Sometimes, happenstance or serendipity, or whatever you want to call it, just happens.
“Honesty is the best policy” is an adage that has been kicked to the curb openly of late. The “alternative truth” is the actually emerging as “a thing”. I was brought up with several “alternative truths,” but even as a young child I identified them as nothing more than lies. I also knew that championing the truth was futile in some cases. It was better not to ask questions. However the question “why” didn’t disappear. The people that I most trusted and respected were the people who told me the truth.
The ability of the “alternative truth” to survive, depends largely on the power of the person or institution serving it up as the truth, and how desperately they strive to sustain it. However the quest for truth is an long established practice. The imagery of light is also used to explore the notion of truth, throughout many religions and social justice groups. If something can bear scrutiny, we can hopefully re-emerge better – more just, more empathetic, more inclusive, more willing to identify similarities and more willing to value differences.
The study of history and political science in university taught me how to adopt a position, create an argument and then switch sides. The facts and arguments you chose to expound or omit, allowed you to take both sides. Yet, sometimes the facts were significant enough to define the truth or reality of that time in history. There is no alternative truth. Sometimes there are just fears and insecurities that allow people in power to manipulate with Machiavellian intent. Our minds easily shift to south of the border, pre-World War II Germany or apartheid in South Africa. Our minds don’t as easily shift to our reality as Canadians. The Chinese Head Tax, the internment of the Japanese and treatment of our Indigenous people are all examples of that same Machiavellian policy that grew out of fears and insecurities. Yet, if we never explore our history, we can never understand our current realities or a path to move forward based on understanding rather than ignorance.
I had an amazing week of professional learning this week thanks to Brad Baker and his team of inspired educators from the North Vancouver School District. My friend, Latash (Maurice) Nahanee, was the first person to ever help me begin to understand the legacy of residential schools and other forms of institutionalized racism. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada brought the conversation into mainstream. People such as Martin Brokenleg, DeeDee DeRose and Don Fiddler have done an amazing job of helping us to understand why Aboriginal Education is necessary for us to understand our own history and the importance of changing our relationship with Aboriginal families.
On Wednesday night, Brad Baker presented at a PDK dinner meeting for instructional leaders. He explored some of the ways how we can move beyond tokenism and engage in meaningful Aboriginal education for all of our students throughout the year. This can be a basic as including an acknowledgement that we live, work and learn on Aboriginal lands. Yes, this does mean that we need to find out who were the Aboriginal people that first lived on the lands we now inhabit. Although I grew up in Vancouver and studied history, I learned relatively recently that I grew up on the ancestral lands of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh.
On Friday at the Professional Learning Rep Assembly for BCPVPA (British Columbia Principal and Vice Principal’s Association), I participated in the Blanket Activity for a second time. This activity is very powerful and includes excerpts from government documents and statements from Aboriginal people. Participants begin standing on blankets that represent Turtle Island in Ontario. Blankets are manipulated or removed as the story unfolds, as are the people on them.
I participated in this activity for the first time as part of district professional development. I read passages both times, that reflected Aboriginal voice. This made both experiences very personal. However the first time I participated, I was removed from the group relatively early when land was encroached upon and my blanket was removed. From outside the circle, it became more of a cerebral experience. On Friday, I was never removed from the circle. I watched as others were lost to disease, residential schools, placed on reserves or lost status because they left the reserve. The experience remained very personal and the feeling of waiting for “my turn” ever present. I can’t imagine anyone participating in this activity and not empathizing with the fate of these participants in our collective history.
Brad Baker emphasizes when he speaks that goal of Aboriginal Education is not to inspire guilt but understanding. Laura Tait’s video about The Principles of Learning is on my repeated watch list to focus my attention on looking at the world through an Indigenous lens. The inclusion on these principles in the new BC curriculum provides a meaningful way to engage students in learning that has taken place over thousands of years. There is no “alternative truth” to what happened in our history. Let’s participate in Jan Hare’s MOOC at UBC – Reconciliation Through Indigenous Education , keep talking and and learning, and step away from judgments and thinking that obscure a respectful path forward. Most of all, to quote Brad Baker – “Go Forward with Courage!”
When my son was young, Bart Simpson hit the air waves. I hated how the characters on the show talked and how they disrespected each other. It incensed me to the point that I refused to let my son watch it, despite a considerable amount of begging. The conversation ended briefly. I soon discovered that he would go to his friend Dennis’ house to watch the show. It wasn’t until that point that I agreed to watch the show with him. It opened the conversation. We would discuss what he found funny and what offended me. Although he still preferred to watch it at Dennis’ house without my commentary, at least he understood my perspective about the importance of respectful interaction.
The election of Donald Trump to the position of President Elect of the United States has stopped many conversations. Coming from a Canadian stance, it is largely incomprehensible how someone who has overtly disrespected and discredited woman, Latinos, Muslims, Immigrants and the LGBTQ community could be selected for public office, in part by the people he targeted. I needed to step away from being personally offended by his hateful rhetoric, in order to come to the conclusion that this was not just a win for misogyny, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and a fixation on the gun culture. This was a democratic election and the leader was chosen by the 55.6% of the population who opted to exercise their democratic right to vote.
It has pushed the need to ask questions about what is happening south of the border that has created the palpable anger and commanding voice for change? What is a “protest vote”? What is the “status quo” that has created such a reaction? Who voted for Trump? Did gender play a part in preventing the election of a woman? How did the close alignment with bankers and sizeable payouts to prevent bank failure impact public opinion? How much impact would Bernie Sanders have been able to make on what happened in a Clinton government? What was the impact of the votes garnered by Jill Stein and Gary Johnson? The list goes on.
As a vice principal in a school, I spend a large chunk of my time engaging in conversations about respectful interactions. The rules of the game in school are intended to prepare them for life.
- Tell the truth.
- Tell the other person your thoughts in a respectful way.
- Take responsibility for your behaviour.
- Empathize with the other person you are in conflict with.
- Don’t make yourself feel big by intimidating others with words, physical proximity or force.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrote a letter to third graders at Tecumseh thanking them for their work to welcome Syrian refugees to Canada earlier this year. In the letter he told them that their voices and what they do matter right now. I believe our children internalize these messages that their voices matter, just like they internalize the rules of respectful engagement when they live it. My hope is that our children fully participate in the democratic process by voting and holding elected officials accountable for their conduct, actions and decisions. My dream is for them to assume roles and responsibilities in the future where they are able to conduct themselves with integrity, intelligence and kindness to create a world based on respect for peace and justice.
It all started with a suitcase on Human Rights Day on December 10, 2015. Tecumseh students were first asked to reflect on the Syrian Refugee crisis. Students wrote letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing their desire for Syrian boys and girls to live in a place without war where they could go to school in safety. They wrote heartwarming notes to Syrian refugees so they would know that Canada is a country that values human right and was welcoming to people wanting to start new chapters of their lives.
This project captured the mind and heart of Grade 5/6 teacher Marion Collins, who worked tirelessly to provide learning opportunities for teachers and students throughout the year in the spirit of the redesigned curriculum in British Columbia. With the help of a grant from Promoting a Culture of Peace for Children Society, the suitcase became a symbol of the refugee experience and a work of art welcoming individuals to add their individual voice to the multicultural expression of Canada. With the help of a grant from ReadingBC (the BC council of the International Reading Association), the writing component of the project grew to include stories and photos of the journey to Canada of Tecumseh students, clothing with messages to Syrian refugees to go in the suitcase, reflections of what students would grab if they needed to leave home in a hurry like refugees.
Last week, Science World hosted the Digital Fair of the Vancouver School Board. Grade 5/6 students presented their Graphic Novels inspired by CBC podcasts. Graphic novels featured student created Refugee Superheroes to equip Syrian refugees with the skills to cope with the experience of settling in a new Canadian home. They use captions, time labels, sounds and speech bubble to demonstrate their innovative, creative and unique style. Most of all, they continue on the spirit of welcoming that comes from children who understand the challenges and difficulties that accompany leaving your home to start a new chapter of life in another country.