Creating Schools: Part II

“To deny the past and to refuse to recognize its implications, is to distort the present; to distort the present is to take risks with the future that are blatantly irresponsible.” — Manitoba Indian Brotherhood (1971)

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Birtle Indian Residential School, 1908 via mhm.mb.ca

The previous post related to public education focused primarily on the historical development of schooling in Canada from the perspective of inclusion. The argument made was that over the past 400 years, schools in Canada (or the various settler colonies that have existed since Champlain) have slowly become more inclusive and have focused their purpose to something beyond creating Jesuit priests.

But this inclusive evolution, which saw the development of public schools following the Act of Union and further organization with the anointing of responsibility of schools to the provinces through Confederation, meant something very different for indigenous children. School for Indigenous children was used as a weapon — a weapon of apartheid and genocide that historian and educator Brian Titley described in 1986 as “The destruction of the children’s link to their ancestral culture and their asimilation into the dominat society…” (p. 75).

Through Mission Schools, Day Schools, Industrial Schools, Residential Schools, the Sixties Scoop, Indigenous children have been targeted by Canada and Canadians through education — a tool that political scientist Karen Murray describes as “a vector of violence to control Indigenous peoples and their lands.” (2017, p. 747). Simply put, education, from the establishment of Mission schools in Red River (Think St. John’s of SJR in Winnipeg) to the closure of Gordon Indian Residential School 1996 (Edmond, 2016), schools and education were an intentional mechanism to remove Indnigemous people from the land and Canadian society based on what historian Sean Carelton refers to as “settler anxiety” (2017, p. 57). 

Carelton’s assertions is that settler anxiety is at its foundation the root cause for residential schools and state-wide control (p. 58). Early Mission schools on Vancouver Island at the mid 19th century saw schools as a means for moral education and to pacify hostile indgenous groups.  With the collapse of the relationship created by the Royal Proclamation through Confederation and the Indian Act, schooling of indiegnous children became the purview of the federal government and it used this weapon as a means to remove children from land to make way for settlers, to crush the spirit of any resistance, and relegate entire peoples to the margins of history.

University of Saskatchewan scholar Marie Battiste expertly expresses what this anxiety has meant to Indiegnous people in Canada. Her book Decolonizing Education serves as an antidote to those in society who ask Indigenous people in Canada to simply “get over it.” She invites Canadians to imagine:

Consider that for more than a century, Indinegous students have been part of a forced assimilation plan — their heritage and knowledge rejected and suppressed, and ignored by the education system. Imagine the consequence of a powerful ideology that positions one group as superior and gives away First Nations peoples’ lands and resources and invites churches and other administrative agents to inhabit their homeland , while negating their very existence and finally removing them from the Canadian landscape to the lands no one wants. Imagine how uncertain a person is whose success is only achieved by a complete makeover of themselves, by their need to learn English and the polished rules and habits that go with that identify. They are thrust into a society that does not want them to show too much success or too much Indian identity, losing their connections to their land, family, and community when they have to move away as there is no work in their homeland. Assimilation. (p. 23).

And further to this, historian John Milloy, in his groundbreaking history, A National Crime, reveals through state and church records the sinister methods by which these acts of assimilation were carried out: “…the system’s history is marked by the persistent neglect and abuse of children and through them of Aboriginal communities in general.” (p. xxxvii). Canada and the Department of Indian Affairs, according to Milloy, created a “fiction of care” that would destroy the way of life of generations of Indigenous people 

This thought exercise is paramount to making sense of the relationship Canada has with Indigenous people and how this is manifested in Canadian schools today. Since, Nicholas Davin’s report in 1879, which saw him chronicle the achievement of American industrial schools, we have been on a quest to develop a system of schooling that would civilize Indiegnous youth and move them aside in the name of progress. The initial Industrial schools of the late 19th century, located in Battleford, Qu’Appelle, and High River, were disasters in all sense of the word. (Titley, 1986). Not only were the economics ill conceived, but attendance was not mandatory and the Department of Indian Affairs became frustrated.

By the early 20th century, however, and the appointment of Duncan Campbell Scott as Deputy Superintendent General of Indian Affairs, Residential Schools were clearly a vehicle for apartheid. In 1920, Scott had the Indian Act amended so as to force all Indian Children from ages five to 17  to attend residential school — a marked change in the intentionality of the Canadian government and partner churches.

Famously, Scott would utter the following vitriolic words that now haunt the legacy and the present colonial experience:

…Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department, that is the whole object of this bill. (Haig-Brown, 2013, p. 31).

And the implications of our collective experience, that is our history Indiegnous and Settler, manifests itself in schools, education, and the rearing of children in 2019. Canada is still experimenting with providing Indigenus children with different parents, many school divisions relegate “difficult children to off-campus programs, and we still manage to alienate many of our learners by secondary school.

And when we speak of achievement, higher expectations, and improved results, we need to imagine the possibilities of a public school system that is inclusive and committed to reconciliation. That is an environment where learners feel that they belong, where their language is heard and sene. Where their teachers look like them. And where their experience, culture and heritage is honoured and see as a strength. It is through this sense of belonging, as Martin Brokenhead (2002) argues, belonging is the first step towards a learner developing independence, mastery, and generosity — all quadrants of the Circle of Courage. The cultural and generational genocide that was committed through schooling for Indigenous children stares us in the face as educators. If we truly want all learners to have the means to a decent life, schools need to focus on allowing all learners the space to develop that sense of belonging that many settlers take for granted. When learners feel that they are part of a community and able to contribute to it, the learning natural follows.

Publics schools in Canada have a long way to go to not only ease the anxiety of settlers who fear that somehow the school experience is worse than when they were in school, but also to ensure that Indigenous children and families feel that they belong. In 2019, educators are doing outstanding work in this manner: indigenizing their classrooms, welcoming elders in their learning communities, and making the language visible. Schools are teaching Ojibwae, national anthems can be heard in Cree, and more and more teachers identify as Indigenous. But this type of learning, the learning required to make amends for the damage of 150 years of genocide, will not magically reveal itself in tests scores. Rather, our success will manifest itself in the wellbeing and well-becoming of our learners and communities. 

We will know that we have made gains when all learners feel that they belong in our schools.  

 

References

Ansloos, J. (2017). The medicine of peace: Indigenous youth decolonizing healing and resisting violence. Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing.

Battiste, M. (2013). Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit. Saskatoon: Purich

Brendtro, L., Brokenleg, M., & Van Bockern, S. (2002). Reclaiming youth at risk: Our hope for the future. Bloomington, In.: Solution Tree.

Carleton, S. (2017). Settler Anxiety and State Support for Missionary Schooling in Colonial British Columbia, 1849–1871.Historical Studies in Education / Revue d’histoire de l’éducation 29,  57–76. 

Edmond, J. (2016). Indian residential schools — A chronology. Law Now, Vol 40 (4).

Haig-Brown, C. (2013). Resistance and renewal: Surviving the Indian Residential School. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press.

Manitoba Indian Brotherhood. (1971). Wahbung: Our tomorrows. Retrieved on October 24th, from: https://manitobachiefs.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/Wahbung-Our-Tomorrows-Searchable.pdf

Milloy, J.S. (2017) with a forward by Mary Jane Logan McCallum, A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School, 2nd edition. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press. 

Murray, K. (2017). The violence within: Canadian modern statehood and the pan-territorial residential school system ideal. Canadian Journal of Political Science, Vol 50, No. 3, pp 747-772.

Regan, P. (2010). Unsettling the settler within: Indian residential schools, truth telling, and reconciliation in Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Titley, E. B. (1986). A narrow vision: Duncan Campbell Scott and the administration of Indian affairs in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

 

Creating Schools: Part I

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Normal School, Winnipeg 1906. Archives of Manitoba via mhs.mb.ca

The notion of public schools in Canada is relatively novel. By the turn of the 19th century, there were only 40 schools serving 160 000 French Canadians and a handful of schools designed by the Anglican Church to serve the English population through the British colonies (Axelrod, 1997, pp. 5-7). And most of the schools were in no way or form created to serve large swaths of the population. In fact since the substantive arrival of Europeans to this continent in the early 17th century, school had been a means to offer moral instruction to a handful of privileged young boys. Schooling was soulcrafting for a select and lucky few

But prior to the calculated rollout of the Indian Residential school system, schools in Canada, particularly in Upper and Lower Canada following the Constitutional Act of 1791, merely sought to educate young men to become priests, be they Anglican or Catholic. At the beginning of the 19th century, survival, not schooling, was on the minds of settlers who were coming up from the United States or from Europe. Life in rural Upper or Lower Canada was harsh and farm work demanded the whole family unit. There was an intense vulnerability to this life — a simple accident with an axe could lead to a painful and drawn out death.

But by 1840, with the political merger of French and English through Lafontaine and Baldwin’s reform movement, there was a greater demand for some form of public schooling. The rebellions a few years earlier, led by Mackenzie and Papineau, also called into question the need for a more just and democratic society that needed educated citizens — or at least fewer rebellions (Axelrod, 1997, p. 25).

And as today, the purposes for schooling differed. Historian and educator Ken Osborne argues that by mid century, “Conservatives saw schools as a force for social stability, a way of accepting their place in the world,” and Liberals envisioned school “as a basic human right, a way of preparing people for peaceful change and progress.” (1999, p. 7).

Not much has changed in current discourse. We can often get trapped in the polarizing debate between the conception of education as a pipeline into industry or as citizenship education, or as a nation-building project. The continuity of this historical exchange informs us that everyone has a stake in education, that we care deeply about it, and that we want the best for kids.

But what did change by Confederation in 1867 and the responsibility of public schools being handed to the provinces, was that through “industrialism, nationalism, and democracy,” Canada began to develop a public education system that slowly began to include more and more people (Osborne, 1999, p. 7.) 

As more girls and boys were being schooled in basic literacy and religious instruction, Canada also began its genocidal practice of tearing indigenous children away from families — ushering in decades of oppression and marginalization that is still ever present in 2019. While the second article in this series will focus exclusively on the design and impact of the Indian Residential School system, it is problematic to separate it from a discussion on public schooling in this country. As indigenous leader Kevin Lamoureux argues, education was used as a weapon against the original nations of our country (2019).

But for settlers and newcomers to Canada, Confederation marked a specific time in our shared human experience where schooling and education moved from something only enjoyed by the aristocracy. Sections 92 and 93 of the British North American Act designated public education as purely provincial matter, enshrining ignoring language rights. Canadian public schooling was and is one of the only western countries that does not have a nationally regulated system — and yet somehow all provinces seem to teach very similar curricula.

Back in 1867, however, schooling was a haphazard experiment, even following the superintendency of Egerton Ryerson, who sought to develop a cohesive system of education through Canada West following the Act of Union in 1841. No two schools taught the same, teachers were ill prepared, deprofessionalized and poorly paid, and the students were subjected to religious teachings, rote memorization, and forms of direct instruction that would today seem oppressive. (Baldwin, 2008, p.77).

But what was clear was that schools, schooling, and education were no longer tightly controlled by the various churches. Ryerson and other advocates managed to snatch control and place it within the provinces and locally elected school boards. This ensured, according to political scientist Jennifer Wallner, that school systems were more responsive to the local community, that they were democratically run, and that far off administrations were not trying to manage schooling from afar (2014, p. 128).

And as the 19th century came to an end, more and more young people were included in schools. In 1867, for example, Canada had a public school enrolment of 682 000 learners; by 1915, this jumped to over 1.5 million. (Wisenthal, 2014).

As schools were becoming an option for more learners, so too did the debate over its purpose grow in intensity. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution and the coming of the First World War, the debate about the purposes of education began to take shape; arguments linking it to the pipeline into factories, arguments suggesting for citizenship making, and others around nation building, assimilation, and insidious systems of apartheid and genocide.

Schooling by the first decade of the 20th century was responding to the urbanization and industrialization of the country. For boys, the curriculum focused heavily on manual training and for girls it’s purpose was to imbue skills related to the home (Axelrod, 1997, p. 108). But, schools “were obliged to teach more students than ever…,” and “they were expected to enrich students’ minds, perfect their bodies, and attend to their health.”  (p. 126).

Over a century later, we can celebrate that more students than ever attend our schools, that we have incredibly diverse classrooms where all are or should be included, and where the schools assume a community and societal role greater than in 1914. Schools in Manitoba and Canada have become places where educators work with families to mitigate the effects of poverty and colonialism and where outcomes, within the curriculum and beyond, are met to ensure everyone has the basic means for a decent life.

References

Axelrod, P. (1997). The promise of schooling: Education in Canada, 1800-1914. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Baldwin, D. (2008). Teachers, students, and pedagogy: Selected readings and documents in the History of Canadian education. Markham, Ontario: Fitzhenry and Whiteside.

Lamoureux, K. (2019, October). The Circle of Courage. Talk presented at the Seven Oaks School Division Admistrator’s Conference, Hecla Island, Manitona

Manitoba Education and Training (2019). A comprehensive review of Manitoba’s Kindergarten to Grade 12 education system. Retrieved September 26th, 2019 from https://www.edu.gov.mb.ca/educationreview/docs/public-discussion-paper.pdf

Manitoba students a year behind other provinces, finds OECD | CBC News. (2016, December 6). Retrieved September 27, 2019, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/student-assessment-pisa-oecd-manitoba-1.3883344.

Osborne, K. (1999). Education: A guide to the Canadian school debate — Or, who wants what’s done why? Montreal: McGill Institute Books.

Wallner, J. (2014). Learning to school: Federalism and public schooling in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Wisenthal, M. (2015, July 2). Historical Statistics of Canada, Statistics Canada. Retrieved September 30, 2019, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-516-x/sectionw/4147445-eng.htm.

 

This thing we call “Sustained Inquiry”

55 million kilometres away, give or take (depending on the time of year), our closest neighbour Mars circles the sun — just like us. Two weeks ago, our species was able to land Insight on it — the seventh rover that is responsible for exploring the Red Planet. (They have not all been successful, because landing a robot on a planet 55 million kilometres away is presumably difficult.)

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First image of Mars taken by Insight.

I’ll admit it. I am completely addicted to this mission. I am constantly checking NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab website for updates on video, images, and now even sound. Here is the sound of wind on Mars, captured by Insight (You will need to use headphones or a sub woofer):

How amazing is this! We landed an object on Mars safely and now we are able to listen to the wind whipping over the solar panels of Insight from 55 million kilometres away! I don’t know about you, but this blows my mind and has me asking deep existential questions.

It was this inquiry — that is the inquiry demonstrated by the NASA team — that truly astounds me and has also directed our professional learning as a faculty. On Friday at the Maples Met School, we engaged with several ideas and scholars, including Yuval Harari, Suzie Boss, and Ken Robinson. We were determined to answer deep questions about our instruction, assessment, and our relationship with each other and our learners.

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Suzie Boss from the Buck Institute and Edutopia speaking to the Maples Met School faculty about sustained inquiry.

One of the key questions we asked and discussed was: How do we structure our advisories for inquiry? That is, how do we foster learning environments that have the necessary structures and scaffolds to produce consistent moments of deep inquiry?

And this line of inquiry on our part stemmed from an incredible whole-school conversation led by our learners on Wednesday, where they put forth that they wanted more structure and scaffolding in project work, they demanded greater accountability from each other, and they want to go deeper with their internship projects.

Harari’s latest book, in particular his chapter on Education, provides learners with some charged advice. The advice is essentially to not rely on adults to prepare you for the future and to turn consumption on its head.  That is to say to produce new ideas (to create) and not to simply consume them. While with the former advice I take issue with, given that mentors will always be critical to our learning, I believe sustained inquiry – coupled with purpose, and creativity –  (all ideas that are interdependent) is the pocket or learning when we prove learners with time and space to create and to sustain their creative investigative questioning. This pocket allows affords us the opportunity to create, rather than simply consume.

And ultimately, this pocket provides us with moments of disequilibrium, elation, and connection to other human beings. It is this last point, that of human relationship, which in my experience is a huge factor in sustaining inquiry. That mentor-mentee relationship is critical to diving deep, creating anew, and flourishing with purpose.

And this is what flourishing with purpose might look like (Grab your cardboard VR viewer:

School in a Time of Manufactured Ignorance

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Canadian Crew from Maples Met and Seven Oaks Met at Big Bang 2018

My Christmas comes in July. (As a European mutt, this pagan/Christian event resonates within my experience as a generally positive one.) As a principal of a Big Picture Learning school in Winnipeg, Canada, I relish the opportunity every summer to head to Big Bang, the BPL conference where educators who care deeply about learner-centred learning come together to exchange ideas, refine our practice, and engage in conversations which focus on creating powerful and educative learning experiences for learners.

At “The Bang”, we don’t speak of test scores, discipline, or timetables. Our shop talk is focused on learners, on advisories of learners, on deep internships which produce rich and authentic opportunities for growth and transformation, and on developing schools and learning environments which seek to foster curiosity, learner agency, and where flourishing young people is our priority. (And learners come to our conference, offer sessions, and even emcee our plenary sessions.)

There are also opportunities for mischief each year, which may or may not result in a group of 600 educators and learners being led by the South Atlanta High School Marching Band through the streets of downtown Atlanta. But this has yet to be confirmed.

 

If you are serious about impacting young people and providing them with authentic, real-world, and rigorous learning opportunities, you need to visit a BPL or Met School (There are two in Winnipeg) and/or head to Big Bang next year.

Beyond the deep sessions, the Leaving to Learn opportunities, advisory, and the impromptu conversations with outstanding leaders in the field of education, I look forward each year at Big Bang to the deep thinkers from across the world who tend to gravitate towards this conference.

This year I was really excited to see that Ted Dintersmith, the creator of the book and film Most Likely to Succeed, was being honoured by Big Picture Learning. Ted recently published another book, What School Could Be, based on a year of traveling throughout the United States and gathering narratives of what innovative educators are doing in order to prepare learners for a changing world. In this book, Ted argues that the world learners are entering post graduation has nothing in common with how the majority of schools are currently designed.

Most Likely to Succeed Trailer from One Potato Productions on Vimeo.

The industrial model of 1893, which is still alive and well in the 21st century, is not able to prepare learners for a future where climate change is and will impact us all, where technology and AI will make many jobs obsolete and where they will fundamentally change how we live and interact with each other.

Simply put, multiple choice tests, compliance-based curricula, and worksheets will not prepare learners for a world that Ted argues “where machine intelligence excels in manual and cognitive tasks: a world stripped of the routine white and blue collar jobs that are the backbone of today’s society. This is happening faster than we think.” (2018, p. 13).

Coupled with this problem is that our schools also need to prepare leaners for what Henry Giroux, famed educational philosopher and pedagogue, calls in his new book American Nightmare, “manufactured ignorance.” Giroux, who eloquently outlines how the United States has become a fascist state under Trump, speaks to a need to shift education towards deep, critical thought that is based in historical and critical analysis. What we have created in Canada and the United States is an environment where consumerism and self-interest are celebrated, tweeted, and emulated, while racism and intolerance are on the rise. This is all at the expense of the most vulnerable and the planet itself. Destruction has become normalized.

As Dintersmith and Giroux collided in my mind, it reinforced the fact that Big Picture Schools are well-situated to provide learning environments which not only foster the critical and historical thought necessary to combat fascism, but also to prepare learners for an uncertain future. Climate change will create greater instability, human suffering, and as we see, greater frequency of global conflict.  Technology will most certainly increase to the point where food, healthcare, transportation, manufacturing and countless other fields will rely on robot power and not human.

The antidote to this manufactured ignorance, a society focused on shortsighted decisions and instant gratification (akrasia), potentially rests in learner-centred schools where the standards of a past century are replaced with a new imperative. Dennis Littky the co-founder of Big Picture Learning, referred to this new imperative at Big Bang as a line of questioning that had young people ask themselves: “What pisses me off?”

Don’t we want learners of all ages to be asking questions about poverty, inequality, climate change, the inequitable distribution of wealth, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, etc.? Big Picture Schools are uniquely designed to allow this space for learners to identify a problem, research its origins and then propose, prototype, and launch meaningful solutions.

We are also in a position to help our learners dive deep into critical issues of justice — be it social, environmental, economic, or otherwise — so that they are able to deconstruct the onset of fascism through an historical and critical lens. Don’t we want learners who are media literate, who care about the planet, who question government policy, and who are actively engaged in creating democratic discourse and spaces? And this is not a Left versus Right discussion. I have many conservative friends who perpetually argue for these elements to be be cultivated in schools.

In order for this to happen, learners need time and space to think, they need the opportunities to engage with experts in the field, they need internship opportunities where they can be mentored by adults with integrity. Their curiosity and passion need to be cultivated and unleashed. Their understanding of the universe needs to be challenged and broadened to create solutions for a better and more just world.

They need to learn skills and mindsets, as Ted argues, that will provide fulfillment in an automated world.

This is not to suggest that my school or any other BPL school has mastered this. Far be it. But at the Big Bang, these are the conversations which I am drawn to. The ones started by Dintersmith and Giroux which are carried out in quiet discussions between passionate educators who wish a better future for the young people who are in our care and who we care for deeply.