Students as Masters

Teachers are often portrayed as masters of their subject, knowing nearly everything there is to know. They are up to date on all recent discoveries of that area, as well as the history. No one could teach it better than they can, except perhaps another master.

But what if they are not truly the “masters” of their subject? What if being a master of a subject is more than simply being able to list off a string of facts, explaining as you go along, as you were taught the subject? What if being a master of a subject is going through the highs and lows, learning to see for yourself what truly matters? What if it means teaching yourself a subject, learning it from the ground up, making mistakes, remedying those mistakes, and learning both from what you understand right away and what you don’t?

As a society, we tend to see things as black and white. They are educated in History; therefore, they are masters of History. You don’t know anything about History; therefore, you are a student, not a master. Perhaps this is true. But say you do know a lot about History, you just did not receive a formal education in it, nor did you get a degree. Are you considered a master? No. Do you know any more or less than someone with a degree? Maybe, maybe not. We compartmentalize learning as something that must be done in a classroom with a teacher; structure must exist in order for learning to occur. But what if this is not the case?

In “The Ignorant Schoolmaster” by Jacques Rancière, they discuss how children learn their mother tongue long before a master is able to teach them. They pick it up by listening, watching, trying, failing, and succeeding. No one explicitly tells them to, or gives them a step by step program that tells them how much they should be able to say and understand by a certain time or age. They simply learn as they go along, and the words that they learn in this timeframe will be better understood by them than anything a master could teach them.

Even so, we still picture education as a teacher standing in front of their class, lecturing on what the students read, suggesting they could not have possibly understood it on their own.

“All people are equally intelligent. This is Jacotot’s startling (or naïve?) presupposition, his lesson in intellectual emancipation. And from this starting point (the result of an accidental discovery occasioned by the peculiar circumstances of exile), Jacotot came to realize that knowledge is not necessary to teaching, nor explication necessary to learning. ‘Explication,’ he writes, ‘is the myth of pedagogy.’ Rather than eliminating in­ capacity, explication, in fact, creates it. It does this in part by establishing the temporal structure of delay (‘a little further along,’ ‘a little later,’ ‘a few more explanations and you’ll see the light’) that, writ large, would become the whole nineteenth-century myth of Progress … The pedagogical myth divides the world into two: the knowing and the ignorant, the mature and the unformed, the capable and the incapable.” (Translator’s Introduction, xix-xx)

Jacotot discovered that students were able to teach themselves French by reading a text both in their own language, and in French. These students were then able to pick up on complexities in French grammar without being taught, and were able to write their thoughts on what the text was saying – in French. This suggests that having a teacher explain what they are reading or learning is arbitrary, and actually causes more harm than good. By saying that they won’t be able to understand a topic without it being explained to them causes students to not try, or feel they cannot do it even if they do try. Then, if the explanation given does not make sense to the student, they are unable to teach themselves, because they were told they couldn’t.

If we adopt the pedagogy of universal teaching (assuming everyone has equal intelligence), education becomes more inclusive and allows all children to learn in a way that works for them. Additionally, Rancière states: “The very act of storytelling, an act that presumes in its interlocutor an equality of intelligence rather than an inequality of knowledge, posits equality, just as the act of explication posits inequality” (xxii). If we look back to the two worldviews that we previously discussed, the Aboriginal worldview emphasized learning through stories as well, suggesting they approached education with a universal teaching method. Assuming everyone has equal intelligence puts everyone on equal ground, not raising one individual above the rest, reflecting Indigenous societies. Everyone was equal, and chiefs were there to serve the group, not to rule. The fact that they also treated children as equals, not as inferior, would greatly affect how the children learned.

If we were to adopt this teaching method into our schools, students would be able to learn about what matters to them, and in a way that makes sense to them. This ideology is reflected in the Genius Hour Projects the class I am placed in. Students choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. There is little direction from the teacher, other than a few pointers on how to find reliable resources. The students research and learn everything on their own, without the teacher explaining their topic to them in class. Instead, they are able to teach the class about their topic at the end of the project. This not only allows for a wide range of interests; it also increases overall learning in the classroom. They are not only learning about their chosen topics: they are learning how to find information, read it, then process and analyze it, in addition to learning how to teach themselves something new.

If we adopted this teaching method and worldview throughout our school systems, students would learn to be more independent, a skill that is useful throughout life. In addition, individual’s needs would be taken care of, and students would have a desire to learn. Rather than being forced to sit in a classroom for several hours a day, they could learn to teach themselves what they need to know, and be able to specialize in the field they want to enter when they are older. By adopting a universal teaching method, we would be increasing the educational standards, and thus increasing the overall abundance of knowledge within our society.

School and Community

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The school and the community surrounding it are both very new. It is in a residential area that has a lot of young families. Because of this, the school also has a part of the school dedicated to the community. There is a daycare in this part, which allows parents and children to become familiar with the school and staff prior to attending as a full-time student. This helps to build a relationship between the school and community by encouraging relationships early on, regardless of the stage of life those living in the neighbourhood are at. If they recently had a child and have to go back to work, they can send their child to daycare that is close to home and in a safe community. If they are older and no longer have children, they can volunteer or get a job, helping them to connect with the rest of the community.

Additionally, teachers can keep parents updated on what their class is doing through Seesaw. With this, teachers are able to post pictures of the class and projects, while communicating with each child’s parent(s) individually as well. This helps form a stronger school community by allowing parents to feel more involved in their child’s schooling, something that is very important to all parents. It also helps build a relationship between teachers and parents, which is necessary to ensure each child’s needs are attended to.

Rescuing the Hearts of Teachers

A major theme among the readings this week was opening your heart to your students. Rather than simply teaching them the facts they need to know to pass the test, you need to add a piece of yourself into every lesson. By doing this, students are able to see the value of the course’s content and apply it to the real world, allowing them to take their learning beyond the classroom. Parker Palmer’s “The Heart of a Teacher” accurately captures this idea:

“We need to open a new frontier in our exploration of good teaching: the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. To chart that landscape fully, three important paths must be taken—intellectual, emotional, and spiritual—and none can be ignored. Reduce teaching to intellect and it becomes a cold abstraction; reduce it to emotions and it becomes narcissistic; reduce it to the spiritual and it loses its anchor to the world. Intellect, emotion, and spirit depend on each other for wholeness. They are interwoven in the human self and in education at its best, and we need to interweave them in our pedagogical discourse as well” (2).

In order to reach an educational standard that is “whole,” we need to move beyond subjects and facts, to broaden our educational view that only focuses on the intellectual side of things. We need to add emotion, and we need to stop being afraid of adding a spiritual side to lesson. Often, when one begins to mention spirituality or how their own personal beliefs affect how they perceive knowledge, they are shut down either from internal fears or external forces. I have often felt this pressure when talking about my own beliefs, especially since coming to university. Christians have often been on the bad side of Canadian history, usually because those claiming to be “Christian” are using God as an excuse to achieve their own ends. However, despite their actions not reflecting the larger, true faith of Christians, they have given all Christians a bad reputation, a common occurrence in every religion. This, in turn, makes discussing topics around faith hard, as everyone has a different stance on it.

When it comes to teaching subjects such as history and ethics, completely removing the religious side of such topics often eliminates large portions of our history or moral codes that we still carry today. This is why many still discuss the role of Christians in colonizing Canada, yet they do so from an outside point of view. This still only gives one side of history, which then colors other’s perspective towards related issues today. It allows people to simplify an issue by saying “these people were/are good and those people were/are bad,” rather than acknowledging the complexity of the situation.

Not all Christians are good, and not all are bad, just like how not all doctors are good or bad. If we share both sides of history, it allows children to better understand the situation, while also allowing them to form their own understandings based on a broader worldview. Were the “Christians” who ran residential schools in the wrong? Absolutely! They hurt thousands of innocent children. Additionally, they directly violated everything Christianity stands for, and in doing so made a mockery of God. However, they do not represent all Christians, just like how one person cannot speak for their entire race, culture, or country.

Because my faith is a large part of who I am, I know that it will seep into everything I do as a teacher, and may cause some of my opinions to seem biased. But I cannot teach without acknowledging that side of myself, because it is through my faith that I find my identity and make sense of the world around me. This will color how I present information, and as such, it will cause my students to see the world the way I do. In order to allow them to form their own opinions, I can have people of other beliefs and backgrounds come in to present on the same topic.

For example, when I teach about residential schools, I can have Aboriginal leaders come in to share their experiences, in addition to teaching my own lesson. This will allow the students to see the schools from multiple perspectives and formulate their thoughts based on a wider range of knowledge than I can provide on my own. However, getting people to see that such different worldviews are both the truth is extremely hard, and it puts teachers in a tough situation. While they are expected to educate their students to the best of their ability, and provide as many perspectives as possible, they are also responsible to ensure certain outcomes are met each year. This generally does not allow the necessary time to fully engage with the material and explore the varying levels of it.

In “‘Currere’ to the rescue?” by Yatta Kanu and Mark Glor, they assert that teachers must become “amateur intellectuals.”  They describe how:

“Teachers, as…intellectuals in a complex and fast‐ changing knowledge society, must learn to teach in ways they were not taught, commit to continuous learning and reflection, and work and learn both alone and in professional teams where they can raise moral questions about practice and access knowledge from the collective intelligence of the team” (103).

This means that I need to learn to look beyond my own worldview and how I was taught, to what the students of today need. Each generation is becoming increasingly different from my own, and as such I need to reflect those differences in my teaching. We are no longer a society where “one size fits all” when it comes to learning, beliefs, and culture. Our education system needs to reflect these differences in order to maximize the next generation’s potential. When we teach from the heart, and thus allow our beliefs to show, students will learn more than basic facts and dates; they will develop morals, compassion, critical thinking, and valuable life lessons that cannot be taught through a book.

“Teaching that impacts is not head to head, but heart to heart.” (Howard G. Hendricks)

First Day on the Job

My first placement is at École Wascana Plains School. I am in a Grade 3 class, with students who have very diverse backgrounds. There are children from all over the world, with different beliefs and cultural traditions. Because of their different upbringings, they all have very different interests, which are reflected in their “Genius Hour Projects.”

The Genius Hour project allows students to choose a topic that interests them, then research the history, interesting facts, how to’s, and whatever else they can find on their chosen topic. For example, in my class there were students researching Jazz dance, cuttlefish, how to skate faster, baking, and plant life. This project allows them to learn about things, places, events, and skills that interest them and apply to their everyday lives. Rather than forcing them all to learn the same information at the same time, they are given the opportunity to choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. At the end of the project, they have the opportunity to teach their classmates about their chosen topic. This allows other students to become interested in the same things, in addition to allowing them to show off the results of their hard work. Their passion about their subjects was clear when they were telling me about them, and will be sure to come through when they teach their peers as well.

This was a very different learning environment from what I grew up in. We were assigned topics to research, or allowed to choose from a list of appropriate, pre-chosen themes. When we researched information, it was done on our own time at home, and we had a specific list of facts we had to find in order to receive full marks. There was little to no room for the interests of the individual.

It wasn’t just how the subjects were taught that differed from my own experiences. The actual classrooms and school as a whole were wildly different from the school I went to. We had a single hallway, with classrooms and the gym jutting off of it. Classrooms were closed off from the others, and there was little to no mingling between separate classes.

This school is very open concept, with many sitting areas throughout. Classrooms have a regular door, but also a garage-style door that opens into the main area, and it was always open. While the actual classroom was smaller than I was used to, you hardly noticed because the class often spilled out into the open space outside of it. Additionally, the desks were arranged not so that they all faced the board, but so that they could face each other. This encourages class discussions, an occurrence that was few and far between in my experience.

As a whole, the school seems to take a very modern approach to education. The many open spaces encourage inter-class participation, while also providing a relaxing environment. Additionally, open discussions are encouraged, allowing children to learn from each other as well as the teacher.

Two Opposing Worldviews

What we value in education shows what we value as a society. Currently, our education system is extremely Eurocentric, meaning we tend to focus on linear, objective, and logical knowledge. We strive to find definite conclusions to questions, rather than acknowledging that a conclusion may be relative to who is observing the system. Everyone experiences the same scenario a different way, and as such will draw a different understanding from it.

In the same way, children learn in different ways. Something that seems straight forward to one child is gibberish to another. The Aboriginal worldview reflects these differences by emphasizing wholeness, reciprocity, spirituality, and both subjective and objective knowledge. Knowledge is adaptable to different situations and times, while still maintaining its original meaning and truth. This allows for the same knowledge to be taught in different ways or contexts that better suit the individual learning them.

When applying these to the classroom, I believe it is necessary to employ a mixture of the two worldviews to accommodate for the differences between students. Some may learn better in an environment where the knowledge is taught in a linear progression (as they are in the Eurocentric worldview), whereas others would benefit from the more open teaching progression of the Aboriginal worldview. Teaching with both of these worldviews would also allow students to develop different learning techniques and ways of knowing, which would allow for deeper understandings in the future.

Additionally, incorporating the Aboriginal worldview into our classrooms would allow children to grow in new ways, while also providing new classroom management techniques. “If individuals are appropriately and immediately given recognition for upholding strength, honesty, and kindness, then a ‘good’ order will be maintained, and the good of the group will continue to be the goal of all members of society” (Leroy Little Bear, 80). Children would learn to look after the good of the group as a whole, and would learn to base their actions on how they effect others. They would learn to work together to achieve their goals, which is a necessary skill for later in life. When I was in elementary school, teachers often employed management techniques that focused on the behavior of the individual. This often led to competition, which would divide the class in a contest for who would win the most points that week. By focusing on the class working together, children are forced to control their actions because they effect not only themselves, but their friends too. Because of this, children will self-monitor and watch each other’s actions, causing them to become more independent.

Not only would it help in classroom management, it would help the students in learning as well. When they are rewarded or recognized for their achievements, they will want to keep trying hard so that they can receive acknowledgement again. Rather than being discouraged by what they can’t do, they are encouraged by what they can, and the positive influence from that will likely stretch to areas in which they struggle.

“For the most part, education and socialization are achieved through praise, reward, recognition, and renewal ceremonies and by example, actual experience, and storytelling. Children are greatly valued and are considered gifts from the Creator. From the moment of birth, children are the objects of love and kindness from a large circle of relatives and friends. They are strictly trained but in a ‘sea’ of love and kindness. As they grow, children are given praise and recognition for their achievements both by the extended family and by the group as a whole … they are sternly lectured about the implications of wrongful and unacceptable behavior” (81).

By seeing children as gifts, they become something even more precious. The “problem child” becomes more than an obstacle in the day: they become someone who needs to be loved. If children see that they are genuinely loved and cared for, they will likely be more responsive and trusting towards you as their teacher. Because of that trust, they will be able to learn more than if you are simply seen as another authority figure telling them what to do and how to think.

Currently, our education has a Eurocentric worldview. It prizes uniformity and encourages people to conform to society. Emphasis is placed on structure and routine, rather than the individual’s needs. I believe it is vitally necessary for the Aboriginal worldview to be incorporated into the education system. When paired with the Eurocentric worldview (for other learners’ benefit), we have an educational system that covers a wide range of ways of knowing, and allows children to develop deeper understandings of the topics they are learning. It also allows for different learning styles to thrive, while encouraging children to be who they are. They learn two ways of seeing things, which they can then apply to different situations throughout their lives, providing them with a more egalitarian worldview.