I think alternative schools are a very positive thing.  They all obviously serve a purpose that a population found was lacking in the public schools.  I believe in fully integrated public schools that meet the needs of diverse students but I also understand that there are currently many limitations within the public system.

Through my time working at an alternative school, I definitely understand that some students need a completely different version of school to even begin to see the potential benefits of education. There are also elements, such as specific religious instruction, sole adherence to specific instructional strategies and methods, and providing appropriate level and pacing of content that are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to approach without heavy criticism, in any one given class. Home schooling is also an alternative schooling option, that I have seen work wonderfully for families with the space, time, and abilities to provide it.  Obviously, none of us are going to get a job in such cases, so it’s not a topic we would discuss, but I do feel conflicted sometimes, weighing the benefits of homeschooling my children and leaving their education up to the public system.

Back to private schools, I feel as though privately funded schools can provide a better education in  ways, and thereby privileging those with the money to afford a “superior” level of education, and class divisions may be perpetuated.  Parents just want the best for their children, and if that, in part, includes sending them to a private school, then I think it’s hard to fault them.

The talk from Bonnie Morton of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry will be remembered most for her personal story and the many obstacles she has overcame in her life.  It was a powerful story including poverty, abuse, how the system failed her, how it helped her, and how education has become an integral part in her facing challenges.

One thing that stood out to me from her talk was the the social worker in Regina (?) who actually wanted to help her, beyond signing her welfare cheque every month.  He worked with her directly and indirectly through schools to diagnose her learning disability and attain a high school diploma, undergraduate, and currently her masters.  This is inspiring when thinking about teaching someday when there will be many circumstances when taking the easy way out is an alternative, but you know you can and should do more.  Not that I think I am personally going to save students from their problems or challenges, but the teacher is undoubtedly a large link in his/her students’ lives that has the potential to guide and lead them to different or better places.  Or, if we always take the easy way out and refuse to do the necessary hard work involved, students may miss opportunities that could benefit them.

The Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry does this hard work, through its social justice, advocacy, and educational arms.  It was useful for our class to hear Bonnie’s story and the issues that exist in Regina and are being dealt with by organizations such as hers.

I had a difficult time completing a top 10 list of Maureen Johns during her guest lecture.  After asking us to complete it, she quickly moved right into her talk.  I have a tough time multi-tasking so I chose to continue listening to her rather than developing a list of ten questions I have about First Nations, Metis, & Inuit education.  After class, I looked back on her question and did manage to think of a few questions.

Should Inuit content be less of a priority in Saskatchewan because of our demographics?  

Similarly, should the amount of First Nations, Metis, & Inuit content taught vary depending on the demographics of a classroom?  

Is there a correlation between First Nation, Metis, & Inuit graduation rates and funding levels in areas?  

Am I really qualified to teach the intricacies of different Aboriginal worldviews?  

Is it legitimate that the spiritual practices and aspects of First Nations culture and ceremonies be taught in public schools?  

How is the increased emphasis on First Nations, Metis, & Inuit education perceived by relatively recent immigrants to Canada?

I’m quite sure I don’t even know where to start answering my own questions. I feel like I need lots of time to really think and research each one.  If I jumped in to answering any one of them now, I would just be guessing or giving a fairly uninformed opinion.  Well, maybe I could answer one of them now. “No, I do not feel adaquately prepared to teach the intricacies of different Aboriginal worldviews.”  Not yet, anyways.  I am hopeful that I will feel competent enough to teach them relatively soon, though. And I really  am interested in the whole topic of First Nations, Metis, & Inuit education, and as a social studies major I do want to come close to answering these types of questions.  Maybe not now, but give me some time actually teaching and I feel I will have a more informed, practical opinion to share.

I can only faintly remember most of my classes in high school.  What content I learned in them is mostly a mystery, but as we are reading in Kumashiro, a whole lot of learning occurs beyond what we are teaching.  How we reward certain behaviours, tolerate some, and punish others is all part of what we are teaching our students.  The more we read this book, the more I feel as though there is no possible way to teach without oppressing some student in some way by what we say, don’t say, teach, and don’t teach.  I suppose that’s why we heard last week that “you will never become an anti-oppressive teacher. Rather you are always becoming an anti-oppressive teacher.”

This makes sense, as the idea of being a life-long learner requires one to always attempt to move forward, attempting, learning, and reflecting, never reaching an imaginary finish line.  Similarly, when he discusses the notion of queer theory, he speaks about locating the norms of society and why these norms are problematic.  From there, we ought to be challenging and disrupting the status quo of these norms where eventually what was once the alternative, or queer, becomes the norm, and always repeating the process to work towards a less oppressive state.  I agree with evolution of a teacher and person never being over and there is always progress to be made, but taken to the extreme, I wonder if there is a danger in the logic of always locating oppression and making that which is oppressed, free of such treatment.  Who gets to define oppression? Physical or verbal abuse? Is it government sanctions? Un-vocalized moral disagreements? Does then being “oppressed” automatically mean it should replace the norms of society?

I don’t know! Possibly I’m just not comfortable with the unknown of where that might take us if consistently adhered to. I’m not trying to trash on Kumashiro.  I am just trying to look at these chapters with a critical eye.  In fact, I am finding his ideas very challenging and they are helping me look at how I will teach from so many perspectives that I end up at my original worry at the beginning of this post. How can I possibly do this teaching thing well?

This week Kumashiro talks about a discussion on four proposed ways of learning for students in school.  “Good teachers” and “bad teachers” meaning the student’s empty brain either gets filled with content, or doesn’t (for whatever reason). “Learning in comforting ways”, where students are not seen as blank slates and bring in a whole mess of beliefs, understanding of knowledge, etc, but are allowed to learn what already affirms their previous ideas and disregard those that resisted with them.  The last method is “learning in discomforting ways”.  This involves challenging the knowledge already held by the student, deconstructing, criticizing, and questioning and realizing that their and the schools’ knowledge is only partial requiring further investigation and more uncomfortable work.  This sort of rubs me the wrong way. Kumashiro says many of his students also felt the same.  A school should be a safe, supportive environment, not a place where students have everything tipped on its head resulting in a frowny face (see crude model on p. 25), but I get where he’s coming from.  In order to teach social justice to a point where real awareness, real change, and real action can occur, there may be some uncomfortable feelings along the way.  However, I think teachers need to be sensitive of the level of discomfort they stir up.  They can easily turn students off and may lose them completely.  But then if you tip toe around issues, I can see less chance for successful transformational teaching.  Still thinking about this one.

In two different classes this week I have been introduced to the concept of Understanding by Design (UbD).  It was a way of looking at the curriculum and planning from the desired end result and working backwards from there.  You find or create the big idea found in the curriculum and then develop essential questions that will help students come to understand the big idea. From your essential questions you plan activities, projects, etc. that will help students answer these questions and begin to make meaning of the content that is being learned, enabling them to better wrestle with or address the beginning big idea.  It really seems far more effective than matching activities and content with no defined purpose but the content itself.

My brilliant sister-in-law used UbD in creating her Romeo and Juliet unit titled, “Love, a Fair.” See?  Brilliant.  She wasn’t just having her students read Shakespeare because that’s what English classes do, it was for the purpose of looking at deeper issues involving love, the cost of loving, and helping students make sense of the work in relation to their own lives.  And while the ECS class that covered UbD didn’t feature a horrible rap video like my ESST class on UbD, it did talk more about how assessment fits in.  Varying assessments by tasks, content, and time can all help to provide the teacher with a clearer picture of student learning and understanding of the big idea.

It definitely feels like a more difficult way to plan, but it feels so worth it when I remember some of the classes I have endured that served no greater purpose than the final test.

I didn’t cry during David Suzuki’s, Suzuki Speaks, video, but I was motivated and confused during different parts of it.  Let’s start with the confused.

Suzuki takes a magic time travel back approx 480 billion years, but immediately dies because their is not yet breathable air. He repeats this time travel several times, and each voyage we learn that there is no water,  then no soil, then no plants, and so on are his time travel problems.  How these vital natural elements came about and built upon one another he doesn’t address.  For a scientist that adheres to evolution, he sure made the whole idea seem quite impossible.  He may have approached that differently.

Suzuki also rages against the machine, explaining how the economy and growth are the giant whip-wielding slave driver that is pushing us towards the apocalypse.  He made several important points that hit home with me.  For instance, I believe focusing solely on the economy at the expense of the social welfare of marginalized groups or our fragile environment is detrimental to all of us.  However, issues are rarely black and white, and the slave-imagery and simplified view of “the economy” doesn’t give viewers an ability to understand opposing arguments and formulate their own.

Now we can all relate to little Suzuki recalling his magic places growing up, but in a video that is displayed as scientific and fact-driven, it felt kind of like a cheap emotional grab to gain support.  Everyone has places they frequent and spaces that are special to them.  To insinuate that we all need or deserve our own private marsh to have a worthwhile childhood discounts the many individual and shared spaces that are not ecological in nature that have meant the world to people.

My favourite part of the movie was Suzuki’s daughter who didn’t pull any punches when addressing UN delegates.  Essentially she said that waiting for the next generation to make positive changes was an inadequate excuse and how are kids supposed to do any better than adults if the older generation are terrible role models.  Her points were at the core of why I want to teach. I want students to develop a sense of responsibility and agency in regards to the world around them, but I also want to consistently set a good example in how I live my life.

Was this my favourite video? Definitely not. I think he jumped between science, opinion, and emotion in presenting his views. I agreed with many things he said, but not the most enjoyable watch.