The Building Blocks of Learning

In this video, I discuss my journey through ECS210 and the learnings and understandings that I have deconstructed and “built” along the way. Throughout the video, I reflect on some of my blog posts including: “Teaching is a Political Act,” and “Dear Future Me.” In addition to blog posts, I quote my research paper as well as reference some class discussions and recall the process of completing my assignments. If the audio is difficult to understand, the script can be found on this google doc.

Thanks for Watching!

Math: The Sixth Sense

  1. Think back on your experiences of the teaching and learning of mathematics — were there aspects of it that were oppressive and/or discriminating for you or other students?

As Leroy Little Bear states in the reading, “Singularity manifests itself in the thinking processes of Western Europeans in concepts such as one true god, one true answer, and one right way.” This was prevalent in my learning of mathematics throughout grade school. Math is a subject, I was taught, that has one correct answer and one correct way of getting that answer. The problem with this, as Little Bear mentions, is that “it is these assumptions that make it hard for a person to appreciate an alternative way of thinking and behaving.” Therefore, the Western approach to mathematics having one solution would have been oppressive and discriminating for my classmates who adopted and practiced other ways of knowing, especially Indigenous ways of learning and seeing the world. Further, in his TED talk, Eddie Woo makes the comparison of someone saying they are “just not a math person” to the ridiculous statement “I guess I’m just not a seeing kind of person.” When we compare the two statements, it is clear that the philosophy that some people are just not cut out to do math can be damaging to students who struggle with mathematics. This was relevant in my schooling, as some of my teachers adopted this philosophy which discouraged kids from pursuing higher education in mathematics.

2. After reading Poirier’s article: Teaching mathematics and the Inuit Community, identify at least three ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purposes of mathematics and the way we learn it.

After reading Poirier’s article, it is clear that Inuit ways of teaching and learning challenge Eurocentric ideas about the teaching methods of mathematics. For instance, Inuit teaching strategies do not include pen to pencil work and instead, focus on “observing an elder or listening to enigmas. These enigmas can be clues for problem solving in mathematics.” This concept of learning about problem-solving through experiential learning is especially intriguing because it illustrates mathematics through real-world applications. Further, Inuit ways of thinking about spatial relations challenge the Euro-centric understanding of measuring distance because, again, the Inuit perspective is developed from life experiences. For instance, “Space in the North is an ever-changing space, changing with the season, the time of day, the temperature, and so on.” Additionally, calendars (especially days in a month) are heavily included in Western mathematics. However, Inuit mathematics have a different understanding of the length of calendar months: “How long one month is depends on how long it takes for a natural event to take place.” Therefore, a concept that is correct in an Inuit understanding of mathematics would be incorrect on a mathematics test because of the Western or “Southern” understanding of the calendar. Thus, Inuit perspectives on mathematics propose a way of learning about math through real-life applications which makes math more meaningful to students. Further, this raises challenges for Inuit students who are forced to learn math from a “southern” perspective later in their lives.

The Untold Stories

How has your upbringing/schooling shaped how you “read the world?” What biases and lenses do you bring to the classroom? How might we unlearn / work against these biases?

a.) The lenses in which I see the world (white, female, hetero-sexual, cis-gender, middleclass) dictates how I read the world.  Thus, the literature I examined in school, which was predominantly written by white authors, did not disrupt or challenge my worldview. My schooling and upbringing shaped me to see people like me at the center of the world of literature and in turn, the center of the world. Moreover, I had few classmates who differed from me in skin colour or class standing. Because of this, it never seemed odd to us that we were reading about characters just like us, maybe with slightly more exciting lives. Therefore, I carry these biases and lenses with me still. I see Western culture as “normal.” My lack of exposure to non-Western stories limits my ability to acknowledge a multitude of stories outside of these societal norms. Although I had been exposed to books that did not fit into my societal norms, like Kumashiro mentions in Chapter 7, “merely including multicultural literature without a change in how we read can be a problem.” For instance, as Kumashiro mentioned, we must ask questions about the lenses and perspectives we have as readers and those that are being excluded. Further, what social problems are we allowing to go unnoticed while reading the story? Thus, to work against these biases is to interact with multicultural literature in a much more critical sense.

Which “single stories” were present in your own schooling? Whose truth mattered?

b.) As I mentioned earlier, I had read multicultural novels in school. However, when we discussed the novels as a class, we often generalized the experiences of the main character. In other words, all other non-white stories that could be told, were “other” stories and consequently, a single story.  A story about a poor African girl told me how all girls in Africa live; a story about a young Indigenous boy living on “the res” gave me the whole story about Aboriginal families. In a sense, we were building feelings of empathy for the characters in the story, which is not outright a wrong approach by my teachers. However, we did not discuss that their might be other truths about the culture that were not being included in the story. As Chimamanda Adichie states in her TED talk, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” Understanding this creates an understanding between real people that can be reached through storytelling. Further, it teaches students to value the truths of others and not the dominant oppressive worldviews they, subconsciously or consciously, align with.

 

Teaching is a Political Act

Curriculum and Treaty Education 

  • Part 1) According to the Levin article, how are school curricula developed and implemented? What new information/perspectives does this reading provide about the development and implementation of school curriculum? Is there anything that surprises you or maybe that concerns you?

As stated in the Levin article, “[e]very education policy decision can be seen as being, in some sense, a political decision.” This is true because education is largely the concern of all citizens. According to the Levin article, curricula is developed with two levels of objectives in mind; “very general or broad goals and then much more specific learning activities and objectives.” Furthermore, the politics of curriculum consists of “the overall shape of school curricula” and “the content of particular subjects.” Moreover, the article describes how curriculum is developed: “Education governance typically involves some combination of national, local, and school participation; and in federal systems, education governance will have a fourth (and often primary) level at the state or province.” In addition to politicians, “A second important element of governance structure is the institutional role of elected lay persons as against civil servants or experts.” The process of curriculum development also involves teachers, principals, senior administrators, elected local authorities, and subject matter experts from schools and universities. An issue in the involvement of experts in curriculum renewal “is the production of curricula that are not readily usable by ordinary teachers.” This was a new concept to me but makes sense because most teachers are not experts in the subjects they are expected to teach. This is the reason why average citizens are gaining a more important role in the construction of curriculum, which was also news to me. Overall, “curriculum decisions are often part of a much larger public debate that often extends beyond education to larger questions of public goods.” Something I found quite concerning in the article was that “[s]chools are expected to prevent bullying, obesity, and anorexia while also eliminating racism and promoting equity in all its forms.” Although I already knew this to be true, this is quite an overwhelming statement. It shows how the public, and in turn the government, asks a lot of the education system in general and even more of teachers, in particular. However, this also echoes my blog post from last week as a reminder that the work of educators is important. Therefore, any attempt to respond to these calls of actions is better than no attempt at all.

  • Part 2) After reading pages 1-4 of the Treaty Education document, what connections can you make between the article and the implementation of Treaty Education in Saskatchewan? What tension might you imagine were part of the development of the Treaty Education curriculum?

 

The Levin article states “public debate and concern can lead to an official process as the system tries to respond to public concerns, as is evident in debates about issues such as global warming or the place of indigenous peoples.” This directly relates to the implementation of Treaty Education. As the mistreatment of Indigenous peoples, past and present, has gained public attention, education policies have finally adopted a response to this public concern. Furthermore, the article discusses the undeniable relationship between government politics and education which is evident in the Treaty Education document: “The Ministry of Education respects the federal government’s legal, constitutional, and fiscal obligations to First Nations peoples and its primary responsibility for Métis people.” Furthermore, the Levin article discusses the influence of political debates on the development and implementation of curriculum. I imagine there would be great tensions in the development of the Treaty Education Document. The development of this curriculum would have experienced lots of push and pull from individuals, as it is a highly controversial topic for the public, especially in Saskatchewan. Despite resistance from some of the public, Treaty Education is here to stay and will continue to expand. However, that does not mean the tension surrounding this topic will disappear. As discussed in the article, all areas of the curriculum remain to be scrutinized and debated by the public and school officials.

 

Dear Future Me,

Considering the following questions:

  1. What is the purpose of teaching Treaty Ed (specifically) or First Nations, Metis, and Inuit (FNMI) Content and Perspectives (generally) where there are few or no First Nations, Metis, Inuit peoples?

  2.  What does it mean for your understanding of curriculum that “We are all treaty people”?

My response to the email would be as follows:

First, I am pleased to see that you have not fallen into an agreement with your cooperative teacher on this topic. As Dwayne Donald discusses in this lecture, there is a purpose to teaching Treaty Ed (specifically) or First Nations, Metis, and Inuit content and perspectives (generally) where there are few to no Aboriginal peoples. You will find he brings up a very compelling argument about culture. More specifically, the lack of non-aboriginal culture and identity and in contrast, the “intensely cultural” Aboriginals. The concept or question of culture, itself, raises issues for all students. In particular, he states that culture, in terms of Aboriginal students, is often viewed and treated similarly to a learning disability. On the other hand, the lack of culture and identity held by “Canadian Canadians” contributes to acts of ‘othering’ and makes it difficult for non-Indigenous students to see Aboriginal identities and perspectives when they cannot recognize their own. In these terms, we can see how vital Treaty Ed is (especially) for non-Aboriginal students. When we are looking at Treaty Ed in this respect, I like the use of Claire Kreuger’s synonym “Settler Ed.” Settler Ed expands beyond the content, it is about students’ relationships, identities, and moral responses.

Claire Kreuger’s blog is a great place for you to start and get an idea of what Treaty Ed can look like in a classroom. She does an excellent job of reminding you that it is okay to make mistakes. Additionally, in her discussion with Mike, she explains how easily Treaty Ed flows into other subjects and hits other outcomes. Possibly, that is something you can bring up to your cooperative teacher! Moreover, Claire focuses on what it means that we are all treaty people. This is a statement with multiple components and layers to it. As I hope you catch in Dwayne’s lecture, he states “Everybody’s been colonized. It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is or where you’re from.” In this sense, we are all outcomes of the relationships that have preceded us and therefore, have a responsibility and role in those relationships. Therefore, as Treaty Ed Teachers, our attitudes and understandings of these events will affect the way our future students come to know and understand their roles in the relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. At the very least, as discussed by Cynthia Chambers in an article she wrote, “[w]hat we have in common, the Ulukhaktokmiut Elders tell us, is our need to live, to make a livelihood that does no harm. What we have in common is our need for a curriculum that can help us to do just that.” (A great read, by the way). This statement, for me, emphasizes the need for all students to learn about Aboriginal perspectives.

I understand that you have faced some reluctance from your students and I hope one of these resources can help spark a discussion in your classroom! It is important to engage your students as much as possible. To do this, you could try shifting the focus from memorizing historical dates to looking at current events. Remember that mistakes will happen and you will not do this perfectly, but you are doing important work. Moreover, you are growing and learning alongside your students! Good luck!

 

Connection to Place = Connection to Learning

Some of the ways that I see reinhabitation and decolonization happening throughout the narrative

As stated in the article written by Restoule, Gruner, and Metatawabin,

        decolonization as an act of resistance must not be limited to rejecting and transforming dominant ideas; it also depends on recovering and renewing traditional, non-commodified cultural patterns such as mentoring and intergenerational relationships.

The project described in the reading embodies this statement. The radio interviews between the youth and community members helped form relationships and share important knowledge about Indigenous relationships with land. It fostered dialogue between the generations in the community. Further, “youth and Elders travelled together on the traditional waters and lands, exploring history, language, issues of governance, and land management.” This part of the project transfers powerful knowledge to youth about not only living in and learning from their environment, but protecting it. Moreover, the renaming and reclaiming of the land was a powerful message. Due to European influence, many Indigenous names for locations have been lost or forgotten. This process of renaming the land works towards decolonizing it and was certainly an empowering process for the elders and youth of the area. Additionally, this is an act of reinhabitation, working together with decolonization, by building sites for learning to take place. In particular, “the land [is] crucial to healing the Mushkegowuk people from the impacts of colonialism” and therefore, utilizing their environment in the education of Indigenous youth is critical.

How I might adapt these ideas / consider place in my own subject areas and teaching

However, all youth can benefit from place-based education. This way of teaching and learning gives students agency in their education. They feel what they are learning is important and are more motivated to learn by experience. Further, I can see myself incorporating this is in my future classrooms. I am a math major and English minor. I could utilize the environment in an English class, perhaps by using nature to inspire works of writing. For math, I might measure rainfall and have my students collect data overtime about its effects on the nearby river or lake. As illustrated by the article, place-based projects can be multi-disciplinary and often creates experiential learning for the students that covers a variety of subject areas. For instance, students involved in the project described in the article created their own forms of popular culture via radio and worked with the community to build a map of the land incorporating both English and social studies education. Ultimately, place-based education heightens the engagement of students and creates a learning experience that is equally memorable and meaningful. Thus, incorporating this form of critical pedagogy into my teaching philosophy will be greatly beneficial to my future students- Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

 

The “Acceptable” is Unattainable

What does it mean to be a “good” student according to the commonsense?

The common sense understanding of a “good” student is someone who listens and follows instructions and rules. This student is organized, respectful and falls easily into the routines and expectations of schools and teachers. They most likely test well, answer questions in class, and get good grades.

Which students are privileged by this definition of the good student?

Learners that are privileged by this definition of a “good” student are those who are most likely fully intellectually able, have a “type A” personality and are able to sit still for long periods of time. Additionally, these students often have a good home life (ie. good financial standing, two parents at home, lots of love/attention, all needs are being met, etc). Furthermore, they are more likely to be agreeable with what is being taught and also, what is not being taught (nothing in school goes against their own beliefs/understandings).

What is made impossible to see/understand/believe because of these commonsense ideas?

Through this lens, it becomes impossible to see “bad” students’ difficulties at home, learning difficulties, and the oppression they suffer. Moreover, it is impossible to notice the strengths of these “bad” students. Therefore, the teacher and class are missing out on the students’ perspective; their ideas, opinions, and beliefs. Furthermore, these common sense understandings make it impossible to understand or believe that there may not be a “bad” kid at all. There may not even be a “bad” teacher or “bad” classroom. Most likely, it is a “bad” school system and even further, a “bad” society that writes these narratives that are being implemented in our schools, our classrooms, and our minds. Similar to Kumashiro’s story about “M” in the reading, the traditional classroom is not every student’s ideal setting to learn and that does not make a child inherently bad. Furthermore, like Kumashiro’s student, N, a student that gives an answer that does not align with the teacher’s answer is not inherently wrong.