Bias, Privilege, and Single 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?

For me I would say the way that I was brought up outside of school has shaped me more than school itself. I have parents with very inclusive attitudes. My mom is a pastor and my dad is a teacher. I would say that these roles have a unique and influential place in society. It has always been interesting to see how these two groups, the church and education, interact with other groups, such as LGBTQ+ and Indigenous folks, that they historically and sometimes currently have a negative relationship with. Both of my parents think that it is important to work to mend those relationships and are in positions to do so. I have grown up going to and participating in the pride parade, helping out at Camp fYrefly and participating in marches for missing and murdered Indigenous women. Growing up our home ways usually full of people, whether that was just family friends or maybe 2 German hitchhikers who needed a safe backyard to set up their tent (yeah that happened once). My parents taught my sisters and I that every person has an interesting and important story to tell and that we should treat each of those stories with warmth and respect.

That being said no person is free from bias. As a white, middle class, CIS gendered, straight women I am among the most privileged. Nothing, especially education, is truly bias free. I think that ignoring bias, your own or others, just perpetuates the dominant narrative. Bias and privilege and very connected. I think that if you are not using your privilege to shine a light on discrimination and oppression of minorities you are using it wrong. Similarly I think that as a teacher you always need to address your own bias in the classroom and think about why you are teaching the content that you are.

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

I think that my school tried to show stories with different points of view but often times we were only allowed to scratch the surface of the issues, we never got too deep and uncomfortable. I think that because I went to a private school that was largely privately funded, nobody wanted to do or say anything that could potentially upset anybody.

I think that the main place that enforced some ‘single stories’ and at the same time attempted to trouble some was my English classes. In English we looked at the typical plays, poems, that were often written by and told the stories of the pale, the male, and the stale. As these three descriptors are often seen as the “norm” in English classes, there was no discussion surrounding how their perspectives impacted their story telling. In another English class we read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and in another we analyzed the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and poetry from the time of the civil rights movement in the United States. In those classes we analyzed, in depth, how the race of the author impacted their writing, even though Harper Lee was white. When race was a factor in either the subject matter or the author themselves our teachers felt it necessary to discuss.

Mathematics and the Inuit community

This week we were tasked with reading Leroy Little Bears article Jagged worldviews colliding and Louise Poirier’s article Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community, and were presented with the following questions.

At the beginning of the reading, Leroy Little Bear (2000) states that colonialism “tries to maintain a singular social order by means of force and law, suppressing the diversity of human worldviews. … Typically, this proposition creates oppression and discrimination” (p. 77).
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?

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 mathematics and the way we learn it.

For me, at first, it was odd to think of a subject like math as being able to be oppressive or discriminatory. I think that people have a sense of math, that it is supposed to be black and white, based on undeniable fact, and therefore it is without the ability to be controversial, oppressive, discriminatory, or have bias. After thinking more about it, and looking back at Leroy Little Bears article it was clearer to see how the very definition of math that I just described, can be oppressive and discriminatory in and of itself.

Regarding Louise Poirier’s article and her study that Gale spoke of in class, the way math and numbers are understood varies between languages and cultures. I think that it is interesting to look at that on a different scale of the different understandings that students in classrooms bring to math. Looking back at my own schooling I can see how math was taught in such a way that discriminated against certain ways of thinking. It was seen as a static set of rules that we needed to remember, not an area of knowledge that we were allowed to get to know and fully understand. In math classes I always felt like I just barely understood what was going on, that I only had the surface level of information. Now I can see that happened because of a focus on memorization rather than problem solving.

The three ways that I see Inuit mathematics challenging Eurocentric ideas about the purposed of math are:

1)Language: The idea that math is universal language is a Eurocentric idea that is challenged by Inuit math. Just as Gale said that as humans we always want to name things, I think that we always want a distinct way of looking at something. I think that is part of the reason that people latch onto math, because it can give definitive answers, it is a ‘universal language’. However, Inuit math, and other ways to look at math that are related to culture, trouble that idea a bit and offer the thought that there are many ways to understand mathematics and it is not as universal as once believed.

2)Measurement: In Inuit mathematics, parts of the body are often used in measurement. I think that this is a really practical idea, especially when working with small children. It makes a lot of sense to use a unit of measurement that people are familiar with, like body parts, over a measurement system that students would have to memorize (cm, inch, foot, metre etc.)

3)Spatial reasoning: One of the areas that Poirier spoke of in her article was the sense of space in Inuit culture and math. This sense is something that I wouldn’t immediately relate to math but I can see now how they are related. Poirier described this sense as coming from hunting and being on the land. This way of relating to the space around them is different from a Eurocentric point of view.

Citizenship in Schools

This week we read Joel Westheimer and Joseph Kahne’s article What kind of Citizen? The Politics of Educating for Democracy (http://www.civicsurvey.org/sites/default/files/publications/what_kind_of_citizen.pdf) and were asked to respond to the following question:

What examples of citizenship education do you remember from your K-12 schooling? What types of citizenship (e.g. which of the three types mentioned in the article) were the focus? Explore what this approach to the curriculum made (im)possible in regards to citizenship.

Throughout my schooling experience there was much more of an emphasis on personally responsibility and participatory citizenship. For me I think that which type of citizenship was focused on shifted depending on which grade I was in. In the earlier elementary years the focus was mainly on personally responsibility. We focused on following classroom rules, such as raising your hand to speak, standing in line, walking down the hallway, keeping your hands to yourself etc., we did food drives for the Regina Food Bank and even visited the Food Bank a few times.
Around grade 5 and 6 there was a larger push for students to be leaders in the school and therefore to be more participatory in their citizenship. It was on a small scale but there was some planning and action oriented organization that took place in the later years of elementary school, mostly in connection with the student council, and never loosing sight of the citizenship related to personal responsibility — everything built upon that. I recall a couple of opportunities where we were encouraged to be justice oriented, but only if that’s where our interests were, it came from students interests not really from the curriculum.

High school remained similar to the later years of elementary school. We had service days where the whole school would go out to organizations in the community to help out with whatever they needed. In the actual formal curriculum the place that my high school focused on citizenship in general was in Christian Ethics class. Part of the overall grade for the class was completing a certain amount of volunteer service hours. There were more opportunities in high school than in elementary school that had the potential to be steered towards justice oriented citizenship, and there was more of an attempt made to focus it but I think that it often missed the mark.

Similar to elementary school, I think that there needed to be interest from the students in order to make justice oriented learning meaningful. I did quite a bit of justice oriented work outside of school so that was able to be my focus where applicable in school, but it mostly did not stem from the curriculum. I think that service oriented actions in general get an added layer of difficultly when there is religion involved because of the strong history of Mission work in the church, those actions often end up being more focused on charity rather than justice or aid.
The population of the high school that I went to is also quite well off financially, which I would say led to the fostering of the charity rather than justice oriented model of citizenship. When situations of injustice were taught I think they were not taken very seriously. There was never really a reason to learn why certain injustices were happening because they were never and would never happened to them. People knew that it was good to volunteer and do acts of service but there was not usually that deeper understanding or empathy of why people are in the rough situations that they are in.

We are all Treaty people

This week we were asked to read and watch a number of things and respond to 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”?

I would say that it is more important to teach Treaty Ed and Indigenous content to non-Indigenous students than to Indigenous students. As Claire said when talking about her daughters who are Saulteaux, Indigenous people generally know the history of their own people and what was done to them, they are not the ones who need to be taught about it. Claire explains that a more accurate term might be “settler ed”. I think that many non-Indigenous people like to be able to separate themselves from what their ancestors did to First Nations people. There is an incorrect assumption that Indigenous people are somehow blaming white people as a whole for the injustices done to them. There is a desire to protect their whiteness from ‘attack’. People look at Indigenous issues as  problem of them past, as something that doesn’t and shouldn’t relate to them. However as Dwayne Donald explained in his lecture, the past is occurring simultaneously in the present. We are currently living out the lasting impacts of colonialism and residential schools. I would say that the majority of the focus is not on the injustices committed by our white ancestors, but on the injustices that we are allowing to occur in present time.

To me the term “we are all Treaty people” has to do with rights, responsibility, and relationships. Everyone who is living in Treaty territory has a responsibility to learn what that entails, to learn not only the history of the signing of Treaty 4, but to learn what was promised in the Treaty and how that is being acknowledges (or not) today. We need to come to the understanding that we can never get passed treaties, or Treaty Ed., and help out students get to the same understanding.

It is important to teach Treaty Ed (Settler Ed) in spaces where there are little to no First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people so that they can come to understand the events and complex history of how they have come to call this place home, so they can come to understand that “we are all Treaty people”.

Claire Kreuger: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWY_X-ikmaw&feature=youtu.be  and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnPl9Xfd0Bw&feature=youtu.be

Dwayne Donald: https://vimeo.com/15264558

Re-inhabitation and Decolonization

This week we were asked to read this article which suggests that a “critical pedagogy of place” aims to:

(a) identify, recover, and create material spaces and places that teach us how to live well in our total environments (re-inhabitation)
(b) identify and change ways of thinking that injure and exploit other people and places (decolonization) (p.74)

We were given the following questions in response:

1. List some of the ways that you see re-inhabitation and decolonization happening throughout the narrative.

There are a couple different ways that I see re-inhabitation and decolonization happening throughout this article. The first is in regard to autonomy for Indigenous people, and how this research was largely community-based and driven. In a lot of situations that deal with issues facing minority and marginalized groups, the majority and dominant groups see those issues as something they can easily solve for that marginalized group, without ever consulting them to see is that issue specific issue is something that even needs solving. There is a lot of imposition from one group onto another. However I don’t think that is what is going on in this research project. Throughout the article it is mentioned that the communities priorities guided where the research went as a whole. It was the community who identified the issue of intergenerational knowledge and language loss and it was the community that guided and decided on potential solutions to that issue. I think that people often carry the assumption that Indigenous people need help in the form of hand-outs from non-Indigenous people to be successful when that is certainly not the case. They have the ideas, the drive, and they know what their communities need, unfortunately it’s the resources that are often not there to carry out those things.

The second way that I see re-inhabitation and decolonization happening in this article is through the reintroduction of traditional ways of knowing through language. In everyday living I don’t think people realize how closely our language and how we see the world around us are connected. I think recognizing that relationship calls for deep inward reflection which is difficult to do. I only started to realize this connection when I began learning a second language and could separate myself from that process to look at a language and a culture that I did not personally identify with. The article provides a quick definition of ‘paquataskamik’, but there is an acknowledgement that it means so much more than that definition. The Mushkegowuk way of knowing is deeply rooted in language, so once certain words stopped being used, the way of knowing and viewing the world also fades away. The article describes the process of transferring of that important traditional language and knowledge from Elders to the younger generations.

2. How might you adapt these ideas towards considering place in your own subject areas and teaching?

In taking these ideas into my own teaching I want to remember that all of my students come with different knowledge and ways of understanding, whether it is culturally based or not. Everyone comes with something different and that should be welcomed and celebrated.

When teaching Indigenous topics in my class I don’t want to fall into the trap of only teaching surface level elements of Indigenous culture, such as traditional food, clothing, or dance. While that is an important aspect to any culture and can be enjoyed by all, I don’t want to create the assumption in my students that that’s all there is to it. I hope I can foster the understanding that Canada’s relationship with First Nations people is troubling and Indigenous identity goes far beyond the superficial.

Who Decides What We Learn?

For this week’s post we are asked to write a before and after reading post about Ben Levin’s Curriculum Policy and the Politics of What Should Be Learned in Schools

http://www.corwin.com/upm-data/16905_Chapter_1.pdf

Before reading: How do you think that school curricula are developed?

I think that school curricula are developed by influential people both in education and outside of education. People like teachers and people who are experts in their respective fields are consulted when making curriculum. People in governmental positions definitely have a say in what gets put into the curriculumBecause in Canada, Education is a provincial matter, I think that a part of developing curriculum has to do with looking at specific provincial differences. For example what makes Saskatchewan different from British Columbia and what about those differences needs to be taught in schools in Saskatchewan.

After reading: 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?

After doing this reading I now have a clearer understanding of where curriculum comes from. The reading states the process of deciding what makes it into the curriculum differs between certain systems of governing. A number of various groups come together to write a new curriculum or to revise old curriculum. Typically this includes, government officials, experts in specific field, and teachers. This process is heavily influenced by certain industries and public opinion.

The previous curriculum will be looked at to see what needs to be changed, added, or removed. Eventually (sometimes after many years) a general consensus will be reached among the group and the new curriculum will either be tested out in a few chosen schools, or it will be fully implemented.

Something that stood out to me in this reading and almost comforted me in a way is the point the article made about people who are experts in their field not always being the best people to help write curriculum, as they can write the curriculum in a way that serves them and not non-experts. I liked the comment how teachers, specifically elementary teachers, aren’t supposed to be experts in the topics they are teaching. I think that this shows what the curriculum is supposed to be for teachers. It should be a document that we can turn to for guidance, and it should be ready and easy for us to use.

A concern that I see in regards to the creation of curriculum is how much certain industries, like a textbook publishing company, could have influenced what I learned I schools and will influence what I teach in schools. It is a little unsettling to me that people with a money driven, self interested interest in my education.