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.

 

 

 

Witness

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.

Witness Blanket Tin Artifact

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