Embracing Discomfort

Confession: I’ve been avoiding blogging, ha! Im still developing my patience as I wait for the SETBC technology to be inventoried by my school district. Im frustrated because I don’t want to impliment technology until we have the new equipment (see my last blog post). While I have lots I want to share about our learning journey, I’ve also been avoiding blogging because I’m ever mindful that anything put in writing, and on the internet, can be misunderstood, misused, and misappropriated.  Herein lies the irony. We’ve been grappling with cultural appropriation in our classroom in recent weeks, and its been uncomfortable.

We started our Core Competency explorations this year by exploring the book “The Six Cedar Trees” by Margot Sandahl. Initially, it appeared to be a promising resource because it rooted the Core Competencies in story, and “stories are the currency of human connection.” I was also drawn in by the connection to nature, specifically coastal animals and habitats, as I think connection to place is an essential and enduring learning. We are also engaged in inquiry about the 6 kingdoms of life (currently examining phylum Cordata – vertebrates) and this seemed like a wonderful opportunity to invite inter-curricular connections as well. Finally, the book was publicized as being a story that integrated principals and teachings from British Columbia’s First Nations, and the illustrations examples of Coast Salish artistry.

But I was wrong… well, wrong-ish.

The book has become a source of tension, in our classroom, community, and beyond. The book is being criticized as cultural appropriation – the author is NOT indigenous. She has shared cultural teachings, arguably sacred teachings, that were not hers to share. These teachings are traditionally gifted by Elders when the ‘right time’ is revealed by the creator. This knowledge reminded me of my responsibility to thoroughly review classroom materials before entering them into classroom circulation. So, I was gifted this knowledge about the story… and it weighed heavy on me, my heart, on my sense of self. How could I knowingly have supported a commodity that undermined my value system. I am Cree. I am First Nations. I am devastated.

I wallowed for a while. I ached, and lamented, and committed considerable personal attacks against myself for my relative shortsightedness. Then, I committed to doing my research, to checking the FNESC (First Nations Education Steering Committee) website, to considering and reconsidering how to move forward, and I formed a plan.

We were going to use this. We were going to engage in some considerable critical thinking. We were going to activate the social studies curriculum and engage the curricular competency Ethical Judgement – “Make value judgements about events, decisions, or actions, and suggest lessons that can be learned.” It was going to be messy, and we were going to embrace the discomfort as an opportunity to learn.

We’ve started these discussions, and its been quite the experience. The kids are so thoughtful and articulate, loving, idealistic, and innocent. A piece of me feels as if I’ve robbed them of that innocence in recent days. This topic of conversation has exposed a larger, and darker, topic – the systematic mistreatment of Canada’s First Peoples. I’ve wanted to video record our conversations as authentic examples of Critical Thinking and as connections to Positive Personal and Cultural Identity (two of the Core Competencies) but it felt like taping these raw, and frequently emotional, conversations and revelations would breach our classroom agreement “anything that happens in circle, stays in circle” – perhaps I’ve breached that trust just by writing this post?

My Proposal to SETBC hinged on creating opportunities for my students’ voices to be heard and involved in system-level conversations about the Core Competencies. Yet, to date, those voices haven’t been shared. The logical part of me knows that there are still 6 six months before the end of the project deadline, but my heart aches to share their voices. It just doesn’t seem like the right time to start recording and sharing yet though; both because of the lack of new technology, and because of the difficult nature of the conversations – it feels inappropriate to capitalize on their vulnerability. That said, I recognize that the process of reconciliation is inherently uncomfortable because it means acknowledging the ‘wrongs of the past’ as a first step.

I don’t know. Maybe I’ve over thought the whole situation but a piece of me feels duty bound to protect the implicit trust (and sense of safety) that has held space for these conversations. I have witnessed the kids’ Core Competency development through this too; rooted in authentic, meaningful learning… and isn’t that the true goal? The process and not the product?

So, there it is. An awkward, rambling, blog post. It’s not quite in line with the original intention of the blog, but is a part of our learning journey, and important in helping our audience understand and appreciate our process. There is more ‘messiness’ to come and I think I need to talk with the kids about how/if we want to share this part of our journey via recording.

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