Learning from place: Honouring ways of knowing and ‘cultural landscapes’

In the article titled Learning from Place: A Return to Traditional Mushkegowuk Ways of Knowing written by Jean-Paul Restoule, Shelia Gruner and Edmund Metatawabin I can see the process of reinhabitation and decolonization as soon as the researchers start to develop relationships and communicate with the Mushkegowuk Cree community about what they would like the framework of the project to look like. The researchers were starting by interacting with this Cree community and acknowledging things that they had to say.

I then thought there were other examples of this when the authors explained that both elders and youth would be put on this project together; what better way to preserve knowledge than to have elders teach it to the next generation. The activity too (creating radio documentaries) which I related with the traditional practice of oral story telling was, in my opinion, was a good way to honour this knowledge.

Another key part to the reinhabitation and decolonization efforts made by this project was the river excursion. This allowed for elders and youth to physically be on and connect with the land; a type of hands on learning that does more than just develop a student academically- focusing more on connecting to spirituality and the land. Accompanying this river excursion were lessons taught by the elders to the youth about how to live off the land and allowed students to investigate “…history, language, issues of governance, and land management…” (p. 75). Throughout this excursion and the project, elders also placed significant emphasis on traditional Cree language and the improper use of words used mostly by the younger generation. It was pointed out that colonization and residential schools played a crucial role in this language-loss and that young people using the ‘correct’ traditional language can support strengthening their abilities to form linguistic connections to traditional lands.

This project allowed people of both older and younger generations to come together to learn about, practice and celebrate their culture by sharing and learning knowledge from one another within their cultural circle. The ways of knowing that are essential parts of their being, were held at the forefront of this project, and a safe space to ask questions, seek answers and interact with the environment as well as each other was provided. This safe space enabled participants of both generations to further develop their ways of knowing. “The river trip helped members of the community share linguistic, cultural, historical, and geographical knowledge” (p.81), was said in the text and it can be observed that there was more than just one area of growth.

While reading this article I thought of an Indigenous studies 236 class I took last year (I think it was 236… not one hundred percent certain though. The professor was Andrew Miller and I 10/10 highly recommend this class). The class was about Indigenous environments, ecology and economies and we had discussed throughout the course this idea of ‘cultural landscapes’ meaning that First Nations people have a way of looking at the landscape and seeing, feeling and connecting to it in a way that Western society has never been able to. They are able to look at a river, for example, and see more than just a body of water. They see a force that has agency and is able to both give and take away life. It can be a mode of transport and communication with other communities (p.81). The river is also appreciated for being a home for many animals who sacrifice their lives to feed the humans such as waterfowl, fish, or beaver. They recognize and connect to the river and its’ landscape on a deeper level than people of European ancestry have ever been able to comprehend, and it is important to remember that just because we cannot see something, does not mean that it isn’t there. We, as future educators, need to remember to honour the ways of knowing that Indigenous peoples possess and to incorporate it into our lessons as often as we can- this is just one small step int he gigantic act of attempting to reinhabiting/decolonizing society.

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Teaching in Racial Terms to ‘The Good Student’

Race, in the textbook A History of Education by F.V.N. Painter, can almost be seen as something that only benefits white, western people and anyone else who is not of that descent is simply ‘other’ and therefore ‘less-than’. Take the section where Painter speaks about the Chinese for example- he really seems to believe and is trying to persuade his readers to believe that this group of people have not evolved as a civilization whatsoever. “They are very much the same to-day that they were more than two thousand years ago… They are practically unchangeable” (p.10) he says. Quite a big accusation in my opinion coming from a person whose society wants to remain white and Western at the centre and pushes all ‘others’ to the margins… and that attitude has not changed for a very long time. At this time in history being taught to teach in racial terms was the norm, but we have to be aware that this part ‘norm’ has really had an impact on the shaping of society and as future teachers we have to be more diligent on making sure we do NOT teach in racial terms and that we actually work to reverse that.

The idea of a good student only works to serve one type of student who is for the most part: likely a female who is quiet, pays attention and is on time and organized. This young lady is certain to give the teacher the answers that the teacher wants to hear and does her work. This idea of a good student also comes from a place embedded in educational history where the teacher is the knowledge holder who knows everything, and students are simply pupils that know nothing and will be taught through transmission from the teacher. The idea of a good student fails to acknowledge the various types of students who learn, process, and work differently. The concept of one type of ‘good student’ makes all other good students invisible and lacks to acknowledge where students might be able to experience success because of their different talents and gifts.

The Idea of ‘Dis-embodiment’ in My Critical Summary Research

For my critical summary assignment, I have chosen to look into the topic of disability and curriculum. I have chosen this topic because of my inclusive education minor as well as my experience working/volunteering/becoming friends with people who have disabilities.

I first started my research by stumbling across an article titled Towards a Complicated Conversation Among Disability Studies, Complexity Thinking, and Education written by Steven Khan from the University of British Columbia. Khan draws upon a concept by another author which is the fact of embodiment- the universal shareable knowledge that we are all bodies. In addition to that, it is worth noting that we all experience this embodiment in “absolutely singular, unique, unrepeatable, and, significantly, unshareable ways” (pp.8). Khan then goes on to describe a concept he calls dis-embodiment which is basically his way of talking about disability or persons with disabilities who are apart from the norm or experience this notion of embodiment in very different ways than most of the population does. Khan poses questions such as: how might ‘disability’ trouble and problematize some of the underlying assumptions, or complexify complexity thinking in (and out of) education (pp. 10) and what is it that dis-embodiments might teach (pp.12)?

As an attempt to unpack these questions the author touches on some of the models developed about disability like the individual, moral and medical models and says “…These models locate the phenomenon and experience of disability as a function of an inability to perform ‘the same as everyone else’ in environments and systems in which the difference of dis-embodied designs were never considered or could not be accommodated (pp.17)”. This quote really reinstated the deep roots that oppression and non-inclusive practices have in both education and society. It will be quite a big task for future educators such as myself, political and social reform leaders, and human beings all around the world to reverse these pre-conceived notions of what ‘disability’ is or what it should be.

I am quite confident in using Khans’ article as my primary source for my critical summary assignment and my next step will be to look at a piece titled Emancipatory Pedagogy in Practice: Aims, Principles and Curriculum Orientation written by Ali Nouri and Seyed Mahdi Sajjadi. Their writing touches on the works of Paulo Freire, Ira Shore, Henry Giroux (whose name was on the list of possible scholars to look at), and Peter McLaren and how emancipatory pedagogy (‘freedom pedagogy’ as I like to think about it) can and should be applied to both educational policy and practice. I am going to attempt to try to link the idea of Khans’ dis-emodiment concept that is deeply rooted in the creation of societies to emancipatory pedagogy and have these two articles support one another.

Four Ways to Think About Curriculum

The four modules of curriculum described in Mark Smiths’ article Curriculum Theory and Practice are as follows: curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted, curriculum as an attempt to achieve certain ends in students- product, curriculum as process and curriculum as praxis.

 

Curriculum as knowledge to be transmitted:

A possible benefit in looking at curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted, in my opinion, is the structure and schedule that it provides to teachers on what should be covered over the course of a unit/term/semester and year. I am a planner by nature- I LOVE scheduling and being able to know exactly what lies ahead of me so in this way the curriculum (or the syllabus) is a very helpful tool that I can refer back to when it comes to planning and organizing my classroom. A possible downfall to curriculum being ‘transmitted’ as it states in the article, is that is can cause some teachers rigidity in the way they shape their lesson plans, assignments or evaluation.

Curriculum as a product:

Curriculum thought to be a product focuses on the end results and not the experience of how one gets there… there is a concern with the ‘destination’ and not the ‘journey’ so to speak. I think of Henry Ford and his work on breaking down the process of building automobiles- workers do small tasks all day in an assembly line fashion to speed up the time it takes to complete an automobile. The focus is not on the craftsmanship, the skill or talent of the workers but rather whether or not they’re able to execute the small task successfully in effort to help complete the end result. In my opinion, this way of think of curriculum is very old and outdated- pale, male and stale is perhaps a better way to out it- and gives both teachers and students bland experiences.

It can be seen as beneficial to break bigger assignments down into smaller chunks; however I believe that it’s still very important for teachers to appreciate the journey of all of our students and use their strengths and talents to their advantage to get them where they need to go rather than expecting the same results out of everyone.

Curriculum as a process:

 In this section I started to really feel like there was some change in thought about what schooling should mean/ look like/ be like for both students in teachers. I felt this sense of new-aged thinking was encapsulated in this section of the article where it says teachers should enter the classroom with a variety of skills and

“… Guided by these, they encourage conversations between, and with, people in the situation out of which may come thinking and action. They continually evaluate the process and what they can see of outcomes (pp.6).”

This really outlines the benefits of the process perspective and made it really easy for me to understand why this may be a better way to view curriculum.

A downside outlined in the article mentions the lack of consistency for students. Since there is room for teachers to continually evaluate and even manipulate the process and outcomes- that could mean some students may have a great experience while others not so much.

Curriculum as praxis:

 I think the perfect line to encapsulate the benefits of curriculum as praxis is this:          “…[P]raxis: informed, committed action (pp.10)”. To me, this places emphasis on the importance of the relationship you have with your students and how you can use that relationship to both yours and their benefits. You may ask yourself: How will my knowledge of the students, the community we are situated in, the demographic of the school population, my knowledge and level of comfortability with this content, the teaching methods I use, the government issued curriculum and the ‘informal curriculum’ help me to serve this students and help them experience success? All of these things, and I’d assume many more, should help us to become informed and committed teachers who are able to guide our students on their education journey.

I think that curriculum as praxis should be an adopted perspective by every teacher around the world and is certainly what I resonate the most with… I mean, look how awesome it is! However, I think in my schooling (especially elementary) was focused on curriculum as product. I heard time and time again “You need to know this to function in the real world- in order to get a job”. Well, what is the real world anyways? I imagine it looks different for everyone- maybe some students go off to university, maybe some go into the trades, maybe some inherit a family fortune, maybe some travel for the rest of their lives. Being put into school system that follows a ‘curriculum as product’ perspective outputs individuals that are exactly the same- everyone goes in as their own shape but graduates as a square because that what we think is best- and that doesn’t work for everyone and I would say it even sets those people up for failure. I think the different perspectives of curriculum has huge influence on students and can either help or severely hinder their progress in life.

ECS 210- The Problem with Common Sense

At the beginning of the piece, the author defines common sense as knowledge that “everyone should know” and relates this definition to his time in Nepal where his idea of common sense knowledge in America was quickly challenged by the new common sense concepts of the new environment he found himself in. Kumashiro first gets a culture shock by the new way he has to live everyday life as in cooking, cleaning and when to eat meals, but gets an even bigger one when he embarks on his new teaching career. Examples given such as gendered seating arrangements, teaching in a “lecture-practice-exam “ style, not being able to design and create activities for the students himself but rather teaching straight from the textbook that is government issued were all things that were drastically different from what he had been experienced in America both as a student and as a teacher.

I found it really interesting when the author talked about how the Peace Corps told these volunteers that they were qualified to teach in Nepal because of their sixteen years of experience as a student in America, yet when they got to Nepal none of that experience seemed to apply or help them in their new roles. This part of the piece was really significant in my reading because it highlighted how common sense in different parts of the world varies according to many intersectionality’s such as culture, politics, socio-economic status, and gender. This is where the importance of common sense comes in: everybody thinks, feels and acts differently and has different common-sense knowledge and just because we do it a certain way in Canada, does NOT mean it’s exactly the same in other parts of the world; especially in less developed countries. In Summer 2018 I travelled to Cambodia on a volunteer trip and I helped build a house for a family in need there- some of what the author talks about in this article is similar to what I saw in Cambodia. I saw one room huts that were classified as “classroom” that had dirt floors and tables with benches in which students would situate themselves. The younger students came in the morning, from about eight AM until noon and then the afternoon was for the older children. Very few children at this school wore shoes as they couldn’t afford them or because of the monsoon season that caused great floods in their village and math manipulatives (a.k.a counters) were bottle caps from empty bottles found on the street; whereas here in Canada they are tiny blocks of wood, small plastic circles etc.

It is important that we, as future educators remind ourselves often that we have so much privilege that leads to some of the common sense that we learn/ that gets passed on to us growing up and lots of children around the world have a totally different set of common sense handed down to them because of their lack of privilege. It’s wrong for us to assume that things should be “our way” rather than the way that different people are doing things. Students need to be met at where they are and we should not expect them to learn how we teach, but rather teach how they learn.

Rilynn Epp- Inclusive Education

Three things I learned:

#3: While watching this video I learned that “typical students” learn better in inclusive classrooms! The 15% rise in grade average in students in inclusive classrooms is crazy awesome!

#2: When watching the video on Kelsey’s blog, I learned that Cerebral Palsy is not genetic… which I did not know before.

#1: I also learned that the University of Regina has created a “Devising Inclusive Theatre”. That is such an awesome step in the right direction made by the University and I’m sure many people benefit from it.

Two Connections I made:

#2: When Dan talks about how this is something that has to be experienced, and that not everyone understands this…I truly agree. I know in my own experience I advocate for inclusion because of all of the community work I have done with people with special needs, I know people in this very faculty who have not had the same experiences as me and who do not advocate for inclusion…who still use the word “retarded” when describing something. You really do not fully understand the importance of this issue until you have a personal connection to it.

#1: When Dan explains all the ways the mainstream children were with the inclusive students in their classroom; compassionate, loving, creative and patient… that’s how I feel like I have grown since I have started to volunteer and work with people who have special needs. These people want nothing more but to be treated like anybody else, and when you work with them you realize that and you start to change your ways of thinking. I know I have got more compassion for people in general, not only those who have disabilities. I know my patients has grown and I remind myself that everyone may not function at the same rate and I need to take accept everyone for who and how they are.

One question I still have:

In my high school, we had a few classrooms that were specifically for students who needed extra attention and supports. They felt comfortable in that class and in that class, they got the attention that they needed so they could learn to the best of their abilities. At what point do we draw a line on inclusion and stick to separate classrooms, if that is what is benefitting all students?