Summary of Learning

Summary of Learning ECS210

Had a lovely time engaging with the educators and the class during this journey where we prepared ourselves to become better educators. This is my attempt to summarize the journey using PowerPoint as my tool. – Nazima


Unlearning your biases

I attended a Catholic missionary school for the first 12 years of my education even though I come from a Muslim family. In school we studied alongside children from many different religious backgrounds Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis, Sikhs, Christians, Muslims and Jews. The school did not try to impose Christian values on us. We were taught the golden rules and we realized that people carry different beliefs and traditions which contradict each other, yet we are all living in one community that has learnt to coexist peacefully, most of the time. Growing up in a multicultural urban society, we learnt not to carry bias for beliefs and traditions. However we had common themes within society for bias on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, marriage status, abortion, female independence and many other topics. This included how women were supposed to dress, behave and live in society.

After marriage, I was exposed to more liberal ideas especially from my husband and these related to women’s rights, but I only considered those that I found useful and relevant for me. Being exposed to radical views certainly changed my opinion on women’s right to education and work.

Arriving in Canada was a cultural shock when I was exposed to many more progressive ideas related to women and other historically disadvantaged groups. I also got exposed to issues like racism.  I realized that some of my bias from childhood was not in conformance with Canadian society and started to correct myself on these issues. These included issues on marriage or lack thereof, re-marriage, abortion, gay rights and many such topics.

As a woman coming from a non-white immigrant background with extremely liberal and modern values, I bring this perspective to my class. However I also understand that my role as a teacher is not to brainwash my students to believe in my values. I realize that I need to pass on to my students the ability to think on their own, to critique and understand their environment and find solutions to issues they face independently rather than relying on dogmas. This requires them to be exposed to other viewpoints and ideas.

Math Education – Differing Concepts

Over the course of development of various civilizations, the concept of numbers and math has changed. Europe had the Roman numeral system which was used mainly for counting. However in other parts of the world there were developments that impacted everyone. The Sumerians and Babylonians first started using zero as a starting point for counting. This was later incorporated into a system in India that developed around fractions and math. This system spread across Asia and later reached Europe in the 13th century and was referred as the Arabic numeral system. This system later exploded after the 15th century into more complex systems like graphs, Calculus and became the basis of modern scientific advancement like computers, GPS and space travel. A global standard has emerged around the Base 10 decimal system. However even today, there are many different measuring systems in use by different countries. This creates challenges when communicating internationally. Eg. Imperial used in US, Metric, Myanmar or Indian system.  

My personal experience of Math in school was not pleasant. Other than basic additions, subtraction, multiplication and division I did not see any real world use of most of the things I learnt in Math class. Hence my interest and expertise in the subject remained low. The method of teaching during my school days was also just figures on a sheet. This contrasts to how my kids are learning math today where there are asked to do the same functions in real world simulations.  Eg. I would see a question framed as 56 / 8…. whereas my kids would see the question as 56 candies shared by 8 kids. As soon as this changed to more complex topics my kids would struggle to understand things like calculus in real world simulations.

I still cannot see the reason for kids being forced to struggle with complex calculus questions when they may never need to use it in their lives. I understand that there are fields of education that depend on this learning but most kids can do without. This applies not only to kids from aboriginal background but also non-indigenous kids. On the other hand I also realize that aboriginal kids are starting off with aboriginal math which is on base 20 compared to the decimal system used later. One can see how this may cause difficulties in learning. Just because someone is not good at math does not mean that they cannot excel in another field. As an educator, I would encourage all students to focus on the positive that they can take away from the education they receive, to enhance their personal lives.

Educating on Citizenship

There are 3 types of citizens that are envisioned to support an effective democratic society. (a) the personally responsible citizen, (b) the participatory citizen and (c) the justice oriented citizen.

During my student days in India, most of the focus of education was on things that would set up the students for a career but there was a very small component on training personally responsible citizens. Additionally some students participated in extra-curricular activities like student body elections and other initiatives on an interest basis that would prepare them as participatory citizens. Only a very small stream of students would get involved in the justice oriented learning and they would end up in specialized studies like political science, law or join civil administration services. This contrasts to my kid who has studied recently and was obligated to compulsorily attend ‘volunteer’ programs as part of his diploma.

Even though personal responsibility receives the most attention, it is noted that democratic leaders and dictators would both welcome this approach since it creates a docile citizenry that goes about its own business as individuals and allows the leaders to do as they please or at the least maintain the status quo. This approach of individual responsibility also obscures the need for collective approaches to problem solving. This is not to say that all collective approaches will be in one direction. Often different collectives within the citizenry will want to move in conflicting directions. Sometimes they may all move in a non-justice oriented manner.

Hence during the education process, additional emphasis needs to be provided of the participatory and justice oriented approach such that the students not only have the ability to question why, but also have a sound understanding of critical analysis, social justice and historical evolution. It is also clear that certain aspects of this study only becomes meaningful for those that are personally living within communities that are affected by the topic.

Importance of Treaty Ed

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, and Inuit peoples?

Would we decide not to teach sexual diversity or race issues if there are no members of those groups in school? When the question is framed in this manner, are we approaching Treaty Ed as a means to sensitize non-indigenous students of the presence of indigenous students and people and their way of life as “the others” in Canadian society. Looking at the treaty map for Canada it is very easily visible that the 70 historic treaties in Canada signed between 1701 and 1923, including the 11 numbered treaties signed between 1871 and 1921 with indigenous peoples, cover almost all of Canada.

The approach that we want to take is to make everyone aware of the history of Canada since the decision of Europeans to initiate their expansion across Canada by entering into treaties with various indigenous groups. The intent is not to make one group appear like villains who stole from a hapless group which may drive a guilt behavior and consequently refusal to want to even discuss this topic. Understanding the culture of the indigenous people helps to see what they were looking for when they entered into treaties. Treaty is an agreement between two groups to share something while living together peacefully. In return for the benefits of the treaty, the non-indigenous peoples were able to exploit the agricultural land, natural and mineral resources and create new settlements expanding the colonization of Canada. The Indigenous peoples were to benefit from the Crown’s resources, such as medicine and education as well as be allowed to continue with their way of life in reserves demarcated for them. They would also share in the growing economy of this new world along with the non-indigenous peoples. It was meant to be a mutually beneficial deal between two proud, honorable and equal peoples. However in practice most of these promises were either, consciously or unconsciously, not kept or re-constructed in ways that did not help the indigenous peoples. Knowing these facts provides everyone the opportunity to acknowledge the wrongs and move forward in healing the wounds of the past.

We are all treaty people

In this sense whether someone is from one group or another, we are all treaty people. We need to know our history to be able to live harmoniously together as one people. Acknowledging the past and the cultural differences is one of the first steps before we learn to respect them and treat all in a fair and equal manner. In fact I believe that Treaty Ed needs to be compulsory for all Canadians including new immigrants. In the case of new immigrants, before they are eligible for citizenship, they need to complete Treaty Ed and understand that they are joining as members of the non-indigenous people including taking responsibility for honoring the terms and accepting the burdens of the ‘white man’s errors. This is essential as they are making the choice of coming to this society and wanting to become a member of the ‘treaty people’.

Learning from Place

Re-inhabitation and Decolonization

This research project was built alongside the Mushkegowuk community to examine their interaction with the land and environment as well as identify how the resource extraction affected these understandings and the resulting social change. The parameters of the research was prepared jointly with the community. Audio interviews were done by the youth and collected in ‘zines’. This encouraged inter-generational relationships and catalyzed knowledge transfer. A short audio documentary was made and later broadcast across the province via radio for the benefit of the broader community

A key part of the project featured participants of all age groups doing a 10 day river trip. The process of decolonizing involved the re-introduction of younger generation to the traditional ways of knowing. This included the language that was falling in disuse. Elders shared with the youth how to live off the land and river. During this trip they explored history, issues of governance, land management and the associated language. This knowledge was also captured for posterity in audio visual form. During his trip the elders remembered various bends of the river and places where events had taken place, sharing their emotions and memories with the younger generation. Key concepts were discussed that explained traditional words like paquataskamik that described ‘natural environment’ and covered the whole territory. This contrasted with words used by youth who tended to refer to noscheemik which signified where they lived or camp. The traditional word fostered a connection to land and community beyond the reserve boundaries. The use of non-indigenous terms and concepts had diluted this understanding amongst the younger generation. All of these steps were part of the process of decolonization.

Learning from place

Education is not just the learning of new things, but also the ability to learn from our past. This involves knowing the past and remembering history of the community and the land. One method to convey history is through words and language which subsequently was captured in our books. Not everything that is useful can be properly and extensively documented in this manner. New methods include audio-visual recordings. Interactions with elders and subject experts who carry a lot of this knowledge is also extremely useful. Some of the most fundamental learnings of mankind were conveyed between generations through this method when we did not have books.  

When teaching social studies, as a teacher I would like to take the students on a field trip to the provincial assembly or city hall to meet people there who are experts in the field and learn how they see their role and its impact on society. Even amongst the students, immigrant kids can be encouraged to share stories from their countries which will give the class an understanding how people live in different parts of the world, their language, dress, food habits, festivals etc. In a science class, I would like to have the kids make regular visits to a plant nursery and meet the agriculturalists who tend to these plants. Taking kids for outdoor school trips/ excursions to connect with the natural habitat. This exposure to nature will give them an understanding of the resources which are available outside and how we are utilizing it to make our life self-sufficient.

Development of Curriculum

 As I saw it before reading.

Coming from a family of teachers, principals and administrators, I had a fairly good idea of the field of education and the process of development of curriculum. I knew that the process was led by politicians and other vested groups in power who wanted to propagate their viewpoint. Democratic leverage was also used to exclude certain topics or viewpoints from the curriculum. Ordinary teachers did not have any say in the process. However as society continues to evolve and with changes in teaching philosophies, I am quite intrigued with the process, especially here in Canada.

As I see it now

The development of a curriculum is a complex process. It is typically driven as a top-down approach where the politicians in power decide the overall framework. Public policy also has a place within this process. Political agendas drive the process. As an example a politician who wants to promote more private schools may insist on an overall policy that allows tailored curriculum for such schools. We know that political promises do not always tell the full story. A politician will promise the best school system at zero cost impact and get elected to power. That does not mean that the promises will be met. The voters may want good schools and everything best for the students but not be willing to provide the funding for this. They may not agree to higher taxes to support this education.

The development of internet has democratized all aspects of life, this includes development of public policy on education. Everybody who had an education considers themselves an expert in the field and wants to provide their anecdotal input even if it may not be backed by evidence across the field. Often these views may be contradicting each other and sometimes within themselves. At other times we see beliefs trump facts. An example is when certain groups want curriculum to state evolution is just a theory with the same status as the alternative intelligent creation theory. Though we are fortunate that we do not have people requesting the teaching of alchemy alongside chemistry or astrology alongside astronomy, or tarot card reading alongside meteorology as a legitimate science? Yet this is the kind of debate we see in public policy. We may also see objections to progressive ideas by grassroots groups that want to prolong traditional definitions of society based on religious ideologies. All of this is part of public policy debate.

Amongst other people who have influence on the process are the teachers within the K-12 program. It is not realistic to expect all teachers to be at the same level of expertise to address the development of curriculum. Most teachers are too busy with day-to-day activities and unable to have that long-term perspective that is needed for developing a curriculum. However they are closest to the ground on how curriculum will be rolled out as well as its day to day challenges and their input is crucial to the process. They also have flexibility to decide what topics need emphasis and how much time to devote to it.

Then there are the post-secondary experts who present their minimum requirements for students coming out of K-12 so as to be able to pursue further education. We also have business needs that will drive the requirement for final product of what comes out of the education system.

Finally there are the bureaucrat administrators and subject specialists who get down to the nitty gritty of this process and mostly determine the final product. Ministry of Education and the Board decide the framework-objectives of the syllabus and how it can be implemented in schools within the province. Expert specialized teachers in certain subjects decide the content and the units (science, history, and math) to be taught in the class. . They take into consideration the basic standard across the province –literacy and math, general abilities, along with other subjects, keeping in mind basic education, specialized course in high school and the support for future professional specialization. The curriculum also addressees social point of view during class. Example –Topics such as Sex-Ed, Consent, Privacy, Cyber bullying, Sexting, Bullying etc.

This process is a continually evolving process as decision drives public opinion and objections. Non-related events may also cause changes. Even though the process is spread out and decision making requires review by many people it must be remembered that the process is finally driven by the systems in place and the few people who put pen to paper. A lot of the topics are never really discussed by the broad community involved in this process. This reminds me of the TV show “Yes Minister” where the bureaucrats would finally decide everything based on their own judgement and to maintain the status quo. If the Minister ever wanted to do something else, they would point out the political fallout and the Minister would back down.

My concerns

I was looking at a recent news article that a study of 27000 people in USA found 2/3rd of them support equality of women! What was the reason for the remaining 1/3rd to believe that women are inferior! What kind of education system provides for the continued sustenance of a medieval mindset?  

The Canadian Constitution provides a charter right for only certain Christian denominations to have a religion based school system. Yet in our political drive for inclusivity, we see religion based schools for other groups too where the objective is to ensure the continuation of cultural traditions and religious teachings. If particular groups of religious minorities (Muslims, Hindus or Christians) are now enjoying the liberty of having their own private schools, how does civil society ensure that the religious teachings are not contradicting constitutional rights in the minds of the young? As an educator how can one teach equality and freedom where students are categorized into groups based on their religion? Religion based teaching carries with it medieval philosophies including separation of sexes, inferiority of women, slavery, justification for genocide, divinity of rulers, us vs them for other religionists and non-believers, superiority over others, LGBTQ discrimination, marriage rights, casteism and so on. How does the curriculum framework allow for progressive ideas to disseminate across the new generation without being restricted by artificial boundaries imposed by religious schools?

As a teacher and with the insight that I continue to gain in this field, I am quite keen to be involved in the development of curriculum.  I want help define the Next Generation and attempt to create a better society that allows for gender equality, racial equality, diversity and respect for all ethnicities. When looking at Charter rights, my concern is that it may be part of the curriculum but not actively examined, emphasized and imbibed by the students to take away with them as a part of their Canadian identity.

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