wrong thing or ask a so-called dumb question, and that person looks at you and laughs in a pitying way and condescendingly says something along the lines of “aw sweetie, I can’t believe you didn’t know that…it’s common sense”. Doesn’t that phrase, when accompanied by a patronizing tone and a “you’re so stupid” look just make your blood boil?

Our society holds the idea of common-sense knowledge as important in order to fit in and be considered normal. It is not as respected as being ‘book-smart’, but it is expected that there are certain facts about our world and life itself that we should just know. An infuriating idea to me when I consider it. I understand the basis of the common-sense mentality, but how does someone expect me to know something I’ve never been taught? Kevin Kumashiro discusses the concept of common sense in Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice. While the term is the same as the one society generally uses, the meaning differs when placing the term common sense into the realm of education.  

Common sense in education is what is considered appropriate and successful in a classroom and is unique yet sometimes the same in different cultures. According to Kumashiro, “the insistence that we ‘use our common sense’ is really an insistence that we view things as some in society have traditionally viewed things and want to continue viewing things” (XXXVII). It is, as High School Musical put it, “sticking to the status quo”. In the example given by Kumashiro, Nepal is influenced by the imperialistic mindset of the American model of education. New teachers, who are taught in light of social justice education and with an understanding of new research regarding what methods ‘work’ in the classroom, look at countries such as Nepal and think them lacking in the seemingly obvious and superior educational practices they were taught. It is ironic to me because, as Kumashiro points out, school systems like the one in Nepal are practicing the methods that were once popular in America. So, the superiority complex that Americans seem to have with their common-sense teaching practices is interesting to me.

It’s important to pay attention to common sense in the classroom because it reveals the pedagogy one holds regarding what is and isn’t ‘normal’. The common-sense aspects of school life tie in with, as Kumashiro puts it, “values and perspectives” and we often don’t see them in teaching because we cannot recognize them, and/or we are too comfortable and familiar with the concepts they are woven into to the extent where we do not see their issue. Common sense can be seen as an excuse used to validate the teachers who are not questioning or critiquing the ongoing traditionalist values that are being implemented in schools across the country.

References

Kumashiro. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice,   pp. XXIX – XLI