Reading Responses

“Muffins for Granny” Documentary Response

Nadia McLaren begins her documentary with a memory of her childhood, in which barely being able to see over the edge of the kitchen table she listened to her Granny recount the events of her childhood in a residential school. Similarly, I have a memory like this, except instead of talking about residential schools, my grandma was talking about her cancer after she once again relapsed. These memories may be similar, especially in that they share painful memories, but I cannot imagine listening to someone I hold so dear tell me about such horrible things which happened to them in their youth. From the video, I learned that many Indigenous families “lived like outlaws,” as one of the speakers put it. For some reason, I never thought about such a possibility when I learned about residential schools. In my mind, when I have learned about residential schools in the past, I knew that some families fought to keep their children from being sent to these schools, but I never realized that families uprooted their lives and went on the run to protect their children. Another thing that boggled my mind was when they mentioned that there were one hundred and thirty residential schools, over a one-hundred-year period and they questioned how many children were sent to these schools? I had known that many children were sent, but when it was put like that, for some reason it hit me just how long and how many children suffered through these institutions.  Another fact that made me think was that the students were given numbers, rather than the use of their names to be identified as, which is reminiscent of the Holocaust and how victims of the Holocaust were given numbers to be identified with.  One thing that puzzled me in this documentary was when Ralph Johnson described his thought process while sitting in the woods contemplating as to whether to commit suicide or not. While doing this, he remembers at priest at the residential school tell him that if you commit suicide you would burn in purgatory forever. Ralph chose to shoot himself despite this, believing that burning in purgatory would be better than whatever life he was living then. After watching this video, what still troubles me is how the last residential school closed in 1996 in Lebret, Saskatchewan. This was only three years before I was born and I am puzzled that it took that long to close it down, but also that the history of residential schools did not end that long before or far away from where my life began. Lastly, Delaney Sharpe mentions that “yes, [she] ha[s] a lot of sad stories, but [they have] made [her] strong,” which I find super inspiring, that in the face of all of her pain, she understands this strength she has and uses it to bring light to her experiences, as well as honouring the experiences and lives lost by many of children, including her friends, in the residential schools.

“The Heart of a Teacher” by Parker J. Palmer

Parker J. Palmer’s “The Heart of a Teacher” examines the concepts of identity and integrity, as well as the central role they play in our jobs as teachers. He explains that “we teach who we are … and knowing [oneself] is as crucial to good teaching as knowing [your] students and [your] subject” and that we cannot teach without giving a part of ourselves, as the truly captivating and enthusiastic teachers have completely dedicated themselves, their life, and identity into being a teacher. They love what they do, and from the standpoint of a student, it is quite obvious. While Palmer recounts some of his great teachers, who are unique and different, with methods and techniques of their own, I felt the need to stop and remember some of my most memorable teachers. Each had their own quirks, but they fully embraced them and were better teachers because of it. I cannot imagine that I would have chosen to study as a Secondary teacher with a Social Studies major had it not been for my high school history teacher, who used humour, passion, and the occasional hilarious re-enactment of a historical event to teach and captivate students in a subject that otherwise would put many to sleep. Likewise, had it not been for my AP English teachers throughout high school who aimed to prepare us for the most difficult exam in our high school careers by teaching us the required content but by working together as a teaching cooperative building off of each other to teach us the lessons beyond the literature. They taught me that the score on the page is not as important as the lessons learned and the personal growth achieved. These teachers, as well as nearly a dozen more than I can count, put their heart and soul into what they do every day, these teachers are the type of teacher I strive to be. On the other end of the spectrum, I have experienced teachers in my education where it was clear that teaching was not truly their calling, but continue teaching because they had paid for a degree in it. As a student, these teachers also taught me valuable lessons, such as the importance of finding what you love to do, but also through their constant criticism of my classmates and myself taught me to second guess myself, sometimes fearing criticism which is meant to be constructive, and in some instances, caused me to body shame myself. I cannot say that they intended this harm on all of their students, but it definitely reminded me to make sure that teaching was what I truly wanted to do. Palmer presents this exact same idea as my educational experiences when he expresses that “[a] vocation that is not [yours], no matter how externally valued, does violence to the self—in the precise sense that it violates [your] identity and integrity on behalf of some abstract norm. When [you] violate [yourself], [you] invariably end up violating the people [you] work with. How many teachers inflict their own pain on their students—the pain that comes from doing a work that never was, or no longer is, their true work?” The message in this article is clear, in a society which values privacy and disconnect between our professional and personal lives, teachers must break this barrier and intertwine the two because we cannot be great at either as teachers without allowing our whole selves to be central in both aspects of our lives.

“How Glee and anti-bullying programs miss the mark” by Gerald Walton

I remember watching Glee when I was going through elementary and high school years. I found the show extremely interesting, as I felt that could relate to many of the characters. I was not popular, did not have many good friends, and I was a music geek, in both the band and choral programs at my school which were never cool or supported by the student population at my school, much like the Glee program in Glee. I understood many of the feelings of the characters and found it interesting that for once the show I was watching was not focused on the popular and beautiful whom I could not relate to. While the show, at least for me, seemed groundbreaking at the time, as it was talking about issues such as sexual orientation, teen suicide, teen pregnancy, not fitting in, and much more. Looking back at it now though, I can see that while they talked about these issues, they did not always address them. Yes, it’s true that the show did include homosexual characters, but they never truly addressed the sexual harassment that these characters faced, rather brushing over the issue. Kurt was thrown in dumpsters and verbally abused throughout his time in high school for his sexual orientation and while the principal and teachers were aware of it, none tried to stop or prevent it, rather the cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester, often makes fun of Kurt on the account of his sexuality and tendency to act more like a stereotypical female, who enjoys singing, dancing, and dressing fashionably, over the tough, strong, and athletic stereotypical male. Glee failed to truly highlight in an educational and positive way on how to deal with these issues of bully and sexual harassment for young LGBT students in school, but in a way, I cannot fully blame the television show for this failure, as how can you expect a fictional television show to address such large issues in an educational way when they are not even addressed in actual schools. I remember walking through the hallways of my school and hearing students use gay and faggot in a derogatory manner. This may be why we had few to no students openly express themselves as a member of the LGBT community. Throughout elementary and high school, I was educated through our Catholic school system in the city, and while my teachers were phenomenal, I must admit that I do not truly remember being taught about LGBT issues and if we were, they were small summaries, never really getting at the heart of the issue. I must admit that by the time I graduated there was some improvement on this issue than when I began high school, yet there is still a long way to go. As an educator, it is my responsibility to make sure my students feel safe in not only my classroom but their school and school community and continue teaching students about LGBT issues and sexuality openly in the classroom.

Shattering the Silence prepared by Shuana Niessen

Shuana Niessen contextualizes the stories of First Nations peoples through three generations, “The Parent Left Behind,” “The Child Taken,” and “The Intergenerational Trauma Survivor.” When thinking about residential schools, I often focus on the students, rarely thinking about the effects the institution had on parents whose child was ripped from their arms. Personally, the most harrowing passage from this section on “The Parents Left Behind” was describing how parents were to “send [their children], or they are taken from you. You send them knowing you will be fined or put in jail if you do not. You send them knowing you may be sending them to their deaths” (Shattering the Silence, 7, emphasis added). It is no wonder many Indigenous families lived on the run like outlaws “hiding their children, regardless of the risk” during this period (7). They were just trying to protect their children, something all loving parents, regardless of their backgrounds, attempt to do. For any parent, the loss of a child is unbearable. I cannot imagine having your child still be alive in a residential school, yet when they return home to you for one month of the summer you find the child you once knew, that was torn from your arms, is now a completely different person whom you no longer recognize. That loss of a child would be equally unbearable. The story from the viewpoint of “The Child Taken” is especially heartbreaking, as they “wonder, ‘Why did my parents abandon me here? Did I displease them?’ . . . How could they have let this happen to you? You won’t understand until much later, when you are faced with sending your own children far away to school, that your parents didn’t have a choice” (8). As a child, it would be difficult to understand and process what was happening to you at this time, especially when some children are as young as three or five. Being ripped from your parent’s arms and forced to live in a cold, lonely building where the people looking after you, teachers, nuns, and priests, often cared little about you or your wellbeing. Many children were silenced. Unable to speak their own language yet learning the foreign language of English which is difficult to grasp, it is unimaginable the mental, physical, and emotional pain students would suffer while trying to learn the foreigner’s language. Lastly, there is the story of “The Intergenerational Trauma Survivor” who are living in our society today, yet often get forgotten in the story of residential schools as a whole. In school, I was often taught about the survivors of the residential school system but often left from the narrative was the story of those children who came after this horrendous institution. We forget that they are survivors too. Survivors in the sense that they survived family who had gone to these schools. It was likely not the intention of parents, uncles, aunts, and grandparents to bring harm to the post-residential school generations, it was the destruction of a loving home life or views of a healthy, functional family that residential school survivors missed out on once they were torn from their homes and families. Parents were never taught how to be a parent, so then how can they effectively and lovingly raise a child without anything or any person to model other than their years in a residential school. This continues for generations, even after the residential school’s close because it takes generations to right the wrongs of this school system and the lessons taught in the schools. While Canadians everywhere are working towards righting these wrongs, there is still a long way to go and it is the job of all Canadians, especially teachers, to help in this healing and reconciliation process.

“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh

Before reading this article, I had never deeply questioned how many of disadvantages to people of colour I took for granted on a daily basis. One of Peggy McIntosh’s main examples that stuck out with me was that “I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more less match my skin,” mainly because while I was semi-conscious of these particular issues, I had never put enough thought into how much of a privilege this is for me. Especially being a female who wears makeup frequently, I often complain that all makeup I buy is either too pale or too orange for my skin tone but I cannot even compare this experience to the experiences of some people with colour with darker complexions. Before Rihanna’s Fenty beauty line, women of colour were largely underrepresented in the makeup and beauty industry. Likewise, I had never considered how bandages only come in a peach tone or with various cartoons on them. While these issues may seem somewhat trivial compared to the many more emotionally devastating scenarios she lists, the issues of underrepresentation in makeup and bandage colouring are likely the largest issues pertaining to colour that I have somehow failed to fully notice and therefore have become a white privilege to me.

“Jagged World Views Colliding” by Leroy Little Bear

I really enjoyed this article as it provided me with an Aboriginal worldview which I had never learned or considered, especially as to how greatly it differs from other worldviews. In the Aboriginal worldview, they believe that “[c]hildren are greatly valued and are considered gifts from the Creator. From the moment of birth, children are the objects of love and kindness from a large circle of relatives and friends,” a view I share in my worldview (81). A part of the Aboriginal I wish all people would hold in their worldviews is the “giv[ing of] praise and recognition for [children’s] achievements both by extended family and by the [child’s support system] as a whole [while the child grows up] . . . There are many people involved in the education and socialization of a child. Anyone can participate in educating a child because education is a collective responsibility” (81). When it comes to teaching children, I share many qualities with the Aboriginal worldview, as I believe that a child’s learning and education should not be confined to the walls of the classroom and the teacher but parents and the child’s support system should not only be encouraging a child’s education and even helping them expand their educational experiences at home.

“Oh, Canada: bridges and barriers to inclusion in Canadian schools” by Laura Sokal and Jennifer Katz

This paper explores the ideas of inclusivity in the classroom for all students, especially those with disabilities. Personally, I believe inclusive education is important but full inclusivity of a student with a disability should be based upon their exceptionality. If a student is physically disabled but is able to take part in a classroom without overexertion or negative effects on the child, I believe there should be no instances where the child is excluded from classroom activities and learning rather the educator must accommodate lessons and instruction that may be difficult for said students. For students with mental disabilities, their level of inclusion should depend on their level of functioning, yet these students should always have the ability and opportunity to take part in classes with peers their own age with any needed supports to the student or educator which this may require. For a student with low functioning autism, inclusion with peers in the classroom is extremely important, yet inclusion in the classroom for long periods of time can overexert the student. It is instances like this where too much inclusion can be a hindrance to this student’s learning.