Curriculum as Citizenship

Reflecting on my K-12 schooling, it is evident an attempt to engage in the three types of citizenship were made. The success of those attempts, however, was extremely varied. Growing up in a middle-class and attending catholic schooling neighbourhood generated plenty of opportunities to connect with charities, do ‘good’ deeds, and enforce responsibility. I recall the first charitable encounter in school I had was the Terry Fox walk-a-thon in September of my kindergarten year. Prizes were donated by families and students were able to purchase tickets towards the items which would be raffled off. I recall winning a few items with the tickets from money my parents sent for me. I remember being so excited! I also probably cared about Terry Fox for a few days and then moved onto the next exciting thing in my life.

This pattern continued with many other moments throughout my schooling for other attempts to make a difference in the community. Canvassing for the juvenile diabetes was one that hit home as I knew I was helping a close friend who had the disease. Shopping for a young girl my own age and creating an angel box for her then delivering it to her at her school was one of my favourite memories. Extreme pressure from my Chaplin in high school to, once again, beat our previous record and maintaining the title of collecting the most food for a food drive was not my favourite time. What was the difference? What types of citizenship were achieved through these actions?

It is clear that my elementary and high school tried to create participatory citizens. They enforced actions of personally responsible citizens and encouraged students to dig deeper in their understanding. For some of these examples such canvassing for juvenile diabetes, I felt that I could connect with the issues and perhaps understand them to become a justice oriented citizen in those areas. For others such as the food drive, discussing the root causes of hunger and the urge to pursue more were never encountered.

Overall, it appears that throughout my schooling there was always an attempt to create personal responsible citizens. I would argue my previous educators tried to encourage participatory citizens but this sometimes fell short. Justice oriented citizens were sometimes encouraged but were often rare. To better create these citizens, it is essential educators spend time discussing these social justice issues with students and ensuring they understand the importance. Connecting each action to a real-world issue could help students to better understand and desire justice.

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Curriculum as Numeracy

Prior to Gale’s lecture, I did not consider myself much of a math person. I have struggled my whole life with my passion and understanding of science compared to my lack of understanding and (unfortunately) dislike of math. I thought I was supposed to be a math AND science person! While I understand this statement is not entirely accurate, my hardships I encountered in math throughout my K-12 schooling steered me away from the subject. After all, I was told that my difficulty to comprehend was normal as topics were very challenging and “math was probably not for me”. This was likely because my teachers grew up hearing the same thing from their educators, who grew up learning the same thing from their educators, and so on and so forth. I feel this is a vicious cycle which absolutely needs to be broken.

Somewhere between grade six and grade twelve there was a hiccup. I went from completing the long division math worksheets fastest and most accurately with a smile on my face to forcing myself to complete calculus 30 for my undergraduate degree. Being one of two females in that class is a problamatic story for another blog. What went wrong? I realize now the language used by many of my educators and even my parents was discouraging and oppressive. Most role models in my life were actively feeding into my slender dislike in the subject which grew larger each year. I was taught that not being good at math, or a particular part of math, was no issue at all. After hearing this so often, I started to believe it. My math grades were now significantly lower than any other subject (I know, not just about the number but again that is for another blog post). I was exposed to one form of assessment – exams. Just my luck, this is the one form of assessment I tend to struggle with. By creating a curriculum and classroom which is not inclusive to all learners and arguably supporting failure or misunderstanding is doing a great injustice to our students.

Poitier’s article speaks on how mathematics can extend past the common Euro-centric idea. Inuit cultures have been doing math differently, yet efficiently and accurately for their culture for many years. One difference is the number base system, which is base-20 in Inuit cultures compared to base-10 in Western cultures. Neither of these is better or more correct, rather they compliment and correspond to the culture. Second, Inuit mathematics incorporates real-world objects, places, etcetera into their teachings which makes comprehension easier. An example may be their keen understanding of space due to spatial recognition skills. This can help to identify good hunting areas by examining previous human occupancy or to estimate the amount of unit (time, distance) to their desired location by smelling or seeing landmarks. A third example is how the Inuit emphasize collaboration. In any math class I have experienced previously, it involved either note taking or reading a hand out provided by the educator alongside independent work on an exam, textbook questions, or worksheet. Overall, it was very private. However, Poitier discusses how collaboration in mathematics can not only better the experience for all involved, but also provide students with an increased understanding of the topic as the acquire more than one thought or idea.

Incorporating these Inuit ways of knowing would certainly have helped me succeed in math as a student. I have reflected on my past math experiences since Gale’s lecture and have realized some of the issues within the ways math is taught to students. Oppressing should never be the solution. I am more eager than ever to challenge myself to find inclusive and anti-oppresive practices for teaching topics which are often deemed black or white. After all, who knows what I would feel about math had I been encouraged to, and given the resources to keep trying.

 

We Are All Treaty People

Sadly, upon reading the email that was sent to Mike I found myself asking “was this an intern at my high school?”. Rather white-washed and privileged, my high school graduating class would have mirrored the class described in the email, likely because we were ignorant and racist but also because we simply did not know better. I remember our Social Studies 30 teacher brushing off the Indigenous curriculum connections and focusing on European colonization with little to no mention of Indigenous peoples. How can we effectively learn about the history of our country without mention of the contribution of, harm to, and mass genocide of Indigenous peoples? Why are we ignoring such a significant piece of our story?

I choose to believe we ignore this because we were largely in the wrong and our acts at this time were unjust. As Canadian settlers we have the privilege to choose what we wish and do not wish to remember. We can pretend colonization occurred simply with a boat and two feet. You and I both know this is ridiculous, and the ignorance we express, not to mention the acts of violence and awful assimilation attempts, have oppressed our Indigenous populations.

As a resident of Canada and specifically a settler, one may ask if their knowledge of Indigenous history is of importance? The answer should always be a definite yes. No matter the demographics of a classroom, Indigenous content should be incorporated because this is the history of our country. Until we decolonize, eliminate stereotypes through education, and demonstrate commitment to reconciliation Indigenous peoples, the First Peoples of this nation, will face hardships. Until we recognize the privilege we have to not only construct a new past which we may believe to fit a kinder narrative, but also the privilege we have everyday as settlers in this country, we cannot effectively filter the anti-Indigenous racism and ideals in our Saskatchewan air. Like other pollutants, I hope we can eliminate this through education.

Canadian citizenship or residence also brings Treaty Peoples status, meaning if you live in Canada you become a Treaty Person. This is because we are occupying treaty land which is to be shared with all peoples in a way which respects the Earth and those around us. It is the responsibility put onto us that we connect and cooperate with others for the benefit of all. As Chambers states, “this last chance to stop moving and start listening” (Chambers, p. 35). It is our duty to respect all forms of life and all things around us, as Indigenous Peoples do. It is time we begin to uphold this responsibility. As educators, we are role models for our students. If we positively model everything that comes with being a Treaty Person, they will understand the importance.

As I reflect on my time at Treaty Ed camp, some of these ideas have come full circle. I will continue to challenge myself to broaden the content I teach to include Indigenous ways of knowing which will not only benefit my Indigenous students, but all my students. They will be exposed to new perspectives which will provide them with better problem solving skills which can apply to science and cross-curriculuarly. I have vowed to always try my best as Edward Doolittle describes that sharing Indigenous knowledge doe snot need to be done perfectly, rather just needs to be delivered with your best effort. Previously, I was very nervous about teaching Indigenous content as I was afraid to mess up words or phrases, especially in front of an Indigenous audience. I have since realized that focusing on perfection was holding me back from the experience of learning, and was holding students back from those experiences as well. I would refrain from taking risks or challenging thinking because I did not always know the answers myself. However, this was wrong of me and that is what makes learning best for both the educator and learner! In my opinion, there is nothing better than learning alongside your students. Overall, Treaty Ed camp assisted in my commitment to being a life-long learner as I extend my field of interest to Indigenous education. I am thrilled to learn more about this topic and will be attending again next year.

Learning From Place

I believe a lot can be said about where we are and what we are doing there. We can learn so much from venturing outside the classroom and emerging ourselves in the surroundings. So why as educators do we so often fail to recognize curriculum as place?

A critical pedagogy of place in the article is aimed to “(a) identify, recover, and create material spaces and places that teach us how to live well in our total environments (reinhabitation); and (b) identify and change ways of thinking that injure and exploit other people and places (decolonization) (p.74)” (J.P. Restoule et. al, 2013). Based on that description, the effort to install critical pedagogy must involve relation to the land and environment in teaching as well as recognizing the biases or stereotypes based on certain groups while attempting to eliminate these from the classroom.

The article discusses a few points in which reinhabitation are evident. An example being the teaching that occurred outside of the classroom in nature where students had the opportunity to engage with the land and with Elders from those territories. This relevant excursion gave a new, traditional perspective to students and provided real-world examples to their learning. It also describes the acts of decolonization preformed by the group. These included encouraging traditional language use, creating relationships between youth and elders, and rebuilding connections to traditional culture. All of these methods created a space which acted towards reinhabitation and decolonization.

These opportunities are surely powerful and should be offered to all students. As a resident of Canada or simply a visitor for a short period of time, access to our roots and history which have strong Indigenous influence should be available. If I relate this research to my major of biology, I will attempt to actively relate materials and curricula to Indigenous perspectives whenever possible. I hope to also invite Elders into my classroom to share knowledge and will seek to broaden the scope of where my students gain knowledge. Since biology is the study of living things, I hope to take my students outside, provide them with experiences relating to our natural world and environment. Above all, I will strive to recognize the implications of curriculum and place; realizing that where we are and how we got here directly affects the students in my classroom. I will try to do this without assumption, but through research and relationship building with my students. I hope we all can attempt the same!

 

Curriculum as Public Policy

Prior to the reading, I figured curriculum would be developed based on subject areas deemed ‘necessary’ and building upon those disciplines annually. Perhaps developed with the workforce in mind, subject areas may have been picked to fulfill jobs popular at the time it was created. I imagine life-skills would have been in consideration as well, building strong writers and readers who could communicate and behave accordingly. Also, location would have an affect on curriculum, as well, with certain regions varying in subjects (i.e. inclusion of religion or Treaty Education).

After the reading, many my assumptions were proven correct as curriculum is developed differently based on place and goals for the region. I have acquired a different perspective on the development of curriculum by amateur teachers or ones who are not experts in the area. I understand why experts would not be wanted, but I hope these two work closely together to formulate the best outline for students in an area. I was also unaware of the government involvement in making curriculum. I figured it would be present, but it seems to have a larger impact and role than I previously assumed. I guess this could be a concern for me, as this could mean endorsements from third parties to incorporate certain outcomes in curricula that may not be necessary or accurate and may be used as advertisement. An example may be implementation of Canada’s Food Guide into the health curriculum. While this conversation could be a blog post in itself, as presented in post-secondary Nutrition courses this guide is not the ‘holy grail’ of eating some perceive it to be. With government influence to incorporate this into curriculum, students may not be receiving nutritional advise best or suited for them. Another example could be the lack of sexual education in schools where religion is practiced. Students are robbed of an essential discussion in their adolescents because of beliefs from the church. This raises concern. I also did not realize that ripple effect that would occur within curricula development, such as shaping secondary curricula to prepare for post secondary requirements and so on. Where does this ripple begin? With doctoral or professional programs?

 

‘Commonsense’ Ideas in Education

In Against with Commonsense: Teaching and Learning Towards Social Justice, Kevin Kumashiro addresses the problematic notion that all students attend school with the same knowledge, experiences, background, and heritage. This model assumes that each student will learn the same, each student will succeed the same, each student was raised the same, each student goes to the same home each day, and each student comes from the same socioeconomic, religious, racial, sexual orientation, and gender background to name merely a few. The problem with such model is not the obvious; students are, in fact, all diverse and different. Instead, the concern revolves around the oppression students are exposed to through this way of educating.

As a process that has been practiced for many years, refraining from using ‘common sense’ or conventional ways of educating are descried as no easy task from Kumashiro. Often, these methods are both comfortable and easy; they are what we observed in our schooling and do not require energy to change. It is a passive process. However, by marginalizing students and essentially educating only those who fit in majority groups in society, educators are failing to recognize the oppression placed upon students who do not have the ‘common’ knowledge held by other students. In this scenario, the ‘good student’ can be observed likely as a straight, white, middle-upper class male who grew up in the area his whole life. Someone who goes home to a family and has always been involved with extracurricular activities. A student who is privileged and settled in the area at least one hundred years prior. Ultimately, they would have what could be described as the ‘ideal life’ in our society. This student would be able to answer questions, understand correct and incorrect behaviour in the classroom, and could make relevant connections more effectively than his non-privileged peers in a school setting. He would often raise his hand and speak when asked, participate in class discussions, and complete assignments with perhaps no challenges.

Is one purpose of education not to challenge ourselves and our students? Why do we continue to practice in a way which benefits a certain group of students while excluding others? By making reference to ‘common’ knowledge and choosing to eliminate explanation of certain topics, we are stripping our students from the understanding they all deserve. Entering a classroom and delivering a lesson while skipping the explanation of topics because it is assumed students have either already learnt it, should know it, or it is ‘commonsense’ will progressively set students behind, further oppressing them.

The environment we create to educate in can make the world of a difference for oppressed students. Kumashiro suggests eliminating harmful circumstances from education entirely by advocating against injustice, creating a safe atmosphere where students can ask questions, making yourself available for extra assistance if required, integrate appropriate cultures into curriculum to better include all students, and challenge the traditional ‘commonsense’ ideals. Through these practices, the school setting can be more inclusive and educators can enable students to succeed. Privileged students who have a head start should ave nothing more than a head start. Rather, allow each student in the classroom to succeed as equity is achieved.

Historical Roots of Curriculum

As we have discussed, there are many different views, ideas, and strategies when it comes to creating curricula. It has shaped and been moulded tremendously throughout the history of schooling, and what was once popular could now be considered as unjust and exclusive. For example, while some of the ideas presented by John Dewey seem to be fantastic (learning by doing), he believed these methods were only worthy of a white audience.

Racism, hate, and prejudice have been present in the curriculum for many years. Montessori who was assumed to support eugenics developed a school, while having strong ideals regarding individuality and independence, became possessive and shy to new approaches. Now, we see a shift towards inclusivity for all, including race and gender. I appreciate the desire to include all learners and the recognition that everyone, in fact, is a learner. Paulo Freire, who stresses the importance of understanding the context you teach in, is a frontrunner in anti-oppresive education. He believes in education that is both just and inclusive. Here is a quote from him I enjoyed from Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

“Leaders who do not act dialogically, but insist on imposing their decisions, do not organize the people–they manipulate them. They do not liberate, nor are they liberated: they oppress.”

Simply, this quote spoke to me. I have always strived to be an educator who learns from their students, listens to their students, and loves their students. I try to create a classroom environment for all types of students, and one that allows for plenty of self-discovery and choice. I like to allow students to learn independently and interdependently, allowing for time for ‘fun’. It often upsets me to see educators who harness very last ounce of power they can possibly achieve; those who insert dominance and disregard their own mistakes or failures to be the fault of others. I feel this quote addresses those who may be ‘power hungry’ and states they are creating an environment which incarcerates students. Also, they suck creativity from their students by enforcing ideas other than the students own upon them, and cage students from becoming life-long learners.  I believe they do this by first, creating a negative connotation and opinion about learning amount students, and secondly, by stripping them from individual views and thoughts to build upon in future educational settings – the students only know the thoughts and opinions of the educator.

I enjoyed this quote because I could visualize it throughout my kindergarten to grade twelve schooling. I encountered teachers who gave varying degrees of freedom to their students and found the most respected teachers where those who allowed their students to think and act freely. I hope to be this teacher in the future.