After reading Idle No More: Radical Indigeneity in Teacher Education by Shauneen Pete, I have mixed thoughts. I am a white, privileged, middle-class male and I am trying to remain mindful of the fact that my reaction to her writing will be influenced by those facts. I have three thoughts, two which are positive, one which is a critique. The critique is the long one, go figure.
First, Pete absolutely nails it with her discussion on white students in he indigenous education class oriented in social justice. Personally, I have lived that experience on the student side. I believe that if a student were to say they did not need to or will not go through a similar phase, then they are subscribing to the “luxury of ignorance”. During my B.Ed. program, one of our classes was ‘Indigenous Education’. On a daily basis, our instructor challenged our (mainly) white beliefs and did not back down, nor give up, when we presented her with our biased ignorance/preconceptions. The journey through that semester was long and vexing, but as it came to a close, most of us felt enlightened. Our instructor had really made an impact on our ideas about indigenous people, and we were able to have calm, open, and friendly discussions/presentations about what we had learned or how we had changed. It was the most impactful class in my program.
Second, I applaud Pete’s persistence. During my own experience, I could observe the days which my instructor seemed ready to boil over. The systemic problem of white superiority (I think that term fits better in this context) which is built in to the education system does not assume a person’s race upon their enrollment. That is to say, white students have also experienced a K-12+ career of white policies. In other words, the white students have been passively indoctrinated, and some of then know not what they do. I can only imagine the frustration Pete must have experienced with this status quo.
However, I wish Pete had spoke to holding the very education institution that she (or others) worked for. Pete’s narrative about pre-service teachers constantly refers to the ‘ideas’ they have about indigenous peoples, theory, ‘good’ teaching, and so forth. A prime example would be Pete describing how students would always asks her to “teach us how to teach”, and she seemed bewildered about how they came to understand what ‘good’ teaching was.
I find it pretty obvious as to why her undergrads felt the way they did. I felt the same way. Consider my experience in my education program.
In January 2012, I was a pre-service teacher. Constantly, I would be told that if I wanted a job, I would have to ace my practicums, because it was B.C; teachers were not getting hired. Further, we weren’t graded on anything except our practicums. Prior to my first (in the spring), our courses were based on theory and curricular knowledge in core subjects. Lesson plans and unit plans had to be flawless. We had to understand the difference between inquiry and direct teaching. Our Indigenous Education (IE) course wasn’t until the summer, nor did any of our course really dive into the subject. The first practicum came and went. I did well…really well. But that was because my lesson/unit plans were deemed sufficient, I had a great classroom presence, and my classroom management skills had grown quite substantially. My critiques were to improve management more, increase my knowledge of the PLO’s, and create extensions and enrichment for students who finished quickly.
So when summer came and our cohort took our remaining courses in which none of them featured a direct “how to teach” unit, we were frustrated.
We were constantly being told what we needed to do to get hired. Disrupting our mainly white beliefs was never mentioned outside of IE. The narrative we experienced from our mentors and instructors (except for our IE class) rendered something like this:
- “Excel at classroom management”
- “Pivot and Plan on a whim, when required”
- “Create thorough, legible Lesson/Unit Plans”
- “Professional Demeanor”
- “No Jeans”
Then in some cruel irony, none of our classes before the second practicum taught us any techniques that might help manage a class, or ‘pivot on a whim’. In the first two weeks of my second practicum, my class was unruly; I crashed and burned (luckily I recovered).
The pre-service teachers’ attitudes towards the content in Pete’s courses are not a mystery. They were driven by what the students learned they were going to need to do to establish a career, as informed the narrative in the program as a whole. A program, created and facilitated by their institution, the instructors’ employer.
Upon reading Pete’s second article, Meschachakanis, a Coyote Narrative: Decolonising Higher Education, I want to add something. In her article, Pete points to how her colleagues of the dominant colonial group, whether they are instructors, committee members, administrators, or otherwise…need to examine how they understand the eurocentric form of post-secondary education and take the work of change unto themselves.
Once again I find her writing enlightening, but this time also fatalistic. Considering my earlier stance on how pre-service students develop their attitudes about course content, I’d argue that bureaucracies of post secondary institutions follow the same logic I laid out earlier: the attitudes which our institutions adopt/neglect are prioritized based on the their most pressing necessities for survival. What makes the list?
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