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Curriculum as Equity, Social Justice, and Diversity

This week in my ECS 210 lecture, Julie Machnaik shared her personal stories of working in Northern Canada alongside members of an Inuit community. Through her own lived experiences, she provided the class with a background on Inuit culture, possible tensions we may encounter when teaching in communities other than our own, and how to adapt and learn from these tensions to teach towards equity, social justice, and diversity. Although I found all of the stories and lessons she shared to be helpful and encouraging, what I found most profound was the passion that hung from her every word. The genuine joy and the deep impact these experiences have left on her was evident through the way she spoke. I admired that greatly.

With Julie’s passion as my inspiration, and the themes of equity, social justice, and diversity in mind, I would like to take the time to share a video with you that reflects one of my own greatest passions in life. The powerful messages that can be taken from this video will forever hold a special place in my heart. Enjoy!

Dear Future Mom

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Curriculum as Online Community

With the technological advances of modern society, the nature of learning is evolving. The online community so readily available to teachers and students provides a diverse and extensive opportunity to retrieve information. Students no longer need to rely on teachers as their sole source of knowledge. With endless amounts of obtainable information at students’ fingertips, they are able to explore variety of resources providing them with multiple perspectives on any given topic. This opens up a window to social justice and anti-oppressive education as it allows both teachers and students to not only receive widespread information, but it also allows them to form their own opinions. With that being said, it is important for teachers to instruct their students on how to be critical thinkers, to find credibility in their research and to always consider whose story is being told. Technology in the classroom allows for diverse teaching methods as well as the opportunity to engage in sharing and contributing to the online community.

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Chopping Down the Traditional Family Tree

After contemplating how to get past my uneasiness of approaching family diversity in my future classroom, I decided to start with one small solution. I considered ways in which children can represent their idea of “family” without using the traditional family tree. With Hofmann’s definition of family in mind, I came up with the idea of “Community of Caring”. Visually, it can be created in many different ways, using actual images, drawings, symbols, etc. However, before the children create their own Communities of Care, it is important to discuss family diversity prior. Here are a few questions that can be asked to form discussions amongst the students in order for them to learn about and appreciate different family structures:

Who are the people in your life that mean the most?

How do these people care for you? How do you care for them?

What does “family” mean to you? Who can be a part of a family?

These questions are open for interpretation for each student, allowing for many different and diverse answers. They provide opportunity for discussion of different types of family structures and all those who can be a part of a family, including pets, friends, those who have died, and so on. After discussing these questions, and perhaps creating webs or charts to help answer them, allow the students to write down those who they consider to be their family. Throughout this process, it is important to reach out to each student to make sure they are comfortable with the task and if they need any support. After they have completed their list, allow them to make a visual representation of their family. Once all the students’ representations are finished, display them in the classroom so they can recognize and appreciate their classmates’ families and family structures.

Here is a copy of my own personal Community of Caring.

Community of Caring

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Treaty Education

Claire Kreuger, a grade 3/4 French Immersion Teacher, was a guest lecturer in my ECS 210 class this past week. She spoke to us about Treaty Education and why we should incorporate it in our future classrooms. Although it is a mandated section of Saskatchewan Curriculum, Treaty Education is a topic often passed by as many teachers lack the knowledge-base surrounding treaties and may feel uncomfortable discussing it. Claire stressed the idea that we are all treaty people. It is important to teach our students about treaties as it helps them understand their place in today’s society by recognizing that everyone benefits from these agreements and we are all bound by them. Claire also shared stories of the mistakes she made in her first year of teaching Treaty Education. Two major points I took from her mistakes are that all First Nations are not the same, and that is it important to tell your own stories. These learned experiences resonated with me as they challenged my thinking, which I now recognize to be a shockingly uneducated way of thinking. Treat Education was not a topic that I often thought about, perhaps because of the uneasy feeling it gave me. I always thought that, although it is a part of the curriculum, I had no place to teach such a topic as I am not First Nations. However, after Claire’s lecture and hearing her experiences of trial and error, I now realize that by educating myself, I am absolutely in a position to teach my students about treaties. 

Thank you, Claire, for easing my mind and taking me out of my comfort zone.

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A History of Education Through Race

Painter’s teacher education textbook A History of Education, written in 1886, not only outlines the course of educational systems over time, but also reflects the perspectives and mentalities of this era. The idea of ‘race’ is mentioned throughout the text in a number of contexts, which include race as culture, race as ability, race as intelligence, race as mankind, and perhaps more prevalent, race as a differentiating factor. The textbook defines race specifically in terms of education as “the social, religious, and political conditions which [determine] the peculiar form of education” (Painter, 7). That is to say that it is the ‘race’ of a particular place that determines its educational systems and philosophies, including whether or not it will be successful.

The classification of different races mentioned in this “educational” tool reflects the Westernized perception of self-gratification and superiority. Throughout the first 21 pages of the book, European and American education is revealed through stereotypes and labels as being far more effective and positive compared to those systems of countries such as China and India. With this textbook as an example, teachers were, and arguably still are, taught to think in racial terms. A century ago, up-and-coming teachers attending Normal Schools were taught to acknowledge students of minorities not as individuals, but rather as a product of their ‘race’. The negative effects associated with this assumption are endless and provide little to no opportunity for these students to gain the education they deserve.

Although this textbook is over 100 years old, this does not mean that this concept of teaching to think in racial terms is not present in today’s teacher education. It seems as if the idea has gone from talking about it in a negative, hierarchal manner, to the subject becoming a matter of taboo, to presently focusing on it in a positive light. After three semesters in the U of R’s Education program, race and culture has been one of the dominant topics discussed in my courses. I have learned that we must embrace diversity and celebrate differences. It is important to remember that no matter a student’s past or present home and/or school life, he or she is capable of learning and brings his or her own funds of knowledge to the classroom. Creating a healthy and whole classroom environment is critical, as well as creating a culturally rich environment to help students recognize the significance of other cultures, not only their own.

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Against Common Sense: Teaching & Learning Towards Social Justice Response

In Kevin Kumashiro’s guide to anti-oppressive education, Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice, he discusses the notion of “common sense” in reference to the education system. Typically, “common sense” refers to understanding and behaving in a way that is socially acceptable based on how a society traditionally functions. The “common sense” of schooling is often the foundation of how the education system runs its institutions. However, Kumashiro sheds a different light on what he believes this “common sense” is, as he defines it as “not what should shape educational reform or curriculum design” but rather “it is what needs to be examined and challenged” (Kumashiro, XXXVI).

The reality of the current education system is that it really is not current at all. There are many aspects and perspectives that have remained the same over the years, and as a result of this, the institutionalized issues of schooling still linger in today’s schools. “The norms of schooling, like the norms of society, privilege and benefit some groups and identities while marginalizing and subordinating others on the basis of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disabilities, language, age, and other social markers” (Kumashiro, XXXVI). And so, an oppressive system constitutes the basis of what society views as the “common sense” of education. This oppression is not questioned as a result of pressure to conform and avoid potential negative reproductions.

It is important to pay attention to “common sense” so we, as educators and advocators of change, can recognize what is oppressive and challenge the status quo. If we do not challenge the norms, standards, and expectations that structure the education system, then we will just continue to privilege only certain perspectives, practices, values, and groups of people. Kumashiro encourages us as educators to teach toward anti-oppression and social justice.

Kumashiro, K. (2009). Against Common Sense: Teaching and Learning Toward Social Justice. New York, NY; Routledge.