Summary of Course Learnings

VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egmKsnUD-U8&feature=youtu.be

Personal story: life background of activism 

  • My Grandfather was industrialist, he came to Canada from England and started a plastic factory in the 60s, this means that my social position in settler colonialism is property-class settler. This means I’m not descended from workers who were forced by capitalist dispossession to come to Canada to sell their wage labour in order to survive. Nor am I descended from First Nations people who were dispossessed of this land by capital moving into this territory to enclose it, make it private property, and enter it into a global economic system based on the production of commodities for markets. Rather, I’m descended from the people who owned, controlled, and profited from that system. That puts me into a particular position of responsibility to engage in lifelong learning and activism to resist those forms of dispossession and fight for economic democracy and indigenous repatriation of land and sovereignty. 
    • Marxist critique of capitalism: dispossession of the commons from workers, creation of private property and wage-relations of production, surplus value, primitive accumulation, crisis of over-accumulation.
    • Imperialism: dispossession of new lands and peoples to expand the flow of capital into new spaces, forestalling capitalist economic crisis
    • Settler-Colonialism: Within the broader global process of imperialism: controlling a new territory politically and economically, forcing the removal/disappearance/genocide of existing societies and economies, occupying it with settlers, in order to exploit the territory economically.
  • So I started learning about this structural analysis when I went to university and took anti capitalist courses. I became a student movement leader and got elected to the highest possible student position at the university, on the board of directors and all that. We did campaigns against university privatization, budget cuts, neoliberalism. I also got involved in the anti-globalization movement and helped organize G20 protest actions in Toronto. The anti-globalization movement was a broad affinity of anti-capitalist, environmentalist, and indigenous sovereignty movements seeking to end the power of corporate globalization and global capitalism, and in its place create a society based on economic democracy and indigenous sovereignty and reciprocity. So from a young age I was dedicated to this anti-imperialist work. And then in grad school I joined the BDS movement. This is the movement, led by indigenous Palestinian people, calling on the world to boycott, divest, and sanctions against Israel in order to end the Israeli occupation and genocide of Palestine. I engaged in campaigns, and wrote open letters, eliciting a lot of backlash from like macleans magazine, in solidarity with my friends who were Palestinian, with Anishinaabe activists, and with anti-zionist jewish activists. When I got to Saskatchewan I was in relationship with radical anti-colonial activists, so for example I was helping out a bit with the justice camp and I was able to ask, “hey, do you want me to write this op-ed,” and my friends were able to say, “yes, that really helps our strategy”
  • So the point is that these movements all come out of deep and lifelong relationships of settler-indigenous solidarity, they don’t come out of the blue. Ever since I was 19 I’ve been constantly involved in these types of movements and it’s a lifelong driving identity, not an incidental practice. 
  • So how that relates to education is, my goal in the education program has been extremely explicit and front-of-mind for me since the beginning: how do I take this anti-imperialist, anti-globalization, postcolonial, trans-national goals and translate them into a teaching practice. A teaching practice that is aimed at increasing human freedom through resistance to capitalism, imperialism, settler colonialism, neoliberalism. 

Course Learnings

One key learning in this course for me has been the opportunity it offered me to work through systematic curriculum deconstruction. I loved writing the second essay and I think it’s one of the best products I created in my whole education degree. All through my internship I was deeply frustrated by the History 20 curriculum. As I read through the things I was required to teach, I would be like “ah that’s not true!” Or “ah that’s such a liberal lie!” But I was so disoriented during internship that I didn’t know how to unpack it, deconstruct it, break it down, and rebuild it into a course that wasn’t a total lie. So the second essay gave me the opportunity to work through this problem systematically and figure out, OK how would you approach this in a way that isn’t totally bogus. And basically what I figured out was that if and when I teach these courses by myself, I will take the curriculum, and I won’t worry about the specific curriculum topics, like I won’t get into the weeds and go “ok this week we have to learn about what Tsar Nicholas said to Kaiser Wilhelm and why that caused world war 1” or “this week we have to learn about why Woodrow Wilson created a league of nations to protect peace for the world.” I won’t get into those lies, what I’ll do instead is I’ll literally just take the overall topics of the units: world war 1, world war 2, Cold War, international cooperation, and I’ll build a course that focuses on the perspectives of the marginalized and oppressed in history. As I concluded in my essay – the lies inherent in the liberal discourses of history, these work quite intentionally to obscure and hide the capitalist interests that drive history and control our lives. So telling a counterhegonomic narrative can work, in turn to expose those interests and increase students’ historical sophistication, opening their minds to why radical and revolutionary and anti-colonial movements were necessary in history and are still necessary today. 

Another key learning in the course for me has been Katia’s distinction between curriculum as process and curriculum as praxis. For a long time in the ed program I was grappling with something like this: “ok, equitable and inclusive classrooms are a crucial goal. Anti-racism and identity politics, politics of representation, are a crucial goal. But on their own, they fall badly short of emancipation, because they essentially focus on the individual, and they focus on culture. What I mean by that is they focus on transforming ideas, transforming cultural discourses, belief systems, attitudes, citizenship practices – for example, striving to help students develop more tolerant, more inclusive, more diverse beliefs, or become more active citizens for social change. And those things are crucial, but not sufficient, for human emancipation. Because they are fundamentally liberal ideas. Because in the marxist-leninist tradition you would say they lack a political economy or a theory of revolution. Or another way to put this is to say their theory of social change is that if a great many individuals just change their beliefs, or learn to love each other and unpack their biases, or become more active citizens, then society will improve and we’ll move towards greater justice. But you could critique this. You could say that it’s based on what Herbert Marcuse calls an “ideology of social harmony” – the idea that we can change society through fundamentally harmonious processes. This sidesteps or avoids the antagonisms of capitalism and the dialectical process that is necessary to overcome a capitalist, imperialist world order. It essentially ignores the fact that these structures won’t be dismantled and revolutionized without somehow tackling the deep, foundational material systems on which they are built. And that takes real confrontation, not harmony. SO I would argue this identity politics-only approach is limited in that it misses a marxist-leninist critique of capitalism, and a postcolonial or transnational feminist critique of imperialism and colonialism, and therefore has a limited theory of social change in that it doesn’t provide any idea of how to overcome the deeply entrenched, antagonistic, dialectical, materialist structures that create the oppression at which anti-racism takes aim. 

SO back to my point – a key learning has been the framework of process versus praxis, when it comes to curriculum. To me, process is the identity politics version: let’s make our classroom spaces inclusive, allow everyone to learn: good, but fundamentally Liberal, and insufficient, because it doesn’t do anything about revolution. So to shift into the praxis piece is crucial. And for me, that has to be taken up in a marxist-leninist, anti-imperialist framing. So I think if you read Freire and Giroux, they super duper help one to re-frame onto this materialist and revolutionary, as opposed to idealist and liberal, theory of social, cultural, political change. Because Freire and Giroux are talking about revolution, not inclusion. It’s extremely explicit: Freire says we don’t’ want to integrate the oppressed into society, we want to help them to transform the structure – and he’s not talking about the cultural structure, or the discursive or attitudinal structure – he’s talking about the material structure, like literally WHO is in charge, HOW is society and the economy being run – WHO owns the industries – he’s talking about creating a distinctly democratic, homegrown, peasant-controlled radical Latin American socialism. And those are the projects and movements that were underway at the time Freire was writing and that unfortunately have been largely beaten back, in successive waves, since the 1970s, through US dirty wars, through coups and overthrowing governments, and through the systemic economic violence of the IMF, of global oil markets, of structural adjustment, of debt crises. So when Freire writes that “freedom cannot unfold in the antagonistic relations between oppressors and oppressed,” he doesn’t mean that the oppressors need to learn to value the knowledge of the oppressed and stop looking down on the indigenous people, or whatever – he means the indigenous people need to take over the whole show. And so something that Freire and Giroux offered to me is the idea that education needs to move into direct participation in expanding the quality of democracy in your society, contesting public spaces, resisting oppression directly. And again, it would be easy to accidentally mis-appropriate this in liberal ways, to imagine that it calls on us to be more vigilant citizens, write more letters to our MPs, question the underlying causes and potential solutions to social problems, join the NDP or Greenpeace, always make sure to vote, even attend disruptive rallies. I see this as kind of the Joel Westheimer model, and its limited, and that’s not how we should take up Giroux: for Giroux and Freire it’s much deeper and much more than that, remember they’re both marxists; it’s about revolutionizing and smashing capitalism down to the fundaments, the distinction is nuanced but crucial. The British marxist cultural critic John Berger says rallies are rehearsal for revolution – and that’s kind of what I’m talking about here.

So this course gave me an opportunity to think about how do we move into praxis with our teaching practice. And I thought about how it has to go beyond critical knowledge- it’s not about high political theory, it’s not about learning the truth about history. Because I had a realization. I reflected on my internship and I said… you know.. the marginalized students understand exactly how the world works. They understand it intuitively because their life experience lays bare the inherent violence of capitalism. I reflected on this in one of my blogs. I had First Nations students who right on day 1 wrote on their “what do you want to learn” slip, they wrote “I don’t want to learn about god damn European monarchs and United Nations and all this garbage, I want to learn about First Nations issues.” She wrote about Dakota access pipeline and the political struggles of her grandfather who was a chief. A sudanese student talked constantly about black lives matter and police violence and it was clear that there was never any doubt for her, and it was never difficult for her to understand, that policing is inherently racist. She might not have used the words “policing is an institution designed to enforce the laws of a capitalist, white-supremacist state and protect the interests of capital, cops are the shock troops of capitalists against their own citizens, and therefore it’s inherent to policing to be racist and kill black people” but she knew it intuitively. She knew that when you look at policing, its clear that it’s us-against-them; that there are two sides in society and police represent one and black people represent another. In other words she doesn’t need to unlearn the myth that police are here to protect everyone and uphold the law. 

So the praxis question made me think about – those marginalized students know what’s up, they’re ready and eager to talk about it, so what I need to do is centre my course around their knowledge and building it forward with them. They want to inquire further on these things. The woke students will run with it, and the un-woke students will benefit from it. So I think that giving power to those knowledges first of all is part of praxis because it’s what Freire talks about with problem-posing instead of banking education: oppressed students posing problems about THEIR world and how to solve it. So that’s very exciting. And I’m so excited, looking forward to doing this, to planning my own courses and teaching my own class where I don’t have to adhere to old banking-education ideas about curriculum; where I’m able to build out a curriculum practice based on problem-posing education.

And then the next piece of praxis is where do we go with our problem posing education? how do we make it an education based on what Giroux would call expanding democracy? This course has had me thinking about how IF I create an authentic problem-posing education with my marginalized students, THEN the opportunities for direct engagement in our world will emerge constantly through the work we’re doing together. I don’t know what it will look like but I’m thinking about it. 

So to sum up, this course has had me really systematically think through the following: FIRST STEP: don’t teach the lies. SECOND STEP, Do teach to build forward on the knowledge of marginalized students. THIRD STEP, translate this into direct engagement with expanded democracy.

How do you break a bias? Provide critical perspectives on contemporary capitalism

Respond to the following:

  1. How has your upbringing/schooling shaped how you you “read the world?” What biases and lenses do you bring to the classroom? How might we unlearn / work against these biases?
  2. Which “single stories” were present in your own schooling? Whose truth mattered?
  1. I don’t remember much of my elementary or high schooling because I was a bad student: skipping, drinking, partying, etc. But I do remember University. At Queen’s my schooling was entirely grounded in marxist/leninist, postmodernist, anti-authoritarian, postcolonial, postdevelopment, transnational feminist, and queer theory scholarship.

    This completely changed my way of reading the world. Before, I was an oblivious capitalist/property-class, cis, white, male, able-bodied, settler, party-guy. (I still benefit from all those positionalities btw). But after learning these lenses, I was less oblivious about it. My brain exploded when I realized, “What?? The capitalist, colonial, corporate-globalization world system is structurally unfair, globally and locally unfair, patriarchally unfair, colonially unfair, exploitative and inherently violent??? It’s not a fair world system based on human rights and equality??”

    It changed everything for me and now I read all texts in my world through a marxist-leninist, anti-authoritarian, postcolonial lens. The ‘biases’ or lenses this gives me is the lens where my top priority is emancipatory politics and the voices of the marginalized. I am interested in the critical knowledge that FNMI, racialized, queer, poor, and other oppressed students bring to the table, and i’m interested in tapping into that knowledge, centering it, building with it. The goals of this are twofold: to help those students empower themselves and pursue action on the critical truths they already know, and to help the privileged students in the room benefit from the wokeness of the marginalized, open their minds, and begin to see their world through critical modes of analysis.

    2. which single stories was I presented in my schooling – well I’m certain that in my elementary and high school I was presented mostly a boring, faded, lazy, and uncritical story about history and society. I remember a couple rad teachers here and there who had cool stuff to offer, like a guy who taught film class who now, looking back with more knowledge and thinking about the films he chose and how he deconstructed them, I realize was a really solid feminist. But at the time I wasn’t ready emotionally to take advantage of that; I didn’t want to learn, I was so confused and dealing with an abusive mother, insecure and just trying to party and make friends and everything. But in my university, the story I was presented was a heterodox, counter-hegemonic, radical story. So whose truth mattered in that schooling was the truths of the wretched of the earth.

How Math does Colonialism

The most amazing and mindblowing thing, to me, about the guest lecturer was the way she opened my mind to what Math is. What I learned is that we’re constantly doing Math. Math is not just memorizing European formulae and doing formal calculations. It is the way we’re constantly taking intuitive calculations about the spaces around us, figuring out how long things will take or what we need to do to navigate spaces, all kinds of ways we communicate, collaborate, coordinate, and meet our basic needs. Math is embedded in all of it! She opened my mind that if we teach math in a very old-fashioned way, we construct students as “bad at math” when in fact we’re just teaching it as a dead, static, and socially dis-embedded thing. I know I would instantly argue that history and social science knowledge is never dead, static, and socially dis-embedded – so why would I ever have thought that MATH knowledge was devoid of social context??

So then it makes perfect sense to say that math is highly cultural: what kind of mathematical needs we have as a society will be determined by what kind of culturally-specific things we’re trying to do. The anecdote she told about Inuit people sitting at the campfire and counting: the base 20 system comes about because Inuit people don’t count when they’re out in the cold, they count when they’re sitting at the fire with their fingers and toes getting warm – so naturally they use a base-20 system, for 20 fingers and toes – this is a great example of how on a basic level math is dependent on culture.

Here are three ways that Inuit mathematics challenges Eurocentric ideas about the purposes of math and how we learn it:

1. I think we can infer that Inuit mathematics is highly spatial, as opposed to abstract a-la European mathematics: “When I taught the class how to play a strategy game, [a student who was raised very traditionalist] was the first to understand the rules and how to move the pawns on the board,” (p.55). Spatial versus abstract would be an example of a difference in the purpose of mathematics. This theory is corroborated on page 59-60 when the author discusses the Inuit sense of space, and how math is used to mark spaces, create inukshuks, understand the path one must take to reach a particular spot, in a challenging and ever-changing northern landscape.

2. Because the Inuit traditional is an oral one, not a written one, the Inuit people did not develop methods for writing down numbers (p. 57). Because it is an oral tradition, “the Inuktitut speaker is always mindful of being understood by others,” (p.57). This led the Inuit to develop precision in language and several forms of each number to mark the context in which it is used. I would guess that this means that Inuit mathematics will be way more socially-oriented: oriented towards collaborative work, speaking and listening, as opposed to abstract and intellectual.

3. I learned that a calendar is math, because a calendar is a method for counting time, seasons, etc (what a fun realization)! But anyway, the Inuit calendar is neither solar or lunar: it is not a fixed, perfectly recurring system. Rather, it is based on animal activity, natural, independently recurring yearly events, that are a bit different each year: “the word for september in Inuktitut means ‘when the caribou’s antlers lose their velvet,’ and the number of days changes since it depends on how long it takes for the caribou’s antlers to lose their velvet,” (p. 60). I think this shows us that Inuit calendar math is based on a need to live interdependently with nature, as opposed to dominating nature. If you think about it, the Gregorian calendar is a rigid system that recurs perfectly regardless of what’s happening in the environment; it reflects an attitude of humans imposing their system on the natural world. The Inuit calendar reflects the ethos of being dependent on nature, respecting and moving with the flow of nature. I think it reflects the underlying fact that the Inuit way of life is more sustainable and balanced when it comes to the natural environment.

How education models citizenship

My own K-12 education was a long time ago and I can’t remember how it modeled citizenship. But this summer I was a co-author on an academic study looking at how teachers in the SK oil patch teach about climate change, and what role fossil fuel industries take in shaping/influencing schooling in the oil patch.

One really interesting thing we found was that there was a pervasive discourse circulating around the education sector in rural Sask about how students could/should contribute to solving the issue of climate change. We saw this narrative reflected in the ways teachers took up these topics in their classrooms, constructed activities, field trips and projects, etc. We found this narrative aligned with the propaganda materials, professional development activities, and non-profit education-focused organizations that had been funded by major energy companies since the 1970s OPEC oil shocks and the first explosion of the environmental movement.

How the narrative went was like this: “our society needs oil, we can’t maintain our standard of living or our economic growth without it. Therefore we shouldn’t try to regulate corporations or stop the production of oil. Therefore if we want to help the climate, the best thing we can do is teach individuals to value their local environment: protect wetlands and grasslands, protect bird species, etc. Or they can do things to reduce their individual impact on the environment: they can create recycling programs, or retrofit their houses with high-efficiency lightbulbs, or pass local laws to prevent car-idling.”

In sum, the narrative was: “don’t ask questions about systemic, collective, regulatory – let alone revolutionary – solutions to the power of energy majors and the way they’re destroying our planet. Instead, focus on what you can do individually to save our world – and don’t question that oil will continue to play a major role in our society.”

This narrative was mobilized in a number of ways: the aforementioned non-profit organizations, for example, would bring practicing teachers to PD activities at oil extraction locations to learn about the technologies and geologies of oil, and there were taught about the ‘we need oil’ narratives, all the ‘great things oil companies are doing to protect the environment’, and resources they can use in their own community to ‘go green’. These projects touched hundreds or thousands of teachers and thousands of Canadian (in the focus of our research, Alberta and SK) students every year.

How this impacted teaching practices was that science teachers trying to take up climate change-related curriculum outcomes tended to focus on field trips to understand local ecosystems, tree-planting on school grounds, implementing recycling programs, or learning about different technologies that could be used for retrofitting your house and how much carbon emission could be reduced by doing that in a household in SK. You could argue that this is ‘participatory’ citizen in the sense of organizing recylcing campaigns, but I argue the distinction between ‘participatory’ and ‘individual’ is meaningless in the sense that these narratives force us/students to remain focused on individual actions; on how social change is/should be driven by the accumulation of many individual actions (even the individual actions of a community to reduce its electricity use, or its landfill waste, etc), instead of looking at systemic actions such as “how can we expropriate ownership, control and decisionmaking over our natural resources and our energy economy away from major multinational corporations and radically democratize them”

Learning Treaty: It’s Nutritious for White Kids, too!

PROMPTS:

This is a real issue in schools. As you listen to Dwayne’s invitation/challenge, as you listen to Claire’s lecture and as you read Cynthia’s narrative – use these resources and your blog to craft a response to this student’s email. Consider 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”?

  1. I think if one understands the true intention of teaching treaty ed and FNMI perspectives, one realizes that it is a priority whether or not there are FNMI students in the classroom.

    if you think it doesn’t matter unless there are FNMI students, it means you think that treaty is a ‘special interest’ topic that only concerns ‘those special groups’. If you think about it it, this reflects a construction of FNMI peoples as token cultural groups, groups who have special dances, special food, and ya they want to learn about their food traditions. This misses the point of what they really are, which is nations with inherent sovereign rights in this territory. If you think teaching treaty only matters if there are FNMI students, it might mean you also think “their” history is not central to “our” history; it is incidental, peripheral, hyper-local, not a relevant part of legitimate knowledge; only something you have to include if those special people are there and want to learn it, but otherwise we can keep going with the ‘universal Canadian history’. It might also mean you think that treaty relationship is something from the distant history, sort of a bygone ‘cowboys and Indians’ story, sort of a frontier mythology, not something that is living and evolving today.

    In one of my UofR classes a classmate of mine said he wanted to teach FNMI content, but only in the same sense that he would teach Ethiopian content, or Chinese content, or German content. He said basically we have to make sure all cultural groups are recognized. This is called the politics of recognition. Although it has a place (sort of, not really, lots to discuss about that), when it is invoked in the context of a discussion of treaty it reveals that some people think that First Nations are “minority cultures just like any other”. It reveals a construction of multiculturalism that says, “our model of nationhood, ethnic and racial justice, is based on equal inclusion – we are a happy family of all different cultures, everyone is welcome here, all the cultures can coexist happily.” One of the problems with this Trudeau-ian multiculturalism (there are many) is that it seeks to erase the special rights and status that First Nations have. It seeks to erase the brutal oppression of Canada settler-indigenous relations: cover up the brutality and smile and say “hey can’t we all be friends, come on, leave all that ethnic backwardness behind and join the new multicultural world!” It seeks to create an equivalency that erases the fundamental, unique, underlying sovereignty of First Nations. In doing so it seeks to skirt around or avoid resolving a fundamental crisis of Canadian sovereignty and justice (namely, that Canada does genocide and imperialism both here and abroad, that Canada doesn’t have sovereignty over its territory, and that’s a problem for a Westphalian nation-state, whether a so-called multicultural one or otherwise)

    So why is Treaty ed important for all students? Because settler students need to be using the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist lens to understand their own history, they need to understand Canada’s sovereignty crisis. That will give them the tools to move beyond questions like, “why can’t indigenous people just get over it?” That might also give them the foundations to one day become solidarity activists: to start asking and answering “what can I to be in solidarity with First Nations people who continue to suffer brutality?” It might help them start to reach conclusions that go beyond the politics of recognition, the politics of land acknowledgments, the politics of cultural tokenism, and into the politics of reciprocity, transformation, sovereignty.

    For FNMI students, teaching FNMI perspectives, histories and cultural practices is important because it gives them ownership of their education space. It shows them that this is their space, their school, they’re not guests/captives in a Eurocentric institution (to some extent; this is never achieved fully by a classroom practice no matter how culturally relevant, because of the ongoing external structures of colonialism).

    But also for FNMI students, the anti-imperialist lens on history is also important because it honours and validates what they largely already know. In my internship, a First Nations student told me on day 1 in her ‘getting to know you’ writing-prompt response that she wants to learn about First Nations stuff. She wrote (paraphrasing). “I don’t want to learn about the European wars, the French revolution, whatever. I know we have to, but what I want to learn about is stuff like the Dakota Access pipeline protest or what my grandfather fought for as a chief of our nation”. I swear to god she mentioned Dakota Access and her grandfather’s historical struggles. Another student, who was of mixed Sudanese and European descent, frequently brought up black lives matter and anti-police frameworks in her contributions to the class. Another student who was from Peru frequently contributed sophisticated pro-immigration ideas to our learnings about of national sovereignty topics. A queer student brought insights about patriarchy, rape culture, violence against queer people. What I’m trying to show is that racialized, marginalized people know what’s up, and they want to learn about it, talk about it, act on it. So FNMI students deserve the right to take the conversation to that place and our entire classroom deserves the opportunity to benefit from their woke-ness, and have their learning centered on these truths, rather than “just learn the European story cause there’s only a couple of those FNMI kids in the room”

  2. For my curriculum planning, “we are all treaty people” means that we are all living in the world of imperialism, settler colonialism, and capitalism. We are all responsible for changing it. So it’s not that First Nations people should worry about changing it, while white people should worry about math, science, and getting a job. It’s that all of our learning should be centered on changing it.

Learning from Place

1. List some of the ways that you see reinhabitation and decolonization happening throughout the narrative.

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

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

Reinhabitation and Decolonization:

“The processes of creating an audio documentary about relations to the river and
engaging in trips along the river were part of a decolonizing process of re-membering as younger generations were re-introduced to traditional ways of knowing. Over just two generations, one could observe the erosion of deeper meanings of connection to land and territory that are encoded in the Mushkegowuk language, its declining use among the adult and youth generations. The research project sought to respect community concerns about the need to bring generations together to share, use and deepen this knowledge at a critical point in the people’s history as external forces seek to impose a different meaning of land and its ‘utility’, upon the Mushkegowuk in the Treaty Nine region. For Muskegowuk, the land is relative, not merely a resource.” (p. 71) Here we can see that the act of doing the river trip, and documenting it, was an important part of decolonization because it sought to restore the traditional meaning of the land as relative, in the face of resource projects that sought to transform it into commodities instead. It was an act of revival, renewal, resistance.

Gruenewald says that decolonization must not be limited to simply transforming dominant ideas, but go farther, to renewing traditional, non-commodified cultural patterns such as intergenerational relationships (P. 74). I agree, and following Leanne Simpson (Dancing the world into being) I suggest that when Gruenewald says cultural patterns, he also means economies: social relations of production that are based on reciprocity, not extraction/commodity/private ownership/surplus value. What does it mean to say “not just transform dominant ideas,” unless it means to go beyond ideas and transform the material, the economic, the ecological? It’s clear from this article that the purpose of going on the river was not just to appreciate and enjoy ‘nature’, but to renew intergenerational relationships that can be used to transform the social ecology, to move past capitalism: “The excursion into traditional territory itself offered a wealth of insight into the importance of land for social and economic well-being among people in the remote First Nation… When we hear frogs singing we know the water quality is safe for our consumption. We listen to the song of the birds to know what kind of weather is approaching. The moose will know when we need food and allow themselves to be taken. Such is the contract we have with the animal world,” (p. 75-6).

The river trippers also sought to reclaim the river by re-naming the river, writing the traditional Cree name on the side of their raft (p. 77). They also wrote a word, paquataskamik, that was profoundly significant because this word refers to the entirety of traditional territory. The use of this cree word was an attempt to reverse the “factures and alterations” that have come from the regulating, parceling, and dividing of traditional land: “When youth lose a sense of what paquataskamik is, they may begin to lose the connections that form the complex set of relations that bind them together in a historically and geographically informed identity. The focus on the word is an explicit attempt to retain a relationship to the rivers, the lands, and the communities joined together by them,” (p.77). It was part of a “broader project of territoriality and self-determination” (p.77).

These are all examples of reinhabitation and decolonization that strike me as intensely powerful. I think the reason I find them so powerful is they show me the way ‘nature’, culture, intergenerational relationships, language, politics (territoriality, self-determination) and economics (sustenance, production on the land) are all totally woven together. Therefore the definition of reinhabitation and decolonization, or pedagogy of place, that I take from this article, is that it always has to be cultural, material, and political all at once.


Adapting these ideas toward considering place in my subject areas: what this article makes me think is that in my teaching practice of social studies and history, I should research the place in which I’m teaching, create relationships with traditional knowledge keepers in the place in which I’m teaching, and ask them to share knowledge with us about the ways traditional societies in this place reproduced themselves economically (produced the things they needed from the land in sustainable ways). Going for this layer of understanding, I believe, will bring profoundly more depth to discussions of traditional culture because it will allow students to be able to see that traditional cultural practices should not be seen as just ‘cultural practices’, but in fact as something embedded in a whole way of life that encompasses everything: relationship with nature, relationship with each-other, and means of taking care of our needs as humans. It can help to open students’ minds to the idea that traditional ecological knowledge should be deeply respected as an extremely wise set of knowledge and practices that holds the key for how humans can live sustainably, not dismissed as backward, silly, or ethnically inferior. It can help us think about ways to talk about the problems we discuss in social studies: climate change, economic justice and equality, human rights. Traditional ecological knowledge holds really rich ways into these discussions.







Curriculum Wars

Before I do the reading: How do you think curricula are developed? 

I think curricula are developed by a Ministry worker whose title is consultant and who works in a particular subject area (example the social studies consultant or the science consultant). That person is generally up on curriculum thought and ‘best practices’ in their subject area. For example in science curriculum, this person might be an expert in the debate about the overall goals of science education, like scientific literacy for citizens, or university preparedness for future academic scientists, or job preparedness for industry, or climate change action. They would know about the shift to the STSE (science, technology, society and environment) framework in science curriculum theory and in the academic science community. They would know about the shift to new disciplines like environmental science and health science as opposed to the old Biology/Chemistry/Physics structure, etc, and what that means for shifting understandings of ‘what is good science knowledge’ and ‘what is the purpose of science education’.  

I think the writing of any particular curriculum is steered by big-picture goals and directions that are probably determined by a combination of priorities set by the minister and the provincial government as well as ongoing movements within the education field. Once it’s decided that it’s time to do a curriculum renewal, and the priorities are determined, I think the Consultant puts out a call for teachers to form a curriculum committee. It’s probably done on a course-by-course basis; for example “we’re writing new curricula for environmental science 20 and we need teachers with X, Y and Z skills.” The teachers are chosen by the consultant and come together to write the specific outcomes and indicators that will go into the course being renewed. They might consult various stakeholders and industries during the process too, but they don’t necessarily do so, and ultimately the consultant steers the overall thrust/ethos and final wording of the curriculum outcomes (again, the consultant makes those decisions in the context of a set of priorities and goals determined by government as well as education sector… stakeholders and discourses?) 

Once the curriculum is written, it is piloted in a few schools: so several specific teachers will try teaching the new curriculum and will offer feedback to the consultant on what worked and what needs to be changed. 

After doing the reading: how are school curricula developed and implemented, what new information did the reading produce, is there anything that surprised or concerned you?

  1. Curriculum as “official statement of what students are expected to know and be able to do” is very distinct from what teachers actually teach, and how they actually teach it. This is an important distinction because the fight over what the formal curriculum should be is a lot different from the fight over the hegemonic culture of teaching and knowledge in general. We can renew curriculum to reflect a more justice-oriented approach but it is a live question as to how teachers take that up. What actually gets learned is also a live question, “at one time there might have been a common sense assumption that curriculum was central to the enterprise, in that what was taught is what would be learned… evident that the situation is much more complex…” I totally agree and I think the implication is that we should beware that the fight over curriculum wording is not the be-all-end-all of social transformation.  
  2. I like what the author says about remembering that policy (including curriculum policy) cannot be divorced from politics – in other words groups/people are fighting over what curriculum should be. A highly visible example is the fight over sex ed curriculum in Ontario. But even less-controversial examples, like the renewal of science curricula in SK, are not non-political. What knowledge about science will be deemed important, and what purposes should science education serve? You could just as easily argue that science education should serve the creation of citizens who fight for the abolition of fossil fuel industries, as you could argue that science education should serve the preparation of rig workers for technical jobs in the oil patch. So the fight to decide that question is always political no matter which curriculum you’re renewing. 
  3. Don’t define politics as the process of elections – remember politics at its broadest is the question of how collective decisions are made and how resources are controlled in any society, and the contestations over that.
  4. “People have lives to carry on, and public affairs are [sometimes]… not a very large part of those lives… if I can’t explain it in 25 words or less, people stop listening” Sure. But the purpose of consciousness-raising and critical pedagogy is to reconnect people to their agency over their public lives, over the public spaces and decisions that affect their lives. I agree with the author that this detached, consumer mode of civic/political life is how liberal democracies want their citizens to be, but I don’t like the author’s condescending idea that citizens are too ignorant to control their political lives. I think this dismissive tone is present in many parts of the article and the author has a general theory of politics that assumes that citizens are sort of fickle, impulsive, ignorant – that the main problem of governance is managing the irrational or stupid demands and whims of the electorate. I think the truth is that citizens, especially young people and marginalized people, are really good at understanding their own interests, they aren’t apathetic and they don’t need governments that condescend to them/about them. If people are given the chance they want to be civic, and I think the purpose of public education should be to reverse the disconnection and foster a radical civics based on fundamental respect of peoples’ agency. Just a thought. 
  5. I like the author’s idea that a lot of the time questions of content cannot be separated from questions of teaching practice, example, constructivist mathematics is as much about teaching methods as curricular content – I think this is totally true because any structure of curriculum makes possible/impossible certain ways of teaching. Example, the 1990s SK history curriculum is a history narrative that is so jammed full that I think it presupposes a transmission-based lecture-and-test regimen. So that I can’t see how you can do history differently (whether we’re talking about student-driven activities, or critical history topics) without ignoring large parts of what you’re required to ‘teach’. So the fight for different curriculum knowledge is also a fight to allow space for different methods, just as much as the methods you use in part determine the knowledge your students will/won’t make.
  6. “In a few cases curriculum authority is large located within individual schools” – I’ve heard this is sort of how it works in Finland and I think it would be super dope. 
  7. “Student assessment policies may shape curriculum decisions… assessment practices are drivers of what is actually taught” totally agree – if teachers are required to post a new graded assignment every week, how will that constrain what you teach? I think it certainly puts a lot of pressures that one would have to be really mindful about how to compensate for… Not to mention high-stakes NCLD standards and tests tied to public school funding. 
  8. I like the point that expert-driven curricula are kinda dangerous because the reality is that most teachers will not be phd-level experts in their subject area. The author says “experts promote ever-higher standards for their subject and then use those standards to argue for more teachers, higher qualifications, and more resources.” I wonder what this means for the prospect of critical pedagogy, reconciliation education, etc. I think higher qualifications and more resources and more teachers all sounds great. But if it’s not the reality of what’s available, then what is the best way to pursue more critical education practices?
  9. Both “teacher-proof” curricula (yuck, boo, hiss!!!) and professional development seem unlikely to circumvent the wide variety of teacher practices. Agreed! 
  10. Conclusion: curriculum is driven by interests – totally, and I think the best takeaway from this article is that the actual curriculum is only one small piece of a much bigger puzzle. If our question is ultimately how do we get public education to serve a transformational social purpose then there are a lot of things to think about.