The Witness Blanket Project is a beautiful and moving art installation currently on display at the University of Regina. Its purpose is to educate the public by engaging them with artifacts collected and donated from Indian Residential Schools and survivors across Canada. There are over 800 artifacts on display as part of the work, and many are very telling of the types of experiences and settings of the schools. There are many books, plaques, photographs, newspaper articles, toys, and pieces of the buildings themselves.
The question I kept asking as I witnessed this amazing work was “How does this piece connect to curriculum?” Certainly in the Residential Schools, the curriculum was created to “take the Indian out of the child” and make them more like the European settlers. This was done in many ways, including what was taught, but I think the most traumatizing part of the Residential schools was not necessarily what was taught, but HOW and WHERE it was taught. Children were torn from their families and communities and made to live in unfamiliar places with strangers amongst foreign customs and traditions. So my focus as as I examined the artifacts was not really about the actual things that the students were taught, but about the place that they were learning in.
Many of the building artifacts are very manufactured pieces and include things like glass, shingles, door knobs, and this striking piece of tin.
It was these pieces that spoke to me the most. These buildings were such foreign places to the students who were forced to attend them, but they completely influenced their experiences and their education. I am realizing that curriculum is not just about what you learn, but how you learn it, and the experiences that go along with that learning. I feel like this piece of tin represents the culture that was being imposed on the students. It is clearly not something of an Indigenous nature, as the Fleur de Lis imprints suggest something of a French background, and this type of tin-smithing was not a cultural practice of Indigenous people.
As a result of this new understanding of curriculum being more than just a list of topics to be learned, my relationship with curriculum is becoming more complex. It becomes clearer that individual students can have varied experiences with curriculum based on their interactions with the learning environment. Many of my own experiences in school were quite positive because I was often able to develop a good rapport with my teachers, but I also had some poor experiences in some classes (especially in high school), which negatively affected my view not only on school but on the subject area that I was learning. As a pre-service teacher, these revelations are really helpful as they will help to shape my own perspectives as a teacher, and will influence how I approach the creation of a classroom environment in addition to the subject content that I teach.
I feel like I am becoming a very reflective and somewhat existentialist teacher. Choice, freedom and environment have such an impact on how a person reacts, learns, and experiences the world. When teachers create too many rules and barriers to positive student learning then the student can begin to view education as a chore, or as something boring and meaningless to his or her life. I am really appreciating all of the new ideas that I am being exposed to in my classes and my own independent reading as they are truly expanding my mind. I think I will be constantly trying to understand my relationship with curriculum as a teacher throughout my career in order to create the best environment for the students I work with.
“To bear witness, or to show by your existence that something is true, is to pay tribute to all who have been directly or indirectly affected by Canada’s Indian Residential Schools.” – Witness Blanket