Why citizenship? Who should teach it?

When I was growing up and going to school in the late 70’s and early 80’s citizenship formation was minimal in schools or at least my school.  Our citizenship was at the very basic level of a personally responsible citizen. We were taught to finish school, get a job to provide for yourself, obey the rules of the school and laws of society and being in a Catholic school, the golden rule was front and center, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  These are very generic and vague ideas of citizenship.  In my school days, we often didn’t do fundraising for this cause or that cause. I am not sure if we didn’t do this because it wasn’t common then or if it was because we lived in a neighbourhood and school that received donations.  While the fundraising schools do now is needed, and a simple way to create awareness and empathy for causes I don’t think it is enough.

In light of Gerald Stanley trial, the verdict and the vile comments on social media, I think we need to change our idea of what it means to be a citizen, even as a personally responsible citizen.  Prior to my journey through education, I would have had a very different reaction to the events that have transpired.  Through ECS 110, my views and opinions in many issues have changed dramatically.  I won’t delude you into thinking that I agree with everything we learned, but the bigger idea is how I look at things in general.  I left ECS 110, thinking that everyone should be made to take that class, whether being a teacher or not.  After this week, I think that content needs to start in the schools.  I think education of the underlying causes of the way things are would go a long way in bridging this chasm we have in the world, between those we consider “normal and good” and those who are viewed as not.  I think a part of being a personally responsible citizen is being able to have these tough conversations, whether online or in person, is be able to listen, and make your point with out stooping to name calling, stereotypes, and all the other garbage that people feel free to spew from behind a screen.

As teachers, I think it is our responsibility to develop our skills in having these intense conversations, so that we can be good models for our students and give them the skills to handle issues, so that everyone can be heard. I think as teachers it is our responsibility because our students need good models, when so many things around them don’t know how to handle tough topics in a positive way. That being said, I honestly don’t know if I was in a middle years or high school how I could ever begin to convince my students that we need to work together.

 

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Who influences curriculum and is it the right people?

For our blog this week we were to write our thoughts about who creates curriculum before we read our readings.  Then we were to read the selection and share our thoughts on it, hence the before and after sections.

Before reading

I have always known that the government creates the curriculum, however I am very unclear of the process of developing the curriculum.  In a class I took in the winter of 2017, we had a representative from the Regina Catholic School Board (RCSB)come in and talk to us about new curriculum development. He indicated that teachers were instrumental in developing and writing curriculum.  I found myself wondering what teachers contributed. Is it lesson plans that meet the curriculum or is it curriculum outcomes and indicators or a combination.  What I did find interesting from RCSB rep was that they did confer extensively with Elders in the vetting of the new curriculum.

After reading:

After reading our selection for this topic, I found it very enlightening at just how many influences there are over curriculum. I am an optimist, in that I always hope that children’s’ best interests and education overrides all else, so I found it a little disconcerting to have it brought front and center that educational policy makers seem to be influenced by so many lobbyists and special interest groups and that may drive their decisions rather than what is best for the students.  I don’t mean to suggest that I didn’t know the influence of outside groups played a role, it is one of those things that just lurked under the surface of my knowledge and that I hoped wasn’t as influential as it was made out to be.

Research is also an influencing factor, however that is often very skewed and not truly unbiased.  Most research is conducted with a purpose to prove something, and that purpose is often dictated by those who are funding the research or want something to change.  Research is then conducted in a way to prove the purpose.  We often see our Canadian students compared to other countries and then we hear studies that prove this country or that is better in math or science than Canada.  Then everyone is up in arms and we must do something to compete.  What the studies or research fails to tell us is why other countries excel in academics over Canada.  They fail to consider cultural aspects of it.  When we try to implement similar strategies in Canada they often fail because our Canadian culture does not function in a way to support those strategies, or our research tells us that for a random example that our Canadian students begin to fall behind in Grade 5 in math.  So, to correct and keep our students from getting behind, we make the changes to the grade 5 curriculum, when the changes need to occur in Kindergarten or even before, so the changes are built on.  Research also doesn’t consider or minimizes the impact of resources that are allocated, in the different schools in an area or even across provinces. Research often shows that students in poorer schools do worse in academics, so the curriculum is adjusted to make them more successful, rather than addressing the underlying causes, such as funding to the schools, perhaps the teacher’s abilities, and the outside influences, poverty, family lives etc.

I don’t know what the real solution is, but my ideal would be for all the policy makers when it comes to education is to make decisions based on what is going to benefit all students rather than who threatens to not vote for them or fund their campaigns.  It would be nice if one day education policy would be free of politics.

 

What is a good student?

This week’s prompt asked us to consider what is a good student according to the commonsense and what does this definition make impossible.  Before getting into that definition, it is interesting to note that in our readings for this week the good student definition has changed very little in 130 years.  The first reading from 1886 is more racist in its description of a good student and our second reading doesn’t seem to fit the racist bill but seems to be more gendered in the good student ideal.

A good student according to the first reading is a white, male and the ideal is for them to be Christ like.  The reading then goes on to speak of those of Asian descent and how their religion, language and science are not compatible with the ideal student.

The second reading while it doesn’t mention gendered pronouns specifically, from the description of the challenging students I, at least, am given the impression that these students are boys. In the description of M wielding a branch sword, I feel that if it was a girl it wouldn’t be such an issue, as well as the description of M as restless and had little interest in crafts etc. also the description of N’s challenging behaviour leads me to believe that N was also a boy.  I feel here too that there would be more leeway for a girl that was challenging, and it would be seen as less of a problem. These students don’t fit the bill of the “good student” because they don’t sit quietly, or quietly accept what the teacher feels is important for them to learn.  So, therefore a good student is one who sits quietly, participates willingly in whatever activity the teacher puts out, produces the exact answer the teacher wants and generally follows the ideals of the teacher and school.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t  allow children to be “good students” in their own way.  We saw that N is interested in reading and writing when N has a choice of what N is going to read or write about.  We also see that M participates calmly and with great interest when his time and project are not strictly structured.  We as teachers and even the education system as a whole need to redefine our thinking and allow students to produce work that interests them, to be good students in their own way. The current definition also does not take into account cultural differences. I believe that if our schools were more student interest centered, we would have less behaviour problems, and less classroom management issues and more engaged students meeting the learning standards.

Time to redefine the purpose of education. (blog #2)

In his article Social Efficiency Ideology, Michael Shiro (2013), talks about Ralph Tyler’s four basic questions that must be addressed when creating curriculum or education programs. Those questions are: What educational purpose should the school seek to attain, what educational experiences can be provided to attain those purposes, how can they be effectively organized and how can it be determined that the purpose are being met. (Shiro,2013) A purpose and guiding questions are never a bad thing when creating programs.

Tyler’s questions are a good way to start program planning, every good program or curriculum must have a defined purpose and an idea of how to attain that purpose.  We also need to know that we achieved our purpose of the program in some way.  I believe that when working with large organizations or systems it is essential to have a defined purpose or goal so that gaps and overlaps are kept to a minimum.  We see that in the current curriculum when certain topics are taught in certain grades.  I feel that to make sure the students are moving forward in their knowledge, in such a large organization as in an school or education system, it is a necessary evil so to speak.  We need to know that students are covering a variety of topics throughout their education and not studying the same thing every year because they happen to get teachers for several years in a row who like to teach, for example, the water cycle.  Those students then never discover the wide range of other science topics.

This system though, is problematic because it is very narrow focused on everyone having the same experience, to produce the same result.  Not all students respond to the same experiences in the same way.  What is exciting and interesting for some is dreadfully boring and frustrating for another.  When those who don’t fit the mould, and produce the expected results with the expected experience, that is when labelling happens. Such as, the student has learning difficulties, or has been acting up because of disinterest, so is now labelled as ADHD or has behaviour issues.  When the reality is the material and/or experience didn’t engage the student.

I come from the generation where this model was practiced very strictly.  We were taught the subjects as individual experiences, and there was no mixing of them.  Even as a middle years student I wondered why we didn’t practice our writing skills by writing about what we were learning in social studies or science or read books in English class that pertained to topics we were studying in other subjects.  Our classroom was rows, and desks, the teacher lectured and then we did questions and tests with one correct answer.  There was a very narrow band for creativity and individuality in this strict model.

I slowly see a shift away from the strictness in today’s classrooms.  When I am in a classroom, I see how much more freedom there is for the students.  The seating arrangements are often collaborative, talking and conferring is allowed.  I also see that student aren’t always required to produce one answer but if they can show their learning it is acceptable.  This new way of doing things is something I much prefer, over the way I was taught, but it still is not my ideal.  My ideal would be to have the students work at whatever interested them and produce a sample of their learning in whatever way they choose and works best for them.

I am not sure how or if we would ever be able to reach my ideal of strictly student led classrooms and evaluations but from where I come from we are moving in the right direction. To get to this point of student led education we first need to redefine our purpose and then our definition of evaluation of this purpose.  Learning can happen and be proven in so many ways.

 

References

Schiro, M.(2013). Curriculum theory: Conflicting visions and enduring concerns. (2nd ed.).                Sage.

Working myself out of my future profession (blog #3)

The greatest sign of a success for a teacher…is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.    Maria Montessori

I choose this quote of Maria Montessori because, to me, students should work their way to independence.  As a future teacher I believe it is my job not to impart random facts for the children/students to memorize but to teach my students how to learn anything they want to learn.

In the early years that includes learning to read, to write, to do math equations and now how to use technology.  These are necessary to learn and yes, to be able to function in the world as adults.

However, I also whole heartedly believe that when children are learning what interests them, those necessities take care of themselves, with some coaching or facilitating from the teacher.  When children are passionate and interested in the material, they don’t need a teacher standing over them telling them what they should be learning about the topic.  Often, they will take the topic they are interested in many different directions, directions the teacher does not have time to delve into or even thought of the connection.  I often, think of my oldest son during our homeschooling experience.  He was interested in airplanes so being the good mom and dutiful teacher I planned a unit on airplanes.  We did that unit, but my son was not content to finish when the planned unit was.  I let him continue with airplanes figuring it would fizzle out after a couple of weeks.  He was after all reading, writing, making charts.  What happened was that this unit took him the whole year.  He went down paths I never would have thought of.  We started with modern planes and he went to WW I & II aircraft and then into the battles, and countries involved.  When he tired of that, he studied birds and compared birds and airplanes.  He carried on with his schooling as if I didn’t exist, until he needed a little guidance.  He is 29 years old now and he can still tell you most of what he learned that year.  What I saw was that his reading levels improved dramatically, his ability to write and make notes increased, and even his math abilities increased.  It was, without a doubt in my mind, our most successfully homeschooling year.

As I move through the education classes and learn about the different theories and methods, I always come back to how can I let my students learn what they are passionate about, and still satisfy the quantitative need that schools and parents want.  I hope before I am done teaching, I do find away to let my students follow their passion so that they too can learn as if I didn’t exist.

 

Common Sense; do we really need it?

Kumshiro describes “common sense” as something that everyone knows or takes for granted in a society/culture/community.  He goes on to describe how as a newcomer to Nepal, that he had to learn these things.  Things such as showering in a public place, learning that meals were only served twice a day in the shop, and how schooling was conducted, these activities were all common sense to the villagers but not to Kumshiro who had a different common sense.  It is simply what they do without any real thought as to doing them or why they do them. Common sense is something that has always been done without anyone really questioning why it is done.  Most of the time there is no questioning because it is something that isn’t even thought about.

We need to pay attention to the common sense because not all the common sense of a society is as simple as where and when people shower.  The common sense is often generated by those that have privilege and power in a society and whether purposefully or not oppresses those who do not hold the power and privilege in the society.  When we don’t question our common sense, we then assume everyone has or should have the same ideals as we do so we set out to change the common sense that isn’t like ours.  Kumshiro set out to help those in Nepal by bringing in the American methods of teaching, assuming the American methods were better.  When we stop, pay attention, we learn so much.  Paying attention to others common sense gives us a deeper insight into their lives, traditions, beliefs and values. We may learn about others and take some knowledge from them to improve our schools or ourselves.  When we pay attention to our own common sense we might be uncomfortable, because we just might see how our common sense is not the right way for everyone, including those that we interact with daily.  If we paid attention to our common sense, we would have to act to change it and change is uncomfortable.