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Thoughts on curriculum

“Let others pride themselves about how many pages they have written; I’d rather boast about the ones I’ve read.”

— Jorge Luis Borges

I have never blogged before and this is my first post. I plan to use this blog exclusively for ECS 210 reading responses and any other ECS 210 assignments that must be posted online.

Reading Response #9

1) Think back on your experiences of the teaching and learning of mathematics — were there aspects of it that were oppressive and/or discriminating for you or other students?
2) Identify at least three ways in which Inuit mathematics challenge Eurocentric ideas about the purposes mathematics and the way we learn it.

Reading response to “Jagged Worldviews Colliding” by Leroy Little Bear and “Teaching mathematics and the Inuit community” by Louise Poirer.

1) I have never thought much about my mathematical education. Math always felt like something I had to do. I was good at it when I was very young. As time passed I decided that, of all school subjects, math was my least favourite. I didn’t enjoy doing it (and I enjoyed everything else). I’ve never been able to expend much energy on things I don’t enjoy. But I persisted because I wanted to achieve high grades in all subjects – and continued to do well. In high school my math grades dropped steadily semester after semester. In the end, they were still pretty good. But they were my lowest grades. I didn’t bother studying physics or calculus.

I was a lucky kid. I was raised by parents who valued education. My mom was a kindergarten teacher. I didn’t spent much time on math at home but whenever something mathematical arose at home, or whenever math homework was sent home, I received support and encouragement; my parents expected me to do well.

Students can get left behind in math classes. That risk is higher in math, perhaps, than it is in any other subject. Mathematical knowledge is built on an ever-growing base of knowledge and skills. For students who didn’t enjoy the support at home that I did, and who weren’t able to keep up in class, mathematical prowess could have quickly seemed unreachable at a very young age (even though those kids would have received the same instruction I did).

2) The Inuit’s mathematics have grown out of their experience in their traditional territories. Their mathematical conceptions are rooted in meeting their needs and wants in a unique landscape and a harsh climate. For example, their months do not have strict numbers of days – they are approximations that coincide with natural, annual occurrences – events that are important to track for continued survival. The Inuit developed math and related abilities (like spatial awareness and navigational techniques) that help them in their environment. Mathematicians, scientists, math teachers, accountants, statisticians, computer programmers etc. may argue that we (in the south) learn math for similar purposes – to help us navigate our particular environment: the modern, globalized world. I read the article and don’t really think Inuit mathematics challenges Eurocentric ideas about the purposes of math. We each possess a unique mathematics that help us function in our respective environments. I look forward to attending class and possibly changing my mind.

Reading Response #8

  1. How has your upbringing/schooling shaped how 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?

I was raised at the centre of things but I was not raised ignorant. I was raised to respect people who were different and to resist and fight prejudice. But most of the books I read were about people like me – white. (Or at least that’s how I imagined the characters in the books I read.) The people I saw on television and in movies certainly looked like me, with a few exceptions.

I heard many “single” stories. Africa was poverty-stricken. Indigenous communities were poverty-stricken. Central America was undeveloped. And on and on. The underlying message was: if only these communities could enjoy the same privileges we enjoy, “they” would be just like us. The tone was liberal, hopeful and progressive… but uncritical.

Reading Response #7

1) According to the Levin article, how are school curricula developed and implemented? What new information/perspectives does this reading provide about the development and implementation of school curriculum? Is there anything that surprises you or maybe that concerns you?

Ben Levin argues that curricula development is a deeply political process. He explains that curricula development is subject to the same influences that affect development of all public policies: a) “Voter Interests Drive Everything” (9); b) “Governments Have Limited Control Over the Policy Agenda” (10); c) “There Is Never Enough Time” (11); d) “People and Systems Both Matter” (12); e) “A Full-Time Opposition Changes Everything” (13); and f) “Beliefs Are More Important Than Facts” (13). In short, this means that a) politicians will give voters what they demand, even despite evidence; b) issues are always popping up to deal with, voices are always rising – distractions are endless and policy plans are frequently abandoned and reshaped due to unforeseeable circumstances; c) politicians (and their civil servants) are charged with doing more than time allows; d) individuals who occupy important offices have immense autonomy and can steer policy in divergent directions but the structures for decision-making also circumscribe policy-development possibilities; e) opposition parties will criticize every policy decision, which means change is always (potentially) contentious; and f) voters govern decisions, and will demand what they believe, even if their beliefs condradict evidence.

Levin proceeds to explain the “issues, actors, processes, influences and results” (13) that affect curriculum development. The issues are primarily political: which subjects to teach and what content to include. These curricular debates often mirror wider political debates in society. In Canada, the actors involved in curriculum development include politicians and civil servants from provincial governments, representatives from Indigenous governments and inter-governmental organizations, post-secondary academics and executives, teachers and, increasingly, other stakeholders including business leaders, parents, students and other concerned community members. In Canada, curricula are generally reviewed by committees composed of the aforementioned stakeholders, who review dated curricula and create new ones. The process is influenced by research, opinions of stakeholders (including teachers), media, political parties, post-secondary institutions and advocacy groups. The results (including unintended consequences) of previous curricula-development processes also influence curricula development. Committee members tend to only recommend changes that teachers are likely to implement.

Nothing about this surprised me. But I’m concerned that research and facts are not as essential to the process as they should be. Levin indicates that teachers’ voices are integral to these processes, which is very important.

2) After reading pages 1-4 of the Treaty Education document, what connections can you make between the article and the implementation of Treaty Education in Saskatchewan? What tension might you imagine were part of the development of the Treaty Education curriculum?

Many of the members of the Curriculum Sub-committee of the Shared Standards and Capacity Building Council are representatives of Indigenous organizations, which is important. The subcommittee also included a large number of representatives from the Saskatchewan government, which makes sense, considering it was a government committee. Indigenous voices were most important; they represented, through their organizations, the interests of Indigenous people from across the province and consequently were rightly granted the majority of roles. Traditional knowledge would have governed the policy-development process and elders were rightly included and listed at the top of member list. It was important to also include a representative of the First Nations University of Canada and member of the University of Saskatchewan’s Aboriginal Learning Centre because post-secondary institutions should be involved in secondary curriculum development.

I imagine there may have been tension between the Saskatchewan government and the various members of Indigenous political and governmental organizations. I can imagine that the Saskatchewan government representatives were determined to ensure that the Treaty Education goals, outcomes and indicators were congruent with a long list of policies. I imagine that each representative of Indigenous organizations had his or her own priorities. And I imagine the elders approached the whole issue in a way that was very different from everyone else on the committee. I can also imagine that the post-secondary representatives held strong opinions of what was vital to include. The government representatives would have been thinking about wider public opinion, whereas other members would have been concerned primarily with the opinions of their own communities and constituencies. And the whole process, like all policy-development processes, would have been governed by laws, practices and procedures that govern public policy development in Saskatchewan.

Reading Response #6

  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”?

Claire says it best. In her conversation with Mike, she explains that she considers Treaty Education to be, essentially, “Settler Education”. Many people in Saskatchewan are ignorant of treaties. Now that Treaty Education is mandatory, teachers are responsible for ensuring that future generations of Saskatchewan citizens are aware that we – all of us here in the province – are treaty people. This is the “Settler Education” Claire refers to. For many generations it has been possible for non-Indigenous Saskatchewan residents to remain ignorant of treaties. From now on, that shouldn’t be possible. The responsibility to ensure that is ours (future teachers).

Teaching FNMI content and perspectives is vitally important. The reality we live in, here in Saskatchewan, is socially constructed on land that was obtained violently, coercively and through promises that were broken. The history of human beings on this land is long. The people indigenous to it developed knowledge over the thousands of years they’ve been here. We are fortunate that knowledge still exists, despite persistent governmental efforts to extinguish it. It is the knowledge Cynthia Chambers refers to in “We Are All Treaty People,” a “phenomenological knowledge, based on lived experience, wayfinding and dwelling in places that sustain you,” (33) which is an idea she attributes to Ingold. She explains that Indigenous cultural practices are expressions of that knowledge, “acquired through the senses” (33). We are responsible for sharing this knowledge with our students. I recently wrote a paper on Indigenizing social studies. I learned plenty while researching that paper. Among the most important things I learned is this: that, as teachers, we will be responsible for answering Truth and Reconciliation Call to Action 63(iii), which calls on the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) to “[build] student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy and mutual respect”. Indigenization of education is the one of the best ways to meet this goal; it requires the regular integration of FNMI content into all classrooms – including classrooms with few Indigenous students or none at all. Our settler reality has existed here for only a small blip of time compared to the long histories of Indigenous peoples. Cynthia Chambers alludes to these differences (in time frames) when she discusses the concepts of “newcomer” (28) and “old-timer” (28). In traditional stories of the Blackfoot and Dene, she writes, these terms denoted, respectively, humans and animals. In the treaties, the newcomers are settlers and the old-timers are Indigenous peoples. The treaties bind us (non-Indigenous Canadians) to that longer history – but not in the same way Indigenous people are bound to it. We should respect that difference and respect the knowledge their communities have gained from their unique relationships with the land that date back thousands of years. Treaties help us understand our respective relationships to the land and to each other. “We are all treaty people” and we all deserve to know what that means. Helping students understand will be our responsibility.

Reading Response #5

List some of the ways that you see reinhabitation and decolonization happening throughout the narrative. How might you adapt these ideas / consider place in your own subject areas and teaching? Reading response to “Learning from Place: A Return to Traditional Mushkegowuk Ways of Knowing” by Jean-Paul Restoule, Sheila Gruner and Edmund Metatawabin.

Reinhabitation

  • During the 10-day river trip, Fort Albany First Nation community members shared with each other names of numerous places along the river. By doing so, they identified and recovered those physical spaces.
  • The boats used for the river trip were material spaces, in which various generations learned from one another about ways to “live well” (p.74).
  • Youth interviewed older members of the community. They did so in person. The physical spaces in which they conducted those interviews were temporarily transformed into places where they taught each other how to “live well” (p.74).
  • The project allowed older members of the community to think about the Cree word paquataskamik, which refers to the totality of their traditional lands and everything in that land. It’s an expansive, inclusive term that has fallen into disuse by all but the older generations. It’s very different from noscheemik, which Mushkegowuk youth typically use when they refer to the bush. Local youths’ preference for noscheemik may reflect how younger generations view the land differently than their elders – more limited, more circumscribed by non-Indigenous concepts and policies that have divided the land (e.g. reserves, Crown land etc.). The research project helped younger generations better understand paquataskamik by getting out on the land and experiencing it in its totality.

Decolonization

  • Members of the Fort Albany First Nation spent time thinking critically about extractive industries while they were on the river. They had time to reflect on what could be lost if mining were to proceed in or near their traditional lands.
  • They and their ancestors have lived on their traditional lands and used the Kistachowan River since time immemorial. The river trip allowed them to experience their paquataskamik, including the river, in ways their ancestors did long before colonization.
  • The project was informed and infused by Indigenous ways of knowing, which have guided the actions and shaped the perceptions of countless generations of Mushkegowuk Cree, and continue to do so today.

Indigenous people have been living on the land we now call Canada for thousands of years. The land has shaped their ways of knowing. I plan to teach social studies and English. In response to TRC Call to Action 63(iii), which calls for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada to “[build] student capacity for intercultural understanding, empathy, and mutual respect,” (2015, p.7) I intend to Indigenize my classroom. I plan to integrate stories and ways of knowing specifically from the peoples who are indigenous to whatever land I end up teaching on. I also intend to integrate stories, perspectives, practices and materials from Indigenous people of other areas. And I plan to learn about, and possibly emulate (if possible and appropriate), Indigenous ways of relating with students, colleagues and members of whatever community I end up working in (e.g. non-confrontational communication strategies).

Reading Response #4

What does it mean to be a “good” student according to common sense? Which students are privileged by this definition of the good student? What is made impossible to see/understand/believe because of these common sense ideas? Reading response to Kevin Kumashiro’s chapter “Preparing Teachers for Crisis: A Sample Lesson.”

According to common sense, a good student is one who acquiesces, abides and produces work that meets the highest standards according to grading rubrics, in accordance with official government policy. Good students act in accordance with the norms of the dominant culture. Students who have been raised in households that provide them with the necessary cultural capital – educated, middle-class habits and values – are privileged. People who perceive good students in this way often fail to see the strengths of students who do not possess the necessary cultural capital – the behaviours and practices of the dominant, educated, middle-to-upper-middle class culture. Also, students who do not possess the demographic and personal characteristics of the dominant culture – white, heterosexual etc. – are often excluded from consideration as good students by people who are prejudiced (consciously or unconsciously).

Reading Response #3

Take a look at the possible scholars and/or concepts/topics.  Then, choose either a scholar or a topic/concept and begin to explore them/it. You might find a quote or an article that piques your interest. Reading Response to:

Tuck, E. (2011). Humiliating ironies and dangerous dignities: A dialectic of school pushout. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 24(7), 817-827.

Tuck, E. (2012). Repatriating the GED: Urban youth and the alternative to a high school diploma. The High School Journal, 95(4), 4-18.

Tuck, E., & Yang, K. (2011). Youth resistance revisited: New theories of youth negotiations of educational injustices. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 24(5), 521-530.

I investigated the work of Eve Tuck, an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). Dr. Tuck employs Indigenous social thought to explore topics in urban education and Indigenous studies. She has written a book on youth who’ve been forced out of the traditional education system, Urban Youth and School Pushout (Routledge, 2012), and she has co-written or co-edited four other books. She has written over 20 peer-reviewed articles. I focused on articles she wrote about youth who leave school and the primary alternate educational route for them, the General Education Development certificate (GED).

In “Humiliating ironies and dangerous dignities: a dialectic of school pushout,” Dr. Tuck draws from research she conducted in 2006-08 in New York City. She interviewed youth who left school because they felt pressure to do so. Tuck explores the various complex reasons they chose to leave and theorizes that students adopt defiant postures and attitudes in response to degrading, dangerous or unhealthy situations at school. She calls their defiance dangerous dignity, and explores its value and the risks it poses to their peers, school staff members and themselves. In “Repatriating the GED: Urban youth and the alternative to a high school diploma,” Tuck investigates the GED as an alternative to high school education. She draws from the same research she conducted in New York and presents the GED as a viable option for students who feel pressure to leave school. She frames the GED’s viability in Indigenous theories of repatriation but also acknowledges a GED’s limited utility. In “Youth resistance revisited: new theories of youth negotiations of educational injustices,” Tuck and co-author K. Wayne Yang discuss four ways to conceptualize youth resistance and they explore issues those frameworks do not address. They go on to briefly describe research articles and stories by a number of other researchers who investigate youth resistance. The article is the introduction to a special edition of the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education that focuses on youth resistance and its potential to inform education research.                

I’m interested in learning about the ways students feel unwelcome in schools. Schools are designed and managed in ways that reward certain types of students. But education is a right. And teachers are responsible for fostering atmospheres that are welcoming to the maximum number of students. Not all students are going to excel and many won’t be interested in the material teachers are required to present. But teachers can help uninterested students find ideas and materials that interest each of them, respectively. And teachers can help students feel welcome. I’m interested in learning about the experiences of students who feel pressure to leave school. I’d like to know how teachers can make them feel welcome. I’m also interested in the idea that there are, perhaps, some students who would do better outside of school. I plan to continue reading Eve Tuck’s work. I also plan to explore the work of her co-authors and the scholars who’ve cited her articles.

Reading Response #2

What are the four models of curriculum described in the article, and what are the main benefits and/or drawbacks of each? What model(s) of curriculum were prominent in your own schooling experience? What did these models make possible/impossible in the classroom? Reading response to: Smith, M. K. (1996, 2000) ‘Curriculum theory and practice’ the encyclopaedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/b-curric.htm.

Smith describes four ways that educators conceptualized curriculum in North America during the 20th century. Below, I have listed the four approaches (copied verbatim from the article), described their benefits, and also described their defects and imperfections.

  1. Curriculum as a body of knowledge to be transmitted

Educators who adopt this approach aim to convey specific content to their students. If educators approach curriculum in this way, they will likely provide their students with access to important works (if selected) or the precise materials students will require in order to pass specific exams. This is a traditional, insufficient approach to teaching. It doesn’t consider learners’ needs nor does it account for the ways learners differ from one another. It doesn’t facilitate the building of skills or the development of behaviours. It doesn’t, by itself, adequately promote human flourishing, even if students read valuable classic works that specifically address humanistic principles; good books aren’t enough.

2. Curriculum as an attempt to achieve certain ends in students – product

School systems that adopt this curricular approach focus on achieving behavioural objectives. They adopt this approach because it appears to be an efficient, systematic method. School systems can select specific content, mandate specific instructional methods and then measure outcomes. But this approach, too, is insufficient. School systems that adopt this model treat students uniformly as passive recipients of knowledge and instruction; neither their collective nor respective individual needs are considered. Lessons are imposed and instructional techniques are systematized in hopes that students will develop certain behaviours. Students do not receive a holistic education. This method of instruction was adapted by people attracted to management theories – systems for workplaces. Those who conceptualized this approach did not consider how students and teachers actually interact in classrooms. This method suffers from an additional problem. It forces to educators to teach and assess certain behaviours, which means they may ignore unintended results, behaviours, skills and habits (positive or negative) they didn’t plan on fostering.

3. Curriculum as process

Educators who adopt this approach regard curriculum as an ongoing interaction between teachers, students and knowledge. This approach, unlike the two listed above, considers learners’ collective needs, and accounts for their individual needs and interests. Teachers who adopt this approach attempt strategies in the classroom and then determine whether or not they were successful in achieving what they intended to. Outcomes are secondary and learning is of primary importance. There are numerous problems with this approach: uniformity (and thus comparative assessment) is impossible; it ignores context and political realities (education systems are accountable to governments and/or other stakeholders); and it requires exceptional teachers.

4. Curriculum as praxis

This is similar to the process approach. Its distinguishing feature is a focus on emancipation. Educators who adopt this approach consider the structure of society and how education might help students think critically about that structure. Educators encourage their students to flourish, and do so by listening to them and by engaging their peers in reflective conversations. This approach shares defects with the process model: lack of uniformity, potential problems with context and requisite superb teachers.

My primary and secondary education was shaped by all four these approaches to curriculum. I grew up in Regina. My teachers were required to impart specific knowledge – at least a certain percentage of content in the formal curricula. They were also required to encourage the development of certain behaviours – writing, for example – and assessed me with a formal system. But my teachers also enjoyed significant leeway. They could decide how best to teach the material they were mandated to (partially) cover, and how best to foster development of the skills and behaviours they were required to assess. In high school I encountered teachers who embodied the praxis approach. I had some exceptional high school teachers. One, in particular, encouraged me to consider my privileges and think critically about systems of oppression. She did this in a positive, supportive way; she didn’t want me to question my own value and competence, and I didn’t. She helped me better understand social realities and my privileged place in them.

By adopting elements of all four models, my teachers provided me a holistic and practical education. I received necessary “content,” learned important skills and behaviours (“product”), and learned in interactive environments adapted to my peers’ needs and mine (“process”). Also, I had exceptional teachers who encouraged me to think critically about my society (praxis). I was very fortunate. My teachers helped me flourish.

Reading Response #1

How does Kumashiro define ‘commonsense?’ Why is it so important to pay attention to the ‘commonsense’? Reading response to: Kumashiro, Kevin (2009). Introduction, Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice, pp. XXIX – XLI.

Kumashiro believes common-sense ideas are those we are accustomed to, especially ideas about doing routine things. He writes about time he spent as a Peace Corps volunteer in a Nepalese village. He learned from local villagers many of the ideas and routines that they, the people of his village, assumed were commonsensical: the schedule for water faucet usage, the times meals were served, the types of foods considered proper for meals. The villagers’ commonsensical ideas contradicted many ideas Kumashiro had, prior to his arrival in Nepal, considered common sense: that showers should be private, that meals didn’t require lentils and rice, that classrooms should be dynamic and interactive spaces for learning. Commonsensical ideas are often adopted unconsciously. We receive them from individuals, like our family members, friends and members of our communities. When a mother drives to work every morning, her children learn passively and unconsciously that work commutes are done in vehicles. We also receive commonsensical ideas from organizations and institutions, including schools. In Nepal Kumashiro learned that Nepalese students believed education required strict fidelity to government-sanctioned textbooks, which contradicted his own opinion that children learn best by participating and creating within an interactive classroom.

Kumashiro believed his teaching methods, those he picked up in the United States during his youth, were superior to the Nepalese’. He belatedly realized how insidious this was. In every explicit lesson he taught there, he implicitly conveyed another: that American ways are superior. This is the problem with commonsensical ideas and practices. They are passed down and perpetuated by people who don’t often think about who originally devised them and why. Common-sense ideas and practices, especially in education, may serve as vectors for oppressive “values and perspectives” (Kumashiro, 2009, pp.XXXII). Students would receive oppressive ideas, for example, if their English teachers were to choose only books written by cisgender white males; they’d learn all other voices are subordinate. Appeals to common sense are often appeals to tradition – advocacy for accepting status quo hierarchies, inequalities and commonly-held oppressive ideas (Kumashiro, 2009, pp. XXXVI). Educators and students should think critically about common-sense approaches to teaching and learning. By questioning their beliefs and practices, and by thinking about where those beliefs and norms originated and why, students and teachers can uncover and challenge oppressive ideas.