Learning: an Action Word

I recently read the first chapter of Elizabeth Ellsworth’s bookPlaces of Learning, and found it interesting.  The author was introducing the topic of learning in different places, but also that true learning is an experience in which students are able to engage body, mind, and spirit in the task rather than having information shoved down their ears and eyes.  She talks about how when we know something for certain it is a dead topic, in that we cannot engage with it as if the outcome of our learning was not so concrete, so we would have to engage with the topic to fully understand it and grapple with the implications to finally put our curiosity at rest.

One major point she makes is that places of learning is very important, and that changing up where we learn is a great tool that teachers have when engaging students.  Places such as museums, galleries, and other public places are great ‘anomolous places of learning’.  I know that I have learned best when seeing the work done and then doing it myself based upon what I have seen accomplished.

Learning done is much more effective than learning taught.  When students experience the struggle of trying to find an answer, the success when they do find it is that much sweeter, and place is a huge part of that, as restricting students to rows and columns of desks will likewise restrict their minds.  But instead, allowing and in fact encouraging all kinds of learning styles to succeed, whether in a group or with one’s hands, and creating a place where students can try, fail, try again, and succeed with equal enthusiasm is the best way for students to truly learn.


Why Indigenous Content Matters

I recently read Cynthia Chambers article about the importance of treaties and how they impact our daily lives.  It really has encouraged me to think more about my own upbringing, my own familial values and how they clash with some of these ideals, ideals which they would not have been exposed to, nor would they likely accept them.  But I think that Chambers summed up the article excellently, saying “I do not want to take for granted this opportunity I have been given to live differently than my ancestors” (p. 35), and so neither do I want to just let this information pass me by, but instead that I, a white male, will learn about the importance of the treaties and let that knowledge change the way I see the relationships between Indigenous peoples, settlers, the government, and myself.

It is very important for all people(s) living within Canada to learn about Treaty Education and Indigenous Content and perspectives for a few reasons.  Firstly, Indigenous history is Canadian history, it is our history no matter what our ethnicity might be.  Secondly, treaties are historical documents showing the relationships between the government, the indigenous peoples, and the settlers.  We need to know what has been signed, for right or for wrong, and what our responsibilities are as those involved in the Treaties.  It is also important to look at these because it allows for an in depth look at the cultural differences between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada, and the fact that non-indigenous people have a culture, which seems to escape most people.  But ultimately, we as a society need to address the problems that have come up because of the mistreatment of indigenous people and their rights, and the best way to have hope for the future is to know what happened in the past.

How where we are impacts who we are

Have you ever thought about how where you are impacts you?  Do all people learn the same way and succeed in the same things, or is there a relationship with the land and its environment that impacts the strengths and weaknesses of each learner?  Does local history mean anything when trying to complete the provincial curriculum?

Well, the Mushkegowuk Cree seem to think that the land, the people and their relationships are worth taking a look at to help understand the local people.  A study was done to show how relating young people to their elders and their land, specifically looking at the importance of the Kistachowan River.  The goal was to show how the impacts of colonialism and capitalism had deteriorated local knowledge among young people as compared to the adults and elders in their community, and how reintroducing these young people to the River and the surrounding land emphasizes the historical relationship of the people to each other and to their environment, with the ultimate goal of decolonization and reinhabitation, as defined in the article.

Some examples of how reinhabitation happened within the study includes connecting the young people to their adults and elders, and reestablishing mentoring relationships among them by interviewing adults and elders, and allowing elders to take them on a trip along the river, pointing out significant places and identifying their traditional names for those places.  Some examples of decolonization include using traditional language and names instead of the English ones, using traditional names to identify the whole environment, such as paquataskamik, which has a holistic meaning including the whole natural environment, and correcting incorrect word usage such as noscheemik, which has a much more specific meaning.

Learning about how place impacts students, and how learning more about their own place encourages excitement and a desire to learn more really has me thinking.  It definitely makes me want to learn more about my own area, and the areas that I will end up teaching in, for the purpose of both making the education more accessible to each community, but also to encourage students to learn more about their own history, community, and locality.  We all come from somewhere, and the more we know about where we came from, the better we can understand where we are going.

The Dangers of Common Sense

What is common sense in terms of education?  Well, as I stated in my last post, common sense are those things that people believe about society, politics, religion, gender, etc. that are not necessarily explicitly told, but observed as an overarching, and within schools institutionalized, set of beliefs that determine how school should be seen, how students subject matter should be conveyed, how students should be taught, and so on.  In his article, Kumashiro continues his earlier thoughts on the topic with arguments as to why holding on to common sense actually encourages oppression.  He argues that not only do certain teaching styles not mesh with personalities of certain students, who do not, in fact, learn the way that society says that they are “supposed to” and thus give a disadvantage to one group of people, but that systemic oppression cannot be approached, thought about, and resolved unless students are faced with the realities of their own ‘common sense’.

The biggest thing that Kumashiro states in fighting against oppression towards various groups, is to present students with the realities of their own beliefs, and bring them to a point of crisis, in which they must either choose to hold on to those beliefs by refusing to acknowledge them or they can reject those systemic beliefs and grow.  Without this point of crisis, problems involving oppression become “othered”, in which those who are performing it are some distant group, with little impact on people now.  Crisis makes issues real, no, crisis shows people that which is already real even though they can only see it

Should Curriculum be Seen as an Achievement?

I read Mark K. Smith’s article on curriculum theory and practice, and I am definitely drawn to his description of curriculum as product, or the idea that curriculum should be used to achieve specific ends within students.  The reason this one stood out to me is that it is a perspective widely used across Canada and many countries around the world in regards to education; that students need only to learn specific facts, pass certain tests, and achieve expected grades to give them skills that they will need to successfully transition into the workforce.

Within my own life, one great example of this was when I took Grade 12 level mathematics courses.  None of my Grade 12 teachers were accredited, and so they taught us only what we were going to need on the departmental finals, to insure that the teachers taught us specific objectives as they related to the Provincially set curriculum guides for each subject.  There was not a lot of ‘wiggle room’ for the teachers to add that which they may also have found to be necessary for our learning within the topic.  There were many things that the teachers, or the students I might add, have changed or even just added, but they were unable to do so because of the rigidness of the curriculum, despite the fact that we were only being taught to the test.

Of the possible weaknesses with this kind of view of curriculum, the rigidness and lack of creative possibility is the greatest.  Making school very task oriented is what makes students so bored by it, and just like that a whole generation of learners is lost because the were never taught how to learn based upon their interests, desires, abilities, etc. except where they coincided with the curriculum.  I believe that the best ways to teach students are to get them interested, and so that means that there maybe needs to be a loosening of the curricular leash, and more responsibility entrusted to the teacher to make sure the students are learning.

There are many benefits to having strict curricular objectives, though.  Some of the benefits include the standardization that post-secondary institutions are able to draw upon, that the Ministry of Education is able to judge how students are learning, and by giving specific, identifiable goals to students who need that target to aim for.  This way of seeing learning is not necessarily better or worse than another, it just may be better or worse for certain students based upon their needs, wants, and abilities, because in the end education should be about the students.

What is Common Sense?

Recently I read through the article The Problem of Common Sense by Kumashiro, and in it, the author raises many interesting points as to how ‘common sense’ influences schooling all around the world.  Kumashiro defines ‘common sense’ as presumptions that students, teachers, schools, and societies make about education; how students learn, how it should be taught, what needs to be taught for students to succeed, etc.  More specifically, the author focuses on how ‘common sense’ has negative repercussions such as reinforcing stereotypes, allowing certain students to succeed while allowing roadblocks to others, and assuming that all students have the same basic needs in regards to education.

It is very important for us to recognize ‘common sense’ as a concept, because then we will start to notice some of the presumptions that we have about education, and things that might need to be improved or changed to the betterment of all students.  Finding out which things we presume about education  also makes us ask why we hold these presumptions, and if they still accurately reflect societal values, and even if we believe those values to be right or wrong.  Education is constantly changing, and if we want it to change for the better teachers need to critically examine what we hope to achieve and how we intend on achieving it in the most successful way.