Twenty-first Century Education

September 22, 2017

As I continue my learning journey in the Queen's University Professional Master of Education program, I want to consider the research question: How can incorporating Indigenous knowledge, history and ways of knowing enhance 21st century education for all students?

In recent years, many K-12 school districts have replaced history courses with social studies courses. While I agree that social studies are important, I think that the move away from requiring students to have an understanding of our collective history is a mistake.

The findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission led Justice (now Senator) Murray Sinclair to note that, in the past, education in Canada was used as a tool for assimilation. His belief is that education can now be used as a tool for reconciliation. In order to arrive at the point of "reconciliation," we must first move past the point of "truth," which cannot occur until all Canadians have a good understanding of our history.

In the process of learning about our collective history, students will learn the very important skill of "thinking like a historian." For I believe that it is in thinking like a historian that one engages meaningfully and responsibly with today. Thinking like a historian invites us to use the past to determine cause and effect, to understand change and continuity, to recognize turning points, and to view things "through their eyes."

September 25, 2017

One of the readings in my current course shared a link for the Great Unsolved Mysteries of Canadian History website, which I think is very useful as students encounter the study of history. The site encourages students to explore its vast collection of primary documents relating to specific events in Canadian history. I agree with the website developers in that exploring primary sources helps develop critical and imaginative thinkers.

For many years, students of history encountered much of their learning from the master narratives found in our traditional textbooks. There is certainly value in textbooks, particularly if they rely on a wide variety of sources and voices. However, the process of accessing and exploring primary sources is foundational to active learning in history. The student who accesses primary sources must think broadly, as they incorporate the meaning of those sources into the context of the historical period. Then, thinking like a historian, the student should consider cause and effect, change and continuity--in essence understanding what stories of the past tell us about stories of the present.

Even more importantly for primary sources, when considering how to best incorporate Indigenous history and culture into curriculum, those primary sources are sometimes the only way to access the history of the Indigenous peoples of Canada.

September 26, 2017

Reading an article about the importance for educators to be philosophically-minded brought to mind some questions and some observations, both in terms of education in a globally connected world, and in terms of incorporating Indigenous history and ways of knowing into curriculum. In an era of quick responses, often in less than 130 characters, one wonders if it is still possible to be "philosophically-minded."

Years ago, I came across a study that examined the life perspectives of first year university students, based on the frequency of their texting practices. The psychological study concluded that students who texted more frequently were also more likely to experience more anxiety. This study followed the release of Nicolas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. Carr's argument was that the internet has contributed to the re-wiring of our brains so that we have begun to act like computers, constantly absorbing information, and in the process forgetting what it means to be human.

If we were to agree with Carr, then we might begin to question our ability to be philosophically-minded. Whether or not we agree with Carr, we might look to the wisdom of Indigenous elders, for a renewed perspective on education for the benefit of all students. From the "three L's" of look, listen and learn, to the holistic connection between humanity and nature, incorporating Indigenous content encourages all to re-connect with mind, body, and spirit through quiet reflection, a a way to connect with our own inner wisdom. This seems one time-tested method of ensuring that we are philosophically-minded, to the enrichment of our own lives and those of our students.

September 27, 2017

I was very interested to read an article by Kathleen Gallager, of the Ontario Institute for Studies on Education, published in today's Academica. This was a good discussion about the process of "Indigenizing" curriculum that many educational institutions are now undertaking. This is not a simple process, and, as Gallagher notes, calls educators to be "humble about what we do not know." Gallagher recounts her summer of engaging with Indigenous literature, something that she wonders about not having undertaken some time ago. I will confess to the same wonder in myself. It leads me to agree with Gallagher that, as educators, we should be cognizant of the fact that, what we do not know as educators, will translate into what our students subsequently do not know.

I appreciated Gallagher's recognition of the benefit of memoirs such as Wab Kinew's The Reason You Walk. I agree and would add a few other memoirs very worthy of the read. Beatrice Mosionier's Come Walk With Me and Maria Campbell's Halfbreed. I would also suggest CBC's 15 Memoirs by Indigenous writers you need to read. Like Gallagher, I think that memoirs offer a unique perspective. I would extend that benefit by saying that memoir's also provide us opportunity to access primary sources, and, in the end, offer unique ways to view history "through their eyes."

September 28, 2017

In the discussion about integrating Indigenous content into curriculum, the observations of one teacher in an article by Yanna Kanu felt that it might be seen as unfair to include too much Indigenous content, given that there are other "minorities" in the classroom. I suspect that many people might share this view. However, as Kanu accurately points out, Indigenous history and culture is Canadian history and culture.

Years ago, I recall reading a book by Alan Cairns, entitled Citizens Plus, which drew upon the findings of the Hawthorne Report. Cairns' argument was that, in addition to the rights of citizenship guaranteed by the Charter, Indigenous people enjoy rights that are inherent in the Royal Proclamation and in the treaties, and that are thus unique to them as Canadians.

If one of the goals of education in Canada is to develop a healthy self-identity for Indigenous students that will negate the effects of the racism that they have often encountered, then a good understanding of treaty obligations on the part of all Canadians is important. The Indigenous way of knowing identified by Kanu, specifically that it is "intra-personal, subjective, holistic, spiritual, and transformative compared to Western/mainstream approaches to learning that are secular, fragmented, neutral or objective" (p105), would, I argue, be useful to all students.

Although Kanu refers to Western approaches as objective, I have argued, as a student of history, that we do not really have the capacity to be truly neutral or objective. I admit that this is not a perspective that many students of history agree with. However, my view is that we are all spiritual (not necessarily religious) beings and we all carry our culture with us--whether we like it or not. Recognizing that educational systems as a whole would benefit from acknowledging the Indigenous ways of knowing that are subjective, spiritual and holistic would, I think, help address the structural and systemic racism (often veiled in objectivity) that still exists.

October 1, 2017

A practical example of the necessary path to reconciliation through education that was identified in the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are Canada's First Nations post-secondary institutions. Truly, if we are to prepare sufficient numbers of Indigenous educators to meet the need in the primary and secondary school systems, then we need to begin to address this need through post-secondary education. One practical example of this truth is Alberta's University nuhelot'jne thaiyot'j nistameyimakanak Blue Quills which recently reclaimed its Indigenous name, and subsequently reclaimed its history when it re-purposed the former residential school that stood on its grounds.

Another example of the path to reconciliation is the need identified in Alberta recently, and that is for a greater presence of Indigenous educators in urban schools. With the increasing calls for incorporating Indigenous content into curriculum, many educators have expressed their own lack of knowledge that would allow them to feel comfortable doing this. Increasingly, partnerships between post-secondary institutions and Indigenous communities have the shared goal of increasing the presence of Indigenous educators in classrooms all across the secondary and post-secondary systems.

As the journey continues, it is important to note that Indigenous culture is not identical in all areas of Canada. This reality suggests that there is a need to be sensitive to the distinctness of cultures and histories to particular geographic areas as we work to revise curriculum. In a review of Indigenous initiatives at post-secondary institutions across Canada, and in subsequent reports, the need for acknowledging this distinctness was clear (Association of Community Colleges, Environmental Scan 2010; Partnering for Future Generations 2012; Colleges Serving Aboriginal Learners and Communities, 2010).

October 5, 2017

Education, controlled by a society's governing body, is a reflection of that governing body. In times of social stability, there is less focus on curriculum policy. However, when there is societal uncertainty and unrest, then one of the methods by which a society "controls" its population is often through the education system. In Canada, formal education was introduced by the Jesuits, who established a tradition of tight control on curriculum. This tradition was later adopted by Anglophone education policy makers. While Quebec resisted Anglophone Protestant control as it occurred in curriculum policy in the rest of Canada, the church in Quebec was able to maintain strict control of curriculum until the "modernization" of the 1960s. In English-speaking Canada, curriculum changes were influenced by both British and American trends, at times progressive and at times more restrictive as the Cold War, and then the Civil Rights movement, affected policy. Canada's curriculum has often relied heavily on United States, French and British models, while incorporating Canadian content.

While this has been the case, the reliance on "foreign" influences is undergoing major revision in Canada. In a sense we are, once again, undergoing a "modernization" of our education system, inspired in part by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's ninety-four Calls to Action. It seems that the majority of Canadians now have a sincere desire to understand the history and culture of Indigenous people. Just as we faced an uncertain and unsettling world with the advent of industrialization and urbanization (with a resulting focus on domestic science, health, agriculture, kindergartens), we now face uncertainty about climate change (whether or not we believe that to be a result of our mismanagement of the environment), and an increasingly globally connected world. This uncertainty is inspiring our governing bodies, and indeed many educators, to explore how Indigenous culture, knowledge, and ways of learning can contribute to a more inclusive and collaborative educational curriculum, and indeed to a more inclusive society.