Time After Time

What is time? Ah, a question that could evoke the never-ending discussion of countless theorists, academics and philosophers. What do we do with time though? How do we use it as a teaching tool? The most obvious answer, of course, is history. We use time to compare and contrast the continuity and change of societies, examine content and character of people of a given time or space, find causation and correlation between events in the past, and how they could impact and have consequences for the future. Essentially history and time is an analysis of what Sean, our awesome ESST 317 instructor, calls the “10 C’s”. So what does this look like in the social studies classroom?

Time is a tricky thing to approach, as is history. While some say that history is absolute, I think that, like anything, there are always multiple stories to an event. The interpretations of these stories is what makes history and social studies an interesting area of study, because it is our interpretation of the past that can influence our perception of the future.  I think that the study of time and history can be really practical for students as it gives them some background about how we got here. It is by understanding the past that we can help our students perceive the future, and become actively involved in making change.

Timelines, of course, can be presented in many ways. Perhaps a traditional straight line timeline like you might see in a textbook, or maybe in a song like “The Ballad of Crowfoot“. We can also look at spiral timelines, especially from a sociology perspective of dialectics, or other methods that look at how time can repeat itself, and has connections across eras. These many variations of timelines can present many perspectives, and help students see ways that though time moves forward there is always a need to look back, to reflect, and to consider the past before rushing into the future. This is not only a key concept in teaching social studies or history, but also for teaching students about life skills and how to become engaged citizens in our society.

Photo Credit: Leo Reynolds via Compfight cc

Of course, what would this post be without the song tie-in? Here it is, for your listening pleasure! …it has no real relation to this post, other than it’s about time. “About Time”…now there’s a good movie!

Where do I fit in?

I have found this semester to be one of revelation. I find myself contemplating where I fit in. Not only within the context of my own classmates, but among other educators, and among others in society. At times I feel like the only one who thinks the way that I do, and then at other times I’m astounded by the idea that so many others out there think the same ways that I do, and perhaps like me, are fearful that they are alone!

I have had the opportunity to meet two great authors this semester, and to meet many teachers who agree with their ideologies. I met Joel Westheimer at the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation conference, and had not only the opportunity to hear him speak about concepts from his research and his book, to speak with other educators from across the province about the social issues at hand in the “real world”, and to speak to Mr. Westheimer about the challenges that I have found in facing social issues and activism in the classroom. I also met author, Dave Burgess, who wrote “Teach Like a PIRATE”, and also has a successful publishing company that supports the publication of books that push the boundaries of what is possible in education, giving both teachers and students opportunities to truly grow, reach beyond the traditional classroom and make real connections with both the content they are learning and the community that is created in the classroom. I met Dave at the Saskatchewan Middle Years conference, and again had the chance to network with many other great teachers in our province who exude such passion for education. I truly feel blessed to have had these opportunities to connect with these authors whose passions so seamlessly align with my own ideologies.

But what do these authors and these experiences have to do with social studies education and my place within it? A lot. Social studies is all about connections to the world around you, and if you don’t know where you fit in, then you need to find out. As we discussed in our class, there are 7 Orientations of Social Studies Education:

  1. Educating Citizens for Cultural Conservation
    • Common cultural goals: law abiding, “good citizen”, contributes to conservation of current culture, knowledge and values
  2. Educating Citizens to be Social Scientists
    • Discovering the reality of the world: investigating problems and suggesting solutions through specific disciplines of history, geography, anthropology, etc.
  3. Social Studies as Educating Citizens to be Reflective Inquirers
    • Participatory citizens: identify societal problems, collect, evaluate and analyze information and make choices and reflections based on information gathered. Interact with the world in order to make sense of it.
  4. Social Studies as Educating Citizens for Cultural Transformation
    • Active citizens: willing to engage with issues and make their voices heard in the hopes of making change.
  5. Social Studies as Educating Citizens for Personal Development
    • Cooperative citizens: understanding of how to function in both their personal and social spheres. Cooperation and care and concern for others.
  6. Social Studies as Educating Citizens for Personal Respect for Diversity
    • Acceptance of a cultural mosaic: able to critically examine both their own culture and the culture of others and be accepting of all. Combat racism and oppressive ideologies
  7. Social Studies as Educating Global Citizens
    • Connected on a global scale: examine the common human experience and the interconnectedness of the people of the Earth in the 21st century.

My encounters this semester with colleagues, other teachers, and authors have helped me see where it is that I fit into this picture of social studies education. Though this is a numbered approach, I don’t necessarily view it as sequential and thus needing to “achieve” one level before moving on to the next. I believe that I fit into many of these categories, though not all. I believe that I am a participatory member of my culture and community, and thus suit #1. I like to examine social issues and look for reasons and causes, working at #2 and #3. I work at understanding #5 by trying to understand and work with others while still trying to maintain my own personal sphere. I also am striving to fit into #6 by examining the white privilege I possess and how that can impact me as a teacher, and am actively committed to furthering my understanding of First Nations peoples and other oppressed groups in our society. I also feel that through my connections with educators from across North America, that I am beginning to find ways to reach out globally and learn about the 7th orientation too. I think that technology has given us so much power to be able to reach out across the world, and I am actively seeking ways to do so.

It is the 4th orientation that I struggle with. I feel that an outsider may view me as someone who is speaking my truth to others and standing up for what I believe in. While yes I am not afraid to speak up for what I believe in, I still feel somewhat hesitant in doing this. This is the orientation that I feel I need the most work with on a personal level. I need to work at finding the confidence in my words. This has been part of my journey this semester. I feel that I often keep many ideas to myself, and it is not until I find like-minded individuals that I feel at ease to share my thoughts. While within the safety of my cohort at university I feel slightly more at ease in exploring and expressing my thoughts I am still fearful to take them beyond my comfort zone. As a future educator, this is the area that I feel I will have the most difficulty teaching to students. I love the concept that students can investigate the world and find their voice and share it, and think that perhaps it will be the students who push me to find my own. I think that there is always the fear of  backlash – from peers, parents, and the larger community. I think that in order to dispel this fear we all need to find those comrades in battle, the others who think like us, so that we create a community of mutual support.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZEZTyxSl3g

This is what I have been on the journey to create this semester. By getting to know my classmates better, and having the opportunities to meet with so many like-minded teachers and authors, I feel like I am making progress towards finding out who I am going to be as a social studies educator.

For your viewing pleasure, here are a few fun videos about learning, Social Studies, and education:
This teacher has a great response about why we need to learn Social Studies in school.
Learning how to be unreasonable to change the world.
21st Century Skills

The Great Escape

I can recall as an elementary school student the excitement that arose when our teacher would announce that we were going on some type of field trip. YES! We get to leave the school! We get to do something fun! We get to see something awesome! I loved field trips! Some were to the art gallery or perhaps a community event, but my favourite were our outdoor expeditions. I loved being outside and exploring somewhere and learning new things. But, now as I reflect back on all of those great experiences, what was the connection back to our classroom? What did we really learn other than that the one-off experience of the day was fun, or perhaps some interesting facts about where we had visited?

Field trips are a tricky thing. There is great potential for them to be an avenue to take the learning from the classroom, build upon it, generate even more excitement about it, and carry that excitement through to more classroom projects or learning, but I think that this is seldom done, despite the tools being there for teachers. I know that many field trips and special experiences offer direct connections to the Saskatchewan Curriculum, but I wonder how often that is actually done. Regina Public Schools Outdoor Education offers amazing trips, and they have direct curriculum links listed! My mom worked with this department as a consultant for as long as I can remember, so I had the tremendous opportunity to learn from her throughout my childhood, and get the connections at home that perhaps my teachers weren’t making. Now, as a pre-service teacher, she is also there to remind me of how great these trips are…as long as you make the connections in your classroom both in preparing the students for the field trip, and in following up afterwards with it.

While I think that outdoor field trips are inherently fun and exciting, a lot of learning can also happen at museums and art galleries. The problem can come again if there is no pre or post discussion, and/or if students are given counter-productive activities to do during the visit. In our trip to the Royal Saskatchewan Museum yesterday, we had the opportunity to examine the worksheet for grade 4-8 students and give it a thorough critique. Quite honestly, I would not give my students such a worksheet for a museum or gallery visit for a few reasons. First of all, the visit became more of a scavenger hunt to find all the answers and little regard was given for simply becoming immersed in the gallery itself. While I think that some type of task or goal is needed for students to gain something tangible from the visit, it needs to be in a constructive way. Secondly, the sheet we were using for the First Nations gallery resulted in quite a one-sided and very past-tense view of First Nations people. While that could even be said of the entire gallery itself, I think that a better version of a student worksheet would give students the opportunity to build on previous knowledge discussed in class and to generate questions. As our class discussed, there are so many ways that you can then take this visit back to your classroom and have students actively critiquing what they experienced, what they would change, and the thoughts and feelings that they had during their visit. This certainly would take some work both pre- and post-visit.

Photo Credit: Barrett.Discovery via Compfight cc

This article outlines some of these concepts about utilizing field trips better and ensuring that students are prepared. She suggests turning a field trip into a research expedition, where students have done some pre-planning and are visiting the exhibit to conduct research for a project. I think that this is a great way to make the field trip an extension of the classroom…which is what I think a field trip should be! While doing a project like this would require a lot of preparation on the part of the teacher to know the museum or gallery and its current exhibits very well in order to guide students’ topics, it would also allow the teacher to directly find links to the curriculum and the class topics and content. The trip then becomes not only a fun day for students, but one where they can show their independence and really dig into the exhibits presented. When they have spent the allotted time on their own topic area, students could also be encouraged to find other areas of interest and generate questions, perhaps that could be used to question their classmates who may have chosen that area for their project. I think that with great lead-up and follow through of the projects that this method could be a really great way to utilize any type of field trip.

Another article, from Edutopia (one of my favourite educational blog sites), gives “8 Ways to Lien Up The Museum Field Trip”. Similar to what I have been discussing, it gives ideas of ways to more actively engage students in a trip by having them do tasks that are of interest to them and will enable to them to interact with the place they are visiting. Ideas 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 I think are the most valuable for students, as they have them bringing in their own thoughts, opinions, and perspectives on what they are encountering. These ideas suggest having students connect to art pieces and write poems or narratives, documenting their experience through photos (perhaps doing some photo journalism type work?), identifying and exploring what is represented (or not represented) in the gallery, and exploring the meaning behind the pieces. I think that all of these can give students the opportunity to continue to develop their critical thinking skills and personal opinions. Number 5 goes back to the scavenger hunt, which I think is problematic as students will just look for the clues or answers than truly experiencing the gallery. Number 7 I think may work well for younger students, and number 8 is really more of a tip rather than a way to make the visit more engaging.

While Regina may not have the most amazing galleries to take students to (after seeing so many amazing galleries in London this summer I know this is true!), there are still opportunities to help students learn something from them, even if they have been there before. Student engagement I think is the key to the whole concept of education, so it certainly needs to apply to field trips too. They cannot (or at least should not) be just a “fun day” with no connection to what is going on in the classroom. The connections are out there, it is just up to the teacher to find them and help the students see them too.

Activating Students…loading…

Part of the role of teachers is to engage students with the global community; to teach them about what is going on in the world, and to give them opportunities to reflect and respond to events and issues. So what should a teacher encourage as far as action by students? Is there such a thing as being too engaged? That is a very good question. Where is the line between teaching students to be active citizens and to be activists?

The video below is of a young girl voicing her concerns about the Harper governments actions (or rather non-actions) towards women and girls in Canada. Does this go too far by allowing a student to become a social activist and voicing her concerns on a public platform?

While some might argue that a young girl doesn’t need to make such statements, and that maybe she doesn’t really know what she’s talking about or is being fed information by her parents or teachers, I beg to differ. If, as teachers, we dare to broach “touchy” subjects (as I hope to be able to do) like Canada’s missing and murdered Aboriginal women, or the Syrian refugee dilemma, or poverty in our own backyard, and encourage student participation, give them projects, writing prompts, then why does a video like this go too far? Are the other conversations and activities we have our students do just fake? If we tell students to write letters to their MP about a concerning issue, after they’ve written them do they just get recycled? Or, do we truly let students have a voice and send those letters, publish those projects, and let their messages be heard (with parental permission of course)!

Sure, not all students are mature or responsible enough to make a convincing enough argument as the young girl in the video, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t contribute to a conversation, or participate in a project to work towards social change. Schools are intended to educate and motivate our youth so that they can grow to become engaged citizens, but if we don’t give them the opportunities to be actively engaged as students, how will they ever learn? I think the line between teaching students to be active and to be activists is really in the hands of the student. A teacher (and parents too) can help students become actively engaged and willing to seek out information and become informed about a topic, but it is the student’s own will that will lead them to becoming an activist for any given project. Hopefully though, they will have the support of their teacher and parents to make their voice heard.

Spectacular Difference Makers

When I first heard about We Day a few years ago I thought it was a really great concept. Make an event to motivate kids to be involved in social activist-type projects, encourage students to create change, and reward them for doing their best work!  That’s certainly a goal of education isn’t it? Build a better tomorrow by motivating students to learn about the world and how to make a difference? Definitely! I think that teaching students about the world and the imbalances and injustices in it is important, and so is helping them find ways to make a difference, but I’m not sure that We Day is the answer.

My first concern with We Day is that it is somewhat of a contest to “earn” tickets to the event itself. While I don’t condone students having to work their way to the event, what’s troubling is that even if a student really puts in a great deal of effort trying to make a difference in their school or community, someone else in their class may have been deemed “better” at making a difference and gets the ticket. Is there not a way to reward all of the students who truly show enthusiasm and effort into changing the world around them? By handing out limited tickets, yes it may make them seem more valuable, and encourage “more” from students, but therein lies the trouble with any form of assessment when it comes to personal projects, because how does one person, say a teacher, assess how much that student feels they have transformed on a personal level while making a difference in the lives of others.

Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, I think that the actual We Day event is highly over-rated, and honestly quite counter intuitive. I had the pleasure (? not even sure I would call it that) of attending the Saskatchewan We Day last November. I was quite excited about it! The reality of it though was quite disappointing, and very similar to the arguments of the teacher who wrote this article, though, as I look back on the post I wrote, I think I’m better able to express my opinions on it now . It was loud, dark, and more like a concert than a way of honouring the work that the students had done to “earn” their way there. There were big name celebrities (ok, so not super big name since we were in Saskatchewan), motivational speakers, the founders of Free the Children, and other special guests, all who spoke about the initiatives that Free the Children was doing in developing countries. There were promotions about the We365 app, bracelets made by women in African countries, and other merchandise. These items were for sale at the event, and there is now even an online store where you can purchase them. Now, although these are all great things, and all support worthwhile causes, I find the idea of the glossy packaging that they are presented in to be quite counter-productive. For an organization to have to put on a flashy concert to get kids to make our world a better place seems to send somewhat of a backwards message.

I was also disappointed that at the event itself, none of those in attendance had the opportunity to share their stories, meet other kids, or to even really digest some of the good pieces that were being presented to them. Every person received a goody bag (again with the glossy packaging and corporate sponsorship!) that contained a really great journal that seemed to follow along with the set up of the day, however, it’s pretty difficult to write thoughts down in a dark and noisy concert venue! I just feel that the way it is all presented is very impersonal, when students are asked to create such personal connections in order to even get the opportunity to be there.

I certainly love the concept of having students take action to help aid developing nations, but I am not sure that We Day is the ticket (joke intended!). I think it speaks greatly to the society that we live in though, that organizations feel the need to entice students to act with rewards such as We Day. We tend to be a society that looks at “what I get” out of a situation. What’s MY reward rather than looking at what the reward to the global population could be from one’s efforts. I think that We Day plays into this ideology far too much, and that its concept could be presented in a much more suitable way. Yes, let’s get students looking for ways to create change in the world, but let’s not make it equivalent to a Justin Bieber concert. I think that’s the tough job for teachers – teaching children to go out and make a difference, or be themselves, or learn new things without expecting a parade in their honour when they do. Education is about self-fulfillment and empowerment, and making a difference in our world is taking that energy and finding opportunities to help empower others. I think that’s what We Day should really be celebrating.

Here’s a clip from a We Day event just a few weeks ago, with Prime Minister Trudeau and his wife, Sophie, addressing the youth in the crowd. Again, while the message is great, it comes in concert form.

So, where does that leave us? What would I do in my classroom? Participate in We Day? Perhaps, for me, it’s driving home the message that children can make a difference that is important as opposed to the message that if I do some charity work I can go to a cool event. What about you? What are your thoughts on We Day?

Who Shall I Educate?

I think that I have always seen myself as an intelligent person, and an eager learner. From a young age I was an “over-achiever” and someone who always went above and beyond the scope of any school assignment, not for the extra marks, but because I was truly interested in learning more about whatever I was tasked to research or report on. I was bored by the monotony of some school classes, but enjoyed learning so much that I tried to find my own ways to continually seek new information. I became somewhat of a walking bank of useless facts. I enjoyed reading almanacs, world record books, and any type of history book. As I grew I still did this, and then began sharing my new-found knowledge with friends. Sometimes it could be in a conversation, or in a landslide win in Trivial Pursuit. Whatever the method, I was always the “knowledgable” one of my friends, and I think a lot of people would still categorize me in this way today.

As I now pursue my bachelor of education degree, intent on teaching students in schools, the question is how this “Knowledgable Kendra” categorization will change, or if in fact it will. Teachers, being a publicly funded profession, are in the public eye. People see them as very purposeful, yet feel it within their rights to criticize their job. Some people don’t seem to agree that a teacher’s personal opinions should enter the classroom and should certainly not be voiced to the public, and others seem to think that it is necessary for teachers to do this. So, where do I fit in on this argument? Am I a public intellectual? Are my opinions important both in an out of the classroom? Do my opinions matter? Who should I be educating?

I think that I am entering this profession in a very opportunistic period of history. It is a point in time where education is at the forefront of many peoples’ agendas, as they can see the extreme benefits from being well educated and equipped with skills and tools that will aid them in the ever-changing world that we live in. The problem, in my view, is that too many people are trying to press their opinions onto the field of education who do not understand the true core of the field itself and its need to shift and adapt over time. I truly side with Sir Ken Robinson, an international advisor on education, who’s many ideas point out the problems with today’s systems of education. I strongly believe that it is because so many people are stuck in the past ways of education that they do not see the value in the changes being made to the current systems.

I believe that it is part of my job as a teacher to educate the public about education. I believe that it is my job to educate parents about why I feel their children need to address issues like identity, sexuality, racism, cultural genocide, and the movements being created to bring these issues to the forefront of the public eye. I believe that I can use my knowledge to the advantage of my students and those in the communities I work in. I think that while the digital age has allowed us instant access to information at our fingertips, too many people do not know how to critically assess this information and differentiate what is important from what is not.

I also strongly believe that my job as a learner is never over, and when it is, I should no longer be a teacher. I think that the job of a teacher is just as much about learning as it is about teaching. A teacher’s role is to be constantly learning, and filtering information in order to bring the best to his or her students. I think that as a result of this constant quest for knowledge, it is just natural that the information spills over to the world around us. Over the course of my degree so far I constantly hear from my husband about how much he is learning about the world we live in through the information I share, and how grateful he is for it. It is because of the information that I share with my family and friends that they are able to be more informed about the world, and are able to delve deeper into those areas that interest them the most.  It is this thirst for knowledge, and the ability to share it that have confirmed my passion for wanting to become a teacher.

While I know that the world of education is not always an easy one, and can be filled with many uphill battles, I know that it is where I am meant to be. I know that my quest for knowledge and education will only better my students, and it is not only my hope that I can be the one who can share my knowledge, passions, and quests for understanding with those around me, but that my students can be also. My commitment to education runs deep, and will continue to pour over outside of my classroom.

What is Social Studies About Anyhow?

As an elementary school student I recall Social Studies being one of my favourite subjects! I loved learning about world history, geography, and different cultures. I would spend my free time reading books about quirky historical stories about Medieval England, explorers who got lost, or fun geographical facts. As a twelve year old kid I actually asked for a world almanac for Christmas, and on Christmas morning curled up on the couch and proceeded to read the almanac that I received, marvelling over facts about different countries, memorizing their capitals and flags, and hoping to one day visit countries like Iceland (Side note: I did get to visit Iceland this past summer and it was awesome!). Yup, I was kind of a nerdy kid, but the style in which my middle years social studies classes were taught catered to just that kind of student. We did reports on ancient civilizations, posters about historical monuments, and memorized important dates in Canadian history, and I thought that it was great! I knew so much about social studies!

Photo Credit: vanherdehaage via Compfight cc

Now, as I look back on my experiences it causes me to question that while I enjoyed social studies, what was I actually learning about citizenship? Quite honestly, aside from learning small tid-bits about confederation or the Canadian political system, or maybe examining some news articles about things happening in our country or internationally, I do not recall learning much that could categorized as citizenship education. While I learned how to be a respectful and responsible student and was taught things about being a good person, not only through my schooling, but also from my home life, I cannot say that my middle school or even high school social studies education really showed much consideration for what it meant to be a good citizen. The question now is, are schools doing a better job of this today than they did fifteen or twenty years ago when I was a middle school student?

In his article, “Political Education and Citizenship: Teaching for Civic Engagement,” Ken Osborne states, “Schools have largely succeeded in educating children to be good people but have been much less successful in turning them into good citizens”. Based on my own education, I would definitely agree with this statement. I completed my public education feeling that I was certainly a good person, who achieved high marks, and knew many things about the world (or at least its history!), but I really didn’t know much about what it meant to be a good citizen. I did not know what it meant to vote, or how current local, national and international events could affect my little life, and these are things that I feel should be included in citizenship education. I feel that schools and teachers through all grade levels continue this trend, often putting a lot of emphasis on ensuring that students learn how to be cooperative, respectful, responsible, and self-reliant, but neglect putting much attention on true citizenship or civic education. To be quite honest, these values are things that I hope to be able to encourage and develop with my students also, but I can also now see the other side of the story too. Memorizing facts and historical information about our country and others while learning good social values does not make up a social studies class that will aid in creating good citizens.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

So what will citizenship education look like in my future classroom? Well, first and foremost, it will be engaging! People will learn what they feel is important or interesting, and especially what they feel will have an impact on their own lives. Yes, I think students should learn about the history of our country (the whole, honest history mind you, not the one-sided view that I was taught), about our political systems, and about those of other countries, but I will teach them in such a way that students can truly understand them, not just learn about them. I want to be a culturally and socially responsive educator, making myself and my students aware of cultural biases and influences that may exist in our own belief systems, and exposing everyone to other world views. I want to conduct group and individual investigations of current and historical issues and how they may impact our communities. I feel like all of this is completely possible, and that I can help students become more engaged citizens. I believe that it all begins with the type of lens that you allow your students to examine the world through. If you only show them the world from one point of view, like many textbooks or older teaching methods often tend to portray, then you are limiting the students’ ability to think critically, to assess what is really just or unjust, and you limit their engagement with the possible solutions to larger issues. My goal will be to show students many different sides of the issues that exist, and help them to analyze what the real heart of the issues are. I will ask how can they, as students, connect the issues to their lives, and how can they become engaged with the issues?

I think that this kid in the video below has a really great message to share, which could help a lot of students and even teachers realize the potential of a socially responsible and engaged citizenship-focused classroom.

This young boy gets it! He realizes that it’s not all about power or money or anything grand, but that it’s about people. To me, that’s really what teaching citizenship is all about. It’s about learning about the people in our world; understanding their struggles, understanding the inequalities that exist, and working towards finding a better balanced system. In my classroom, my hope is that students can build upon their current knowledge, and be open to new perspectives. As a teacher, and even just as a citizen of the world, this is now my goal too; to learn as much as I can about the issues, and share my knowledge and passion with others.

What Kind of Children?

As a future teacher, I’ve often thought, or been asked, what kind of children do you want to teach? Quite generically,  I think I would likely answer, middle years children. (Cue the typical response of, “Really? Pre-teens? You’re crazy!) Yes! Middle years students, because they are open to new ideas, still have the capacity to love school, are finding themselves and need a super cool teacher to be there for them as they figure out the world. The real question is though, is that really the kind of children I will be teaching? Now that’s a question, with an entirely different answer.

The children we teach come into our classrooms with all sorts of ideas, thoughts, and knowledge that they have learned from their previous teachers, their family, their friends, and the vastness of the technologically connected world. All of these things shape the children we teach. Yes, some may come in who live up to the fantastical description of the children I want to teach, but odds are that they won’t. Odds are that I’ll probably have a classroom full of an extremely diverse group of students from a variety of backgrounds, including European settler, African, Middle Eastern, First Nations, and others, who will all bring their own views and opinions into the classroom. Regardless of their background though, my quest will be to do the best I can to help them observe and analyze the world we live in.

So what? So I want to teach these children about the world we live in. What does that mean? Where will that get them? What is our world? What is happening to and in our world? The question I wish people would really ask me is, “What will you teach?”

Image via: http://www.idlenomore.ca/ta_kaiya_blaney_for_our_children

Image via: http://www.idlenomore.ca/ta_kaiya_blaney_for_our_children

This image makes a remarkable point, and takes my questions so much deeper, expanding them across the breadth of the education system in our country. Dressed in her native dress, at what I would assume is one of the coastal forests near the Sliammon First Nation where she is from, this young girl, Ta’Kaiya Blaney, makes a profound statement not only about the troublesome state of the environment in Canada, but also about the kind of education that we provide our children, and the repercussions that can have on the future.

First Nations children in our country are often at a great disadvantage when it comes to education. Many suffer from the intergenerational effects of the residential school systems in our country, many must deal with inadequate funding of reserve schools, and others must endure the Euro-centric views often presented in schools, and for decades it seems like nothing has been done except to push First Nations youth further down the academic ladder. While things such as the Idle No More movement, Residential School awareness projects like  the Witness Blanket, and the integration of mandatory Treaty Education in Saskatchewan schools,  have brought forth new and engaging ways to connect to our First Nations students, and connect everyone with the history and culture of these peoples, there is a great fear that many educators are not fully integrating these concepts into their classroom. The history of First Nations people can be a difficult subject to address, and teaching Treaty Education and Aboriginal concepts may be unknown and very foreign to many educators, but those are not reasons not to teach them. Ignorance and laziness on the part of teachers is not a good enough reason to leave First Nations content out of the curriculum. By leaving out these pieces, what kind of children are these teachers helping to create? In my opinion, the answer is what I believe the young girl in the photo is trying to address with the hashtag #nopipelines.

We live in a country where we have politicians, backed by large corporations, and a multitude of other people who think that destroying our natural environment for potential profit is a great thing, and it seems somewhat hopeless that anyone can stop them. The incredible part of many of these pipeline or oil sands stories is that they infringe on reserve land, and the people who live there are not being consulted or compensated. There are many news articles that address these issues, but here is one about why First Nations oppose the pipelines.

The bottom line is that these pipelines and oil sands are destroying the land, and it will never be the same again, despite planting tees and encouraging wildlife to return. This land is sacred to the people who live there, as it should be to all of us, yet very few people stand up for it. Maybe they think there’s nothing that can be done? I feel that even learning about it and telling others is at least one small step towards making a change.

Photo via: http://www.idlenomore.ca/elle_maija_tailfeathers_more_than_just_land

Photo via: http://www.idlenomore.ca/elle_maija_tailfeathers_more_than_just_land

The picture above sends such a powerful message about the importance of place. We are where we came from. While this is certainly part of First Nations culture, the same could really be said of anyone. We all come from somewhere, and that place gives us our culture, our language, and our identity. Everyone needs the opportunity to appreciate and respect where they come from; to explore what it means to come from wherever they come from and appreciate and respect what we have and the opportunities we are given. We, as educators can provide those types of opportunities in our classrooms. We can help children navigate the vastness of this world and help them find their place in it, help them connect to it, and create their own identity.

So the question now becomes, what culture? What identity? What place? What children are we creating to leave for this world? Are we providing the opportunities for children to grow, to explore, and to find their place? Are we willing to stand idly by while the environment crumbles around us, or will we teach our students that they can make a difference; that they can stand up for what they believe is right? Are strong enough to teach the “tough” subjects and open our students to different world views? I really have hope that future educators can tackle all of these questions. I know this will not be an easy path to forge, but I am prepared to take on the challenge, as I strongly believe that we can leave better children for our world.




I’m a Good Canadian Citizen…I think…

What does it really mean to be a “good citizen”? What does it mean to be a Canadian citizen? Do we actually teach these things to our students? Or do we just teach students the vague and stale versions of citizenship and democracy that are provided in a school board supplied text book or resource like this?

Photo Credit: Dennis Barnes via Compfight cc

I feel that this grade 6 guide to to a unit on Canadian Citizenship is a prime example of the way citizenship is taught in our schools. It outlines the roles and responsibilities of our government, examines prominent historical dates, and explores what new citizens must learn in order to apply for Canadian Citizenship by having the students role play the process. But are these students really learning and understanding what it means to be a Canadian Citizen or anything of real value about our country’s history of democracy? I would say not. This drab unit only serves to lay out seemingly boring information to a group of students that have no real way of connecting the information to their real world. What worth is it in having students navigate the process of citizenship? Does it really allow them to explore what it means to be a Canadian Citizen beyond the surface stereotypes? Perhaps it could, if the teacher was willing to dive deeper, but I feel that many teachers would be fearful to go beyond what is set out in the unit outline.

I think it is fair to say that the citizenship education that is taught in our schools is far removed from anything real or genuine about our country ,and it gives a false sense of the democratic process, because there is no modelling of it in their own school community. Allan Sears’ article, “In Search of Good Citizens : Citizenship in Education and Social Studies in Canada: Citizenship in Education and Social Studies in Canada” certainly brings up theses points, and addresses questions like, what do students know about effective citizenship? Are students ignorant because they have been un-educated or misinformed, or are they alienated and disengaged from the entire democratic concept? Sears explores these in the article, and I really felt connected to the words he wrote, and found myself saying, “Yes! Schools need to do better!”.  Sears points out that even provincial/territorial educational ministries “are reluctant to give firm direction on the matter of teaching and learning strategies in areas that are normally associated with citizenship education” (p. 101), which I feel only further demonstrates the general reluctance and avoidance of having to define Canadian Citizenship and outline what our students need to know. Why is this though? Honestly, I think it is because even those of us who have lived here all our lives are unsure what it means to be a Canadian Citizen.

Sears points out how there has been all this research done into understanding how children learn, but that it hasn’t been applied to citizenship education (p. 102), and I feel that this is because the more we know, the more we know what we don’t know! Yes, we may understand how children think, and how they need to learn, but do we know WHAT they need to learn? Do they really need to know what’s written in a text book? Or do they need to understand what Bill C51 is, and how it can affect people in our communities? Do students need to list the dates of the Euro-centrically important historical events leading up to the confederation of Canada? Or do they need to understand the Treaties, and what has happened to the First Nations peoples of our country? Do students need to memorize the government’s definition of democracy? Or do they need to understand and be able to model the true heart of democracy in their community?

We live in a very multi-cultural society, and as such I think it is crucial that students explore what it means to be a good Canadian citizen in more than just a “picture-perfect-bulletin-board-worthy-collage-let’s-pick-up-litter-in-the-park” sort of way. We need to be brave enough to ask questions that make students question their own thoughts. We need to be able to have those conversations about how students of various cultural and religious backgrounds may have a different interpretation of Canadian Citizenship and how they fit in. While there are certainly several resources out there on teaching citizenship, like this one from the Government of Canada, I think it is the real task of teachers to pause and take a look at the messages these types of resources are giving, and then find or create supplementary resources to be able to look at the whole picture.

If we want to teach students about citizenship and democracy then we have to model it, but we must also understand it ourselves. At this point I’m not even sure I could fairly say that I do this, but I am certainly working on it. I am working at understanding and appreciating our Canadian history, including the ongoing history of our First Nations, Metis and Inuit brothers and sisters. I am working at critically evaluating and considering the platforms of our politicians so that I can make informed choices in our elections. I am working at discussing and sharing my knowledge and learning from those more knowledgeable than I on matters of Canadian governance, policy and position. We have to take the time to truly create an understanding of what Canadian Spirit is. This all takes time though, and I am not sure one can ever truly understand it all, but that should not deter us from teaching history, democracy and citizenship to our students. We are all learners, and we can teach and learn alongside our students, as long as we do it from a place of realism and in the spirit of community.

Photo Credit: BenRogersWPG via Compfight cc