Saturday, October 6, 2012

All Education is Political: Reflecting on the online discourse aroundthe BCTF Northern Gateway resource

All education is political. Education curriculum and pedagogy are designed to create a story, a way of knowing and and way of understanding our world and our place in it. I have been both amused and depressed by the discourse I have witnessed around the teaching resource and poster for the Northern Gateway project in British Columbia.

The folks speaking against this resource, calling it biased and one sided, have failed to also call out the same with the resources provided by the pro- pipeline Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (who have a K-1 lesson called Petroleum is Magic), or the way the federal government has treated opponents of the pipeline in official policy and mainstream media. Instead they have grabbed onto this resource as the intrusion of politics in the classroom because it is endorsed by the BC Teachers' Federation, a union that does wear its social justice interests on its sleeve, as well as being perceived as militant and adversarial. I have not seen the same outcry for the government intrusions or the industry-produced resources, which also might be perceived as biased.

The outcry has become that we, as teachers, should not be "indoctrinating" your children in a "political point of view". We have no right. To this, it needs to be pointed out that education is a "political point of view", it is the story of Canada and British Columbia and their expectations of what their citizens should be. What the curriculum is is a whole bunch of ideas Canada and British Columbia think your child should know in order to function as contributing members of society. It is the story Canada wants you to know. (In my own personal universe this has usually meant "killing the Indian in the child," and I, as a First Nations person, am a "cockroach", but I digress.)

To those who claim education should be neutral, politics and beliefs should be taught by the parents, that we should not be teaching a point of view but how to think critically, I ask how do we teach critical thinking if we have to teach neutrally? Neutrality is a political stance. It is a stance that teaches our students to be drones, to not question, to not wonder. Yes, it is important that parents teach their children politics and beliefs, but if they want them to be critical thinkers, it is my responsibility to challenge them. I am not trying to change their beliefs, I am teaching them to critically think about those beliefs and other people's beliefs. To think critically is to wonder about the whys of our world, to consider how the world came to be the way it is. Neutrality teaches our students that it is okay for hundreds of Aboriginal women to go missing or get murdered. Neutrality teaches our students it's okay for Native people living in Canada to live in tents on Hudson Bay in a northern winter. Doesn't neutrality also say it's okay for our students not to think about our environment? The world they live in?

I am proud that the BCTF put this resource together (I was consulted for a First Nations point of view). I am even happy that CAPP has put out their own resources, and the mining industry and the Sierra Club and the Fraser Health Authority. There are lots of points of view on presentation. There is no neutrality. Neutrality creates drones.

I want my students to ask questions. I want my students to wonder why. I want my students to take a position on an issue, it doesn't have to agree with my position. I want them to think critically and challenge and defend and learn. In the end, their beliefs will be neither yours nor mine; their beliefs will be their own.

*******This may seem antithical to previous posts that advocate for transformation and resistance, indigenizing or Decolonizing, but I assure that it is not. My understanding of myself as a teacher is that I am a wonderer. I wonder why the world is the way it is. In teaching, I learn more about it as I engage the students, I learn from them as much as they learn from me. The engagement doesn't always happen, but to teach to transform (especially where my passions lie in Aboriginal Education), I need to teach everyone to understand and question where they are. It does mean my vision of true transformation will take time because teaching my students to learn to have their own mind means that they could and do resist my belief systems. But I hope I leave them looking at the world in wonder and that is the first step in Decolonizing and transforming our education system and our world. What so disappoints about the current discourse around this resources issue is the vitriol online (and I have seen it on both sides) and the refusal to consider each other's point of view. The politicization of the discourse has meant that everyone is imposing before anyone can teach and learn and I am worried about what that teaches our students. The discourse has not been one of questioning, it has been one of accusation, which reinforces the colonial, paternalism I want to resist.

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