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?”
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.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.