Curriculum as Place:
Curriculum and Treaty Education: https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/valentinananettisaa.wordpress.com/32
In my home country, it is not expected that teachers help in the making of curriculum. Normally, teachers are not really consulted when the curriculum is made, and if they are, it is just after is has already been designed and they just collaborate just little suggestions, so when I found out we were learning about curriculum I just assumed that here it was the same.
I thought teachers were not consulted, nor did I think students, parents or any other person besides experts in education were. And for me, these experts were people who had not actually been in a classroom in a long time, therefore, they did not count as teachers, they did not have to deal with bad-behaved children, disrespectful students or arrogant parents, to me, they just did not understand and deserved no say in the curriculum.
I did not understand how complex the making of curriculum was until I read the assigned document. I did not understand how deeply politics and education were connected, or how stockholders could influence the topics of curriculum or how parents and students also have a say in the creation of curriculum.
Now I understand that curriculum is made with clear goals and objectives in mind, that they most often endorse a certain approach to teaching and that teachers are a bigger part of it than I thought. And now I know that curriculum is reviewed and renewed periodically in hopes to make it better. The changes it goes through are tied to society, government and the general beliefs of the community for which the curricula are created, this influences the outcomes and the general goals that curriculum has, which I had never thought about before.
I am a settler. I speak the language of the colonizers, I follow their traditions, read their literature, appreciate their art and learn history the way they wrote it. I’ve learned about the “savage Indians”, the “starving Africans” and the “weak women”. I’ve thought of other countries as poor and underdeveloped, even when they are countries which share my history. I’ve assumed a person is less because of what they look like, sound like, dress like or act like, because they don’t fit the stereotypes I’ve learned to trust and respect.
I bring all these stereotypes into the classroom with me and use these lenses as a way to see the world. My lenses are those of the white, old men who I’ve been raised to believe know better. They are lenses that have been shaped too big for my face and too dark for my coloring, but they have been the lenses through which I’ve been seeing the world for too long that I now don’t remember they are there. I’ve forgotten to take them off while reading books, watching movies, when meeting people, checking social media, and these lenses make me believe in stereotypes and discriminate those who don’t fit within those stereotypes.
The single stories I’ve heard have fed these believes about people I don’t know and places I’ve not visited, they have led me to believe that western culture must be looked up to and eastern culture is exotic and foreign, therefore, it must be dangerous. They led me to be shocked when I asked my African roommate to show me some music videos from her country and I didn’t see people in their tribal clothes, but jeans and t-shirts like me. They led me to assume a brown guy could not be respectful of women because I’ve been told in these cultures women are prisoners of their religion. They have led me to avoid black men in the streets and to stare at people with hijabs. They have led me to build walls around me to shield me from people who could potentially hurt me, but all these single stories have done is hurt me and those around me.
I was one of the people who showed a thumbs down when Gale asked us whether we thought we were a “math person”. I have always been the kid in maths class who couldn’t follow the teacher’s explanation and also the one who was too afraid of being made fun of to ask. I have also seen my classmates struggle with mathematics their whole life, being that a concern for my teachers, but exceling at arts, sports or language arts, which wasn’t given the relevance or importance it needed.
Mathematics is oppressive because we are taught you’re either right or wrong, but never “almost there”. Students who don’t perform accordingly in maths are treated as illiterate, as slow, since math is a core subject, therefore, it must be more relevant and you must be dumb to not “get it”.
It is oppressive because we are told there’s only the teacher’s way. I was almost never told “do it the way it works for you”, but the few times that happened it made me understand ten times better what I was doing, which I think happens to many students whose methodology, and way of working and organizing information doesn’t match the normal Eurocentric way.
Inuit mathematics defies Eurocentric mathematics on three aspects:
- Mathematics isn’t as universal as we thought: we were always taught one way of doing mathematics that suited our particular context and needs. But that way isn’t the only way of doing it. We were told that counting was done in sets of 10 and we thought there couldn’t be any other way of doing it, a base-10 system made so much sense it became commonsense to us, but Inuit prove us wrong.
They have a different system for counting that has a base-20, because in their culture it made sense to use both their sets of fingers and toes for counting, just like for the Incas in Latin America it made sense not to use their body parts to count, but knots and a rope.
Inuit mathematics made me realize that what I knew as mathematics isn’t the only one there is and that teachers should be taught different ways in order to help they diverse students.
- Context needs to be integrated in problem solving exercises: whenever somebody asks me to translate something from English to my mother tongue, they are surprise when I tell them that I require more context to do that; like gender of the person or the intention of the speaker or even the level of formality between both participants, so I understand what Inuit students feel when they face the challenge of translating an equation into a result without a background of what they are supposed to be subtracting, adding, multiplying or dividing.
We learned yesterday that Inuit have 6 different words for the number three, all of which are attached to a certain context. It is something like telling somebody to measure a piece of wood, without giving them any clue as to what to measure it with; Inches? Feet? Centimeters? Millimetres? Without the unit of measure, it would be impossible to come up with an answer.
- Integrating mathematics into their own language: many times, when something new is created, it is likely to be in English. Whether it is a technological device, a scientific discovery, a new term for a mathematical equation, it will most likely be named in English since it is thought as an international language. Inuit, on the other hand, have decided to challenge this Eurocentric view of math and integrated mathematical terms into their language.
The way Inuktitut works is by adding suffixes to a base word to create a whole to word. I.e. for the word curve means “in the state of a circle”, the base word is circle and other two suffixes are added to create a new term. This way of making mathematics their own is really interesting and I believe learning about it helps people, specially teachers, understand the difficulties Inuit students, and other students whose way of thinking doesn’t necessarily fit Eurocentric mathematics, go through when it comes to learning a system that doesn’t match theirs.
I went to a Catholic school from kindergartner til grade 7 and I think that Curriculum as citizenship has a unique focus in catholic schools and very oriented towards the first level of citizenship. I remember having to line up every day at 8am to sing both the national anthem and the church anthems, I remember lining up in the “tardy’s” line in the back of the regular line numerous time and having to do the walk of shame at the end to join my classmates, they hoped the embarrassment of walking in front of the whole school would prevent us from arriving late again. The line that was most organized and quiet would be dismissed to class first, the loud ones would stay until they learned to be silent and would be lectured by the principal, an 80-somenthing-yeard-old priest, about manners and discipline.
Besides that, scarfs, gloves, hats and every other item that didn’t belong to the school would have to be black, navy or white, otherwise it would be confiscated, because of course being warm wasn’t as important as looking proper. My teachers would stand in front of the class and waited silently until we shut up before starting the lesson, giving the evil eye to the ones who didn’t get the hint. We would have our regular classes and we would have to clean up our mess and the board at the end of each period, again, the row with the least amount of papers on the floor and who were the quietest were dismissed for recess, and god forgive we didn’t respect the rules because recess would be taken away from us.
On the other hand, we did many different humanitarian campaigns with the school, going door to door and robbing our parent’s pantry collecting cans and non-perishable food for the less fortunate. We collected money for when Lent started, we would all take a little box or can home and fill it with spare change to get it back to the school around a month later. We also organized bingos and raffles for people in need in our community and things like that.
After that, I moved to a different city and started in a new, public school in which I met many of the friendships I still have til this day. There, the rules weren’t that different. Colorful scarfs, inappropriate jewelry, excessive make up and painted nails were a sin, a sign of threatening disrespect. I was even scolded once for carrying a navy-colored coat on my arms that wasn’t the school’s coat, they lectured me on the school’s image and how I was ruining it by wearing something inappropriate outside the school, when I wasn’t even wearing it, just carrying it, and because again being warm isn’t as important as looking proper.
In this school we also collected cans and non-perishable food for the less fortunate families in our community, we went to the local animal shelter and played with the puppies, we went to the local orphanage and had breakfast and shared stories, we had an afternoon with the elders and so much more. But how much impact did we cause, I wonder, by only doing that once a year?
What I most remember doing here were spiritual retreats, a whole day, once a year, when our grade went together to a place outside the city and spent some time playing outside, getting to know each other, learning about ourselves and building community. Everybody in my school waiting anxiously for that day because we left all our problems and bad blood behind and became children again, playing chase, jumping the rope and so many games we left behind in the playground.
Another activity we had was family night, when every grade would organize a show, wither singing or dancing, and perfume in front of the school. I used to use time from our gym class, art/music class, religion/personal development class, philosophy and sometimes language arts to practice, the cheerleaders would create a routine for us mortals and we would try our best to do it without bumping into each other, we would spend afternoons on end with our families practicing for the big night, we would organize the making of the costumes and the props.
In the end, in all those activities, we built community and a sense of belonging, which is precisely what citizenship in its first two levels wishes to do. We organized events to help our community, we would become aware of social issues, but we would never learn about the third level and question why all these problems happened in the first place. I wished we had reflected on that a little bit more since, as we said in lecture, we need all three level in a society to make it work.
Coming from a colonized country myself, I have witnessed disagreement between government and indigenous communities. I come from a country where people die because of their cultural background, where they are oppressed when trying to speak the truth, and I can sadly, shamefully say that I have contributed to that oppression.
But I did not know that until I came here and sat trough that lecture that changed my perspective completely. When I realized that I was lying to myself pretending that I wasn’t racist, that I wasn’t sexist, or homophobic, that all those mean thoughts never crossed my mind.
Treaty Education is important because those thoughts control our actions, because, even though we are not the ones who created residential schools, or abused indigenous children, or purposely tried to erase those “savage” ways of being, we are the people who carry all that hatred, whose culture is represented, who have never had to think twice about doing or saying things because of fear, who haven’t felt out of place on our own territory, we are all treaty people because we share this land, as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the river flows.
Treaty Education is even more important for non-indigenous people because we haven’t lived their history, indigenous kids grew up surrounded by the ghost of residential schools and the scars of a broken culture. Us, on the contrary, who have never faced that, need to be educated so we don’t forget, so it doesn’t happen again, so we deconstruct ourselves and learn to live together on this land we share.
Because being treaty people means more sharing a space and living alongside one another, it means to actually understand and care for the other, and try everyday to reconcile with our past and make up for the mistakes made, because we didn’t actually make them, but can actually fix them.