Last week, three students in my Global Issues class organized a refugee simulation experience for our school as part of their Take Action Project. Muuxi Adam, a Somalian refugee and founding member of HumanKind International, had inspired them at a visit he made in January.
Muuxi Adam from HumanKind International sharing his personal experience with Grade 12 students.
The students began to make plans to host a refugee simulation to help bring attention to the dire needs of asylum seekers and specifically to the plight of refugees in the largest refugee camp in the world, Dadaab. (See the map below.)
Prior to the experience, however, our class began to research the global refugee crisis from historical and contemporary perspectives and many students chose the crisis as their topic for their major papers and Take Action Projects. In order to prepare and front load for this experience, we also participated in the Glassen Essay Contest which asked: What, if anything, should Canada do about the global refugee crisis?
In doing so, we had created a neural network that would help us properly engage in the primary experience — the simulation.
On April 29th, Muuxi , Grade 12 students, and several volunteers came to campus and designed a refugee experience that would take our learners on a journey that involved fleeing their homeland, a 6 KM march, an ambush by rebels, mind fields, and border crossings. You can see via the images and vines below to get a sense of what the experience was like.
Students grabbing what they can to flee their homelands
Students walking to the next safe place
Rebels rob the refugees
The border is up a head.
Confusion at the border
Refugees try to fill out paper work in other languages. Families are split apart.
Reflecting on the experience.
Muuxi and student organizers debrief with Grade 12 and 9 students.
The students were then provided time to think and write about their experience and communicate how their research informed the experience. Here is one of the student organizers speaking on CBC about his experience:
The experience was tremendously educative for all of us and it began with the curiosity of a few members of our learning community, priming the pump in terms of creating a pre-existing neural network, designing an exceptional primary experience, and then having the time and space to reflect on our learning. This experience now feeds into greater and deeper educative experiences.
Kolb’s Cycle of Experience
I would encourage all educators to invite Muuxi and Humankind international to organize a similar experience. It is critical for understanding the plight of our fellow species mates and developing empathy for all forms of life.
Canada is a perplexing concept; our country can often be conceptualized in shimmering positivity, and then, upon closer inspection can be dragged through the dusty and bloody streets of reality. This has often been the case when we teach history or have been taught history — we try to dichotomize issues, cultures, and versions of history as an experiment in critical thought or controversy. MacLennan’s Two Solitudes is an obvious example of cultural paradoxes within the “narrative” of Canada, as is the the story of the Winnipeg General Strike.
In Manitoba we experience this in the divide between indigenous and non-indigenous communities. Many Winnipeggers are placing their hope in our new mayor to help bridge these colonial divides and painful scars — a most difficult task to say the least. A recent CBC poll suggest that the divide between indigenous and nonindigenous on prairies and in Red River is considerably and alarminging wide: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/people-on-the-prairies-less-tolerant-cbc-poll-says-1.2831876
In recent weeks, I have also been struck by an increasingly larger divide in Canada that is often left unarticulated – that is our image as a massive expanse of natural beauty contrasted with our 400 year history of resource exploitation. This really hit home when I attended the Hudson Bay Company Archives’ screening of Kevin Nikkel’s film Romance of the Far Fur Country . Nikkel has managed to splice together two hours of original HBC footage from 1919 and curate this silent footage in such a haunting way that the viewer really is able to situate themselves in the fur trade at the beginning of the 20th century.
As beautiful as the film is, however, there is a striking recognition that as the HBC enters into indigenous communities and encounters the immense landscape, that there is only one agenda: resource exploitation, both natural and human.
What follows in the film is a shocking barrage of the treatment of the first peoples of Canada and the land itself. Created by the HBC in 1919 as a celebratory film and ultimately an advertisement for its first department stores, the Company was simply not aware of its savage devastation of all systems on earth – at least this is what I hope.
As the film ended and everyone left the Archives of Manitoba, my friend (who I dragged out) and I silently sat in our seats trying to process what we had just witnessed.
A few days later, I came across this photo essay in the Globe and Mail encapsulating life in Fort McMurray. I was astounded at the level of consumerism, greed, and resource exploitation that is completely unabashed.
You will notice one photo of a gentleman in a cowboy hat drinking a Coors’ Light. At first glance I thought nothing of it, and then my uber critical thinker of a wife alerted me to the paradox: A cowboy hat is a symbol of freedom. It conjures up imagery of connection to the land, notions of freedom and autonomy, and a recognition of the interconnectedness of the natural systems that sustain the land. . The fellow in the coffee shop, however, who works for Suncor, is part of a system of resource exploitation that destroys these vast and wild lands. He’s a slave to consumption and a dogged drive for wealth accumulation above all else. This is not the wild west. This is as well-engineered money generating machine with little room for cowboy antics.
But this does fit with our history. It sounds like the HBC in 1919.
And so, as Canada delves further into oil sands development, pipeline construction, and dependence on fossil fuels, so too continues the dichotomy of Canada. On one hand we have a country jam packed with scientifically-literate, empathetic citizens who cherish our land, water, and air. On the other, we are complicent in an economic and political system that is bent on exploiting natural and human resources. These are the new two new solitudes of our time.
As Slavoj Zizek suggests, the ecological catastrophes of the present and future will not be solved by free markets and corporations. No, Canada’s sick duality can only be synthesized into a sustainable vision through social and political action. This begins in the homes in Fort McMurray, at the kitchen tables of local constituency associations, and ultimately at the polls in 2015.
Canada’s reputation in the global community has soured as of late; we no longer lead in peacekeeping (we are ranked 65th), we rank first in deforestation, and our record on treating our indigenous peoples speaks for itself. I would reckon that we have an opportunity to build a better Canada — one that is sustainable, innovative, compassionate, and inclusive. Our first step, however, is to take an honest look at what we we have become. Let’s take off our cowboy hats for now. We have to earn the right to wear symbols of freedom. First we need to take the collective action necessary to shed the dichotomies of the past and create one singular and positive vision based on respect for the land and each other.
This project was created to support specific cross-curricular objectives between the Grade 11 English Language Arts and Canadian History courses. The learning activity had learners read Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road in ELA while looking at the colonial, imperial, and indigenous history that weaves throughout the story in their Canadian History class. Learners were immersed in an environment whereby they analyzed themes in Canadian literature while critically investigating Canada’s relationship, both historical and contemporary, with its First Nations people. The end product was a collection of alternate chapters of Three Day Road written from the perspective of other characters in the book. This collection is scheduled to be published nation-wide at the end of May as a means for the learners to share their knowledge with an authentic audience.
The objectives of the learning experience focussed on the understanding of specific structures of narrative through the reading and writing of fiction while commenting on their own experience in a colonial or post-colonial society. The experience sought to develop empathy in the learners while allowing them to experiment with writing and open their consciousness to a variety of stories within Canadian history.
From Library & Archives Canada
The learning community began by taking the time to read Three Day Road in both course periods so as to provide meaningful time to digest that methodology and content of the book. During the reading of the book, there was a great deal of time discussing imagery, character development, symbolism, and conflict within the novel. Also, time was spent deliberately spent making personal connections to the characters, broader historical movements, and Canada’s colonial past/present. For example, we asked students “How did Xavier and Elijah, two cree boys from the Hudson Bay, end up in the middle of a European War?” These types of questions forced our community to think at the highest levels, research primary documents (like the Indian Act), understand the cause consequence of global events, and empathize with the characters.
In the Canadian History course, students were asked to write a formal history on how colonialism, in the form of treaties, legislation, and attitudes, of the 19th century enabled the characters’ participation in the war. Learners needed to access primary documents, create an argument, and use evidence to support this argument. We heard from experts on the Indian Act, the Royal Proclamation, and the Numbered Treaties in order to understand the dynamic created at the end of the 19th century.
In the English course, learners were asked to reinvent specific chapters from the perspective of lesser characters. Learners chose German snipers, prostitutes, trappers, trench-mates, officers, and other characters to explore their understanding of the literary structures and also their understanding of the First World War.
Learners were assessed on both writing pieces and were able to rewrite and rewrite their work for publication. Following the revisions of the chapters of the book, the principal of the school was asked to make the final edits.
Recently in my Global Issues class, our learning community looked at E.F. Schumacher’s notion of Small is Beautiful. We read his infamous essay and watched the film below created by the National Film Board of Canada on his idea. What he suggests is a rethinking of the prevailing trend that unfettered economic growth is essential to the development of the species. We have had great discussions related to ungrowth, systems thinking, and the idea that we are all connected to every system and species on this planet.
Democracy Now! recently interviewed Elizabeth Kolbert, the author of a new book entitled the Sixth Extinction – a book identifying how humans are causing the largest mass extinction since the fall of the dinosaurs. Our investigations over the last few days got me thinking about my role as an educator and how I am to foster learning communities, not just learning environments, where learners can find opportunities for transformation that can address the issues raised by Kolbert and Schumacher. I find this even more challenging given that I am teaching the Global Issues course as an online course.
I have started to read at great length about how to create learning communities that are transformative from a virtual platform from the likes of Richard Schweir and Jay Roberts. Both of these scholars have really impacted my understanding of how we can foster ecologically literate communities. Thomas Steele-Maley and I, over the past year or so, have had critical conversations about how to develop these virtual communities, for which I am eternally grateful.
What I am beginning to understand, much like Schumacher did, is that vibrant and vigorous learning communities, whether online or face-to-face, need to be small, based on connectedness, and the transformation of knowledge. I love the way Jay Roberts puts it:
So, bring on MOOCS, bring on distance learning, flipped classrooms, and blended education. Use this new Gutenberg moment to supplement and highlight what transformative teachers have always done best– curating high impact learning experiences for the students in their care.
As opposed to MOOCS and giant groups of learners, I feel from my perspective that my online learning communities need to be intimate and small. We need to know each others history and create a collective identity while respecting each other as individuals. I am just on the beginning of my quest, but would love to hear what other educators and student have to say.
What a great SAGE! I was so lucky to be a part of both the Manitoba Social Sciences Teachers Association (MSSTA) and the Manitoba School Librarian Association (MSLA) conferences. It was also nice see my good friend James Allum (pic) who is the new Minister of Education. Congrats! Great to have a historian as our minister!!
Some of the participants in the sessions I ran today asked if I could share some of the resources on Ecological Literacy and HBC/Idle No More. You asked, so I deliver: