Treaty Education

I am actually super ready to answer this question today because I like to tell stories. And, as luck would have it, I do happen to have a story for this very occasion (ooh, how exciting).

Last weekend, because I am the best cousin ever and everyone is jealous of me, I went to my cousin’s football game. Because she’s finally made it to Grade Nine and all her years in junior kid’s football have been preparing her for this day. So I went, cheered, got a little aggressive in my cheering, as I don’t really understand much football and I get too involved (I don’t think you’re supposed to say, “and stay down”, but I’m sure it’s fine) but the team ended up winning, so I guess all my cheering paid off.

After the great win, my Aunt and Uncle decided that they would buy me some Burger King, as I am a starving University student and as a thank you for coming to all the Regina games to cheer my cousin on. When we were at Burger King, we got on the subject of education, and I was talking about how much I am appreciating learning about Treaty Ed, because it’s something I never really got a chance to learn in school. And I was going on and on about the floor in Riddell, because I was so fascinated by the fact that the random pattern (that always annoyed me because it was not symmetrical and had no discernible pattern) was actually of Saskatchewan. And I mentioned how we talked in class about how the floor doesn’t include any treaty lines, or First Nation anything, really, and why that is bad. And my Uncle, well, it is important to note that he went to school during the time of farmers and life on the farm being more important than education. And my Uncle is a very intelligent person; he just never had much chance to learn many “school” related things. He was just so completely interested in Treaty Ed. And he wanted me to tell him everything I knew, and like “what do you mean about the Treaties? Why would the map look different if it were the Treaty map?” Everything that I told him was like, excuse my flowery metaphor, this little gem of wonder and he wanted to collect them all and keep them always because this was stuff he had never known and had never learned but he really was interested and really did want to learn. So me and my Aunt, who is a teacher, told him all we knew about Treaty Ed (which I still have a lot to learn) and he was fascinated the entire time.

So what does that long, ramble-y story mean? Well, my Uncle never grew up in a place with a population of First Nations individuals, and, in fact, in our town, there still aren’t that many First Nations people, certainly not more than there are white people, and so he is an example of why we still need to teach Treaty Ed when there are few to no First Nations students. First because it was interesting to him, it’s not like it’s a boring or mundane subject, it’s something new, and something that a lot of people have never even talked about, so everything that you say is something being heard for the first time. And second, because it helped him understand. For him, it was so humbling to see how Eurocentric our lives are and how much oppression occurred and is still occurring in Canada. It gave him reasons, which he had never had before.

And I think that reasons are one of the most important things to go away with. Because then you stop being that awful cynic who doesn’t know why Reserves usually have such poor upkeep and water quality and the like. You see why Harper had to apologize for Residential Schools. Because to understand and get to where we are now, we have to see where we come from and where we come from is a history of doing awful things to another group of people to get father ahead and to push them farther behind.

Because “we are all Treaty People” literally means that. We are all Treaty People, we all live on the land that we share. We coexist with a group of people who have been here for way longer than the Europeans have, who have a relationship with the land, and a culture rooted in the land that must be honoured and celebrated. Whenever I move back to Regina for school, I so far have lived in a different place every time. And every time we move. I introduce myself to the neighbours, give them some cookies that I bought at Costco (I don’t make cookies, that would be ridiculous) and I get to know who I am living next to. Because I want a good relationship with them. I want to know that I live next to Bob and Joyce who have four cats and Linda and her daughter, Mary. Because I don’t just live in a bubble. And I think that that is just a perfect, excellent and wonderful metaphor for why we are all Treaty People and why we need Treaty Ed. Because we need to know who are neighbours are, and we need to treat them with kindness and respect, and we need to acknowledge that is it us coming into their territory, they were here first, so let’s make a better impression.

That got a little soapboxy. I apologize. To atone, here is a picture of a hippo that my Dad sent me last night.

Pygmy hippopotamus Olivia born at the Parken Zoo in Sweden.

Pygmy hippopotamus Olivia born at the Parken Zoo in Sweden.

It is just the cutest. I want four of them. But then I would probably get killed by them. So instead I will observe from afar.

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Common Sense and then I Ramble for Too Long

I was a good students according to commonsense. Excluding one schoolyard fight in which I “threw Alex into a tree” because we had just found out the Dumbledore was gay and they were making fun of my love for Harry Potter by assuming that I should be ashamed of this fact, I was never really in trouble. I sat quietly, did my work, turned in papers and tests that were mostly high 90s and were all on time. And that’s what commonsense says that  being a good student and really, a good person is.

A good students is a student who causes no grief or issues. They listen to the teacher during lectures. Participate in class discussions with the correct answer and not some smart remark. Do not talk when the teacher is talking. Do their homework in a timely manner and to the best of their abilities. Basically, perfect little images of complacency and silence.

Generally, the students who are privileged by this definition of commonsense are the students who thrive in a quiet and structured work environment. Students who do not struggle with what is being taught and who don’t get frustrated when something is not clear to them. Students who are generally passive and do not challenge teachers on what is being taught.

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Teachers who like students who are easy. And don’t get me wrong, having a student who does their work on time, who participates in class and who is generally easy going is like a dream to me as well. But I honestly enjoy myself and my teaching more when I have “troublemakers” in my class.

Due to the narrow margin of students who can fit into this commonsense definition of a good student, it becomes much harder for those who struggle to fit into the complacency that is demanded to gain respect from their teachers and they will be labelled as a problem.

Like in Kumashiro’s experience with M, a student who is treated like they have problems will begin to believe that it is an inherent failing of themselves. They will believe that they are bad students, and therefore, bad people, and not worth being taught.

Being labelled can cause many negative affects. It can make a student depressed or sad, accepting of their role as a failure. But they can also get angry, and then you not only have a student who is “disruptive” you have a student who is unapologetic and determined to be the worst they can possibly be because go big or go home, right?

This idea of commonsense shuts out the idea of equality in a classroom by stating that some students are simply better than others because they fit the criteria that makes them better and so they deserve special treatment. Which is sad, honestly, because some students don’t learn by sitting in a desk, they need to be hands on. There was a student in Grade Nine when I was in Grade Twelve that my math teacher spoke about once. She said that she was honestly sad that she couldn’t make the classroom work better for him because he needed to be out fixing a car or doing math with visuals instead of sitting in a classroom, but that’s just not how education works. And that upsets me, because it is hard when you have 20+ students in a room and 20% need hands on learning and 15% respond better to being asked questions and 50% don’t want to share in class and the other 15% doesn’t even want to be here because they need to get  a job to support their family and I am off on a tangent and that is just upsetting and oh my goodness.

So yeah. The challenge is going to be how do we include all learners and all students in education when you are teaching one diverse group the same lesson. But a big step in making that inclusiveness easier is to not treat some students as devils and others as angels. Because students aren’t stupid – they see favoritism and they see when a teacher just doesn’t care about them anymore. And in some cases, that really is the most damming thing to their education. Because then they don’t try because you believe that they won’t try. And your lesson just got a whole lot more difficult to teach to everyone.