The purpose of Treaty Education

Why should I bother teaching Treaty Education curriculum, or First Nations, Metis, and Inuit (FNMI) content in schools? There are not any First Nations students in the class, so it is obviously no relevant or important to teach!

No. Nope. That’s not how it works – ever. That’s like saying, “Well, none of my students are aspiring statisticians so I do not think teaching math is relevant to them.” That is not why we have a Math curriculum, or Science or English or anything else.

First: It is government mandated. It is not optional. It is not a request. It is a requirement outlined in the curriculum as content that must be taught in schools – and not just in “Native Studies 10, 20, 30” in high schools, but in all classes in every grade. End of story; no questions asked.

However, allow me to further convince you of the reality and necessity for teaching Treaty Education in the classroom.

It is not for the benefit of the First Nations, Metis, and Inuit students in the class that you decide to teach the historical content of residential schools and the impact is has on today’s society. More likely than not, they know that. Those students likely have family members – or know someone else – who experienced them first hand. We have to face the reality that, living in Saskatchewan with the racism and stereotypes that exist, they are living the impact of that history. The students who should be learning about residential schools and treaties are the ones who do not have opportunities otherwise to learn about that past – whether they are First Nations or  not. If we are to teach students about Canada, and Canadian history, it is a necessity to include FNMI content because FNMI content IS Canadian history. The fact that anyone would brush this off as “unnecessary and irrelevant” because the lack of Indigenous students in the class proves the ignorance and complete need for this information to be a part of education.

We cannot call ourselves Canadians – especially in Saskatchewan – while ignoring, and refusing to learn, something that has such a large impact on the history of this country. Saskatchewan is filled with racism and stereotypes, and it is not the victims of these thought-constructs who need to be told this. They know. If we live in Canada we are affected by this history. We cannot say “It’s in the past, and doesn’t matter anymore.” It does affect us, and the repercussions of the past are still hugely impacting in the lives of First Nations, Metis and Inuit people. We all need to become educated in treaty knowledge and FNMI content. We are all treaty people.

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Be a “good” student! – What are we really saying?

The problem of common sense (Kumashiro. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice, pp. 19-33.

As previously discussed, “commonsense” is something that we cannot get away from in any classroom. It is the acceptance of what are the norms, without regard to the oppressive nature of these assumptions – that everyone should fit neatly into one mold because “that’s just how it is”. If we approach the idea of who the “good” students are, we can easily see this commonsense clouding the vision of the educational system. Kumashiro notes that being a good student in the eyes of society encompasses: being able to learn in one specific way, having none – or few – behavioural outbursts in class, and proving that the student has learned sufficiently by being able to regurgitate the desired information on command. Unfortunately, this pays no attention to all of the variables that play a part in developing the early understanding of kids. People learn differently. That is a fact. Also, some people have a natural predisposition to certain skills and abilities – this is also known as the theory of Multiple Intelligences. For example, I am an Arts Education student. My areas of “comfort” are dance and music, and maybe even literature. Ask me to create draw or express those same thoughts in visual art – not a chance it will turn out the way I am hoping, or at least a VERY minimal chance. Putting this into Kumashiro’s world of education, I would be a terrible student in an Art class because, frankly, that is just not my best subject. This idea privileges those who are simply more academically inclined and marginalizes – and discourages – those who learn differently. Kumashiro wrote of a story of a young child who struggled to stay focused in lessons and did not follow directions “normally”. At the end of this story it was stated that at the end of every day the child would ask “was I bad today? […] I’ll be better tomorrow.” How heart-breaking is that? This young child already had in their head that they were a “bad” student. When a child only sees the label placed on them by society, they often do not strive for anything greater. Their goals and dreams are placed in the far recesses of their minds while they accept the fate that has been handed to them – that they are not a good student and cannot learn in the conventional way, therefore they are not “smart” enough.

Instead, why can we not break this “commonsense” that tries to fit every student into a neat little box of what they should strive for? Instead, why not celebrate the individuality of each student and allow each student an opportunity to learn differently? I am not saying “don’t teach curriculum, kids can learn whatever they want.” But perhaps there is more to learning than regurgitating information to get the highest grade. Instead, why not encourage passions to grow and develop – allowing students to explore what makes them an individual?

The Future of the World.

The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next. – Abraham Lincoln

That’s a pretty straightforward statement – and how true. As educators we are literally teaching and guiding those who will be running the country in 30 years. They will be the ones making the decisions about what is important, who gets the tax cuts, and whether they build a new outlet mall or a school. It is our responsibility, then, to ensure that we are equipping these children with the experiences to develop sound morals, ethics, and priorities. We are to equip them with the tools to be critical thinkers and decision-makers, and to let them know that they can – and will – make a difference. Especially in today’s society, it is so easy to sit back into the world of social media and place our value in how many “likes” we get, or how many “followers” we have; is that what is really important? Consider this: you are teaching those who will be teaching your own children, and who will be teaching alongside you. What sort of values and beliefs do you want to be important? However, it is important to keep in mind that simply because we are teachers we can force our worldview on others. Yes, we can try to instill a sense of priorities and importance – that perhaps fundraising or donating money to a good organization is a good alternative to eating out every day, or that always completing a task to the best of your abilities is important – but we cannot force our ideals upon the students. The best we can do is support and care for them, model our own beliefs and thoughts, and encourage them to pursue their dreams and see the value in everything they do.

I know it seems really cliché, but there is really no other way to say it – the children are the future. We cannot complain about “kids these days” if we are not doing anything to make a difference for them.teaching

The Tyler Rationale Experience

The Tyler rationale is a highly objective, efficient, and standardized way of approaching education. There is little room for creative freedom of the students, and even less room for expression of personal interests and strengths. Further explanation can be found here.
Upon first thought of my own experiences in the school system, it was hard for me to recognize when exactly the Tyler rationale was being exemplified. Then I remembered my grade 1 teacher. Now, at the time we (the students) just thought she was mean. It is now that I am in the Education program that I recognize her teaching strategies – though I still do not necessarily agree with them – as being based in what she believed was the “right way”, and not completely irrational “meanness”. In grade 1 there was a right way, and therefore a wrong way, for everything. I remember on numerous occasions she would not allow some of the students to go out for recess because we were not writing our letters correctly. By this I mean that we were writing O’s by circling clockwise instead of counterclockwise, or one boy – heaven forbid – who was starting his O’s at the bottom and circling counterclockwise. Everything seemed to be drilled into our heads over, and over, and over again until everything was perfect. If our homework (yes, we had homework in grade 1) had any mistakes in it we had to completely redo it over recess and lunch.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am realizing more and more how much the Tyler rationale sneaks its way into everyday classrooms easily. However, I would like to draw upon this first grade experience to fully realize the benefits and limitations of this rationale. Obviously, forcing this level of expertise onto a five year old child does not begin their experience in the education system very well. Though I’m sure she had good-intentions in trying to ensure we learned the basic skills need to progress through school, the push for perfection in our work really didn’t do us much good. More than anything it took away our freedom of expression and replaced it with the way it was “supposed” to be done – the “common sense” we had to learn. We learned not to ask questions, to do as we were told, and if there was any hint of failure we had the “fun” of school taken away. This all being said, however, also lays way to the very important benefits of being taught in this way; we learned what we needed to, and we learned to do it well. Yes, it may have been over the top, but the majority of the class could write more-or-less legibly by the end of the year. We knew our colours (keep in mind I was in French Immersion, so it was learning another language and new words for the things we knew), and we certainly knew how to control our behaviour – or at least keep it unseen by the eyes of our teachers.
In conclusion, yes, perhaps the Tyler rationale comes across as the extreme end of the teaching spectrum. However there are arguments to be made that they effectively teach what students need to know – no nonsense included. It is apparent that approaching teaching as an science experiment – that in adding the right reactants a reaction will occur to produce the desired result – or as an industrial assembly line is not the empathetic, caring, fun way we like to believe teaching should occur. Though there is surprising amounts of that ideology that continues to lie underneath what we see in today’s classrooms in Canada.

How is “common sense” defined, and why is it important to pay attention to?

The problem of common sense (Kumashiro. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice, pp. XXIX – XLI

Kumashiro speaks about “common sense” as the things that are often assumed or expected to be discussed/taught as normal because it is simply tradition, or the way that it has developed as standard. It is regarded as the things that we “should” be doing because that is just how it is done. It is often the routine aspects of teaching – and life – that go unquestioned because we are comfortable, and convinced that it is the best practice – for whatever reason. It is that unquestioned nature of the “common sense” that leads to the oppressive nature of the education system. We regard them as normal, without realizing how truly oppressive they are, and are often willing to settle because they easily slide under the radar unnoticed. If we want to foster a healthy educational environment we need to begin by questioning the true nature of how we are addressing social issues – rather than conforming to the way of teaching impressed upon us by Canadian (and/or American) societal norms.