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The goal of the following paper is to examine course selected authors and essays of Ed Ind 450 that have shaped my perceptions of course goals and to ultimately answer the question: What evidence is there that I have engaged the concepts and ideas contained in the set of readings read and discussed in Ed Indian 450?
Within Ed Ind 450 we have discussed, shared ideas and tried to define Indigenous Knowledge. A new idea emerged from discussions about the appropriateness of even trying to define Indigenous Knowledge within an Eurocentric educational framework.
M. Battiste and J. Y. Henderson, in Decolonizing Cognitive Imperialism in Education, argue that even trying to define Indigenous Knowledge is itself the wrong approach to understanding Indigenous Knowledge. According to Battiste and Henderson, defining Indigenous knowledge is itself a Eurocentric endeavor. Eurocentric structures and methods of logical entailment and causality cannot unravel Indigenous Knowledge or its processes of knowing. (Battiste and Henderson, 2000, p. 40) Western Eurocentric definitions are rooted in a ‘division’ in order to get to the essence of an idea.
This is contrary to the holistic/inclusionary model of Indigenous Knowledge which is based on reciprocal relationships and balance where “everything affects everything else”. (Battiste and Henderson, 2000, p. 43) Battiste and Henderson want the reader to know that knowledge is not separate from, but intrinsic to experience. Ultimately Battiste and Henderson believe that IK is outside of a definition, but instead involves a journey or process of discovery through the respectful living of relationships. “Perhaps the closest one can get to describing unity in IK is that knowledge is the expression of the vibrant relationships between the people, their ecosystems, and the other living beings and spirits that share their lands.
(Battiste and Henderson, 2000, p. 42) “The best practice is to allow Indigenous people to define themselves.” (Battiste and Henderson, 2000, p. 41)
Not withstanding this paradox of even defining Indigenous knowledge, some crucial issues and barriers that emerge that are relevant to teaching Aboriginal studies and knowledge in the contemporary classroom.
In Chapter One of Klug and Whitfield’s book Culturally Responsive Pedagogies, the authors believe that Indigenous students are expected to assimilate to a non-Indigenous world view and culture. (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p. 8) To remedy this assimilative practice the authors promote a ‘biculturallity’ of students and teachers. Information needs to be provided to teachers of non-Indigenous ancestry to assist them in creating successful classroom environments for Indigenous students. (1 would argue some Aboriginal teachers would also benefit from some cultural assistance.)
“When we recognize that we are not the product of one large monocultural heritage, our fear of the idea of becoming bicultural is reduced”, (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p. 15) along with our fear of letting “…alternative knowledge and other ways of knowing enter the schoolhouse.” (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p. 112)
The natural question that many non-enlightened individuals pose following discussions of cultural sensitivities is why? Ultimately, the cognitive imperialism the present Eurocentric education system promotes has not served aboriginal students very well. Only 37% of Aboriginal students complete high school. Of these only 9% enter the University system and only 3% graduate. (Report of Indian and Northern Affairs, 2000) As educators we must recognize and address this problem. Klug and Whitfield believe that the failure of education is based on a misunderstanding of others based on a non-understanding of ones self. By understanding who we are, “allows us to acknowledge the legitimacy of other cultural systems” (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p. 96) Eurocentric and postcolonial pedagogies have shifted the emphasis from spiritual views of the world (in which Indigenous knowledge is rooted) to secular and more scientific views of the world making “older ways of examining the universe holistically [seem] unscientific and therefore unreliable.” (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p.102) We are now living in a post modern world and have all recovered from the linear and tunnel vision view of colonial supremacy. We are now beginning to recognize diversity in all aspects of life and are now sympathetically considering different worldviews.
“For too long, the mythology of school failure as a given for under represented populations has been accepted unchallenged. We have to face our complicity in making failure real for children. Schools are social institutions reflecting the cultural norms of the dominant society. (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p.96) “Teachers who are experiencing difficulties, may blame Native students by thinking the students are too lazy or unwilling to learn” (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p. 18) It is far too easy to argue that the underrepresented populations in our schools are ‘lazy’ and because of this, they fail. “Children do no fail in school; schools fail children” (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p. 96).
The statement reiterates the importance of teacher self-reflection or system evaluation. Quite often, the blame is place on the individual rather than asking what can be done better to meet the needs of this student? To further correct the deficiencies of the current education system, educators must change and evolve to serve the students who the current system is marginalizing. “To be effective we must be students of psychology, sociology, and anthropology as we work with diverse groups of children in our classrooms.” (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p. 95-6) So if we are to become effective teachers we must evolve to make a classroom that is culturally inclusive, thereby assisting students to greater success in the classroom. Klug and Whitfield suggest that one way to achieve this goal is to acknowledge the commonalities that exist in terms of respect for spiritual beliefs, need for connectedness, and the importance of language preservation. (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p. 109) It is from the basis of respect that students will grow and develop. We are obligated as teachers to develop habits of respect in the classroom that recognize the great strengths that First Nations students bring with them. (Klug and Whitfield, 2003, p. 110) “To oneself, one is responsible for recognizing and developing one’s talents and gifts and for cultivating and mastering these gifts in order to build a secure foundation to attain self-realization. As one understands oneself – spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally, one become centered and focuses, and thus becomes a vital force in enabling others to do the same.” (Battiste and Henderson, 2000, p. 56)
As stated, this obligation of respect must include spirituality. By ‘spiritual’ I do not mean the creedal formulations of any faith tradition, as much as I respect those traditions and as helpful as their insights can be. I mean the ancient and abiding quest for connectedness with something larger and more trustworthy than our egos, within our own souls, with one another, with the worlds of history and nature, with the invisible winds of the spirit, with the mystery of being alive. Saskatchewan Learning is currently undertaking a renewal project of the curriculum’s Personal and Social Values found within the Common Essential Learnings. This renewal is to include and define a spiritual dimension to the curriculum. While it may take many different forms, spirituality can be identified by some common elements. Spirituality is an attitude or way of life that recognizes the spirit.
This recognition is one basis for the development of religions but in itself does not require an institutional connection or religious affiliation. Spirituality is broader and more general than any particular religious or wisdom tradition. These include “a respect for what transcends us, whether we mean the mystery of being or a moral order that stands above us; certain imperatives that come to us from heaven, or from nature, or from our own hearts; a belief that our deeds will live after us; respect for our neighbors, for our families, for certain natural authorities, respect for human dignity and for nature.” (Havel, 1996, p. 9-11) Author Willie Ermine echoes this need for spiritual inclusion and transformation. “The three specific orientations of the transformation are: skills that promote personal and social transformation; a vision of social change that leads to harmony with rather than control of the environment; and the attribution of a spiritual dimension to the environment.”(Miller, Cassie, and Drake in Ermine 1995, p. 102)
It is difficult to compare dominant Eurocentric education models to the three specific orientations that Ermine describes. Dominant society continues to promote individuality, meritocracy and dominion of spiritual issues. “It is our responsibility to preserve the flame for humanity and at the moment it is too weak to he shared but if we are still and respect the flame it will grow and thrive in the caring hands of those who hold it. In time we can all warm at the fire. But now we have to nurture the flame or we will all lose the gift” (Cecil King in Ermine 1995: 111).
Spirituality also involves a search for meaning, the desire to find and know the truth about things and oneself. The meaning of a thing (or a person’s life) is that for the sake of which it exists and without which the thing (or person) lacks context, place, connectedness, embeddedness. So we might say that spirituality concerns that which connects us to some larger whole within which we have a unique ‘place’ that ‘makes a difference’. Aboriginal Knowledge gives us this gift of meaning, and without which the pattern as whole would be incomplete. Aboriginal spirituality contains the beliefs that all of nature is sacred and that we are related or connected in deep ways to the rest of the natural world -other persons, animals, plants, places. “Native spirituality in that sense is a feeling of kinship with all living things in the universe, and living a life of cosmic citizenship. Having, a sense of obligation; responsibility, and being accountable for one’s actions in this cosmic family, is what I believe to be the essence of Native spirituality….. The Native view, however, holds that there is not hierarchy. Each individual is placed in the centre of a circular world. Each direction must be honored, as it represents a life-giving force to all living things.” (Wilson, 1998)
This connectedness with spirituality can be connected back earlier to Battiste and Henderson article and was best summed up by fellow student Gabrielle Tate-Penna, “…one can not read something from the Aboriginal community without making reference to the spiritual life.” (Tate-Penna, 2004, p.2)
The information presented and offered practical solutions in Ed Ind 450 has been internalized to make me a better and more inclusive teacher. The authors studied in this class offer varying degrees of information and pose a great number of questions about the evolution needed of our educational institutions. I understand that Aboriginal culture has been overlooked in Eurocentric classrooms and as a new teacher I must take action to change that. It is the teacher’s responsibility to determine how much and what information should be introduced to curriculum to create a cultural inclusive classroom. Only then will the culture of failure be kept out of our schools and classrooms and be replaced by a culture of inclusion, acceptance and recognition of all people and the knowledge they possess.
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