Reflection on Literacy in my schooling – from a critical social justice perspective

In Chapter 7, Examples from English Literature, Against Common Sense, the following ideas are presented:

  • The selection of literature presented to students over the course of their education can have a massive influence on their understanding of the world and society
  • The questions we ask; the way we ask those questions; significantly impact our students and the development of their thinking.
  • “ ‘Multicultural’ literature is not inherently anti-oppressive: It can reinforce stereotypes if teachers fail to ask questions about how students are reading them”. -Kumashiro, p. 75

How has my upbringing and schooling shaped how I “read the world” What biases and lenses do I bring into the classroom? How might we unlearn/work against these biases?

When were we given “single stories?”

In my French Immersion schooling, I was given the opportunity to learn a different language. Immediately, this provides a widened perspective of the world – allowing for students to use brainpower to think, act and speak in two different languages. My scope of the language world was broadened to show me that languages were structured differently, expressions were different, words were different, grammar was different. At an early age, I believed that language was one of the influences that shape culture, and I found myself fascinated by that. I would observe differences in the Francophone and English groups in my community and be struck by the differences (as well as the beauty) in their unique (and similar still, in other ways) expressions.

What I observed in school was that there was a subgroup of Indigenous children, who attended the same school, but with who we had only occasional interactions. This was the “English stream” of the school: these kids were often poor, many came from difficult backgrounds living affected by intergenerational trauma impacts) and seemed disconnected from the rest of the school. “They seemed disconnected” is what I said – but it was us who were disconnected from history, from the truth. All of the stories of the people, their lands, and their connections. Displacement and change. There were essentially two worlds, two societies, two streams  – within the same school, the same building.

We were given little knowledge of them. We were invited to cultural events sometimes, which we attended. But we did not learn the full history of Indigenous people in the North. I remember feeling disconnected and confused sometimes, not knowing where we were meant to fit in these ceremonies. Most of us coming from a place of privilege did not know about the stories of suffering (and movements towards healing) that must have been whispered in those places.

I wish we could have read Indigenous literature, talked about the heroes, the resilience, the beauty and the strength. The language and the culture. Instead, we were left in the dark – eyes covered – “don’t go there” – while the disconnect caused us all to continue to suffer.


One thought on “Reflection on Literacy in my schooling – from a critical social justice perspective”

  1. I really enjoyed your writing’s focus on the division within the school system: “There were essentially two worlds, two societies, two streams – within the same school, the same building.” Educators shape and present new concepts and ideas to their students both intentionally and unintentionally, this includes teaching discrimination that can be seen by the disconnected nature of the “English stream” or Indigenous students. By providing little to no knowledge of their culture and making them into the ‘other’ while minimizing their interactions with the other students there are invisible barriers being created. These barriers are reinforced and presented to the students as a dangerous normative narrative which teaches that they are not the accepted normal and that some are better than others. I agree that the subject needs to be treated as less of an untouchable “dark” topic and relayed more as a fact of our history in order to properly understand it and reconcile with the truth. As long as these topics have that taboo nature around them they will continue to be misunderstood and misrepresented in the education system furthering these mistaken beliefs.

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