Challenging “Good” in Education

In Chapter two, Kumashiro discusses how the expectations we have of our students can colour and deeply influence the ways we perceive and interpret their behaviours.

A “commonsense” understanding of the student, is that to be “good” you must know how to behave properly, be able to sit still in class, listen attentively, provide answers upon demand and participate as asked by the teacher. Kusmashiro discusses how this expectation backfires, in their initial response of frustration towards a student and inability to “manage” the class.

They later realized that they were not reaching the student at the level they required.

Kusmashiro begins to realize that with students with these kinds of struggles, it may in fact be the institution and its overarching structures that fail to meet the demands of the kids.

Looking back through years of teacher training processes, various theoretical frameworks have shaped the influence of developing teacher minds. Post-secondary pedagogy, and all of the underlying processes that have shaped it, are vast, woven into the fabric of our culture, socio-political climate, and global connections. We are all connected – and the learning of the people before us – and the people before us who taught us – have been shaped by so many influences. This has in turn affected our processing, our perceptions of the world, and the way we view the reality that we live in.

Our class was introduced to a 135-year-old Teacher Training book called “A History of Education” by F.V.N. Painter. In the sections we were studying, some clearly racist ideas were presented. Detailed descriptions about how certain cultures were classified over others, including intelligence level and capacity, exist in these pages. Some of it is difficult to read. A lot has changed since 1886. But some of the ideas in this book persist in society today.

As we progress in our ECS 203 learning, we will become more aware of the layers of influence upon teachers and societies, as well as the progress towards change that has been made. Being a social justice advocate myself, I like to look to the bright side of progress and try to understand the darker parts of history as a way of making sense of the present.

Instead of thinking of students as “good” or “bad,” or classifying their behaviour as such, I strive to be an educator who embraces complexity, flexibility – one who can lean into the many “different ways of knowing and being” and help offer deeper learning opportunities as they present – whether that be in the bright daylight or in the hidden corners of life and students minds.

Reconciliation and the intersects of curriculum and pedagogy

I am working with the topic of reconciliation and exploring its intersections in curriculum and pedagogy.

As a caucasian person, and a descendant of white European settlers in North America, as well as a born-and-raised Yukoner and person of the North, this is a topic I care deeply about. In our ECS 203 class, we begin a quest into the understandings of depths, richness, history and complexities of curriculum and pedagogy. Understanding the ways of the past as it has been laid out before us is necessary. As a social-justice-oriented education student, and as a friend of many Indigenous people in the North, I wish to orient myself to both the past and present understanding of reconciliation as it associates with curriculum and pedagogy, specifically with a Northern focus. From a baseline theoretical understanding of past and present, visions for the future may be sparked and shaped. For as future educators, education policymakers, school counsellors, administrators – whatever our eventual role could be – I believe we hold such an important gift and humble power in our capacity to make a difference for change. “Reconciliation” is a term we hear often – in the cries of Indigenous people asking for more listening, more acknowledgement, more recognition, and more support. The ties within our education system are boundless: reconciliation and the education system are two deeply interwoven facets requiring meaningful attention and care. With a special focus on curriculum and pedagogy, we can continue to harness traction for change, as these deeply intersect into this movement and hold the key for powerful implications.

One of my big questions in doing this research is: “How is reconciliation incorporated into the curriculum?”

One of my big discoveries (when I first started researching this week), is the curriculum theorist William Pinar. He has written many influential curriculum books, articles, and founded curriculum journals. What is notable about his work is how (and when) it diverges from the Tyler Rationale. His work forms a significant part of the 1970’s Reconceptualist movement, an era in theoretical and applied education that continues to ripple through the Education system today. The concept of a system that requires continual evaluation, growth, and change, is at the heart of what it means to be a social-justice-oriented educator. One does not wish to sit and watch problematic patterns reoccur – instead one desires reflection, evaluation and change. These were some of the ways of thinking and action, that Reconceptualism sought to establish as an accepted regular practice provided within education.

Some of the big movements related to reconciliation in Canada are the Truth and Reconciliation Commission work and Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women Call to Action. Changes to curriculum, especially additions to history and social studies that include Indigenous histories, are movements of reconciliation. Increasing “First Nations Ways of Knowing and Being” among educators and in the classrooms by providing culturally shaped experiences is reconciliation in action.

Jumping forward into more recent reconciliation academia, I discovered an article by Aparna Mishra Tarc, discussing a topic known as Reparative Curriculum (2011). Some of the big themes of this topic include guiding students to learn to sit with the suffering others have endured as a way of trying to make peace with it. This will be one of my chosen articles for discussion in my research paper.

This article led me to other articles that discuss the differing viewpoints in the concept of “resolution.” I discovered that resolution can have varied meanings. It also seems to be an emotionally charged topic – how can it not be? From the article Truth, Reconciliation and Amnesia: Porcupines and China Dolls and the Canadian Conscience (2009) “While healing and reconciliation are desirable occurrences…these concepts can also entail a fixation upon resolution that is not only premature but problematic in its correlation with forgetting” (Martin, p. 49). The tension between staying with discomfort and passing through it quickly is affected by the overarching need to find some kind of resolution, with a seen-at-times confusion about the pathway. Are we in such a rush for resolve that we neglect to spend enough time just sitting with the discomfort involved with accepting the difficulties of the past?

The other valuable resource that I discovered is a textbook called Framing Peace: Thinking about and Enacting Curriculum as Radical Hope (2014). From this book, I would like to study the chapter by Ashley Pullman and Chris Nichols: “How to ‘Teach’ Peace to a Subject that is Continually in Crisis.” This chapter is of interest because it theorizes ways that educators can “illuminate problems of violence while providing strategies to address these concerns” (p. 29). This book also explores the concept of peace as a practice, rather than an endpoint. This would seem to me another perspective within the reconciliation framework. We are still in a time of violence within communities – for example, as discoveries about residential schools, and buried children continue to be uncovered. How do we move towards peace in the processing – the present and resounding impacts of this? This could also tie in with other research around incorporating mindfulness into the curriculum, but at some point this may begin to diverge from the original topic, so this may be better to hold this aside for other research work. 

Finally, I wish to search for practices that use cultural approaches to teach about reconciliation. This would be my next area to search for in my assignment. This would tie together my other research and work. I also noted, that in my research, the work of Judith Butler, a feminist scholar, was often referenced. I spent some time reading about her work and reflecting on how it may apply to future coursework. 

I am enjoying the process of researching and learning, and I look forward to putting more of the pieces together in the form of a written assignment. Incredible strides are made to introduce more Indigenous programming into the curriculum. However, as we look to the practices in the present, truthfully, educators and schools are oftentimes struggling and may face challenges in the actual delivery of this. Studying curriculum and pedagogy through the lens of reconciliation may provide insights into the complexities of the current climate in Indigenous education.

Theories of Curriculum and Pedagogy: An Exploration oF “Product”

Dani Kluane (me!) on the first day of Kindergarten at Whitehorse Elementary School, Yukon. From the beginning, we are taught to find our names, use our hooks and keep our belongings stored in the correct location.

Curriculum development from a traditionalist perspective is widely used across schools in Canada.

The Smith articles examine methods for organizing schooling – these include both theories and practices.

The dominant mode of managing education today is in the productive form – also defined as  “curriculum as a product.” -Smith, Curriculum Theory and Practice

What is it?

” Product – Curriculum as an attempt to achieve certain ends in students.”  – Smith Reading

Examples:

-Curriculum that is pre-determined

-Clearly defined learning objectives and learning methods

-Technical, systematic, organized

-Categorical

-Leans towards a mechanistic way of viewing the learning process 

-Measurability is important

Think about…….

How have I experienced the Tyler Rationale in my own schooling?

There were stages of learning in each grade – For example – progressing through each level of math workbook each year and grade. Every year you start a new level and are expected to reach mastery of that level by the end of the school year ( as well as sometimes an introduction to the next level).

-Reading from staged learning literature, at the “expected” academic level e.g. vocabulary learning meets certain expectations.

-Social studies – pre-determined curriculum for each year of learning. (In my school years, we learned little about Indigenous histories in the North, although this is now changing).

-Learning and practicing patience – Waiting for the class to be finished their work together before we move on to the next stage -The class progressively moves through different stages together.

-Having a somewhat clear sense of expectations e.g. “this is the textbook we are learning from. This is the material you are expected to know and understand by the end of the school year.”

What are the limits of the Tyler rationale – and what does it make impossible?

-It does not consider that students learn at a different pace -It forces the teacher to pace the class according to the certain, predetermined stages of learning. There is less flexibility room for supporting individual growth and individual pacing.

This may present challenges for the learner who needs extra time and specialized attention to support their learning.

It may also create drawbacks for “quick learners” who grasp the material quickly, and they may become bored, disengaged, or even disruptive in the classroom. This can also create challenges with re-engaging this type of learner later on.

-There is less room for the teacher to be creative with the class.

-Children’s developing minds may have less space for expansive, creative growth in their thinking, as they are moved towards more focused, disciplined subject matters and ways of thinking, instead.

What are some of the potential benefits? What is made possible?

-Standardized.

-Testable learning outcomes; measurable.

-Ease of evaluation 

-Ease of creating structure and routine

More reflections…

Alternative schools have become more been rising in growth, in Yukon and elsewhere around Canada. One example is the ICount learning program for First Nation students in British Columbia. While cost is a barrier to attending, we may look to their models for inspiration. Montessori-inspired schools are structured to tailor learning to the individual person and follow their lead in moving through each stage of learning. Traditional school administrators and policy makes wising to move towards a more child-focused learning environment, and a less mechanistic one may benefit from reviewing the research-body on these school programs and incorporating more of their principles into traditional education.

As a Yukon Education student, I will begin to familiarize myself with the Yukon school curriculum and the dominant methods of teaching, as well as exploring alternative methods whenever possible.

“I would rather be in Nature” – Challenging Common Sense Ideology

Moose with twins on Blackstone River, Yukon, Canada. Photo by Tony Gonda.

How does Kumashiro define common sense?

Kumashiro notes that American teachers doing work in Vietnam were comforted and reassured from the beginning – that because they already had a “common sense understanding of teaching” from their years of experiences in America, they already knew how to teach in Vietnam”. In fact, they struggled to adapt to different rules and norms. Practices, that were taken for granted as “normal” there, were discovered to be different in Vietnam. These required time and attunement for the adaptation to new environments and norms. -The Problem of Common Sense

Why is it so important to pay attention to “common sense”?

-It means different things to different people

-Common sense: norms and standards – vary from place to place

-Making assumptions, without taking the time to ask questions or examine new environments first, can cause harm.

What commonsense understandings of curriculum and pedagogy do you bring with you into this course?

-Learning is standardized – In the Yukon, that means we follow the BC/Yukon Curriculum

-We follow a Fall to Summer school schedule – classes begin in the fall and go into early summer. 

-Time of class: Class begins in the morning, around 8:30 a.m. and ends in the middle of the afternoon, around 3 p.m.

-Learning tends to be grouped into subjects and usually scheduled into blocks of time e.g. 1-2 hours at a time. 

-Learning occurs in facilities – four-walled rooms, and big buildings: schools

-Classes tend to be 15-25 students

-Focus tends to be on the core disciplines such as English, Math, Social Studies and Science.

Further expanding on that…

-Increasingly, the Indigenous curriculum is being incorporated into Yukon classrooms.

-High school students are being taught about the history of residential school Alaska highway, and fur trade impacts over the last 200 years  –  and oppression of First Nations people in the North

-Children learn the First Nations languages in the schools and have the opportunity to attend various cultural activities.

First Nations “WAYS OF KNOWING AND BEING” are being increasingly incorporated into learning and into the classroom. Further, teachers and student teachers are given the opportunity to experience this way of thinking and seeing the world, but experiencing it for themselves, at places like culture camp, and through the wisdom and guidance of elders, teachers and the natural world.

My own values:

-Interdisciplinary learning

-Meeting standards but pushing the envelope

-Incorporating nature into the classroom

-Seeing and knowing each individual student, and also understanding the way the classroom functions as a whole

-Recognizing the deep and pervasive impacts that trauma has on learning, cognition and overall classroom experience, and taking steps to support wellbeing and community growth

-Creating opportunities for physical movement and exposure to fresh air and nature is imperative, and can be imported especially through multidisciplinary learning.

Barriers and Challenges

-Government requirements and standardization

Limits – Perhaps this is the biggest barrier to change of a system, but the need to keep order and organization within systems is pressing, it regulates the pace at which any kind of change can truly occur.

“Reinforcing certain ways of thinking, of identifying and of relating to others” includes ways that continue to feed into systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, ableism, colonialism, etc. -Kumashiro p. Xxxii

“As teachers, we are agents of social change.” - Dani Kluane