Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Couple Thoughts on Teach for Canada and the First Nations Education Act

Randomly fascinated by the discourse on Twitter and in some blog posts about the whole “Teach for Canada” idea that seems to have captured the imaginations of many educators and non-educators alike. Can this upstart organization come into our most vulnerable communities and turn around the huge failure rates and high turnover of teachers? I am going to step aside from the whole debate about whether teachers can be good teachers with or without training, it is being well-argued by better people than me who have fallen into two camps: “Lefties” and “Righties.” One blog, admittedly argues that the founders of TFC is small-L Liberal, whatever that means, but that really is irrelevant, as is the left wing versus right wing discourse. Political spectrum has very little to do with this issue and that has to be realized and understood by all.

Teach for Canada identifies those most vulnerable communities as First Nations communities and, in so doing, makes the same mistake that the Conservative Government made with the First Nations Education Act: failed to ask the First Nations what we want. While it is unfair to compare these two notions to the residential school experience, I do not believe it is unreasonable to be suspicious of their motivations. I am under no illusion that the altruism on display is completely selfless. Teach for Canada is out to make money from what I can understand; the government, to impose their agenda and ideology on First Nations (I’m guessing, but when you say reform before funds when many of these schools would be condemned buildings anywhere else…). Both seek to supersede agreements already in place with First Nations in order to carry out their plans. Both claim Indigenous supporters but both choose to ignore the majority voice that has ascribed to ideal that we have a say in how our children are educated and the old paternalism is not acceptable.

The feeling I get when I read all of these posts and tweets and articles and websites and legislation is that an outside party has decided they know what is best for “our” First Nations and they will supersede the will of First Nations in order to save them. We are not Canada’s First Nations. We do not devalue education, we seek education that is relevant to us, which is reflective of our worldviews and which is useful to our needs and wants. We need to be free from silencing and to be allowed to present what we need and then supported in accomplishing the idea, not condescended to and patronized. I wish I could say that this was limited to these national institutions but I have experienced silencing at all levels of the education system. The belief that we do not know what is best for ourselves or our children appears to be one of the most entrenched conventions in Canada’s history.

Both groups approach Indigenous peoples from a much generalized perspective, one couched in white privilege and not respectful of the inherent differences in 600 First Nations in Canada. Assumptions about the needs and, more importantly, the wants of First Nations people have been made and they have been made from the perspective of a privilege that is not “ours” but “yours.” The entire conflict around Idle No More and the pipeline/fracking protests continues to confuse and infuriate the government and many Canadians because they refuse to understand that the values of these cultures (Plural!) may not be the same as the values of the government or Canada, which is looking at the issues economically. It is not a right wing or left wing political spectrum thing but a values choice couched in a worldview that has little to do with politics.

The relationship is what is important. Our relationship to ourselves, to others, to the land. I hear the voices, “here we go again…” but that is why there is misunderstanding. \the Stó:lō live on the river, depend on it. The sockeye are our forefathers, they are our primary source of food. Without them and without the river, we die out. A poor run in a year and families go hungry, even in the “rich” Fraser Valley. Damage to the river or the land around it damages my home. The river is a source of our economy and our education. No one has figured that out. I can learn biology on the river. I can learn earth science on the river and the surrounding land. The river is the source of many of the stories that make up our history. The first white man in these parts arrived on the river. The river is central to our lives and could be a central part of our education, but nobody asked because no one cares about that and no one is interested in looking past the saviour complex and actually addressing what we need and want.

1 comment:

  1. robert, would you be willing to let me reprint this (or a version of it) in our quarterly journal, "our schools / our selves"? please give me a shout. thanks.